Evening Hymn

The windows of boyhood, blue as a midsummer’s night,
The wishing, fantasy, organ tones from our Philco.

Blind at the screen, softness of air—
These I give back Lord. I sing them here.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Easter Wings

My father died on this day 19 years ago. Though he was nearly 80 he was in good health and his sudden passing was therefore unexpected. In the subjective I’ve never been able to celebrate Easter since by which I mean the easy, fanciful, chocolate bunny American Easter. Because my dad died on this day I’ve been compelled to confront the resurrection of Christ in its ur-ontologies—if we’re stricken here, with death inevitable, what does the promise of life everlasting through Jesus mean?

Augustine wrote:

“And he departed from our sight that we might return to our hearts and find him there. For he left us, and behold, he is here.”

Note the demarcation of sight and heart—the old Christian insistence that we see as through a glass darkly or in turn we do not really see at all. Faith is sight according to the church and that sight is inward, unlimited, joyous.

Strictly speaking everything you can no longer see is in your heart. Your poor heart. It must stand for memory, soul, eternity, and be the church itself.

The Christian heart is a big thing.

Sight and heart and memory and faith become one with the resurrection of Christ.

You might say it’s easier to believe in the chocolate bunny. Augustine:

“Consider seriously, how much we should love eternal life, when this miserable life, that’s got to end anyhow some time, is loved so dearly … So you love this life, do you, in which you struggle, and run around, and bustle about and gasp for breath; and you can scarcely count the things that have to be done in this wretched life: sowing, plowing, planting, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving. And after all this, your life has got to end anyhow … So learn, brothers and sisters, to seek eternal life, where you will not have to endure these things, but will reign with God forever.”

Now Dear Saint Augustine, seeking eternal life is so much harder than getting ahold of some chocolate eggs.

The striving for optimism—an ontology of meanings, good meanings, affirmations beyond just this one life—this is what striving and the heart are for.

This much I know.

And here is my favorite Easter poem….Easter Wings by George Herbert:

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
            Decaying more and more,
                  Till he became
                        Most poore:
                        With thee
                  O let me rise
            As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
      And still with sicknesses and shame.
            Thou didst so punish sinne,
                  That I became
                        Most thinne.
                        With thee
                  Let me combine,
            And feel thy victorie:
         For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Goodbye, Bird That Shat On Me

My mother was an alcoholic and not a functional one. Her life was marked by drawn curtains, broken fingers, phantom pains and prescription drugs which, mixed with scotch tended to make her psychotic. When I was a college freshman and no longer living at home she stalked my younger sister around the house clutching a knife. My sister took refuge in a locked bathroom and waited it out. By dawn our mother was asleep on the living room floor in a tangle of shoes and bottles. This story is in no way singular—my sister and I are just tiny dots in the ocean of abused children. The story of my adult life has been the relentless pursuit of self-acceptance, forgiveness, emotional intelligence, and compassion. I think forgiveness and compassion are different as forgiveness can be merely political and compassion is more concerned with lovingkindness.

I work with people who don’t necessarily like me. Chances are good you do too. You may be tougher than I. You might not care about the ghosting malevolence of the workplace, the soiled superegos of competitively unhappy souls who turn up in every meeting, warehouse, classroom—or for that matter even in leisure spaces. Me? I tend to care too much about the opinions of others. This is because the long emotional after effects of my upbringing make me prone to a knee jerk impulse to fix things. If people are ugly I think it’s my job to improve them.

That’s of course its own addiction. I’ll solve your problem. Get you another drink so you won’t hit me. Disguise the damage to the best of my ability. I’ll make excuses for you. I’ll imagine your unhappiness is my fault.

Until one day I don’t. One day after attending Al Anon and undergoing some excellent therapy I decided my mother was on her own.

Nowadays I attend to my own esteem though not without set backs. There’s a senior professor at the university where I work who went out of his way to sabotage me behind my back—an ableist, smug, privileged “shyte” as the Irish would say. I don’t think I can forgive him and I certainly can’t imagine offering lovingkindness.

I know this is what I should do.

I’m a lefty Episcopalian.

Then it dawns on me: I can let him go like a pigeon one has restored to health. Out the window he goes with a spark of feathers. He soars through tangled clothes lines. I shut the window. Turn up Mozart on the radio.

Lovingkindness can in fact be letting the bird who once shat on you find his own way.

About Yesterday or What Teachers Must Teach…

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about the perils of single issue politics and the erosion of critical thinking especially as these things pertain to teaching. Here are the things I suspect I’ll be accused of saying which I absolutely did not say: that racism doesn’t exist; that white people don’t have inordinate privileges; that minority opinions are fanatical; that the only way forward in the civic square is to become some kind of moderate.

I do not believe any of those things.

What I do think is that the common good has been demoted to fantasy. Listening to others is considered a waste of time. Any position that’s front loaded with rage is good.

Because these things are largely the case teaching is more important now than ever. From pre-school to grad school teachers have the opportunity to promote what Paolo Freire described as entering into reality:

“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

Notice Freire’s fascinating disavowal of the egoistic considerations that accompany the impulse toward dogmatism.

Here’s another Freire quote I find useful:

“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation.”

**

I fervently believe love—a true experience of love—is abstaining from seeing the self only through singular positions. Liberation is knowing that disability, blackness, queerness, gender are bio political rhetorics of social constraint. Every. Last. One. Is an impoverishing tale.

Rage from a narrow ledge but you will be bitter and exploited.

**

My friend, the poet Preston Hood, who, among other things is a wounded war veteran writes about piercing through the illusions that separate us in a poem entitled “The Vocabulary Between Us:—

There is a thin covering
Between us & the world.

Sometimes it is the inward blue
Of our souls learning what to become.

Other times I hold you before me
Able to love all of what I have now.

**

Succumbing to individualized or identity rage is what the oppressors want of you.
This is what teachers must teach.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

It’s Rough Down Here, Over

I often tell people I’m Episcopalian, of the lefty variety—one wants no “truck” with the high Anglican censure of gays and I’ll be stripped, kneed, and left to cry before embracing the stylized bureaucracies of Christian disdain. I’m spiritually and temperamentally hostile to powers that be. As a boy, one with a disability, I learned that both the civil service and the apparatchiks would never tolerate me, even though sometimes there might be a pretend factor.
And so it’s the loneliness and simultaneous hopefulness of Jesus that I love.

In these days before Christmas 2018 I’m praying for my father in law who is very ill. I’m praying for a friend who’s fighting a wound. Another who’s carrying a lifetime of pain. And still another who is near to losing his home. If I had a walkie-talkie to Christ I’d say: “It’s rough down here. Send more hope. Over.”

In his book “Jesus and the Disinherited” Howard Thurman wrote:

“It is clear that before love can operate, there is the necessity for forgiveness of injury perpetuated against a person by a group. This is the issue for the disinherited. Once again the answer is not simple. Perhaps there is no answer that is completely satisfying from the point of view of rational reflection. Can the mouse forgive the cat for eating him? It does seem that Jesus dealt with every act of forgiveness as one who was convinced that there is in every act of injury an element that is irresponsible and irrational. No evil deed—and no good deed, either—was named by him as an expression of the total mind of the doer. Once, when someone addressed him as “Good Master,” Jesus is quoted as having said, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good, but … God.”

If I’m to grow these last years (I may have twenty left if I’m lucky) I must grapple with a lifetime of fear, sadness, anger, and hot blooded disdain for organized oppression. Able bodied oppressors. They’re on street cars and in board rooms. They’ve struck me with arrows over my lifetime. Forgiving the irresponsible and irrational is such a high ideal why would a single individual commit to it?

Because it is the door to grace.
Because love is eternal.

“But isn’t hate eternal?”

No. It’s localized and it never wins.

Of Confirmation Bias and Disability

Confirmation bias is of course universal. The self, whatever it means, assembles a mosaic of preconceived views. Some are descended from the cradle; some from bad teachers. No matter what we say about it CB depends on a lack of comic irony, the inability to probe the limits of one’s customary ideas. I’ve several bad thoughts and they them come from unhappy engagements with a legion of hard hearted able bodied authority figures. Throughout my life from Kindergarten to today I’ve been told my disability is a problem.

So in a spirit of admission, my biggest confirmation bias is that I tend to think most if not all able bodied people are ableists and since I’ve been hurt over and over I anticipate the hurt. This means the open hand of my soul is often empty.

It gets worse. My disability bias absolves me of digging deep both inside myself and “out there” among strangers. I am hereby admitting I can be lazy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had it with rank and file discrimination against the disabled and I’ll go to my grave decrying it. This isn’t an essay about going soft. This is about the difference between essentialism and soulful ambivalence.

Confirmation bias assures that I’ll go on thinking all white men are racists; all heavy set people are comedians; all able bodied people hate me.

Cultural theorists say, often with muscularity, that confirmation bias is sagacious.

But my grief and yours coincide.

I cannot grow without confronting my pain.

People are scared of disability. They believe without examination in compulsory normativity.

Most people despise their own liberty.

The central tenet of fascism is that all people outside “the party” are miscreants.

Freedom is, in all its beauty, a pursuit which means pain.

I will not participate in minimizing my pain or yours. Not will I adopt a cheap script.

Love is Love, Go Out and Vote

I shall suppose for the sake of all things constructively imaginative that today will be blessed. I will meet good people. We will, despite our differences believe in one another by which I mean we’ll want prospective goodness for each other. We’ll not imagine goodness for me and no goodness for you.

What a thing! To write a paragraph like the one above! The things that we love tell us what we are. (Aquinas) I know what I love. There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. (Aquinas) I can be friends with anyone. Can you?

To one who has faith no explanation is necessary. (Aquinas) I’m not in the business of explaining love. OK. Now my prose is getting thick. But I will believe today love is love. It is sufficient unto the day.

I was blessed just four days ago when Baha my Uber driver wanted to FaceTime with his brother in Baghdad so the folks back home could see my guide dog Caitlyn. We had four minutes of doggish joy. And the fellowship of love.

I was blessed this morning to know the difference between my ambitions and all I can give away both materially and spiritually.

The free man or woman is like those barn swallows delighting in their flight at both ends of the day.