A Catholic high school teacher sits in his classroom afterhours talking remotely with his therapist about time-tested approaches to groundedness. No prayer tonight. No meditation. Speaking from a different time zone, she instructs him to get to his feet. “Walking around the room,” she smiles, “count every instance of the color blue. Discover your surroundings.” He confesses in the tone of a true confessor that he’s dog tired. What a cloying game anyway, with her litany of colors like a New Age theory of mood. But “Fine,” he says, and shares the blackness of the night through his window in a few choice words: “My head feels like it has a spike though it.” “How about circles?” she says. “Can you count the circles?” He eyes the clOck, the racing-arOundness Of it, and alsO a circular bell, fire engine red, with its hard hammer. “NO mOre,” he’s taking her tO their affectiOnate impasse, when he signs Off and she writes a nOte tO herself tO ask him next week abOut the feelings awarded him by abruptness. The circles are everywhere, thOugh. The HalO arOund the head Of ThOmas MertOn saying,
If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.
He lOves writing almOst as much as he lOves getting gOOd bOOks intO the hands Of teenagers. The O’s in the title POrtraits frOm NOrth American Indian Life Open like mOuths. SO dO the O’s acrOss hundreds of spines frOm Mr. Sanchez’s The GOd BOx tO Thich Nhat Hanh prOclaiming at Plum Villiage, ‘My dear anger, I knOw yOu are there. I am taking gOOd care Of yOu.” GOd knOws where the rOund-lensed eyeglasses gO that Once pressed the bridge Of the nOse Of the late artist Keith Haring. The splOtched face in his self-pOrtrait signifies his illness, as dO the upturned palms Of Ophelia, having drOwned in shallOw water signify an illness. Steph Curry’s ball handling is a real crOwd pleaser. Rachel CarsOn lOOking Out thrOugh birding binOculars reminds the chOirbOy in him mOre Of his grandmOther and less Of Silent Spring, and less Of the lOne O in the deuterOnOmic saying ‘Justice, Justice shall yOu pursue’ / ‘tzedek, tzedek tirdOf.’ SO many O’s scribbled acrOss dry-erase bOards like legends Of civilizations sOOn wiped clean by a member Of the janitOrial staff. Today’s lesson: the cOmbining Of twO simple sentences intO a single compOund One:
Coates admires the pacifist Dr. King. / Coates doubts the effectiveness of nonviolence.
What O’s want to shOw this mid career teacher spring fOrth nOt frOm reading about race in America, and fOr this he feels vulnerable. It’s the canOnical unit On antiquity: In an age of anger, when everybody looks at everybody like they’re exotic, part of what makes a Roman a Roman is her not living outside the empire. Who is exotic anyway? And who is willing to say right now, ‘I am aware of your concerns—you want to be respected’?