Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/03/2010

My Personal slide into Feeble-mindedness in Old Age, John Bunyan, and my birthday.

Mr. Morris, I presume?

Among the fascinating possessions my late partner left me when he died is an antique Morris Chair. It’s been repaired more than once in such a way as to decrease its value significantly. However, it is a Morris Chair.  

Yesterday morning I was sorting through some piles of important stuff in my office/storage room to organize things a bit so the room is useable. It’s the area in my loft apartment that’s intended as the dining room (making the concept of “loft” questionable). 

In sorting stuff, I came across the springs for the seat of the Morris Chair (it’s being restored). I also found the 1892 edition of Miscellanies, Aesthetic and Literary: to Which Is Added The Theory of Life, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I inherited from my father’s library (on which he wrote “824.7” for the Library of Congress catalogue of his library). Both “The Theory of Life” and the Library of Congress system of cataloguing one’s books boggle my mind.  

I didn’t find my copy of James Joyce’s Dubliners. I usually manage to keep copies of short stories together in the midst of the chaos because I refer to them constantly. Dubliners is one of my favorite collections. I’ve even attempted “scholarly” writing [meaning “obfuscated,” as is so well described by Ray Magliozzi on his “Car Talk” puzzler every week (1)] about a couple of those stories. I didn’t obfuscate enough: journal editors are not interested.  

Today is my sixty-fifth birthday. I can’t imagine that bizarre reality is the reason for the trouble I’ve been having for the last forty-eight hours, but it may be. I wrote about my near melt-down at the grocery store on New Year’s Eve. Near melt-down has continued since then. Perhaps anyone who spends a couple of days alone will begin to confuse time and the order of events and even the reasons for decisions or actions. Perhaps. Only my neurologist needs to know (and after the fact there’s nothing he can do—except put it in his notes and try to guess later what it means).  

A double confusion. I thought all day yesterday that I’d spoken on the phone with one of my dearest friends, and he said he could help me move some stuff to my storage area upstairs. So I thought he was coming. He didn’t, so I messaged him to ask if I’d imagined our conversation. Yes and no. We did converse, but it was on New Year’s Day, and I asked him to come today, not yesterday. OK. Two absent minded old farts (except he’s only 50-ish) remember the same event differently. It happens more and more the older you get. I didn’t remember when we talked, and he misunderstood the day I was asking him about. No big deal.  

Later I went back to Krogers to shop for my birthday party. I was almost in tears when arrived. And then, the lights. How on earth do you people stand those ubiquitous fluorescent lights? They must give everyone headaches, if not make all of you crazy. Has anyone done studies on the effects of fluorescent lights on serial killers? You all are in agony 90% of the time when you are inside, and you’re so used to it you don’t even notice. Did I say I’m giving myself a birthday party? I didn’t get any invitations for a date tonight, so I took matters into my own hands.  

By the time I was half finished with my shopping, I was in agony. Fortunately, I ran into one of my best friends, and he helped me talk through what was going on (he helps me a great deal that way—thanks, Wayne). Do I want sympathy? Well, probably. But he said, and I immediately began to calm down, “I can’t imagine how you must feel.” That’s all. Acknowledgement that 1) what I am feeling is, at least to some degree, real—at least my perception is—and 2) hardly anyone feels the way I do. Friendship.  


I couldn’t find candles for my table. Target and Wal-Mart and other ugly places with lights worse than Krogers—they keep everyone in a state of confusion so you all will buy more—sell thousands of squat little candles (with fake odors cloying enough to drive the few people not already over the edge with fluorescents crazy with smells). But a nice eight-inch taper to put into a brass candlestick? I finally found one variety at Krogers. Enough.  

And canned tomatoes—I decided to save one step in party food preparation by using canned tomatoes in the stew instead of finding decent tomatoes and de-seeding them and all that crap. Canned tomatoes. Not in the “canned vegetables” aisle. “Sure,” the manager, who happened by said, “they’re right down this aisle.” It was the aisle with “sauces.” Canned tomatoes aren’t vegetables, they’re sauces.  

Finding canned vegetables in the sauces aisle is pretty much like finding the springs for a Morris Chair in a box of books. Finding the springs for a Morris Chair in a box of books is pretty much like finding just the right friend in a gawd-awful place like Krogers when you are about to make your second scene in 48 hours. But not nearly so important!  

All of this is about research. My research in how to get through this life after 65.  

I tell my students that one never knows what one is searching for when one begins to research. I quote one sentence from a scholarly article that is not obfuscated. “Surprise is the natural companion of research” (2). If you are researching rather than proof-texting, you never know what surprises are in store. Proof-texting is responsible for much of the evil in the world (see “religious fundamentalism” or “homeland security”).  

So here I am doing my research on how to get through this life after 65. I have my presuppositions. I suppose I am proof-texting based on my experience of the difficulty of maintaining some sort of equanimity in the face of fluorescent lights, non-vegetable tomatoes, impossible-to-find candles, all in the context of a bizarre incorrect memory of important phone calls.  

My blog name, as I have pointed out before, is my attempt at the Latin for “I am not crazy.” But I’m not so sure. I know I’m not crazy and what I experience is really (and I mean REALLY) not debilitating. I know that. I’m a cry-baby and a wuss. Back to Coleridge.    

While Coleridge often accepted a medical explanation for madness, he never accepted any explanation that would threaten his moral-religious view of humans as spiritual beings whose minds were constituted by autonomous laws not derivable from, because they were not the effect of, bodily order or disorder. From his own experiences he knew exactly what the medical texts had been saying. . . (3)  

I invite you to make of it what you will that on my 65th birthday, the research that brings me the most solace, that I understand the best, is a not-so-comforting paragraph by John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress.  

And now was I both a burthen and a terror to myself, nor did I ever so know, as now, what it was to be weary of my life, and yet afraid to die. Oh, how gladly now would I have been anybody but myself! Any thing but a man! and in any condition but mine own! for there was nothing did pass more frequently over my mind, than that it was impossible for me to be forgiven my transgression, and to be saved from wrath to come. (4)  

You may think I’m feeling sorry for myself, or thinking suicidally, or operating out of a mind frayed by TLE and (perhaps) Bipolar Disorder. You may think anything you like. Or you may wait until your 65th birthday and see if you understand.  

Here’s the one thing my research keeps showing me over and over.  

Any ulterior motive diminishes friendship. Friendship is spiritual because its essence is love, one of the three theological virtues.’ An ulterior motive in friendship seeks to exchange something spiritual for nonspiritual gain. Such an exchange fits the definition of simony. (5)  

Friendship is spiritual. Dilworth and Joyce understand. And so does Wayne. 


(2)  Nicholls, Richard E. “Postcards from the past: pressing questions and a persistent
         vitality.”  American Scholar 76.1 (2007): 34+.
(3)  White, Harry. “Coleridge’s uncertain agony.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-
  49.4 (2009): 807+.
(4)  Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (ed. Roger Sharrock;
         Oxford: Clarendon, 1962): 45. Quoted in Ruf, Frederick J. “Lyric autobiography:
         John Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnets.’.” Harvard Theological Review 86.3 (1993): 293+.
(5)  Dilworth, Thomas. “Not ‘too much noise’: Joyce’s ‘The Sisters’ in Irish
         Catholic  perspective.” Twentieth Century Literature 39.1 (1993): 99+.


  1. I hope you can accept a strange wishing you a good birthday and a better year…



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