Sunday, February 28, 2016

i have to admit to a bit of depression after my mom's death, as i try to process what happened and adjust to a new reality of her not being around. there is no one that anyone takes for granted more than their mother; by the same token, there's no one who leaves a bigger gap upon their leaving. it was huge, and it rocked our family to the core, as she was the core of it, and, it was actually difficult to visit with everyone enough, under that enormous cloud of change.

but alas, buds are coming out, trees are blooming, grass is turning - here, late february, and it's already spring. get out the shovels, time to dig something to grow, that's what you do, and because it's been a fairly wet year, the growing and digging should be good. it's a glorious spring day out there, warm, sunny, flowers popping up everywhere, so the kids are naturally all on screens and the dogs are at the front door being vigilant about people trying to walk by.

i've been working furiously on my poetry, at the expense of everything else, and have now written 430 new ones for a volume of 1000 that i'd like to publish in april. the volume of 1000 does not have to be all new; in fact, i'm not sure it's possible, yet, to write a thousand in a year. my goal is to make it substantially different from last year. substantially. i change the definition of that regularly. but i'm getting there.

for days i mulled over things i could say about wisconsin. then, i printed it and reviewed what i had. now, i'm mulling over new hampshire and delaware. delaware is by far the worst, but south carolina, west virginia, north dakota, and mississippi are in close competition. they are all states that i have less contact with. west virginia, i used to go camping in, way back in junior high, but back then, we saw it through the lens of stereotype and i want to avoid that in poetry. i'd like to look at hard reality, and find what's truly unique about west virginia, but what is it? there are a few things. after a while, i run out of things. i need more information.

my stories, i've neglected, more or less; haven't written one since december, when i published my fifth collection. but i did get a reader to read the most recent one, into audio files, and my new job is to see if i can market them, as is, at a service where they market such things. i have no idea how this is done. i looked into it once, and even now i can't remember how that turned out. i was determined to try reading them myself, and it never got off the ground. now, i have a whole folder of stories read into audio files. it's a milestone. i'm a little baffled, how to proceed.

then there's the music. the other night, a fair crowd of musicians, a good audience, a circle where we went around calling them - things don't get much better. i've broken just enough hairs on my bow, that i about have to get it restrung. my fiddle takes almost no maintenance; it never needs tuned, ever. i just play and play, and it keeps coming. i often tell the story of it: i bought it in iowa, at an auction, because people said that violins were being bought and taken down to texas, and i thought i'd keep it in iowa. ironic that, in the end, i took it down to texas. and, ironic that, though it just stayed by my side for years, not being played, when i finally got it going, it was so reliable. it has a good sound, too.

of course, the novel is out, at the moment. the tesol presentation is suffering. other things are shelved, like personal reorganization. it's spring, time to get outside and live in it for a while.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Eulogy for Margret Wallace Leverett, Feb. 2016

Paolo Coelho once said, “To live is to love. Everything else is just details.” Margret Wallace Leverett lived well though I’m sure you may be familiar with some of the details. She was born in Sibley, Iowa in 1928 and grew up in a loving family. She met my dad, Jim and married him in 1950. That means she was married to the man she loved for over 65 years, and I can tell you that they were in love right up until the last day.

She devoted herself to her four children for the first half of her adult life, and that is the part I’m most familiar with. All of the four of us are here, my older brother Bruce, my younger sister Margot, and my youngest brother who came from England with his family. I think it’s a testament to her love for us, that we are all here, and were all here in the last month, remembering her and her love, even as she had forgotten, toward the end, some of those details. It is this part of her life that I remember the best, her attentiveness, her worry, her care for each of us. It made our lives better, and safer, having her care about us, and look out for us coming home. I have just one story about that, although there were many. On the day Kennedy was shot (this was kind of a 9/11 of our era), somebody hit me in the head with a tomato as we were let out of school early; this was in an elementary school in Toledo, and I ran home, upset; it seemed to me the world was going to end. But she was there for me, as usual. She said to me, you’ll be ok, everything will be ok, and she washed my hair and put my life back in order again. Our lives were full of examples like that, maybe not all as dramatic. We’d lived in St. Louis and Cleveland before Toledo, and Pittsburgh and Buffalo after. There were plenty of details.

One remarkable thing about her is that, having seen the last of us out the door, she decided to enter the work world, and often told of feeling unqualified – she hadn’t earned a paycheck in thirty years. But she reframed what she had done in the course of raising us, and went out there and presented herself as a cook, an organizer, and a health supervisor. She got a job with the New York Health Department – and before long she was writing the book – the New York State manual for Home Health Aides; this was the manual that every home health aide in the state used to take care of people – and she wrote the book.

In her professional careers I should mention first the League of Women Voters, who she served for many years, and who honored her several times for her service; she was also active in a number of other organizations. Several people at Good Sam have mentioned how well she ran the library here at Good Sam. One person said to me, she ran the best meeting. She was rational, she was clear, she moved it right along. I’d like to mention all the groups she was involved in, but I might miss a few, or get them wrong.

And besides, these are just details. She loved people; she loved life; we loved her back. I was a ruthless competitor for her love. As my brother well knows, I was in her face from the very first minute. And she was always, always, always there for me. I speak for my brothers and sister, and my Dad as well, when I say that. And for the grandchildren, and the great-grandchild. Let’s not get caught up in the details, that’s what mattered.

Mom was Scottish; her dad was a Wallace. Mom was a Presbyterian, and she believed. Toward the end there, she was all worry, and had lost track of some details, and she kept saying there was a meeting upstairs and she had to go to the meeting. I kept telling her, there is no meeting, there is no upstairs. In my mind I thought, maybe she knows more than I do, so then I just said, you’ll be ok, Mom, everything will be ok. If there’s a meeting up there, you’ll be ready for it.

For a while there, toward the end, I wasn’t sure she knew everything I meant when I said it to her. So I’ll say it now, just so it’s out there, just so it’s said. Mom, you were everything to me. As Auden said, you were my north, my south, my east, and west, you were my working week and my Sunday rest. My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song…. What I know, I know from watching you, from being near you, from loving you and being loved. We watch ourselves turn into our parents, and that’s fine with me. We will carry on, we will know your love is there, and we will always love you. There is nothing else to worry about.
at my mom's memorial, in las cruces on sunday, i saw an old friend who we had basically grown up with. her dad had taken me to my first baseball games, in detroit, and her mom was responsible for me practicing piano. i told her to thank her mom and i told her i had a story to tell her dad, who i like to discuss baseball with. the question of course was whether al kaline or roberto clemente was the best baseball player ever, and she admitted that his view might be colored by being an avid tiger fan. but i insisted on telling my side of the story and having her relay it to him.

back in the sixties clemente played right field for the pirates, and had to cover an expanse of forbes field in pittsburgh that was quite large, very green, ivy on the walls. the pirates had lousy pitching those days, so he really had to run a lot - balls were hit all over the place, lots of home runs, and fortunately he and his teammates were good hitters too, so most games were like 14-11 or 16-13, football-type scores. clemente always led the league in triples, because he was a shrewd baserunner and a good hitter; he also hit in the clutch, and he was a great fielder.

one day the pirates were winning one of those high-hitting games though it was the end of the season and they really weren't going to win it all. an opponent hit the ball way back to the wall in right-center field and clemente went tearing after it, all the way back to the ivy. he pulled the ball out of the ivy, pivoted, and threw the ball in to home, a line drive maybe 400 feet. amazing! it caught the runner by about a mile. i've never seen anything like it.

at the memorial people spoke about my mother - her accomplishments with the league of women voters, with the library, and with the new york state health department, for whom she 'wrote the book.' my job, however, was to give the kids' perspective. i'm a middle child, so i saw it kind of like one of those high-scoring games where really there were things happening all over the place. i gave a speech telling how she was always there for us, how we saw her as kids who competed for her attention. my voice shook and i fought off tears as i spoke, but many of my relatives cried a lot upon hearing it. it occurred to me when it was over that in a lot of ways i felt like the goal of life is to be like roberto clemente - to be totally present, in every minute and in every game, to do your best and to absolutely put the ball right exactly where it's supposed to be. life is busy and full of those struggles, to run and run, to pull a ball out of the ivy, but when it's your turn, and you turn around to face the audience, you're ready with what you've got, and you bring it right on in there. so i'd like to think of that as my roberto clemente speech. actually i'd like everything i do to be like that one throw, but, you know, i just don't do everything as well as he did everything.

my mom wasn't much into baseball; neither was my dad, nor even the woman who i asked to transport the story to her dad. she may or may not get the essence of how great he was, or how great that seemed to me. sometimes, in this world, we find ourselves at the way back corner of the wall, a wall covered with ivy, which is basically struggles that nobody else can even see. the world's attention is on us, whether it is complete, or rapturous, or high-staked, or whatever. we are called upon to bring it home. hitting the relay man is not quite enough. being twenty feet wide doesn't make it either. we know what we have to do, the only question is whether we have really gathered up the skills to see the whole project through to its best conclusion. I saw in that situation a guy who had mastered every skill relevant to his situation - and the throwing was perhaps the least noticeable, if you think about it; nobody ever mentions his throwing. He was a hitter, a runner, a fielder - a shrewd player all around. but he could throw a 420-foot fastball, right across the plate. best player ever.

as it turned out, he was a pretty good guy as well.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Saturday, February 06, 2016

growing up in lubbock: on the way to gymnastics, my daughter announced that she loved buddy holly. ok i said, hard to disagree with that. but then she asks me: daddy, god, jesus and buddy holly, they're in your soul, right? well, hard to argue with that too. i smiled and didn't show her my smile. i agreed.

lots of other things in your soul too. now that my mom has died, i'm trying to separate out a little, if she was the trunk, the center, the heart of my motivation, of so many motivations, for so long, then does that explain why i'm a little cut-off-at-the-knees in the motivation department. it set me back. i'm glad to be back in texas, as i'd been in new mexico almost a month, so when my wife wanted to head out to new mexico for the weekend i figured i'd let her go out there alone which is what she really wanted, and not bring four kids and two more dogs out there after her. but now, a badly overflowing toilet and kitchen garbage disaster later, i wish she'd come back. spring in west texas is dry, windy, dusty, that's what gets in your soul. this year, an unusually wet, and cold, year, is unusual. but nothing is unusual to the dogs, or the kids, who go on being themselves and letting you clean up the mess.

i'm a grumpy dad when the chips are down, and they tend to leave me alone since, if they do, i generally don't bother them. i come after them when i need to and sometimes we go out and have fun. but usually they learn to do their own thing, entertain themselves, give me a little peace and quiet, then i can spend the day cleaning up overflowed toilets and kitchen garbage.

saturday morning, make an extra cup of coffee, then another. look at the news. the sun comes in and then changes its angle, gradually, all day, while people go on with their lives. the super bowl is big here. people are shopping, waiting, talking about it, taking sides, whatever. three o'clock tomorrow, or whenever, this town will be deader than any town in the history of towns. big piles of cars will be parked in front of various houses as everyone picks their favorite big screen to sit in front of for four to five hours, with lots of snacks, and plenty of alcohol, and generally maybe some kind of barbecue or dinner. it's big. this is what one does. the neighbors did it. they were surprised that we really had organized nothing. they invited us over in embarrassment perhaps. how can you have nowhere to go on sunday? my son has become friends with their son, and now he's all like, panthers, broncos, you name it. he'll probably go over there and partake, of the tv, the barbecue. They're nice people, i love them. i may have to just do the same, get a little scene by a television, make sure everyone's taken care of, watch the darn thing. it's got the best commercials in the history of commercials.

things happen, and i really have no clue what's going on, although, through facebook, i get some glimpse. if there's an earthquake in taiwan, as there was, i have several friends over there, and they check in and i know they're ok. i read about the debates. i read about how they've concluded that trump's followers are all narrow-minded, bigoted, small-minded white pride working-class morons which ought to just drive a couple thousand of them over to the cruz camp right away. but i suppose the cruz camp is all self-righteous, pious, hypocritical bastards too. meanwhile hillary is totally sold out to goldman sachs, and is the candidate of wall street, the liars, the sell-outs and the faux-democrats. sanders however is unrealistic, dogmatic, uncompromising, and a genuine threat to the status quo. so there's no way out. you'd think maybe rubio would get out of it. no, but wait until the spotlight gets on him, he'll be just as bad. it seems like everyone's got their negative spin on everything, nobody can hardly move a muscle.

somebody made a movie of tech students who, basically, didn't know who the vice president was. didn't know who won the civil war. didn't know the basics of u.s. government or history. they did know, however, who brad pitt was married to, both times, and they were up on certain other pop culture ideas. somehow i thought, this is an old idea. isn't this true of all young people? then i thought, is tech really better or worse than anyone else? these are our students. some of them could have been walking directly out of my wife's class (mine are international; the movie didn't target them)...ah yes, but it is what it is. but as the rabbi says, who isn't what he is?

that's life. i'm along for the ride.