This is found in the writer’s preface to a work whose title, perhaps even whose content — in the manner in which it makes of a West Indian sailor aboard a Bombay to London merchant ship a sometimes odious and undeniably complex metaphor — poses problems for modern shibboleths and sensibilities. And, though I aspire always to challenge “political correctness” I deem it unfortunate that Conrad didn’t stay with either of the original titles, i.e., A Tale of the Sea, or Children of the Sea.

The work ultimately became kn0wn as , The N****r of the Narcissus. It is a profound work, and a great “tale of the sea.”

What follows, as noted, are the introductory paragraphs of the novel’s preface, Conrad’s famous artistic manifesto of what some have characterized as “literary impressionism.”

I’m fond of it. It follows here:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe ( emphasis added), by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential — their one illuminating and convincing quality — the very truth of their existence. The artists then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts — whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritively to our common sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom it our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism — but always to credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted with the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate,he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities — like the vulnerable body within a steel armor. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring — and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever….

He (the artist) speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation – and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hopes, in fears, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn….

Conrad refers to music as “the art of arts.” But in striving to achieve the musicality of which language is capable, or the visual properties and qualities of painting or sculpture, he writes…

…it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color,and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

I find myself wondering, given these sentiments and convictions of Conrad, if he ever tried his hand a poetry, for it is in that genre more than any other, arguably, that words are supreme. Flannery O’Connor, a great fan of Conrad’s, though, like him never a poet, and a very different writer stylistically, told a correspondent that when she spoke of the moral basis of poetry being ” the accurate naming of the things of God,” she meant ” about the same that Conrad meant when he said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe. For me the visible universe is a reflection of the invisible universe.

Here’s to Joseph and Flannery — who with their words try to make us see what is most worthy of seeing.


The following are small excerpts from a provocative essay called, “Sources of Life”, by a writer named Greg Jackson, which appeared in the August, 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It originally appeared in the Spring, 2021 issue of another magazine called, The Point.

(Note: for some reason, wordpress working annoyingly in ways I can’t yet figure out, I’ve so far been unable to correct some typos and mistaken elision of words in this copied text. Sorry.)

A false theory of culture is worse than a false theory of the heavens. The planets stick to their orbits no matter what we think, but culture becomes what we believe it to be….It is extremely difficult to make conscious choices amid systems and technologies that tax our forbearance and reward our worst impulses….half an hour on Twitter or YouTube may…reduce us to an exposed nerve, pulsing with rage born of fear, a sense of vagrant and ubiquitous threats….

Today, media and social media organize our conformity. Calculated self-preservation dominates.

(Here, Jackson makes the case for art.)

By awakening people to the legitimacy of their feelings, art gives them confidence that their experience is not an anomalous, lonely event, but something others share in, and that it may be reasonable, therefore, to question the tyranny of public opinion.

Politics’ colonization of culture in contemporary America has greatly damaged this public lifeline to the private psyche….(W)e may each measure for ourselves the toleration of our beliefs by judging how often we wonder in our hearts whether stating them in public is perilous. Where, when public opinion rules, does private truth find an outlet?

The vacant secular despair that sends us searching for a religious politics (emphasis added)…is precisely what culture of this category is meant to address….our emptiness is an emptiness that comes from continuing to consume something that resembles nourishment but consists of nothing but fat-burning calories.

Unless we claw back some sphere of cultural and civic activity from the totalizing force of religious politics (again, emphasis added), we are unlikely to find venues where we can get outside the rigid struggle of political combat to explore and expand who we are, what we want, and how we relate to one another.



I don’t know this writer, nor do I know much about the magazine from which his essay was re-published by Harpers. But I regard much or most of his diagnosis of contemporary culture hearteningly accurate.

I emphasized his phrase “religious politics” and must note that he never defines it. One could say that it’s obvious, self-explanatory. But, is it?

I would suggest that the seeming obsession of seemingly millions with modern politics suggests that politics has rushed into the vacuum created by the decline of supernatural religious belief.

I know many will reject this notion.

But it is telling, at least to me, that the last sentence copied above, asserting the need for all of us to move away from this disordered “sphere” created by politics-as-religion is followed by the sentence: “In midieval Europe, there was no such thing as nonreligious art or nonreligious politics. We are backsliding.”

I happen to adhere to the religious faith that dominated medieval Europe, i.e., Catholicism. What the Church taught then, it teaches now. The spirit and letter of that core faith was not obliterated by the Renaissance, but, rather, slipped into it at the tip of Michelangelo’s brush and chisel and grew and developed, as did Catholic religious dogma along with political and economic principles such as “subsidiarity” which calls for solutions to be generated upward from the smallest, most local governmental or political bodies that are also closest to the people they affect. Many of these principles and certainly much of the dogma was destined, in our time, to be largely discarded, ignored or, to the extent that it has survived, vilified — or, in the case of purported Catholics such as power-brokers Joe Biden and Nancy Pilosi, donned as a cultural shroud over their rabidly secular ideology. (It has been said that a person either adjusts their life choices to their principles and inherited dogmatic beliefs, or else adjusts (i.e., bends) their principles and dogma to fit their life choices. The more powerful the person, the more distorted the social outcomes for the rest of their co-religionists.)

True, culture did over time secularized and we should not wish for the return of a theocratic domination of society and culture. But I, for one, believe the product of the medieval scribes and artists were informed by a culturally and spiritually redemptive force superior to the “totalizing” force of contemporary politics –which, again, has become our religion, propagated and zealously imposed by secular media, social and mainstream.

Author Jackson probably has another idea — that art for art sake is where true and self-knowledge lies. I can live with that, if only as an anodyne balm for the “totalizing” effects on our inner lives of modern politics.

I guess we’re talking about for art’s sake, or, more accurately, art as “religion”. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the path James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus is last seen embarking upon at the close of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, as he flees the intense religiosity of his native Ireland. (He needn’t have worried about contemporary Ireland, which, with the rest of the western nations, has radically secularized. Is this what Stephen meant when he said he was off to forge “in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”?

Take a look at where that’s gotten the Irish –and human — race.

O what a paradise it (only at times) seems.

But the radical politics Jackson identifies in the essay is more of the rightist variety, e.g., extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories as generated by the poisonous likes of QAnon. So be it. It is toxic, I acknowledge, though, I also submit, no less toxic than the “religious politics” of the left, which I also submit, is far more ascendant and dominant in our culture. Either way, Jackson posits this as the basis for his argument that, as a consequence of all this, we find ourselves escaping into the endless diversion of entertainment, narcotics, video games and social media…all that “false nourishment.”

So, Greg Jackson, obviously a thoughtful man but obviously skeptical about the influence of formal religion says, further down in this essay, “Art, unlike religion, does not ask us to be better than we are; it asks instead only that we understand ourselves, and then, from the evidence of this understanding, it points us “toward sources of light” — hence, the title of his essay, and he attributes this phrase –“sources of light” – to Saul Bellow, another very thoughtful fellow.

I guess Jackson does not see religion as a “source of light”. Much religion in our time has given his good cause to feel that way.

But, with Saul Bellow, writing in his novel, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, I might say, “The earth is literally a mirror of thoughts. Objects themselves are embodied thoughts. Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything.”

Does not thoughts of our ultimate end (i.e. death) often bring us to — religion? It sure as hell shouldn’t bring us to reliance on the transitory banalities of politics.

And, with Saint Augustine – an undeniably religious figure who once heartily attempted to embrace all the lusty emoluments of the world — I would call for self-knowledge amid the storm of contemporary diversions and politics. Bellow’s Mr. Sammler would add that it might bring us to “(t)he terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it — that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Do we? I hope so. I pray so.



“To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor.” – Samuel Johnson.

+ + +

“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom. The night is dark and I am far from home.” – Saint John Henry Newman

+ + +

“Didn’t see her go out?”

There was only a trace of Rivera’s Hispanic accent. He was the youngest officer, new to the island. They stood together in the rain.

“No, sir,” said Clayton. “I was asleep.”

“She ever do this before?”

“Yes, sir.”


“Four or five times, sir. After the snows melted.”

“You’ve known her that long?”

“Yes, sir.”

Rivera paused, glanced back toward the body lying rain-soaked by the farmer’s shed.

“Ever say where she was going?”

Clayton paused as well, reached for words, settled on one word.

“Home, sir.” he said.

Rivera, hands on his hips, dropped his stare to the brown mud coating his polished black boots.

“So she’s the one,” he said, to the mud.

-From “Satin Doll”, a short story by Gregory Wayland


I put seed in the feeders out back. They hang at various heights. There were no birds up on the wire. Up high there is a cell tower, an osprey nest on top on a little platform that that large bird shares with all the electronic equipment. I can see the osprey up there, probably the mother, queen of all she surveys. That’s why I say “she”…She’ll go fishing in the eight little ponds in this complex. Maybe there are babies up there.

The mowers have come by, but there is no scent from the grass. During much of the day, I heard their mowers.

There is nothing. It is mid-July in Florida, hot and sultry. The clouds pile up massively. They are mountains. You can hear the traffic out on the main road. There is always a late afternoon chance of thundershowers. Yesterday, they were heavy, with sharp, frightening cracks of thunder, then lightening.

I kind of like the drama of Florida summers.

The weathered stockade fence along the back sags in places, has open slits. The Brazilian pepper is growing up again on the other side; thick branches pushing against the fence. Some day they’ll have to be cut back again. An old fellow did it for me last year, charged me only $100. It was a great deal of work. I was busy with other maintenance. He saved me the extra trouble. God bless him.

The birds will come, maybe at evening as it’s darkening. It’s summer, July. The days are long. I’m not in a great state of mind. But that’s because I need to plan a future.

That was earlier– all that talk, all that ruminating. Now I am at my desk.

I live here with a woman and two dogs.

I was thinking for just a moment, I need to be away, alone. Well, here I am. Alone, for the moment. People shouldn’t be alone, and I’m not. I am grateful. I need to pray. My late mentor J.L. Donovan said, “If I leave you with anything, it’s that you must pray.” Words to that effect. I pray he’s in heaven — with all the other folks we’ve lost. Nobody’s lost. That’s the hope. Heaven. Purgatory, Hell. The brain doesn’t process what an Army buddy, in an email this year, called “all that supernatural stuff.” We were on an island in Korea once, fifty years ago. There was a Maryknoll Missionary out there. We became close. I’ve lot track of him.

I think I will read about the Outermost House in the famous book by the same name — by the man named Henry Beston, born in 1888 in Quincy, Massachusetts, a World War I veteran who went out to a little house on Cape Cod, alone. Two rooms. He wrote about everything he saw and felt as he responded to nature. I didn’t know until just now that his given name was Henry Sheahan (Irish). He was a fine writer. He died in 1968, the year everybody’s life and everything else in America seemed to be up for grabs.

He wrote, “Majestic and mutilated, the great glacial scarp of Cape Cod’s outer beach rises from the open Atlantic….”

Henry Beston’s little outermost house was washed into the sea during the catastrophic Blizzard of ’78. I remember that storm. I’ve seen a still picture of the roof of the house sinking below the water in the aftermath. They built a replica. But replicas…well, I guess they have to do.

Fr. Eugene Boylan, monk, linguist, confessor, wrote:

“For there is no moment, no depth of sin or of failure, no loss or no disaster, in which we cannot still find all that we might have been, all that we would like to have been, all that God wants us to be….”

Boylan died in 1963, another year we recall for trauma and transition.

I’ll stop here. I have a great deal of writing to do. I must get busy.

I hear thunder. It is 4:40 p.m..Tuesday, July 13, Largo, Florida.

More thunder. Perhaps a storm is coming….

4:57 p.m. It is raining hard. There was just a startling crack of thunder close by.

It is mid-summer, 2021. I need to plan for a time beyond the storms. I must write. I must remember.

5:05 p.m.


It is July 9th.

There are no woods, really. This is a little ramble through a forest of words.

Words don’t work all the time. They can’t hide you like trees.

Mid-summer. We’re here already. Am I lost in the woods?

I was going to walk but it’s very hot and humid. So, for now, I’ll sit and think. And write a little. Make words. Try not to hide among them.

I need to keep occupied. I need to plan.

I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m not sure what I’m going to plan. But I’ll have to figure it out. I should pray, too.

Sometimes you’re afraid to think where you are in life’s woodlands, and where you aren’t. You sit at our desk or in your easy chair, hoping you find your way back into life. Alone, you don’t have to fake congeniality.

The hall clock just struck one o’clock. The iPhone says it’s actually 1:02. Now it’s 1:03. On and on it goes — time, that is. It is a sin not to grab life and work free of the things that imprison you. There are bad habits, there are people. We must love them, but we aren’t always good for them, or them for us. You know that old story, I suspect.

And there is always that failure to love. It is the worst failure of all.

But what is love? Well, it’s there. I feel it — for life, even for the people I thought I didn’t love.

There is fear, always. Don’t ask me why. Ask God.

And the difficulties. We balk at the difficulties. I’ve been taught to recall the words of Saint John Henry Newman:’ a thousand difficulties do not constitute one single doubt.’ Or words to that effect.

Words still aren’t working well here. They aren’t killing off the doubt. But what’s a stupid blog without words?

I’ll stand up and start moving again. And I’ll be grateful for life and for limb. We must always be grateful. And that’s regardless of who or what you believe to be the author of all this. It’s easy to believe there’s nothing.

Back in 1983, I wound up in a Lanham, Maryland hospital with my first kidney stone. ( I’ve had more episodes, very physically painful.) I was traveling and found myself stopped in mid-travel.

That was so long ago now! So much has happened in my life — and not happened that should have happened. You don’t get time back. But you DO move forward. (Stop this kind of thinking in its tracks.)


While in my hospital bed, I was reading a thin little book called (believe it or not) The Experience of Nothingness by the Catholic theologian Michael Novak. A male nurse who’d come to bring me pills or something saw the book with its wild black scribble cover art and asked me about it. I don’t remember what I told him. I guess I was feeling all kinds of intellectual reading that book. But this male nurse, who in his rounds among people in pain and despair and perhaps now and then feeling some pain and despair of his own, seemed intrigued by the book’s title. I wonder if he ever went out and bought it. I wonder if it helped him — because the book is ultimately (I believe) about identifying, understanding and overcoming the existential blahs that can beset a human life in God’s universe. It’s philosophy, not psychology, but it nonetheless might help one through the “experience of nothingness.”

It’s also possible the nurse was thinking, “what the hell is this young guy doing reading that damn thing? Maybe I should fetch him a good thriller out of the hospital library.”

But, no.

I sensed that his sense was that this might be a book that addressed the problem of having those dark holes open up before us every so often. He might have known — or might himself have been — a person trying to climb out of such a hole. In that case, I do hope that that chance bedside encounter thirty-nine years ago was a bridge across a dark chasm (which is worse and deeper than mere “troubled waters”), or, at least, that it gave birth to a salutary intellectual curiosity of the kind that makes life interesting and wards off the nothingness.

Sometimes, let’s face it, you feel tested to think it’s all just sound and fury, or whatever you want to call pointlessness. Or, you fail to take the action that would temporarily plunge you into darkness, even a kind of mourning, but all the while knowing brighter days are ahead.

I’ve been at that crossroads. Unfortunately, I’ve pitched a tent there.

The terror I feel is that time will run out before I get the gumption to push past that crossroads, get beyond those barriers, or, finally pushing past them, find very little life left to live. I must not let that happen.

And I must NEVER think like that. You shouldn’t, either. No one should. Life every minute (what time is it now?) counts.

You feel like life is good but that you’re wasting it. So — stop wasting it.

It’s simple, really. “Take arms against the sea of troubles…” Or a little pond of troubles in my case. All of my own making. ( Funny how often Shakespeare pops up in the phrases one uses to describe life’s passages. And yet he was the author of the phrase “chronicles of wasted time…” )

The poet stopped by woods on a snowy evening. I’m stopping by the same woods on a hot, midsummer, noontime. They aren’t lovely, dark and deep. They are green, full and sunlit. But the mystery is still there. Those woods will deepen as it gets darker as night comes on….

Thank God for the crickets!

It’s 1:44 p.m.. Must get moving.

But thought is movement. I need to think….

But I must move on, too. It’s the old “promises to keep” thing.

But I’m still stopped by those woods.

It’s 1:46 p.m….


First I come upon The Hall of Mirrors. I am able to go wandering among the mirrors, the walls the the ticket-taker’s kiosk and the doors all collapsed, shattered, only the mirrors in tact. Animals have been here, and vandals. I smell their urine. I see their graffiti.

I wander among more abandoned seaside pavilions past pools of dark black water, some like mirrors. It might rain again.

What is this place? Where am I?

Then, before long, I am walking with the famous eternally itinerant Hunter Gracchus who has come ashore again, this time to this strange place where I find myself….I was delighted to meet him as I rounded a corner near a rusting, broken carrousel, its colorful horses long ago ripped off their pedestals and carried off. Those who had borne Gracchus ashore wait by his bark near the water. He had obviously risen up and decided to walk in this strange, disturbingly anonymous place where I find myself. He wishes to explore it a little. I guess it’s his kind of place.

But then, his fate and direction in this life is — rudderless. I know that from my previous encounter with him. He goes where he goes. Simple as that. Simple and strange.

I recall reading of his previous landing in a seaside place called Riva, an unknown place in an unknown time, but long ago. The account of that episode begins:

Two boys were sitting on the harbor wall playing dice. A man was reading a newspaper on the steps of the monument, resting in the shadow of a hero who was flourishing his sward on high. A girl was filling her bucket at the fountain….A bark was making silently for the harbor as if borne by invisible means over the water….

That was old Gracchus’s bark. The Hunter Gracchus came ashore to that place not unlike this place, though there are no monuments here, none that I’ve encountered yet, anyway. He obviously had been hoisted off his bark by two men bearing a bier on which he had rested, as if dead– the same men who wait for him now like pallbearers; tall and sturdy fellow, and patient, for they do not know how long they must wait for their charge. They sit on the edge of the bark. ( Do I see one of them smoking? Can’t blame him. It’s been a long, tedious — and endless — voyage.) And Gracchus, seemingly dead, is walking, as if somnambulant. We’ve got to talk.

Now, please, do not see him as a zombie, not the walking dead of b-movie legend. He is walking as you or I might slowly, inquisitively walk, eyes brightly, but serenely open, if we were on such a mystical journey. Yes, it might seem like sleepwalking. But it is wide awake-walking. That’s what I’ll call it. His demeanor, his stride, commands attention among the few who might witness it. He brings peace by his demeanor, but mystery as well. He IS mystery itself. Walking mystery.

The town’s burgomaster in that former long-ago place of debarkation named Riva, upon meeting Gracchus, asked:

Is it true, Hunter Gracchus, that you have been cruising about in this old boat for hundreds of years?

And I ask, this century or more later, the same question. I get a simple nod of affirmation.

I speak, seeking help with memories:

“Gracchus,” I say, getting his attention as we walk in a light breeze in which he regards all the ruins before him but most impassively as if nothing interests him or perhaps everything interests him. It is hard to tell. “I have found a cyber memory that enfolds a paper memory,” I tell him. “And it has sent me into an infinite, mirrored regression of memories of lost correspondences, flimsier than paper, and it has introduced me to even more lost memories — all on this twenty-fourth day of this sixth month two days after the longest day of the year, in this twenty-first years into this twenty-first century in which I am making new memories all the time; thin and soiled like candy wrapper litter discarded by the former merrymakers in this once-cheery abandoned venue we are exploring, collecting at my feet and about my head, as if blown about in a gale.

“Some are pleasant, many are disturbing or unwanted. But I want time to stop much as it seems to have stopped for you — only can we, you and I, cease to wander? For though you endure your fate without agitation, I, among the living and hungry for more life, wish otherwise for myself. I want time past and time present to all be present in time future. Help me with this. Will these memories keep surfacing, blowing and circling about in a vortex, only to be lost, found, then blown about, lost again, then carried off in a sea breeze such as buffets us now? Then lost forever? Or must I always be proceeding backwards in search of them, like a man running across that vast, cracked and empty parking lot over there, chasing scraps of memory? Won’t those memories ultimately be blown out across some nameless sea such as the one we see here from this unknown seaside place of lost diversions? And without memories, be they pleasant or unpleasant, what are we, any of us?

“But we all long for what seems to elude both of us at this moment, the trumpet sounding as the great happy choruses of joyous trumpets and hurdy-gurdies and children’s laughter and squeals of joy and celebration once rose up from this place, only we seek, indeed, we long for the the dead to rise incorruptible, all those who are now only memories that once joined us in this life, and for us to be changed, no longer in need of memories, eternally situated in God’s presence, the God Who loves us….”

So I spoke to Gracchus. I should tell you, as I told Gracchus, that my multilayered, conch-shell-like memory — that being memory wrapped within a memory within a memory — was a paltry thing evoking memories of people far from those central to my life over many decades. Not my father, mother, sister — no, just average but fond acquaintances in average times. But isn’t memory like that? We are pleased to recall those we’ve known in this life, then, suddenly, our memories are primed and the water flow and we go on thinking, as in a reverie, about those we could never have lived without. Was there not once a story of a man who bit into a madeleine cake and, under the spell of the memories that then flowed forth, written three long volumes in search of lost time?

Here is what primed my memories pump, Gracchus. A letter from a specific, not long-ago time….

July 29, 2012

Dr. Clark(former college professor),

From out of the musty, depressingly cluttered depths of my basement comes a yellowing sheet of memory — Oct. 22, 1969 edition, Suffolk Journal( a student newspaper).

You’re there. Who’s the blond? I recognize the beguiling Harriet Allebach(another professor) .

It was all about war, those old newspapers. Everything seemed to be about war in those days. I’d already graduated and had driven to California the month before. I would be inducted into the Army in Boston on Oct. 29, so I might have returned to Boston by this time. Don’t know how I happened to have this edition of the paper. Not at all sure why I saved it and am convinced I must slay the packrat in me. But I’m sadly incapable of simply hoisting and tossing wads of probably useless paper — for fear it might have something like this in it, for whatever it is worth.

I specifically recall how, in 1969, the FUTURE was this dark road ahead. Now, it’s the dark road behind. I went swimming on a secluded rocky beach in Rhode Island today and, up to my neck in the ocean under gray skies — I swear my mind was doing a “Dover Beach” number. I was melancholy. As usual.

Back to the basement — I found a few old editions of the Journal from ‘69 and discarded them after being depressed by the puerile writing, the callow preoccupations of that moment, such as a new Beatles album, Abbey Road, reviewed in this edition by my late friend and Suffolk ( and Woodstock) alumnus Bob Jahn who deemed it to be so good as to “staggers the imagination”. Oh, my!

Troving about, sorting and digging through papery mounds, I felt the need somehow to find and embrace permanent, enduring things.

“That is how it ends, Gracchus. It trails off. Can you believe that I don’t know that I ever even mailed this? That no one but I and now you ever knew of it? Doctor Clark is dead these three years. Bob Jahn, an old friend, ( the newspaper reviewer) is dead these twelve years. Beguiling Harriet Allebach, who knows where she is, dead or alive? The house with that basement, is long gone to other owners, occupied by them now with their memories. Those old newspapers? Buried again somewhere. So fragile.

“And just today, while I’m thinking about things lost or surrendered, I let a table and some chairs go to strangers for forty dollars from this place where I live now. They had carried with them, memories, however recent and brief. The room where they stood is horribly empty. But there are memories in it. Don’t we, as we vacate a place we live, wander through the empty rooms recovering — memories? And I so regret leaving the last place I abandoned on a street named for a blue heron. What is it, what restlessness, drives us forth from places where we ought to stay and find our peace; find, as Pascal suggested, the strength and wisdom that comes from staying in once place in our one little room?

“But we mortals are known to let things go for various reasons, wise or unwise, of space and time — and money. But then, that emptiness….

“So, I am sharing this with you, Gracchus. I’ll walk you to your bark, for you seem anxious to depart again. Take this compound memory of mine with you, please.

“Will I see you again? If I can get back there, might I see you off the coast from that Rhode Island rocky beach on your bier aboard this bark? Or might I see you out on the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico where it approaches land near where I once spent time writing? Can you help me get back there?

“I don’t know the name of this place where we are walking, or how I got here, but — can you reconsider and stay? Help me get oriented? Or perhaps I might come aboard your bark with you in the hope that it might help me get back to where I came from?

“Can we have coffee somewhere, search for another soul with whom to share — our memories?

But he answered….

I think not. I am here, more than that I do not know, further than that I cannot go. My ship has no rudder, and it is driven by the wind that blows in the undermost regions of death.

“Well, that’s pretty heavy. But do as you must. “

So, reader, I’ll just see him off, then search alone for that coffee in these “regions of death.” There must be a place here, a pleasant cafe with pleasant faces. A Burger King, a Seven/Eleven with coffee, good or bad, and maybe those little pods of International Creamers, though I like my coffee — black.

There must be Regions of Life, however tawdry, but might they all, at their hearts, like this squalid, broken, abandoned once-happy place, be empty? Perhaps a friendly clerk might alter my mood of forlorn disorientation. Perhaps there are the beginnings of memories here, wherever I am, if I can hold on to them….if they are worth anything.

Gracchus, for his part, insisted he was going. He lay back down on his bier, the bark drew away, the two silent men with him, clearly not any kind of company for either of us, casting off in that rudderless vessel, being borne far, far off toward the horizon until I could see that old boat no more.

I waved. What else could I do?


No, this has nothing to do with soft porn pulp, thank you.

This is about what seems to be missing — or been cancelled — from much that I read these days. I’m giving vent to a prejudice here. I admit it. I don’t like writing out of literary prejudice. Further, I distain and would join any chorus speaking out against any form of racial or ethnic prejudice, in print or in society. And many are doing so.

I simply might say I’m being stampeded into deep suspicion, and strictly “literary” prejudice, by “woke” culture — defined as the loud and insistent and pervasive claims of a cultural elite on the subject of human motivation and matters of race.

Here’s how one hero of “unwoke” culture put it before he passed from our midst, which was before he or any of us were using the term “woke” (except as the past tense of the active verb “wake”):

Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

To which American teacher, writer, cultural critic and editor Gregory Wolfe adds the following observation:

Great literature lives along that ambiguous fault line, as willing to self-incriminate as to castigate the sins and follies of others. 

This is why I am suspicious of that celebrated variety of “woke” contemporary fiction that, based on my reading of it, seems to double down for the hundredth time on the sins of those we have acknowledged to be history’s oppressors while seeming to paper over the all-too-human follies of the oppressed, once they manage to slip the yoke of oppression, their fiction writer authors or screenwriters insisting they are still oppressed and that virtually nothing can free them or repair their shattered heritage and their rightful claims to a place high up on the American table (fine, be my guest, take my place), all the time insisting on a right to unbridled acts of violent recrimination, even domination over the rest of us . Not to mention financial reparations. Or so it seems. Their angry narrative emerges often in contemporary literature, at least, again, from what I’ve seen, and read. It is an act of separation and segregation.

I could be very wrong, but….

I observe the critical — or uncritical — reception accorded Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and wonder if I’d get the same satisfaction reading it as I would the nuanced, complex but no less powerful racial testimonial contained in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Since I haven’t read the former, I must reserve judgement before I invidiously comparing it to the latter.

So, why bother casting this cold eye on “woke” story lines n print or on the big and little screens?

Well…. because I detect, nestled deep or not so deep within them, traces of that “critical race theory” now so much in the air. It is the thesis that the cure for racism is a kind of reverse racism. I know many will challenge that characteerization.

In short, there seems to be a great deal of moralistic, didactic fulminating going on in print. It’s unregenerate whether it comes from the literary left, right or middle. Literary works should, in a sense, be circular, or cyclical, with characters passing through a life cycle — through that emotional spectrum which, in synesthetic terms might, indeed, be rendered in colors — black, white, gray. It’s what all of us experience. It’s our shared humanity.

Ralph Ellison himself in a Paris Review interview, asked about all the reversals of his hero’s fate in his novel, said his “hero’s invisibility is not a matter of being seen, but a refusal to run the risk of his own humanity, which involves guilt. This is not an attack on white society! It is what the hero refuses to do in each section which leads to further action. He must assert and achieve his own humanity; he cannot run with the pack and do this ( solely assign guilt to white society)– this is the reason for all the reversals.”

Elsewhere in the same interview, he says “it’s a novel about innocence and human error, a struggle through illusion to reality” but, I must assert, he never denies that his race and racial prejudice plays a role — a central role — in his suffering and disorientation, nor does he entirely exonerate white society.

Perhaps Colson Whitehead offers us an equally complex fictive journey for his escaped slave protagonist. I hope so. And I would never suggest that any African-American’s life journey is not tangled up, to some degree, with his racial identity. But our blended journey — and I pray it blends rather than further separates — is decidedly gray, for life is like that for all of us. And we must, all of us, travel the American road together, in life and in literature.


Herein, an odd elision of seemingly distant fields of meditation on this Mother’s Day morning — and seeming to have nothing to do with Mother’s Day…save that hunger (and thirst) for love and home that, in even the least sublime hearts, has left strong but mortally wounded soldiers crying for home and their mothers on the battlefield….

Somehow, randomly, I am choosing to make this about poetry, or a particular epoch of poetry, being the Victorian, which, in its turn, often borrowed from ancient forms of poetry.

The essayists, art and literary critic Walter Pater wrote circa 1868 of “aesthetic poetry” (and I’m here suggesting that all that is aesthetic, i.e., all that concerns beauty or the love and appreciation of beauty, should bring us, heart and soul, around to thinking of the feminine and, for Mother’s Day, the maternal):

(A)esthetic” poetry is neither a mere reproduction of Greek or medieval poetry, nor only an idealization of modern life and sentiment. The atmosphere on which its effects depends belongs to no simple form of poetry, no actual form of life….The secret of the enjoyment of it is that inversion of homesickness known to some, that incurable thirst for the sense of escape, which no actual form of life satisfies, no poetry, even, if it be merely simple and spontaneous.

Homesickness. That can relate to that.

Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894) was born in the East End of London in 1839. (My note: his neighborhood, a century later, would know the horrors of The Blitz. I wonder if his old “home” survived?) His father who was a physician died when he was five, and perhaps — some literary scholars have surmised — some of (his) aloofness from the world of practical action and his delicate sense of distinctions of feelings may be traced to the feminine influence of three women (mother, aunt, and grandmother) who brought him up.

Interesting: my father, who knew little of poetry and loved it less, was born in Boston sixteen years after Pater’s death and was also principally raised by his mother, an aunt and a grandmother, owing to the tragic separation of his parents when he was only about three years old. His work as a coal and oil salesman immersed him much of his short 54-year-long life in “the world of practical action.” He was devoutly Catholic, as were his mother, aunt and grandmother. The feminine influence also often gives us our religion.

In the current appalling universal atmosphere of “wokeness” being enforced by the powerful secular mavens of what passes for “culture” these days, the suggestion that it is primarily the influence of women that gifts the world with a vital effeminacy of spirit would be dismissed, if not banned. And, of course, fathers can be mothers, too. And women, men. And vice versa.

To which I say, with a Victorian elan, “humbug.” Or, with modern incredulity, “really?”

Now, Walter Pater was a skeptic in matters of religion and, perhaps, an aesthete in some ways less admirable, in keeping with his decadent epoch that gave us saints and sinners — and sinners who almost became saints (Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson). He wondered out loud whether any set of beliefs could be more stable or true than any other, especially given the bewildering variety of beliefs held and abandoned in the past. Yet he was known to have been impressed from his earliest years by the beauty of Canterbury Cathedral. He must have wondered about the source of the depth of spirit that had compelled its construction. Too bad he didn’t go on wondering….

I offer this meditation to him this morning, a terribly simple hymn they are singing today the world over at the May crowning of Mary, Mother of God.

Oh Mary we crown you with flowers today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May….

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

And thank you, Walter, for those wonderful words. Praying you, your mom, auntie and grand mom, have found eternal rest while your words, however obscure, live on. I found them this morning. And I’m so glad I did.


I began an essay here today, on April 12, 2021, was three painful paragraphs into it, suddenly (apparently) hit two keys at once — and the whole thing disappeared. If there is a way to recover it, you tell me.

Otherwise, I don’t have the energy to begin again at the moment. I’ll tackle it again in a couple of days.

Ironically, the title of my new entry was, “Pain”.


(Note: to readers of this blog. I plan — and fervidly hope — to update it every Monday without fail. By update, I mean, add a new entry. I am adding this one on a Thursday, but it will, for better or worse, live the life of a gypsy moth, (or, borrowing from the subject covered below, a Gloucester lobster), for it will be gone next Monday. So, read up! Sorry for the ramble. We’ll call it a — meditation.)

In October of 2020, Rolling Stone magazine interviewed the Dalai Lama. It’s a single page, seven questions and answers alongside a picture of His Holiness, displaying a smile I characterize as somewhere between serenely abashed and gently sardonic. It was as if he looked out and saw the manner of person who’d be seeing that picture, i.e., readers of Rolling Stone. Yes, quite a bunch, your Holiness. And not what you’d call a religious crowd. But some form of Buddhism seems regnant among them, in my experience.

Allow me, briefly, to digress — or go on digressing:

I once visited a Tibetan Buddhist manastery in Medford, Mass as part of a memorable story I’d done as a TV reporter about a grand gesture of animal compassion carried out by the monks of this Medford address, (actually a large Victorian in a quiet neighborhood.) They had traveled north to the port of Gloucester, laid out some $1000 and purchased dozens of Gloucester lobsters, removed the pegs that keep them from pinching their market handlers and released them in waters off the city to live another day or more.

The captain and jolly crew of a Gloucester lobster boat got word of this, found it very amusing and the next day, as they set out to sea, recorded themselves jokingly announcing their day’s agenda to be the “catching of Buddhist lobsters.” The crew member/ photographer, in a fateful misjudgement, decided the video was worth of posting on Youtube — where it went viral, enflaming the sensitivities of Buddhist adherents of varying degrees of orthodoxy or those who just thought these nautical wags were mocking someone’s religion.

Once embarked on the story over the ensuing furor, we found the poor boat captain sitting on a folding chair in his blacktop driveway in Nahant, Mass, farther down the coast. We were to be about his fourth TV interview. He was smiling and looking (here’s that word again) abashed, if exhausted — and I’ll add, grandly chastened — and full of multiple apologies. He seemed himself a gentle, inoffensive family man and product of hard-working fisherman stock who invited us to come back anytime for free lobsters and, of the Buddhist lobster hunt, said repeatedly, “we were just kidding around … we didn’t mean any harm. We love everybody — and those Buddhist love everybody, too. And we love them.”

And, of course, he knew but did not say what anybody with common sense knew — that those Buddhist-liberated lobsters were hardly distinguishable from the thousands upon thousands of their crustacian cousins on the sea floor and were merrily on their way far off the coast.

I guess what offended some pockets of the mass public was just the idea that the Buddhist’s tradition and universal practice of “life release” was being mocked, this being the prayerful ritual of saving the lives of animals that are destined for slaughter. How wonderful!h For my money, it seemed, though merely symbolic, far more venerable and worthy of respect than the antic annual ritual of pardoning a turkey on the White House lawn.

Prior to talking to the lobsterman, I first went to the Buddhist monastery where a few young monks relaxing on the wide front porch agreed to fetch the geshe, or chief monk, for me. How deeply — that word again — abashed (and sardonically amused) I was when this cheerful, bare-shouldered, orange saffron-clad man took one look at me and exclaimed, “ah, Greg Wayland.” Oh, how deeply gratifying it was to be recognized by a Buddhist geshe — and to know that they watch TV news in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. (Sure enough, I soon spotted their big old Sony Trinitron TV.)

I sat down with the geshe and his American, non-Tibetan assistant and they said they held no animosity toward the Gloucester fishermen, but only hoped they might come to understand — perhaps even embrace — this practice of letting living things, in this case destined to go into the broiler or head first into boiling water — live a little while longer, or perhaps forever. That, at least, is my recollection of our conversation in a serene downstairs room. (I suppose those fisherman could move inland and raise vegetables.)

Upshot: I love Buddhist, and Gloucester fishermen. (I never did go back for those free lobsters. That would have been — unethical. And, frankly, eating lobster, from my point of view (blue crabs are even worse) amounts to cutting your finger on sharp shards of lobster shell, squeezing a lemon on the wound in the process of squeezing it on the lobster, and, of course dipping the lobster flesh–extracted with great difficulty with assorted culinary tools — in melted butter in order to give it taste otherwise lacks.

Alright, maybe it’s not all that bad. Maybe upon occasions I have enjoyed lobster — but I’m still staring at that bug-eyed creature as I eat, knowing that only minutes before he had been crawling about in a tank with its buddies. ( Was it Whole Food that said they would not sell lobster anymore, because life crowded together in a tank was too streesful for them?) Now, I don’t here intend to anthropormorphicize (sp?) a crustacean that we mortals have been eating and enjoying for centuries. Perhaps I might, for the fun of it, like to read David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster” to get that sensitive soul’s take on the practice of eating what is essentially a big bug but, perhaps, no less worthy of our consideration and respect– or at least as much as the human fetus, though we have not yet taken to eating those. (It was long ago brought to my attention that the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was very fond of the Greek delicacy breast of fetal lamb. I guess if I can’t stand the heat of our civilizational demise I should stay out of the kitchen.)

Now, back to His Holiness’s cameo in the pages of Rolling Stone. This was just prior to the November U.S. election. The last question put to him by Rolling Stone writer Alex Morris was, “if you were to meet Donald Trump, is there something you’d like to say?” (All journalistic roads, then and now, seem inevitably to lead back to Donald Trump.)

“Today,” answered the Dalai Lama, “my number-one commitment is, try to promote a sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings…(W)hen he became president, he mentioned ‘America First’ — with that I have some reservation.”

Well, so be it. So doesn’t the rest of the world, many thousands of whom seem intent on crossing borders and joining us here in our oneness.

Then, after talk of children playing together and having no sense of “their nation” or “my religion,” he again calls for oneness — and “warmheartedness.”

Who can’t like that? But, did you ever see warmhearted children fighting over toys, your Holiness? Or lobsters fighting with one another? (Did those furloughed Gloucester lobsters fold up their claws and thereafter abstain from all conflict in their eat–or-be- eaten ocean universe?)

Let me just end with this: Protecting innocent life, especially innocent human life at all stages — I wish we could all agree on that. Then, your Holiness, we can work on being vegetarian and strive to leave the lobsters at peace in their watery homes. Amen.