Sunday, January 3, 2010

Guest Contribution for the New Year: Franklin Abbott

Franklin Abbott is a psychotherapist and poet who lives in Stone Mountain Georgia. We have been friends for over twenty years. We first met during a Men and Masculinity conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The conferences were a series of well attended gatherings for connection, education and transformation of men and interested women. They were sponsored by an organization of pro-feminist men who were working hard to come to new concepts and actualizations of what being a man could mean and be. The organization was good at everything but finding a name for itself and it changed it's name too many times for me to keep up. Franklin and I were both poets. It was an organization that, in those years, valued poetry and gave us substantial audience for our work. I think this is a beautiful way to welcome in the New Year without unrealistic hyperbole about resolution, but one that does not side-step hope and the power of self actualized personal growth. --- B. Vance


That's the way life is --
Falling over seven times
Getting up eight
-- Japanese kotowaza/folk poem

It was a normal day in Fall. I was sweeping the walkway behind my house while my friend Martha Ham was getting her luggage ready for the ride to the airport. Maybe it was my new shoes, maybe the leaves had stayed too long on the plank I was sweeping but my feet went out from under me and I fell sideways on my left hip and landed with a dull thud. No one except the birds and the squirrels saw me. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and continued sweeping.

I know how to fall. I can't remember where I learned or who taught me. Maybe some forgotten P.E. teacher in a long ago gym class first explained it was better to fall without struggle. This has come in handy since I lack normal coordination and depth perception.

I tend to move slowly and deliberately to avoid hurting myself and so far, knock on wood, I haven't broken anything. Another Japanese proverb states: Even monkeys fall out of trees. When I was a little monkey, seven or so, I did fall out of a tree. I had a puncture wound in my left thigh that required stitches. I can still remember what it looked like to be sewn up though I can't remember the doctor. I remember after the fall my little brother pulled me home in a wagon. The only "ambulance" (knock on wood twice) that I've ever ridden in.

I remember reading The Fall by Albert Camus in college. I should probably re-read it given how unlikely it is that my 19 year old mind grasped much of what the French existentialist was talking about. I know it had something to do with the fall from grace, somehow connected to the Bible story of the Evil One tempting Eve to tempt Adam in the Garden of Eden. I remember a Sunday school argument over whether she used an apple or a fig. I knew from the mild form of Christianity I was brought up in that the fall resulted in original sin and that I was by dint of birth, a sinner. I was thinking of none of this when my hip hit the ground. I was soon driving Martha and myself to lunch and then her to the airport. I wasn't sore and when I checked later I wasn't bruised.

It took several days for what happened to manifest in odd ways. I was going to the Gay Spirit Visions Conference in the mountains of western North Carolina where I would be a featured speaker. I was going with friends Roger Bailey and Cal Gough and I asked Roger to drive as I was feeling shaky. The conference was celebrating its 20th anniversary and I had keynoted at the first conference so I was brought back as a piece of living history. I had prepped for the presentation with Bob Strain and we would mix music, poetry and reminiscence in our morning with the gay spirit brothers. Despite a wonderful massage, my hands were still shaking, my balance was off, my brain was a little foggy and I felt like a Coca Cola with no bubbles. I adjusted my presentation buoyed by Bob and the delicious energy of the hundred plus men who gathered with us. As the conference progressed so did my shakiness making feeding myself an awkward chore in the cafeteria. Back home I had a terrific Thai massage by a man I met at the conference and after an afternoon at the office gave a reading for my new book, Pink Zinnia, at Outwrite. I know I appeared nervous as my hands were shaking. Like at the conference I could hardly sign my name. The next day I was better and the day after that

I went to the kung fu chiropractor at my gym. Though petite, she is a take no prisoners manipulator and one chop to my left hip and I heard an amazing pop as my pelvis relocated. Within twenty four hours I was fine, balanced, coherent and I could write legibly!

The nanakorobiyaoki (fall down seven times, get up eight) proverb has been pinned to the wall by the door going down a flight of stairs into my garage for a number of years. It has taken on new meaning. I know there will be a time to fall and not get up. That happened to several of my friends who died this year, one a little younger, four not too much older. Part of the price of surviving is to pay tribute to the fallen. I learned this lesson young back in the bleak years of the AIDS epidemic when I couldn't count the number of friends and colleagues lost to the virus. 2010 will bring more losses. Mortality, mine and that of all living things, is inevitable. I don't have any sway over that variable. What surprises me is that at 59, I can still lose innocence.

Like everyone I know I was and am impacted by the loss of physical and financial security brought home by the events of the last decade. As cynical as I can be at times I am still mourning the loss of the American dream. As hopeful as I feel about the change of administrations and the election of our first African American president, I have lost something that I can't get back, a naive belief in inevitable progress. Things will not always get better and better. I did not believe that with my intellect but it was deep inside me.

My Venezuelan friend Alejandro invented a word: believance, a cross between belief and observance. I had a believance in the American dream that was as strong as my believance in original sin.

So, a new year is here and a new decade to boot. I have lots to be thankful for including, thanks to my fall, the ease with which my fingers are now moving over the keyboard.

I am loathe to make resolutions for the New Year. One of the gifts of getting older is making peace with who you are. I will not learn a foreign language, a musical instrument, run a marathon or organize my files in the year to come. My mentor and friend the poet James Broughton would often say that the two things we need more of are praise and gratitude.
Praise be it for All Creation or the waiter who brings my food is something I will endeavor to give more of. And gratitude, well that brings tears to my eyes, despite all that I have lost and we have lost, I am grateful for such good company on the journey as I have.
And I am grateful - nanakorobiyaoki - having fallen down seven times to have gotten up eight.

Franklin Abbott
3 January 2010
Stone Mountain

I am happy to supply references for the talented folks who helped me heal from my fall:
Tom Clephane, Bill Hufschmidt, and Dr.Marina Harris.
An interesting website on Japanese proverbs is .
For more information on Gay Spirit Visions: .
For more information on Outwrite (and to order Pink Zinnia):


Anonymous said...

This is an escellent post, starting from the intro by Bob, to the
Japanese quote, to Franklin's tale and wisdom. I can relate to much of it and find it not only appropriate for the season in which we find ourselves, but for my own season in life, as I come to terms with the fact that I am an aging Baby Boomer. Have read some of Franklin's work in Bob's Issues Mag and was pleased to find this guest contribution. Thanks to both of you.

Bob Vance said...

Thanks for your comment Iris. Franklin's broad sensitivity and his palpable aura of compassion has always been a magnet to me. I have learned much from his demonstrated gift for patience as well. I am fortunate to be blessed with such a rich relationship.... I only wish we lived closer!!