Coffee with Mrs. Holley

September 11, 2020

Let’s sit down to a cup of coffee, shall we?

I’m not prejudiced — you can drink your tea, your kombucha, or even your green juice, but since it’s before 7AM, I’m sipping my Kona blend with soy milk.

How are you? How is your world?

This morning I woke up with a few lines of my favorite poem sort of on repeat in my mind. You know when you’ve got a song stuck in your head? Like that, except it’s a few lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

The Images of J Alfred Prufrock: The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

In college, I was an English major. Part of our graduation requirements was an oral exam with a small panel of English professors. We were never certain what the questions would be or what works would come up, but we were able to select the professors on our panels.

I’d spend the last several semesters taking courses taught by Dr. O’Neal, so I knew her love of the Romantics and of “Prufrock” was the same as mine. I spent weeks studying works from every genre I could imagine, going by a recommended reading list given out by the department. It was not a short list, by any means, so my strategy was to concentrate on what each professor loved most (and to what their dissertations related!).

I nearly memorized every word of “Prufrock,” and for weeks after the exam, I dreamt of beach shores and mermaids; peaches and coffee spoons; yellow cats and rooms of gossiping society ladies.

As a teacher, I often thought of old Prufrock, wondering whether or not he should dare to disturb the universe. I thought–I really should, but do I dare? Will a parent call to complain about the literature I teach or email me about my assignments and methodology, or write to my administration with a “concern” about class.

I wanted to disturb the universe, to shake up the mainframe.

I wanted my students to do the same.

I wanted them to question their values, their parents’ values, and to seek out the source of the status quo and challenge it.

Another great poet, and my most favorite, John Keats wrote:

“[The] quality [that] went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously–I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Most importantly, he continues:

“The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing – to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts… All the stubborn arguers you meet with are of the same brood – They never begin upon a subject they have not preresolved on. They want to hammber their nail into you and if you turn the point, still they think you wrong.”

I wonder if Keats really lived in Hampstead or if perhaps he visited the conservative US South from time to time.

Photo by Dirk Spijkers on Unsplash

The American South, that continues to glorify its racist beginnings.

The American South and its ideologies founded upon the Myth of the Lost Cause.

The American South, so hollow and self-defeating.

What we believe (and want to believe) has so much to do with where and to whom we are born, but true genius and enlightenment is found by accepting vulnerability and challenging our biases.

Eastern cultures recognize that in this world, bursting at the seams with people, individually we are insignificant. The Earth was here before us, before our civilizations and politics, just as it will be after. If you think about it, every time someone claims to have discovered something new, they’ve really only learned a new perspective on that thing or concept.

So how are we to build, and grow, and progress, when we assign our biases to everything and defuse possibilities?

The Buddhists believe that impermanence is part of existence, acknowledging that attachment to impermanent things causes suffering. They belief in impermanence encourages us to deny ourselves for the sake of something greater.

The Christian God would say the same: attachment to impermanent things (or idolization) leads to brokenness and dead ends, and that we ought to deny ourselves–say no to the world and yes to new and resurrected life.

I’ll end with this quote from Pema Chodron:

“None of us is ever OK, but we all get through everything just fine. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”

We don’t control anything. We grow old, the [men] and women come and go, things go to hell, and things go smoothly.

Until next time!

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