Freedom to Interpret

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Those words from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, in the context of the rest of the lyrics, are subject to a thousand interpretations. In my view, the tune is a poem set to music. Taken alone and absent context, they summon an equal number of explanations. Everyone reads those words through a prism or hears them against background noise, the sounds of experience.

While the authors of poetry and musical lyrics (one and the same, in my view, so from here on I’ll just call them poetry) might have had a specific meaning for the words in mind, the consumer of those words is free to assign different meanings to those words. In my opinion, that’s one of the attractions of poetry, the freedom it gives both the writer and the consumer. I remember times in high school, especially, when my teacher would insist on looking at every word, every line, to get at what the poet meant. Those times frustrated me to no end because I knew, even then, that we could never get a what the poet “meant” unless the poet conducted the line-by-line discussion. And I knew, even then, that part of the allure of poetry is both the mystery of its meanings and its ability to get the reader to think about the words and give them meaning that makes sense to the reader.

Sometimes, the meaning contained in well-written poetry can be transparent; the poet’s intent can be obvious. I said “well-written.” Maybe. In my view, the only well-written poetry with meanings that are obvious are poems that call the reader or listener to action. For most poems, though, the call to action is the call to read and reflect and assign meaning that matters to the reader or consumer.

I wrote a poem a few years ago that had very specific, highly personal meaning to me but, to most others, probably means something entirely different if, indeed, it means anything at all:

Into Salt

The water was gentle that February day, the waves
subdued as if they knew we were coming and why.

Salt in the air and in our eyes. Water splashing
against the beach and running down the rivers on our faces.

Wading, slowly, into the warm water,
hating every step and cursing every breath untaken.

Holding onto one another the way we
no longer could hold onto her.

Releasing the contents of a temporary plastic
urn into the permanence of a sea of infinity.

Impossibly hard, brutally final, an ending come too early
in a world in which endings are so often too late.

The gentleness of the water was unwelcome,
waves should have pounded the sand,
wind should have shrieked in rebellion.

She had been someone who loved and
was loved, someone who cared and was cared for.

The final soul-crushing goodbye, breaking life into a million
shards like brittle glass that cannot be made whole again.

You just go on, remembering what melted into salt.

I wrote the poem as a remembrance of the day that my family, a year after her death, scattered my sister’s ashes in the Gulf of Mexico. That was a very hard day.

Poetry provides an outlet when nothing else will do. Its meaning, to both writer and reader/consumer, is defined both by words included in the poem or lyrics and those left out. In artists’ language, the latter would be called negative space.  In the poem above, there’s no mention of my sister nor my family. The only clue that it is about ashes released into the water is the mention of a plastic urn. Lots of “negative space” in the poem.

Here’s another poem, inspired by the same sister. I’ll comment about the poem below.

Heathen Saint

What of a heathen saint,
a woman whose actions lack
covert motives, a guardian of
goodness, a paladin of such purity
even snow cringes at the comparison?

She was neither nun nor pastor nor
preacher, did not even believe in God,
so spent her Sunday mornings away from
hymnals and flowers and the sound of
uplifting worshipful organ music.

But she believed fervently in people,
so she toiled on Sundays, like every day,
to repair the detritus of the night before,
the shrapnel of broken dreams and abandoned
hopes and children left to fend for themselves
while parents offered delirious sacraments
to suicidal addictions and personal demons.

Some think Sunday mornings unsuited
to the stench of cigarettes, stale beer, and
cheap whiskey, that odors of night sweats,
urine, and fear have no place on Sunday,
a day some set aside for reflection.

But she believed in people and that
she could make a difference every day.
She fought dogma that traded the
fragrance of drunks in church
pews on off-days for a meal
and a soft place for their heads;
she asked for no quid pro quo.

She traded safety for relevance and
comfort for concern, leaving herself
open to the consequences of compassion.
The world was a better place with her,
and remains so now, because of her.

Again, the poem was inspired by my sister. It was not, strictly speaking, about her. The words meld my recollections of her with my idealization of a modern-day “saint.” This poem, like the first, relies on “negative space” for its meaning and impact…at least to the writer. Without saying it outright, the poem derides those who cling to religion for salvation but whose behavior is at odds with their “beliefs.” It intended to do that by suggestion  Absent my explanation, I don’t know what readers/consumers of the poem might think it is about. I don’t know whether they like it or hate it or find it easy to dismiss with no strong feelings either way. A poem’s imagery often resides in the head of the writer and the reader, not in written words. For that reason, among others, a poem can (and usually does) mean different things to different people.

The first two stanzas of another poem I wrote a few years ago also rely in part on “negative space” for their meaning:

Penury

Poverty slams doors
and binds them shut
with shackles purchased
with the fruits of avarice,
thick ribbons of greed
sewn from raw hubris and cold
conceit.

Devoid of the fibers of
kindness, these braids
weave a crusted cloth, spun into
clothing worn in unearned
shame by victims of circumstance
thrust upon them by someone else’s
excess.

These two stanzas are screaming metaphors. The rest of the poem, too, relies entirely on metaphors to express rage at the existence of poverty. The metaphors in the first two stanzas and the remainder of the poem cast blame for poverty on greed and excess and hubris. I think (but I’m not certain) the writer’s intent is clear throughout the poem. I think, but I’m not sure, the reader’s or consumer’s understanding of the poem will coincide with my intent in writing it. But if the reader doesn’t interpret it in the way I intended it to be interpreted, that’s all right. Because it’s poetry. If I wanted to be sure the reader would clearly understand my meaning for the words I used, I wouldn’t have written a poem. Instead, I would have written an essay and I would have explained in great detail and in multiple ways what I intended. I would have tried to ensure that no one could possibly read my words and “misinterpret” them to mean something I did not intend. But I didn’t write an essay. I wrote a poem. Poems are open to interpretation. Whether that interpretation corresponds to the poet’s intent is immaterial.

As I finish writing this post, I’m asking myself why I wrote it? I think, perhaps, I wrote it to emphasize to myself that I believe the value of poetry to both writer and reader resides in the meaning each assigns to it. And that the meanings assigned by writer and reader need not coincide, because poetry is extremely personal. And poems need not matter to everyone who reads them. It’s okay to dismiss an individual poem as irrelevant to oneself…if, indeed, it truly is irrelevant.

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Con-Fusion Foods and Cultures

I can’t stop myself. My mind keeps returning to an idea I expressed on this blog on Christmas day almost six years ago. It was December 25, 2013 that I proposed creating fusion dishes that would marry the flavors and textures of Mexican and Indian/Pakastani foods. Yes, I realize the idea might be considered by some as gastronomic or culinary appropriation. But as I’ve argued before, it is not appropriation; it is cultural celebration, giving recognition to and appreciation for the foodstuffs of other cultures.

By now, my idea (which I had not heard from others at the time) is not new. Just yesterday, I read an article in the Dallas Observer about a new (started in 2018) food truck, Halal Mother Truckers, that serves “Pakistani Tex-Mex.” Regardless that my idea has been appropriated and adapted elsewhere (yes, I know, I probably wasn’t the source of the idea), I intend to pursue it in my own kitchen that I call The French Kangaroo. The dishes I plan to prepare (over time) include:

  • lamb vindaloo tamales;
  • chicken vindaloo tacos;
  • tandoori carnitas;
  • lamb fajitas;
  • bhindi masala burritos;
  • gobhi Manchurian empenadas (to really mix it up);
  • baigan guisada enchiladas;
  • shrimp biryani con frijoles refritos.

I’ve been talking about doing this for, literally, years! It’s time I stop dreaming and start executing. When I do these things, I will write about the experiences and post photos, both here and at The French Kanagaroo. Speaking of TFK, it’s embarrassing how little I’ve written/posted to the page in recent months…and months…and months.

As I think about some of these prospective dishes, I envision additional cuisines slipping into the mix. Caribbean jerk chicken tacos, perhaps. Or German sausage biryani. Or, perhaps, chiles rellenos filled with doro wat alongside raita and basmati rice. The combinations could be endless. I can imagine a bowl of linguini flavored with leftover sauce from lamb vindaloo (if there is such a thing) and slices of nopalitos.

***

Schools should, from an early age, teach children about different cultures. Cultural differences should be celebrated. Not just foods, but ideas. Customs. The objective of preserving cultural identity, while ensuring cultural acceptance and assimilation, is a tough one. But it merits serious consideration. If we survive the asshole in the White House, we ought to try to restructure our own society so that we collectively appreciate and understand other cultures. Food gives us the opportunity to introduce other cultures to us and to introduce ourselves to other cultures. But it’s not the only way. Understanding the cuisines of a culture cannot replace understanding the beliefs and norms of a culture. I suppose I’m writing these words to emphasize that I recognize that we won’t accomplish world peace through food alone. But it’s a start.

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Sense of Wonder

Recent storms ripped leaves and some rotted branches from trees, littering the streets with natural debris. The rotted branches, smashed beneath the wheels of cars, become orange and brown detritus, leaving the roadways splotched with abstract designs. The early morning sun and shadow plays with the artistic compositions, creating even more complex patterns. I watch these evolving images from the safety of my window, for now, but when I get in my car in a few minutes, I’ll have to force myself to pay attention not to the natural artwork, but to oncoming traffic and bends in the road.

The art in nature seems mostly random, but if you observe it closely over enough time, you will find repetitive shapes and forms and textures. What we see, on close inspection, is the natural configuration of cells and crystals, amplified thousand of times over. The symmetry of crystalline structures is among the most obvious repetitions, but repetitions are everywhere. We see the macroscopic versions of incredibly complex microscopic symmetries.

I sometimes long to know more than I do about the intricacies of leaves and tree trunks and minerals. But then I wonder whether such deep knowledge can damage the sense of wonder one feels in the natural world? Does the natural environment become somewhat clinical, knowing that beneath the stunning beauty are structures readily explainable by physics and biology and mathematics? I doubt it. I know people whose knowledge of the natural world greatly eclipses mine and they seem to have an even greater sense of awe about it than I.

Time to stop wondering. I’m off to have my ultrasound. Oh boy.

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Religion Has No Place in Government and Politics

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

John F. Kennedy
September 12, 1960

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Critical Thinking at Odd Hours

During recent internet meanderings, an old YouTube video surfaced, recalling something I found insightful a few years ago. The subject of the video is is bitchy resting face. That is, a woman’s normal facial appearance, at rest, that looks sour or angry. The latter part of the video turns to men who exhibit the same expression; for them, the term is asshole resting face. I don’t know whether the video preceded or followed widespread use of another term for the phenomenon: resting bitch-face. The male counterpart is resting dick-face. I have compassion for people, including me, whose normal expressions represent either resting bitch-face or resting dick-face. We don’t choose to look sour and angry all the time. It’s just the way our faces are. That perpetual scowl doesn’t represent anger or a bad mood or an invitation to trade insults or engage in a physical confrontation. And, by the way, it’s not a perpetual scowl if it’s the natural appearance of the face at rest. It’s either resting bitch-face or resting dick-face. On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked, seemingly out of nowhere, “What’s wrong?” The questioner’s assumption, of course, is that my facial appearance suggests I am unhappy or angry or otherwise not in my happy place. Rather than go into a long explanation about how my normal expression can be misconstrued by others as evidence of some form of distress, I think henceforth I’ll say, “Nothing. It’s just my resting dick-face.”

***

Only twice since I began writing this blog in 2012 have my posts included the word licorice, once in 2016 and once in 2017. I know this because I searched for the word, using the search feature (on the right side in desktop applications or at the top on devices such as smart-phones). I vaguely recall a software product that scans documents, even full-length books, and counts the number of occurrences of every word or, at the user’s discretion, all words except articles, prepositions, etc. I don’t recall what the product was called and I am not sufficiently curious this morning to search for it. I suspect several software applications can perform the task now. I think it would be interesting to see the results of a scan of this blog; a list of words I’ve used, ordered by frequency, for the past seven years. What might I do with such a list? I don’t know. Probably nothing of any consequence. It would simply satisfy my curiosity. I doubt I would find anything stunning in the list. But I would be intrigued to see whether my use of licorice is greater or less than my use of any other not-so-common word.  I’m easily amused, I guess.

***

When I saw reports on Facebook that indicated a survey showed that 51% of Americans opt to go swimming in a pool in lieu of taking a bath or shower, I immediately assumed it was pure B.S., just a joke. It just sounded absurd to me. Subsequently, though, I learned that it was reported as “fact” by some major news media outlets. A little checking uncovered that the survey leading to the startling conclusion was done by a PR firm that worked a questionable organization (the Water Quality & Health Council) sponsored by the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council. Yep. The entire thing was intended to prop up chlorine sellers. In this new age in which the president of the United States is modeling untruthfulness as if it were a virtue, low-life PR types hungry for money happily pay homage to such behavior.

***

As I am wont to do, I skimmed the BBC website this morning and came across an intriguing piece on dreams. Francesca Siclari, a sleep research doctor at the Lausanne University Hospital, is quoted in the article as saying: “Normally we dream most vividly in REM sleep, which is when the levels of noradrenaline are low in the brain.” That quote prompted me to ponder the plot line of a story in which a pair of rogue sleep researchers manipulate study subjects in ways that allow the researchers to create dreams. Through a complex set of other interventions, the sleep researchers capture information about the subjects’ personal lives. By manipulating both chemical levels of noradrenaline in the brain and interrupting periods of REM sleep, the researchers cause subjects to begin to confuse waking memories with dreams and vice versa. I haven’t gotten far enough along to know just where the plot might go, but I think it has some potential.

***

I am in favor of a national service requirement for young people. My support for the concept is relatively new; probably ten or fifteen years in the making. In my slow-to-develop thus still-nascent thinking on the matter, I envision a requirement that would enable young people to opt out, but if they did they would also opt out of social safety nets like Social Security, Medicare, health insurance (which, in my ways of thinking, is a national one-payer system), and various other programs and privileges and benefits. The idea is to make service the much more attractive option. Young people could choose any number of commitments, ranging from senior-care to support of environmental research to…you name it. I envision a fairly rigid environment, modeled after military basic training, to introduce the young people to self-discipline and social responsibility.

While I’m talking about a requirement for national service, I have no objections to a similar requirement for seniors. Not as demanding, perhaps, but something. Like 3 hours per week doing something in support of the community. This could be a requirement in order to receive full Social Security benefits. Again, the seniors could opt out, but their benefits might be curtailed if so.

Just thinking “aloud” here. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” I think all of us should be required, as members of society, to support the society that supports us. If you think socialism is a bad thing, think again. Socialism isn’t the problem; politically-diseased implementation of almost any political/economic/social system is the problem. Says me.

***

It’s only about a quarter after six. I’ve been up for well over two hours. Once I got up to go pee about 2:30, it was impossible to get back to sleep. It was the noise. I finally gave up just before four. I’m in the mood for food, but I’m not in the mood to cook it. Bah!

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A Little Reminiscence and Pandering

This morning’s installation ceremony for our newly-settled minister, who’s been with our church for more than a year, was more interesting and moving than I expected. Though I’m still biased against churches, as a class of institutions, in many ways, this church (Unitarian Universalist Village Church) refutes my bias. It is open and encourages free thought and intellectual growth. It readily accepts atheists and doesn’t try to change their minds, only to open them. But that’s not why I began writing this post. No, the weather triggered my decision to write.

Powerful storms are moving across the state. We’ve seen some pretty powerful cells move over us, causing strong winds, thunder, and torrential rain. At the moment, the rain seems to have let up, but cracks of thunder echo and roll at frequent intervals. I imagine more rain and wind will follow. Just now, a deep thunderous growl shook the house. I suspect the ground under the house flinched and winced at the sound.

Before the weather sidetracked my thoughts, I had planned to document my thoughts about meeting online connections in the flesh. I’ve written about the topic before, but I doubt I’ve completely emptied my thoughts on the matter onto the page. So I’ll have another go at it. Another online friend’s recent posts about meeting other online friends prompted me to think about it.

My first meeting with an online connection took place in New York City. There, I met Teresa, who lived in Syracuse. She made the trip to NYC at my behest. My wife thought I was out of my mind, wanting to meet someone who could be an axe murderer. “What do you know about her?” I didn’t know much. But I was relatively sure she was no axe murderer. She was intelligent, funny, witty, and a poet…possessing many of the qualities I like in a person. I enjoyed my online chatter with her so much that I thought I might be in love with her, which could create an awkwardness of enormous proportions in a face-to-face meeting in the presence of my wife. But it turned out that I was just enamored with her, not in love with her. At least not in the traditional sense. That meeting, and the subsequent meeting, with her was exhilarating. I absolutely LOVED meeting someone I’d only known online. We had drinks, dinner and then during another meeting we rode the train together for a short time during a sad time when we transported my deceased brother-in-law’s ashes from Boston to Aurora, Illinois. I still wish I could find a way to join her on her annual travels by train to Nova Scotia. Ideally, some of the bloggers and other online friends we share would come along. Phil. Bev? I don’t really know which ones we both know.

During our second trip when we met Teresa again, we met another online connection, Larry. Larry and I have a tremendous amount in common, though there’s a vast range of things we don’t share. For instance, he’s an accomplished guitarist; I’ve held a guitar once or twice. But he took us to a Greek bar for a look-see and gave us a tour of his neighborhood. And he introduced us to a restaurant that serves one of the best grilled octopus dishes I’ve ever had. He even offered us a place to stay, though circumstances conspired against that happening. Larry knows another of my connections, about whom I’ll write in a moment, Robin. They grew up together, I gather. The online and personal connections we share are amazing.

After Teresa, I had occasion to meet Kathy face-t0-face when I went to southern California to testify in a fraud case (in which, it turned out, I never testified). We planned to have dinner together, but the district attorney screwed that up by asking me to spend the evening talking about my testimony. Still, I met Kathy and her husband for drinks and we enjoyed a short visit.

Later, during a visit to northern California to visit my sister, I met Robin and her husband, Roger, and Tara in Sacramento. My wife and I took a train from Oakland (or was it San Francisco?) to Sacramento and had a wonderful lunch with the three bloggers. While we were there, we met our friends Bob and Susan, who had recently retired. And, then, we met another Kathy (whose last name I knew only at the last minute for good but what seemed like mysterious reasons) for breakfast.

Still later, we met another online friend, though not a blogger, in Florida during a  trip to visit my wife’s friends. This online friend, Juan, lives in New Port Richey, not far from the Tampa/St. Pete area. We went to his house and met him and his son and enjoyed drinks and conversation around his pool. We marveled at his lifestyle…the quirky college professor whose political views coincide almost perfectly with mine!

Oh, another one I’ve met face-to-face is Bill, aka William, a publisher who lives in Corpus Christi. I connected to him through Juan. And Bill asked me to submit something for inclusion in a compilation of materials from authors with Corpus Christi connections. So I did. And we went to Corpus Christi for the book launch, where I met Bill in the flesh.

Is it possible I’ve missed anyone? It is, but I hope I haven’t. I want to meet other of my online friends. I’d love to meet Chuck and Sid and Liz and Melodee and Cheryl and Steve and Jennifer and Phil and Chip and (of course) Bev. And Audra. And Sky. And Donna and Henry…the list is probably endless.

During the course of scanning my blog for mentions of other online connections, I somehow found myself at a post I wrote in July 2013, utterly unrelated to the topic at hand. I doubt anyone but me has ever seen that post and, perhaps, that will be the case henceforth and forevermore. But on the off chance that someone might read this post all the way through, I’m including a link to that post because, when I read it today, it brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know if that’s simply because it brought back memories or because it’s a piece of moving writing. If anyone is feeling generous, tonight, I’d love to get a reaction to what I wrote almost six years ago. Here’s the link: http://johnswinburn.com/unexpected-attachments/

I  hope you’ll forgive me for pandering. That one post just moved me. I wonder if anyone else finds it moving. I don’t get much feedback (which is okay, inasmuch as I don’t seek it). But sometimes it would be cool to know whether anyone reads what I write. And, if so, whether they find it a waste of their eyesight.

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Today’s Thoughtballs

Church demands my time twice this weekend. Today, our minister will be officially installed as the settled minister. While the concept hold little meaning for me, it apparently means a great deal to others, including the minister, so I will attend. I understand that selecting a minister as the settled minister establishes a special relationship between him or her and the congregation that simply engaging a minister on contract does not. Tomorrow is just another Sunday. Despite the fact that neither day involves a great deal of time at the church, both days do not belong to me in their entirety, thanks to church obligations. Obligations is too strong a word. Both days involve a self-imposed commitment that I could break without risking dislocation of the universe. But I have allowed myself to interpret a self-imposed commitment as an obligation. If I continue to do that, I will find myself resenting the church. This is something I need to work on.

***

My ultrasound is scheduled for Monday morning, after which I will come home and ready the smoker for the next day’s engagement: smoking a 5-pound (+/-) pork loin for Tuesday evening’s meal. The pork loin is the one a couple at our church purchased during last year’s church auction. They’re finally ready for me to deliver on Tuesday evening. And they generously invited my wife and me to partake, along with the minister and his wife. It should be a fun evening. The preparation of the pork loin will begin Monday afternoon, when I will start the process of brining it overnight. Then, on Tuesday, I will smear it with mustard and dust it heavily with rub. My rub is an off-the-shelf product to which I liberally add lots of pepper and a few other things. I’ll smoke it with a combination of mesquite and hickory chips.

***

The weather forecast for this afternoon and evening calls for thunderstorms which are expected to last through midday tomorrow. Then, we can expect more of the same, with only brief respites, through Wednesday. Assuming the forecasts to be accurate, a shaky assumption, I will be unable to spend much time working on the deck in preparation for the new contractor’s arrival next week. And I’ll be unable to spend time on other outdoor tasks that desperately need attention…mine or someone else’s.

***

The tasks requiring my attention around the house have taken on a new dimension of late. That’s because I’ve taken to watching, on occasion, an HGTV program involving people buying island properties. Most of the programs involve couples looking at condos on islands in the Carribean, though some are set in other places. Condos. My wife and I got married in her one-bedroom condo in Houston. It was a converted apartment complex. I’ve always thought of condos as apartments. Which, basically, they are. But I’ve begun to look at the idea of purpose-built condos with excellent sound insulation with a degree of interest. Especially if the condo happens to be located on a body of water with miles of sandy beaches.  I had no such interest until I started watching this HGTV series (I’m not sure what it’s called or when it airs; obviously, I don’t pay close attention). But the few programs I’ve seen have begun to change my mind about condos, at least about condos located in tropical paradises that are not (yet) awash in tourists and cruise ships. What I find most appealing is the absence of responsibilities for exterior maintenance. But the proximity to a walkable beach is rather attractive, too. Regardless of how attractive beachfront condos are, though, they are out of my reach. Because money. Or, rather, the lack thereof.  I really do wish there were a black market in souls; there are days I think I’d sell mine.

***

A Little Rock television station has reported two interesting mercantile stories within the past several days. Both Trader Joe’s and Costco are said to be evaluating the possibility of building their first Arkansas stores in Little Rock. I hope the stories are true. And I hope the decisions come soon and are in our favor.

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Fixation

Time is malleable. Time is not malleable. Both statements are true. Which one is true for a given set of circumstances depends on context. For example, an hour has meaning on planet Earth, but that measurement is either meaningless or means something quite different on planet Jupiter. You and I base our common understanding of time on the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. A being on planet Jupiter would have no such understanding; or, the relationship between the Sun and Jupiter would define time differently. That is, time is malleable in those circumstances. But time is not malleable in the sense that we have no control over it, regardless of where we are.

Time is infinite. Time is not infinite. If we define time in a way that does not depend on the relationship between astronomical bodies or, in fact, any other relationships, then time can be said to be infinite. Time simply is, though how we define time in such a way is a little beyond me. But if time depends on those relationships, time will exist only as long as those relationships exist. Once the sun’s fuel is exhausted, time goes with it, at least as far as planet Earth is concerned.

A few years ago, I wrote that “time manifests itself physically in the changes that take place in entities subject to its passage.” I went on to suggest that we know time exists not because we can observe it but because we can observe its effects. I compared time to black holes; astronomers impute their existence not by seeing them, but by observing their influence on objects around them.  Later (or it may have been earlier…I’m too lazy to look), I wrote about time crystals, a newly-discovered form of matter that apparently exhibited a special form of perpetual motion.

It occurred to me just a while ago that I don’t recall ever having read the definition of time, so I looked it up in Merriam-Webster. Although there are many, many definitions assigned to the word, the two components of the first entry are closest to what I was looking for:

1: the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues : DURATION
2: a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future

Neither element of the definition satisfies me. The first one suggests measurement of…time. So, hidden inside the definition of the word is the concept I’m trying to define. The second one again relies on relationships that incorporate the concept of time: past, present, future. And it, too, indicates measurement which depends on what? Time.

I’ve reached the conclusion that time is an artificial construct designed to give sentient beings a way to bring a sense of order to an existence characterized by chaos. But, again, that sense of order relies on the concept of what happens first, what happens next, etc. And that implies before and after, concepts rooted in the understanding of time.

I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated with the concept of time. I’ve written about it often; probably a dozen or more posts devoted to the topic or, more likely devoted to something else but hijacked midstream by the unrelated concept of time.

Years ago, I was absolutely enchanted by science fiction books. But that interest has waned over the years. I feel it coming back, though. Not reading science fiction, but writing it. As I periodically delve into the concept of time, I find myself manufacturing ideas that would fit nowhere but else but science fiction. But, then, the concept of time crystals is not fiction but is a real idea from theoretical physics. Even before I came across time crystals, I had written an absurd fantasy piece about the physical attributes of time. Lately, as I contemplate time and its physical attributes 😉 I sense that I may want to climb inside a magical machine that will allow me to travel to the far side of time, giving me a good close-up look at the inner-workings of the enormous celestial clock that measures our days. It’s a time fixation, I guess, superimposed over a science fiction fantasy. Maybe involving a time-traveling linguist and his theoretical physicist girlfriend. Now, my question is this: is she theoretically a physicist girlfriend or a girlfriend who’s a theoretical physicist?

It’s time I stop writing before I make myself inconsolably sad.

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Worry Does No Good

Most of the time, I succeed at keeping my health off my mind. But sometimes the topic surfaces and swings a machete, as if it has been waiting just beneath the surface of my consciousness for the the ideal time to slash at me with a hatred unequaled in the universe.  In those moments, waves of hopelessness wash over me. I feel like I have no control over whether my body will give me another twenty years or another twenty seconds.

But I do have control and I know it. Not absolute control, but enough to dramatically increase my chances for longevity if I would only exercise that control. Exercise. The use of that word is coincidental, isn’t it? I should get regular exercise. Eat better. Reduce my intake of alcohol. Buy and try horse liniment on my awfully arthritic joints, the stuff a woman recommended to our minister.

Regardless of knowing I have a degree of control, and knowing what I should do, I have assiduously avoided those reasonable courses of action.  And I see no especially meaningful indication I will embark on that life-affirming change of habit and behavior. Instead, the evidence suggests I will continue just wishing. Just hoping. Not praying. But that might come next. Anything, it seems, other than the self-discipline and self-love, if that’s what it would be, to move me toward salvation. No, not that kind. Personal salvation. That kind.

I think part of the issue is this: it seems I keep getting hints from my body that lung cancer was just one of my problems. More recently, thanks to the x-ray my oncologist ordered but never bothered to tell me about, I am concerned about gall-stones. Or other maladies that could befall me. Thanks, in large part, to those damn bad habits over which I seem unable to exercise any self-control. Eating. Drinking. Vegetating. Avoiding exercise and motion and other such activities that might debate my mind about my body’s slothfulness. The exercise avoidance is actually a matter of getting incredibly winded after only mild exertion. For example, I just can’t seem to catch my breath for several minutes after I walk up the driveway to take the trash to the street for pickup.

Back to my health. I shouldn’t be worried, based on what the doctors tell me, but sometimes I do, anyway. Even though it’s been only two months since I completed my cancer treatments (I finished radiation first, then chemo shortly thereafter), I find myself wondering whether “they might have missed something.” And even if not, I learned shortly after my diagnosis that lung cancer tends to recur, either locally or at distant sites in the body. I read an article online this morning that includes these statements: “In fact, many patients with NSCLC have been cured by surgery. However, there are also many cases that fail to achieve a cure following surgery. In fact, 30% to 55% of patients with NSCLC develop recurrence and die of their disease despite curative resection.” Those significant percentages, I guess, contribute to my ongoing sense of…what is it…not really fear, but worry…or something. Not panic…I don’t know. Something. I know I should just get over it. There’s nothing I can do to stop cancer if it’s in my body. But, then, I keep going back to what little I’m doing about my overall health.

I hope these moods, whatever they are, don’t last forever. I hope I can get over the periodic feelings of hopelessness. Fortunately, those feelings don’t last long. But they seem to be more frequent and longer-lasting now than they were a month or two ago. I may be overstating what I’m feeling, too. I don’t think hopelessness is quite the right word. Maybe melancholy or despondency fit better. Or simply sorrow. Whatever the word, I need to find a way to put an end to those sensations. They haven’t interfered with anything but my mood so far, but I worry that they might. There’s that word again: worry. Worry does no good. I know this, intellectually. My emotions, though, seem to override my intellect far too often.

Damn. I need to get on with my day and wash this gloom out of my mind. I should replace my gloom with good news. I hired a handyman to work on the deck, replacing the people I fired. He will start on June 3 and expected the job to take three days. Good news. I hope. And I’m going to lunch with a friend today and out to dinner with my wife and, maybe, her sister tonight. The sun is shining. The temperature is moderate. Lots to be happy about. So get on with it, John!

Posted in Cancer, Depression, Emotion, Health | 2 Comments

2900 and Then Some

I’m typing post number 2,900 and you’re reading the very same one. Just 100 more and I’ll have published 3000 posts here. Add 2,100 more posts and I’ll have reached 5,000. You can do the math. Keep adding large round numbers and, eventually, you’ll reach 10,000. Multiply that number by 10 and the magic number, 100,000 will have been reached. But that’s putting the cart before the horse, isn’t it? I mean, as of today, I’m 97,100 away from achieving magic. Math. It’s a wonderful thing.

***

I am sore today. My muscles and joints ache, thanks to the fact that I spent the day yesterday sanding the deck (but only for a while) and, then, removing the “steps” from the deck. The steps comprise rotted and rotting two by six boards, each sixteen feet long. They were (and some still are) affixed to an underlying structure with long, square recess heads (also called Robertson heads). The heads of virtually all the screws were (are) buried under layers of paint. Most were further concealed by wood fibers that had filled in the space on top of the heads. And the vast majority were either rusted through in the thread length. Or the head was so badly rusted that the square recess dissolved into a round hole when I attempted to remove the screw from the wood. I spent almost the entire day removing just two sixteen foot boards. I still have one to go, plus the structure upon which the two by sixes sat. And then some. Plus, many more deck boards must be removed. I’m trying to get someone to either help me or, better yet, do the work for me. We’ll see. I am unsuited to this work. Five years ago, I would have been better-suited. But not today. Ach!

***

My wife prepared ahi tuna burgers for dinner last night. No buns, just the burgers. We had liked them at some point in the past. And they were not bad last night. Just rather bland.  You’ll notice the photo to the left is not an ahi tuna burger. It is a poached egg sitting atop a mass of sauteed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. The green bits are chives from our limited herb garden. The strips that look like shredded parmesan are, in fact, shredded parmesan. I took the photo yesterday morning after I prepared breakfast. Yes, that’s yesterday’s breakfast. I’m not really sure what a photo of yesterday’s breakfast has to do with last night’s ahi tuna burgers, but it seemed appropriate to post it alongside the tuna conversation.

***

I will visit my dental hygienist around midday today. She will clean my teeth and will chastise me for failing to spend four to six hours every day on tooth and gum care. If I spent as much time and energy on my teeth and gums as she would like me to do, my teeth would be sparkling ivory sabers protruding from muscular gums so strong and powerful I could chew razor blades and still do no damage to my mouth.

The woman probably will not mention the football-field-wide diastema between the two top front teeth. I’ve wondered, from time to time, how she would respond if I told her I would like to speak to the dentist about addressing the diaspora between my teeth. “You mean diastema?” She might say that. Or she might simply let it go and leave the room to go tell the dentist. I would then hear loud, unrestrained laughter  from a nearby office. And the dentist and the hygienist would, from that point forward, consider me educationally challenged.

That’s it for now. I have fiction on my mind, but it’s not suitable for general audiences. I’ll have to clean it up before I post it here.

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Grace, Youth, and the Pain of Wisdom (and Raccoons)

Last night, I watched part of a 60 Minutes segment that profiled a Wisconsin program called The Restorative Justice Project and some of the people who have participated in it. I haven’t watched 60 Minutes in years. I used to watch it every Sunday. But for some reason it lost its appeal. Or I lost interest. At any rate, I watched it last night. I’m glad I did.

I was moved by victims of crimes—people who lost family members to murder, for example—forgiving the people who killed their loved ones. It doesn’t sound reasonable as I write the words, but it most definitely was when I heard them. People whose lives had been turned upside down—people who had become bitter and enraged—found some sense of peace when they realized the criminals who had hurt them so badly were humans, too. I don’t know that I could reach that point. I don’t know that I could forgive someone for such a horrific act. But I deeply admire people who can. And I admire people who acknowledge that hatred is a self-defeating emotion. I want to acknowledge that. Better still, I want to learn enough from that knowledge that my behavior changes. I don’t know that it will, though. I’ve tried before. It has never worked. Maybe it’s because of my fundamental flaws. I hate to think that, too.

Forgiveness is much more valuable to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven. That’s a lesson I learned years ago, but I hope it might finally have sunk in. Old age, more so than youth, tends to enable one’s brain to accept wisdom.

***

I fired the deck scraping/painting/repair contractor yesterday. By proxy. That is, his wife brought the paint and collected what I owed him. She apologized profusely and said she understood why I was so unhappy with him/them. But I don’t think she really understood. She didn’t seem to grasp how frustrating it has been for me to be told to expect them to show up by noon (or on Thursday)…and that time or that day passes without a phone call and without anyone showing up.

“I don’t like to set specific times to expect us because we never know how long a job might take us.” I told her I could not fathom how she could have even said that. She wanted me to give them another chance. I told her I had given them multiple chances and had asked them to let me know if they would be late or  would not make it; they never bothered to call or text, they just didn’t show. No more chances. She claimed her husband had given me receipts for extra sandpaper totaling almost $35. I told her I would pay the claimed $35, but he had given me only one receipt, from Walmart, for $7.95 for sandpaper. Though I now have to come up with an alternate way of getting the deck repair finished, I feel better knowing that I won’t have to build my schedule around people (at least those people) who won’t show up.

Maybe I can do the work myself, after all. I feel slightly stronger and have a little more stamina than I did when I hired them to do the job.

I find it somewhat odd that I am moved by the Restorative Justice Project, yet I can’t find it in myself to forgive the deck repair contractor. There’s something buried in my psyche that sees but does not fully respond to the irony in my conflicting emotions surrounding these two matters. What did I say a few minutes ago? “Forgiveness is much more valuable to the one who forgives than to the one who is forgiven.” Uh huh.

***

Elementor is software that, I was told, is much easier to use and is more versatile than the native WordPress editor. I tried it with this post. I did not like it. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know it well enough. At any rate, I tried it and decided to switch back to the WordPress editor. I may give it another shot, sometime soon. But not now. No, now it’s time to talk raccoons.

Because, you know, those damn raccoons! Yes, they’re here (they’ve probably never gone anywhere). And they took advantage of the fact that I left a single hummingbird feeder out last night. This morning, I noticed it was not hanging where it should have been. I walked out on the deck and looked over the edge. There, about 20 feet below me, was the hummingbird feeder, in pieces. I will retrieve it later today and will find out whether it is broken. It could be that the top and bottom, which come apart so the feeder can be filled, simply separated. We’ll see.

I did not see raccoons attack the feeder. But circumstantial evidence is enough to convict them of the crime. I am certain the feeder was not tossed to the ground by foxes or coyotes or turkeys. Bears did not climb up onto the deck, nor did bobcats or mountain lions or zebras. It was one or more raccoons. The bastards!

It’s a pain in the ass to have to bring in the hummingbird feeders every night. I really ought to figure out a way to make them inaccessible to raccoons, yet readily viewable, both to the birds and to us. Not bloody likely.

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Risks

We are afraid of risks, the ones we sense are akin to falling into an abyss whose bottom is too far below us to be seen. We fear that deep chasm, that crevasse with no visible floor. Our imaginations conjure images of ravenous creatures with teeth like razors, prowling among outcroppings of sharp rocks, just waiting for us to slip into a gap between slippery ledges. If we fall, our fantasies tell us, our bodies will be ripped to pieces by demons too fierce to fight, too powerful to overcome. So we shiver in fright, clinging to thorns that pierce our hands, leaving us bloody and throbbing in pain, never daring to risk a misstep from a precarious ledge.

But the others, those who embrace the possibilities resting just beyond the risks, attain freedom. Their scars confirm that wounds sometimes heal. And even when they don’t, the pain recedes over time.

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Skipping Rocks

Spargelzeit

My wife and her sister and I had dinner last night at Steinhaus Keller, Hot Springs’ only German restaurant. We chose to go there because we’re in the midst of Spargelfest, the culinary celebration of Spargelzeit. Spargelfest is the observance of the peak of asparagus season (Spargelzeit). In Germany, the season peaks when white asparagus reaches perfection (or thereabouts). Frankly, though I absolutely love asparagus, I don’t eat it often enough to recall the difference in taste and/or texture between stalks of white and green asparagus. I know, though, I enjoy both immensely. But, in spite of the season and the special asparagus-laden menu, we opted to sample only one items from the restaurant’s special Spargelfest menu. We shared an appetizer of spargel gravlax, which the menu described (aptly) as follows: Smoked salmon painted with horseradish cream cheese, rolled around marinated white asparagus, tomato, cucumber, red onion, and roasted garlic then served atop toasted crostini. It was excellent. For her entrée, my wife chose Ziguener Schnitzel. My SIL chose Braised Pork Knuckle (Schweinshaxe), but then had to retreat to an alternative (German Bone-In Shank) when she learned her choice was sold out. I selected the Steinhaus Platter, consisting of two sausages (bratwurst and (I think) knackwurst and sliced pork roast. We chose various sides, including red cabbage (Rotes Kraut), Brussels sprouts, German Potato Salad (Kartoffelsalat), and Potato Pancake (Kartoffel Pancake). I ordered a wheat beer (Heffesweizen), Franziskaner Helles my SIL had, I think, a Marzen Oktoberfest (Spaten Oktoberfest).

To say the meal was rich would be a monstrous understatement. I think we all enjoyed it immensely, in spite of leaving the place absolutely stuffed. We all agreed we’d like to go back to try other dishes. The menu is extremely inviting!

***

Speaking of Germans and Germany..my home country owes its name to a German cartographer.

In 1507, a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, drew a map of the world. He called it Universalis Cosmographia. Waldseemüller based his drawing of the “new world” on the published travelogues of Amerigo Vespucci. All countries were, at the time, viewed as feminine, so Waldseemüller used a “feminine Latinized” version of Vespucci’s first name. Cartographers at the time tended to copy one another’s descriptive words, so “America” came into common use on maps and, thereafter, in the language at large.

According to Jonathan Cohen, a poet, translator, essayist, and scholar of inter-American literature, whose online essay inexplicably resides, apparently, on the website for the Department of Surgery at Stony Brook University:

“In their resulting Cosmographiae Introductio, printed on April 25, 1507, appear these words (as translated from the original Latin): “But now these parts [Europe, Asia and Africa, the three continents of the Ptolemaic geography] have been extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Americus Vespuccius [a Latin form of Vespucci’s name], as will be seen in the appendix: I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part after Americus, who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, [and so to name it] Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women”

***

Discourteous Pigs Who Scrape and Paint

I can’t believe how long it has been since I hired a contractor to scrape and sand and paint my deck. It has been ages. Well, the contractor continues to simply fail to show. Even after promising to be here “tomorrow” or “by noon,” he fails to show. Yesterday was the last straw. I got a call just before 9 a.m., saying they would be here by noon. (The day before I was told they planned to spend the entire day at my house.) By 2 p.m., I texted, inquiring how much the guy thought I owed him for work done so far (I guess that question gave away my plans). An hour later came his reply. He gave me a rough estimate and said he would give me a firm number in 15 or 20 minutes. As of this morning, I still have no “firm” number. I imagine he figured the writing was on the wall, so why bother? If I hear from him again, I will inform him that he has two choices for payment: deliver to me on a day and time suitable to me the two 5-gallon cans of paint I bought for the deck (in which case I will pay him for work completed so far) or keep the paint as payment in full for his efforts to date. If I don’t hear from him, I will simply buy more paint (after I finish scraping and replacing boards that need it).  It absolutely stuns me that people behave like he does. One thing is certain. He will not complete the work he started so very long ago.

***

Ultrasound

Finally, I’m scheduled for an ultrasound. I got a call yesterday to schedule the test, which may provide more information about the suspected gallstones revealed during a recent X-ray. I do not relish the idea of ultrasound confirmation that I may have gallstones, but neither do I relish the idea of learning about them (if, indeed, they are there) through horrific pain. I think I have an allergy to pain. Before month-end, I will know more than I know today. But that’s true every month, isn’t it?

***

Okay. That’s sufficient for now. Ideas suitable for fiction have begun to bubble up in my mind. Perhaps I will return to fiction in short order. Or, perhaps, not. When I look at what I’ve written and see that the topics are so diverse, I think to myself that my mind is skipping rocks on the surface of a broad expanse of water. Or, if not water, thought.

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An Early-Season Inland Hurricane and African Food

In spite of flash flood warnings, torrential rains, high winds, and flooded roadways, we drove to Little Rock for dinner last night. We had arranged to have dinner with two other couples, one of whom we had offered to chauffeur to the restaurant (we would have made the offer to both, but our vehicle is not big enough).

The drive to Little Rock was nerve-wracking, though I think I did a remarkably good job of hiding my terror. Each time a vehicle heading toward us on the two-lane road hit a flooded spot, spraying hundreds of gallons of water over our car, I felt confident I would be blinded long enough to fail to see a sharp curve in the road. But I didn’t reveal my intense panic. I noted at some point along the way that, had I realized the trip would entail driving through an early season category 5 inland hurricane, I might have stayed home. I think I saw my wife’s eyes roll at that comment. She had suggested earlier in the day that we cancel our plans, given the intensity of the rain and the frequency flash-flood warnings.

Despite the weather challenges, though, we made it to Kontiki African Restaurant in Little Rock. Not knowing I had stopped at a curb eight inches deep in flowing water, I let my passengers out in front of the restaurant. Fortunately, only the sole other male stepped into the rapids. After his experience, I pulled forward to an island, where I deposited my wife and our other friend. I left them in front of the restaurant, under a covered walkway, while I parked the car. I tried to avoid getting soaked, walking from the car to the walkway, but my umbrella was inadequate. Walking forty feel in a howling thunderstorm with near-horizontal rainfall virtually guarantees one will be soaked. And I was.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant was almost empty. When we arrived, only one customer was there, waiting for her carry-out dinner. Another couple and, later, a single man, came in. The couple stayed. The man was there for carry-out.  Normal people, it seems, stayed home during the ferocious downpours.

Our meals were tasty, but I much prefer east African food (i.e., Ethiopian) to west African food (i.e., Sierre Leone). The countries are at about the same latitudes, but their foods are radically different. I started with pepper soup with beef and potatoes, then had jolloff rice with beef stew. My wife had jolloff rice with chicken. Some of us shared our food with others, but there seemed to be some reticence. Maybe I imagined it. I had a taste of moi moi one woman ordered (a dish on the “special of the day” board, not on the regular menu). It was tasty and very interesting. From what I’ve been able to find online, it’s also called moimoi oleleh and is described as a savory black-eyed pea pudding. Some recipes suggest adding salmon to the pudding before putting it in the oven, but last night’s sample was vegetarian. One of the group was enamored of plantains; she ordered two plantain dishes. Her husband ordered a dish that came with a large serving of couscous, which he does not like. Another of us ordered cassava leaves and rice, expecting the dish to be served over leaves. In fact, the leaves were ground into a mush of sorts and mixed with fish and various other ingredients. I would like to have tasted it, but when he first offered, I had no room on my dish so I declined at the time. I felt uncomfortable asking later. Odd, that awkwardness when dining with people one doesn’t know extremely well.

The drive home was much, much better. We took a different route, traveling I-30 to Highway 70, the Highway 128, as opposed to driving on Highway 5 (the road we took to reach I-30 on the way in). Not only were the roads better, the skies began to clear on the drive home.

The thought of Ethiopian food has my tongue screaming for kitfo or gored-gored or doro wat or key sega wat or zilzil tibs or damn near any other Ethiopian dish. I’ve never made injera bread, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I think it’s impossible to eat Ethiopian dishes without injera; if not impossible, I’m sure it must be considered illegal or a sin against man and nature. I’ve never been to Ethiopia, so I can’t say with certainty whether most or even much of the cuisine is seasoned with fiery spices. But my experience with the cuisine here in the USA suggests that mitmita and berbere abound in all sorts of dishes. Mitmita is, by far, the hotter of the two, but berbere can be pretty hot, as well. The heat of berbere is a bit more subtle than mitmita, which is by God bloody hot! Both, though, are required, in my mind, for proper Ethiopian cooking.

Unfortunately for me, the berbere in my spice rack is rather old. I need to replace it with a new supply. And I need a fresh new supply of mitmita, as well. And, of course, if I’m going to try my hand at making injera, I’ll need teff flour. According to what I’ve read (and what I think I recall from conversations with owners of Ethiopian restaurants in Dallas), the injera we eat in the U.S. is not quite like the injera found in Ethiopia. There, teff flour, alone, is used to make it. Here, all-purpose wheat flour is used in combination with teff flour. I don’t know just why, unless it’s a matter of cost (teff flour is not cheap, at least not here).

As I’ve written before, there is not a single Ethiopian restaurant in all of Arkansas. That is a damn shame! The nearest ones, as far as I know, are in Memphis. I’ve not visited any of them, but I should. There are plenty in Dallas. Only six hours away. Or, of course, I can make my own. I just have to get with it.

I could continue fantasizing about Ethiopian food, but I’d better prepare myself for the HVAC technician, who may finally show up after being scheduled three times. And, maybe, I’ll see the contractor who’s slowly (VERY slowly) refinishing my deck. The weather doesn’t look like it will willingly cooperate, though. Such is life. Chill, John, chill.

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Nomadic Home Improvement with a BBC Flavor

It’s approaching 9:20 a.m. I’ve been up for close to five hours. My time hasn’t been spent productively. Instead, I’ve fiddled with my new smart phone (a Samsung Galaxy S10) and allowed my mind to wander. I’m no longer particularly enamored of the capabilities of smart phones. They are, to me, simply tools to accomplish tasks I want to accomplish. They’re expensive tools. I’d really rather spend my money on tools that enable me to create things. Tools like a table saw or planer or jointer or drill press.

My mind hasn’t wandered far, though, as I’ve kept it on a relatively short leash. Had I allowed it to run free, it might have scampered out the back door and stumbled off the back deck, smashing against the rocks twenty feet below. That would have made for an unattractive sight.

But let’s move on to other, more pleasant, things. Shall we? We shall. Maybe.

I drift between wanting to remodel significant parts of our house and wanting to sell everything we own in order to accommodate a transient lifestyle. During my remodeling moods, the bathrooms and kitchen figure high on my list of projects. Neither the bathrooms nor the kitchen are terrible as they are, but having lived in this house for just over five years, I recognize the flaws. And the flaws magnify with every passing month. When I’m in a particularly foul mood, I’m of the opinion that the architect who conceived the house should be jailed and possibly subjected to torture for design crimes. Wait, did I say let’s move on to more pleasant things? I believe I did. Let’s not torture the architect. Let’s just jail him. Solitary confinement for the rest of his natural life will suffice.

No, really, the house isn’t bad at all. I’d just like to see some significant changes that would appeal to my senses. The creation of a three hundred acre private lake behind the house would be a good start.

When I bounce off remodeling and embrace transience, I have an entirely different attitude. I envision a wardrobe consisting of a very small number of shirts, pants, and shoes. All perfectly suitable for either casual or more formal affairs. All of my clothes would fit easily into a small suitcase, leaving plenty of room for my shaving kit, etc. Our suitcases would fit quite nicely, with room to spare, in the trunk of our hybrid Toyota Avalon (which we would purchase so our ongoing road trip would be comfortable).  Aside from the expense of a car, though, the cost of hotel or motel rooms (or even AirBnB accommodations) might strain our budget. So we would have to appeal to the generosity of friends and strangers for places to stay on our travels. The sticky subject of “how long is too long” would have to be addressed before arrival, though, so as to avoid uncomfortable or awkward situations. “As long as you like” would be probed until we reached specificity so that, going in, we would know how long is too long. As nice as it would be to spend time with friends, though, there comes a time relatively early on when privacy and, indeed, isolation becomes a valued experience. So, a self-imposed time limit, even if it is less than our hosts’ limits of generosity, would be established from the start.

It occurs to me that my interest in remodeling kitchen and bathroom spaces could fit nicely with my desire for nomadic transience. Yes, we could remodel friends’ homes while we visit! What a surprise for a working couple to come home from a long, stressful day on the job to find that their guests have ripped out vanities and demolished kitchen countertops! Oh, I’m just kidding. They would have to know in advance because I’m not in a position to pay for the materials for a kitchen makeover. Plus, I’d have to have spent my money on shop tools instead of the phones. And, instead of the Avalon, I would have required a panel truck to haul my tools. It’s madness. Absolute madness.

Not that I have a garden where I live now (there’s no place to put it and no soil, to boot), but transience effectively eliminates the possibility of a vegetable garden. I could offer to plant vegetables for the generous friends who host us, but I seriously doubt they would be willing to let us stay for the entire growing season. And I seriously doubt we would want to. Yet the conflict between a desire for a nomadic lifestyle and a desire to have a vegetable garden must be acknowledged when deciding what to do with one’s life. No one ever told me that.  I had to learn it on my own.

What is tedium? Is it anger at feeling confined by unexpected and unappreciated obligations? What gives rise to the desire to either to tear out bathrooms and kitchens or, after  extracting from them their full worth, flee toward the absence of obligation? It’s possible there exists no relationship whatsoever between a wish to remodel and a desire for a nomadic life. In fact, I suspect there’s a non sequitur in there someplace. Something like “I enjoy the company of dogs just as much as the sun comes up in the east.” That’s a non sequitur, right?

***

On a completely unrelated subject, I learned this morning from the BBC website that “the right to roam is called allemansrätten in Swedish, which means ‘everyone’s right.'” Continuing with that fascinating bit of information, here’s more directly from the site:

The law dates to medieval times but was formally enshrined in the Swedish constitution in 1994, and allows Swedes and foreign visitors alike to hike, cycle, ride, skate or ski on almost any land in Sweden; very few trails or beaches are private. You can also camp anywhere, as long as you stay at least 70m away from the nearest home.

The BBC website often tells absolutely fascinating stories. Another one from this morning is a short video about the soon-to-be available documentary, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project. Marion Stokes recorded 70,000 VHS tapes of television news between 1979 and her death in 2012. The short video features her son explaining what she did and why she did it. I look forward to seeing the documentary when it’s available. Based on the video I saw this morning, I expect it to be riveting. Ms. Stokes was an extraordinarily intelligent person who was, I think, ahead of her time in terms of understanding the impact of television news.

I think I’ve done quite enough for this morning. I’ve had breakfast. I’ve visited with my sister-in-law, who brought herbs and shoes to the house. I won’t explain that. I’ve engaged in conversations with my wife. I’ve taken out the trash. And I’ve written this post. That’s enough for now, as I said. It’s quite enough.

 

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Things on My Mind

I learned yesterday that one of my brothers, from whom I unfortunately have been estranged for more than two years, is in the hospital. He is to undergo a heart catheterization and placement of a pacemaker as a prelude to an investigation to determine whether he has a bleeding ulcer. Despite our estrangement, this is deeply upsetting news. But, I’m afraid, it doesn’t influence the estrangement. We have a long history of periodic estrangement, virtually all of them based in some way on our opposing political beliefs and/or positions on matters relating to society’s roles and responsibilities for the less fortunate.

The last time I communicated directly with him was in mid-February 2017. I sent him an email, telling him that we were planning to stop in Houston and saying we wanted to visit with him. He responded that I shouldn’t plan to visit with him. I inquired why not? He replied that I had written something extremely negative on my blog about people who supported Trump and that, basically, he had no interest in having anything to do with me because of what I’d written. He said he just wanted to be left alone.

I didn’t respond. He had on several occasions before angrily cut off communications with me (and with other members of my family) because he disagreed with us over what I considered trivial matters.  This time, I opted to just leave it. If he wanted to reconnect, he would. Thus far, he hasn’t. I hope his medical problems are quickly and successfully resolved.

***

Our neighbors invited us over last night to enjoy a glass of wine. They also wanted to give us a first look at a new anthology published by our writers’ group. The husband of the pair provided artwork for the cover (and inspiration for some of the collected writing); the wife contributed several of the collected writings. And I contributed a few pieces of my writing to the anthology, as well. Two pieces of the artist’s work that inspired some of my writing are included in the book, as well. I just might buy a few copies of the book when it’s available.

After thumbing through the book (just a sample…the first full press run won’t be available for a while yet), our conversation turned to politics, as it usually does when we visit. Our neighbors share our political leanings, so they can speak openly about their frustrations with and hatred of the current administration and its Republican enablers.  Last night, though, I expressed my frustration with the actors on our side of the aisle. I expressed my frustration with the grandstanding Democrats who, rather than using finesse to get William Barr to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, blustered impotently without result.

As a reminder, Barr’s refusal to testify was based on the committee’s insistence that Barr be subject to questioning by the committee’s lawyers, not just committee members. By using finesse, I mean this: agree to Barr’s demand that only the committee members ask the questions. But, after he is seated, base questions on committee lawyers’ surreptitious input (i.e., let staffers feed questions to the committee members in notes). Instead, the Democratic committee members allowed pride and political grandstanding to get in the way. It seems to me that the committee is more interested in “showing Barr who’s boss” than getting the illegitimate Attorney General to testify. Members of the Trump administration have already shown that they have absolutely no respect for the Constitution and no regard for years and years and years of political protocol. Pushing them against a wall will not change their contempt for the rules that have governed American political life since the founding of the country. So, bend with the times; lure the bastard in by acquiescing to his demands, then set the hook in his fat cheek and reel the lying SOB in!

Anyway, I made my displeasure with Democrats known last night. My neighbors are Democrats through and through. My disgust with Democrats and suggestion that what this country needs is a strong third party unbound by artificial ties to political loyalties did not go over well. It’s all fine now. But I think they were surprised that I am not firmly in line with the Democratic caucus. I feel strongly that the majority of national politicians of all stripes are partisan snakes whose primary interest is in maintaining their cushy jobs and the benefits attendant thereto. If I could, with a snap my fingers, cause the entire political ruling class to disappear, I would replace them (at least temporarily) with members of the Folketing (Danish parliament). I’d want that to happen sooner rather than later, inasmuch as the right-wingers in Denmark seem to be making depressing inroads in the Danish culture. I’m afraid that wouldn’t be enough, though, to repair the damage done to our culture over the years. My finger-snapping must also eliminate from our society the right-wing fanatics hell-bent on eliminating the racial and cultural diversity of the nation.

While I was ranting about the idiotic Democrats in Congress, I ranted about the idiotic and utterly impractical mindset that calls for essentially opening our borders to anyone and everyone. In a perfect world, that openness would be wonderful. We do not live in a perfect world. While I’m in favor of making entry into the country relatively easy, I acknowledge that our economy cannot withstand an enormous, ongoing influx of unemployed people who would have to depend (perhaps for generations) on governmental assistance. We ought not to devote so damn much attention to keeping people out, though. We ought to devote attention to allowing people to stay, safely and securely, where they are. Give tax incentives to businesses to locate in countries like Honduras and Guatemala and Nicaragua and El Salvador, thereby employing people in those countries. Ensure that those companies pay decent wages so people can live comfortably. Offer more financial assistance to the governments (or NGOs), but monitor what is being done with that aid instead of simply sending cash and walking away. Ask people in those countries to help determine how we can best help them rebuild their social and business infrastructures. Ask them how best to combat gangs and violence. Admit that the U.S.A. doesn’t have all the answers.

***

I wrote the paragraphs below on October 26, 2014, five days after my 61st birthday.

I learned that meteorologists (and others) classify winds in a number of ways, one of which is in accord with a scheme that names them based on speed or strength, their direction, and/or their duration. Short bursts of high-speed wind are called gusts when roughly parallel with the earth’s surface; very high-speed bursts of high-speed winds perpendicular to the earth’s surface, directed downward, are downdrafts.  Long duration winds are classified according to their strength, from breeze to gale to hurricane to tornado (which is relatively short-term, but not compared to a gust). Wind may arise from local differences in temperatures between the earth’s surface and the air mass above it or by differences in rates of absorption of solar energy between terrestrial climate zones.  And, of course, the density of air between adjoining areas can trigger inflows or outflows of air masses, AKA wind.

A single paragraph cannot begin to explain the complexities of wind.  Nor can a single paragraph begin to explain why I felt like a switch had been flipped on my wind-interest meter to cause me to seek information about wind.

I stumbled upon the post in which those paragraphs appeared when looking for the word “estranged” in my blog. I found the word in four posts, none of which mentioned the estrangement I wrote about above. But seeking that word led me to four wildly divergent pieces. One of them documented my assessment of the Chilean film, Los Perros, directed by Marcela Said. Another post dealt with a tiny Facebook group for  bloggers; the word appeared in a comment about one member’s relationship with her sister. Yet another was a pure fiction piece of writing (entitled, Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s Coming), just a vignette, that on reading this morning, convinced me that I should return to it and develop it into a full-fledged short story or more. The last estranged-infected post summarized the day I had just experienced, including a pizza party for the child of a woman who was estranged from her husband. It was in that same post that I waxed poetic about the marvels of wind.

The fact that I can find such enjoyment simply by looking back at what was on my mind in months and years past makes my blog worthwhile to me. It’s really just a plaything, a toy to keep me occupied and out of trouble. Without it, I might be organizing an armed insurrection or a planning a bloodless coup. Speaking of insurrection, this post marks the seventh use of the word on this blog since its inception.  One such post also included this paragraph prompted by an unpleasant interaction with a hot barbecue grill:

Tonight, I’m in the mood to capture hummingbirds and force them to listen to my complaints, kill chickens that exhibit even the least bit of scorn for my eating habits, skin grill-sellers, vaporize gas grills and their progeny, and set fire to the Milky Way for its willingness to host bad actors.

It’s a damn good thing it’s impractical (or impossible) for me to act on my worst impulses.

***

My presentation to the congregation of the proposed Long Range Plan for the church went well. Either I bored the congregation to tears or confused them completely. After the short presentation, I asked whether there were any questions. There were none. I moved to approve the plan, a member seconded it, and I called the question. Unanimous support. The congregants just wanted to get the hell out of the sanctuary and have lunch.

 

Posted in Anger, Family, Frustration, Government, Politics, Rant, Regret, Stream of Consciousness, Writing | Leave a comment

A Little Horse Music

I watched the Kentucky Derby on television yesterday, a rarity for me. Not just the Kentucky Derby; almost any such event. But yesterday, I just happened to turn on the television about the time the horses were parading in preparation for moving toward the starting gates. So I watched. After the end of the race, I was stunned (as were many millions of others), when Maximum Security was disqualified, giving the Derby win to a 65-1 long shot, Country House.

I’m not a fan of horse racing and I know almost nothing about the Derby. But, in the aftermath of the race, I felt sympathy for Maximum Security’s owners and trainer and jockey. To have the win snatched from them, the way it was, seemed an awful, painful experience. On the other hand, I was delighted for the folks connected with Country House. Mixed feelings. Very, very mixed feelings. And I wonder whether the horses have any sense of pride or victory or heartache? Anthropomorphizing non-human critters probably is silly, but I do it anyway.

Horse racing’s reputation is not pure and clean. Many so-called exposés have been published, claiming horses are exposed to almost unspeakable abuses in the quest for victories. Some of the exposés suggest trainers and others force the horses under their care to run even when the animals’ joints and bones cause them excruciating pain. Often, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has a hand in documenting the abuses. Though I don’t doubt that abuses occur, I do not hold PETA in particularly high regard. I think the organization sometimes plays fast and loose with the truth in its efforts to reveal abuse, even in circumstances in which no abuse exists. I don’t know whether abuses are widespread in horse racing, but evidence suggests abuse does, indeed, occur. I find it odd that people who have invested thousands—in some cases many hundreds of thousands—of dollars in a horse would risk that money by putting the animal at risk. While the financial windfall of a derby win might be significant, so too is the risk of a commercial meltdown if a horse is incapacitated or killed.

I feel a little guilty for allowing myself to get caught up in the excitement of derby day at Churchill Downs. But watching people celebrate the event, giddy with excitement and dressed in their race-day finery,  got my heart pumping. I felt the excitement and even thought, “I might enjoy going to the Kentucky Derby one day.” Yeah. Probably not. If even a fraction of the abuse allegations are true, I would not want to be a part of it. I think of coaches encouraging their players to do “whatever it takes” to win. Athletes injecting drugs. Trainers injecting drugs into horses’ joints so they can run. Nah. Not for me. I feel more than a little guilty.

***

Earlier in the afternoon, before I watched the Kentucky Derby, we attended a symphony concert at Woodlands Auditorium in the Village. Two groups of young musicians affiliated with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra each gave an outstanding performance. We watched and listened to the Arkansas Symphony Academy Orchestra and the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra play several pieces. What amazing talent! Hearing the music performed by these young people was a mood booster. For the record, here’s what we heard (according to the program…I assume the program didn’t lie to me):

Academy Orchestra

  • The Moldau (Bedrich Smetana/Meyer)
  • Palladio [Allegretto] (Karl Jenkins)
  • Introduction and March from Symphony No 6, Op. 74 [Pathétique] (Tchaikovsky/Leidig)
  • Danzón No. 2 (Arturo Márquez)

Youth Orchestra

  • Overture to Nabucco (Verdi)
  • Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 [I. Alborada II. Varizioni III. Alborada IV. Scena e canto gitano V. Fandango asturiano] (Rimsky-Korsakov)

As we were driving home, I suggested to my wife that the sheet music for each instrument must look very different and that the conductor must have a completely different set of sheet music that includes all the instruments in some form or fashion. She didn’t know what the appearance of the different pieces of sheet music might look like. At this stage of life, I have no interest in trying to learn to play a musical instrument, but I am very curious about what the musical “instructions” must look like. Does the sheet music for the tuba player look very different from the music for the violinist? Are the musical instructions for the French horn players radically different from the instructions for the bassist?  I would welcome a very, very short course on how musical instructions are given to players of various instruments.

I’ve often wondered, too, about the conductor’s movements and his or her baton. It seems to me that most musicians are not watching the conductor (but maybe I’m wrong). Is the conductor’s performance on stage just an act? Is the conductor’s real work done during rehearsals, leaving her to be like a mime during the actual performance? I suspect that I would be attacked with a baton if a conductor were to read those words.

***

Animus. Anima. I enjoy stumbling across the meaning of words I thought I knew well, only to learn I knew only part of the story.  I’ve always believe animus meant a strong dislike or hatred. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never known the meaning of anima.

According to the dictionary, another meaning of animus is the masculine principle (according to C.G. Jung); anima is the feminine principle. Both words have other definitions, as well. Animus also means purpose, animating spirit. Anima also means soul. It also means, in Jungian psychology, the inner personality that is turned toward the unconscious of the individual, contrasted with persona, which is the public mask or façade a person presents to satisfy the demands of the environmental context. I can imagine writing a psychological vignette in which two characters, Animus and Anima, engage in a heated debate about topics that resonate more deeply with men than with women and vice versa.

***

I binge-watched the first season, on Netflix, of Dead to Me. While it may not be great art, the series is well-written and, to me, enthralling. But now I can’t watch any more until season two comes out. If it ever does. I rather loathe that about Netflix. I’m still waiting for season four of Better Call Saul. I’m better suited to series than to films because my attention span is shrinking with age. I can sit for half an hour or an hour to watch an episode of a series, but it’s harder to sit for two hours or more to watch a film. Yet I can sit for several hours watching multiple episodes of a series. So I am wrong about why I am better suited to series than to films. Now, I wonder why I’m able to attach myself to series more readily than I am to films? Maybe it’s not my attention span, after all. Maybe it’s a deeper psychological flaw, something buried within my brain, an ugly attribute that I dare not explore, lest I uncover a secret I don’t want to know. But if there’s a secret buried there, I want to know it. Hmm. I’m of two minds on the matter. It’s not worth more effort, though, not this morning.

***

This morning, I will present the 2019-2024 Long Range Plan for our church, asking for a vote to accept it. I’ve already discussed it during two congregational conversations, but this morning will have a larger audience (I expect). Rather than go through the seven-page plan item by item, I intend to give a very brief overview of the process through which it was developed (based on congregants’ input) and to touch on the core elements of the plan. I’ll then ask for a vote. Easy-peasy, I hope. We shall see.

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Explosive Night

After going to bed rather early last night, sometime before 11, I heard and felt what sounded like a violent clap of thunder, followed by a roar like a freight train. That first loud noise shook the house. The roar that followed continued the shaking. Dishes rattled. Pictures on the walls vibrated. The sound was exceptionally loud. I got out of bed to explore.

At first, I thought the roar might be a tornado. But the sound and the attendant vibrations did not change in volume or tenor. I then thought the noise might be caused by military aircraft practicing night maneuvers. After ten or fifteen minutes more of the sound, with no change, I abandoned that theory. I had nothing to replace it, though. I was baffled.

My wife heard the same sounds, of course, and went about exploring. She went outside to determine whether there was anything that might explain the noise. It remained a mystery.

After a while longer, the noise diminished ever so slightly, so I decided to return to bed. After almost an hour, I got up again and checked online news feeds. Finally, I learned that the noise was the result of the rupture of a thirty-inch gas pipeline. I estimate the pipeline, located off of Glazy Peau Road and Highway 7 North, is roughly two miles from us. Residents within a one mile perimeter were evacuated. They have since been permitted to return. Apparently, there was no fire, just a rupture. And the gas was under such enormous pressure that, once the line ruptured, the escaping gas caused the deafening noise.

Maybe I’ll learn more today. If I do, I’ll return here and update the post. I’m writing this only to record the events of last night.

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Shavist Story

I don’t remember when I started shaving. I suppose I was in high school, but the possibility exists that it was earlier, perhaps the last year of junior high, AKA middle school. Not that it matters. But the transition to manhood seems to be connected in some way to shaving. Among other things, of course. Yet I don’t recall that transition, at least not with respect to shaving. I remember other things, but only vaguely. Shaving probably doesn’t resonate in my memory because I’ve always had a rather light beard, both in terms of density of whiskers per square inch and with respect to the thickness of individual whiskers. Or their thinness. Some of my whiskers have always been almost wispy. And a few have been thick and strong like stalks of mesquite wood protruding from my skin. Most are somewhere in the middle, leaning toward wispy.

In spite of my poor memory about the timing of my introduction to shaving, I recall some fundamental changes in the practice of shaving over the years. One more thing I don’t recall, though, is the time-frame at which it became a necessary daily habit. But some things I remember.

In my early days of shaving, whenever they were, I shaved in one direction. Down. Down the side of the face. Down the upper lip. Down the lower lip to the chin. Down from the chin to the bottom of my neck. Always down. Those early days lasted for years and years. Sometime in my early thirties, I think, I began to notice that I got a MUCH closer shave if I  followed the down stroke with a pull of the razor up my neck, from the base of my neck to my chin. Not too long after that, I realized my shave still wasn’t awfully close; to make it as close as it could be, I had to then pull the razor horizontally from each side of my neck to the middle. Sometime later, I started doing the up stroke on my cheeks,  as well. Finally,  not so many years ago, I began the side stroke on my cheeks. I realized, along the way, that there’s a place on the left side of my neck that requires an angled top-down stroke after I’ve finished shaving. If I don’t finish my shave with that angled top-down stroke, I can feel an annoying stubble after I’ve rinsed and dried my face.

My shaving practice is actually somewhat more complicated than I described, but the additional complications are not worth describing. (Nor, the reader probably thinks, were and the descriptions of the shaving process and practice.)

Actually, I feel quite fortunate to have a rather thin, slow-growing beard. I can easily go a day without shaving and almost no one will notice. Even at two days, only a relatively few people notice that I have some stubble. Grey hair and a pasty complexion help, too, conceal the fact that I haven’t shaved.

I’d prefer not to have to shave. I suppose I could simply stop, but eventually my face and neck would look awful. Before looking horrible, though, my meager whiskers would drive me crazy. Scratchy whiskers, jutting at odd angles, bother me at the corners of my mouth shortly after a period of not shaving. Shortly thereafter, my entire face protests the growth. I’ve tried. I’ve had almost invisible mustaches on more than one occasion. Even when I allowed the strands of hair to grow to two or three inches in length, they blended with my face. My mustache made my upper lip look like I was sporting an odd camouflage lip garment.

I know men who, if they want their faces to look freshly-shaven, would have to shave every two hours. Given the fact that I do not like to shave (and, by the way, nick myself almost every morning), I can only pity having such fast-growing beards. Especially fast-growing beards flush with the mesquite stalk style of whiskers I mentioned a few paragraphs above.

And that is the saga of shaving as told by a sometimes shavist.

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The Problem with Lawns

According to the Food Revolution Network (FRN), lush, green lawns cover about 32 million acres of land in the USA, twice the amount of land used to cultivate the fruits and vegetables we eat. The average lawn, again according to FRN, uses about 10,000 gallons of supplemental water (excluding rainwater) annually. Assuming the average lawn is about a quarter of an acre (my guess), that means that every acres of lawn uses 40,000 gallons of supplemental water each year. If my math is correct, that 32 million acres of lawn require 1 trillion, 280 billion gallons of supplemental water each year.  That’s 1,280,000,000,000 gallons. That’s one hell of a lot of water going toward plants that provide no nourishment to us.

Until moving to the side of a mountain, I’ve had a lawn with each house I’ve owned/lived in. I watered them, fertilized them (in most cases), cut them, trimmed them, and otherwise did what I needed to do to keep them looking good. And lawns can, indeed, look good. But so can vegetable gardens. In fact, I would argue, vegetable gardens can look absolutely beautiful due in part to their diversity. Think of purple and green leaves, different textures, multiple color fruits and vegetables. Gorgeous! And gardens use less water than lawns. According to FRN, gardens use about 34 percent of the water required in lawns. So, if my math is correct, we’d use 435,200,000,000 (435 billion 200 million) gallons of water per year if we switched, saving 844 billion, 800 million gallons.

Obviously, we’re not going to suddenly transform all lawns to gardens. But I wish we’d try. Aside from saving water, imagine how beneficial it would be to have ready access to fruits and vegetables in the event of massive commercial crop failures or the collapse of our food distribution systems.

And that’s what’s on my mind this morning (among other things).

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Monstrously Misshapen

A grotesquely gnarled tree limb, torn from its trunk years ago during a fierce windstorm. A distorted, dried, weather-worn dead branch so monstrously misshapen as to be profoundly beautiful.

How is it that something so obviously distorted and, in the traditional sense, hideous can be so splendid? It goes to the heart of why we have a word like oxymoronic; we need an adjective that describes such contradictions. How is it, though, that such incongruencies can exist? How can something monstrous and misshapen be, simultaneously, fabulous and perfect?

I don’t have the answer. Oxymorons are irrational but they allow us to use language to both describe and to account for the existence of the irrational.

I’ve been up since around 4 and have written and discarded the equivalent of a short novel, I think. Nothing I’ve written resonates with me. At one point, I wrote about an ugly bush that blocks the view from our kitchen window. I intended to dig it up and replace it, but can’t now because a cardinal has built a nest in the gangly bush. I suppose I could dig it up, anyway, but I would consider myself a monster for doing it; so, I will wait until eggs (assuming there are eggs) hatch and the cardinalitos flee the nest. I spent a good thirty minutes writing about that earlier this morning. I discarded it. I just spent 30 seconds replacing what I’ written earlier.

The cardinal fiasco was just one of many that consumed my thoughts earlier in the day. I wrote about them and discovered, much to my chagrin, that they, too, warranted disposal. That happens sometimes. Frequently, in fact. The reason I finally opt to discard what may have taken me hours to write is simple: the words seem to be monstrously misshapen, with no corresponding oxymoronic beauty. I think I’ll be better off cooking or washing dishes than writing this morning.

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Sim Struggles

The allure of video games is beyond my comprehension. That may be because I’ve never had an interest in playing them. I’ll admit that I might get hooked if I permitted myself to spend time on a game console. But when I’ve been presented with the opportunity to play, I’ve always found something I’d rather do. Until now. Maybe still. But there’s one old video game that I’ve long wanted to explore and I learned this morning that it’s alive and well and into its umpteenth iteration (it was first published in 1989). It’s SimCity. You’ve almost certainly heard of it and may have played it.

As I understand SimCity, it’s a simulation/strategy game that allows players to create imaginary cities from the ground up. Players decide the types of industry their cities will allow and establishing zoning to restrict (or permit) those industries in certain areas of the city. Levels of taxation, environmental regulations, tourism options…the list of areas over which players have control is stunning. In one sense, I think the idea behind the game is absurd; it’s a time-waster of extraordinary proportions. But in another, the game could be extremely educational.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an intense interest in urban planning. I considered  the discipline as a career as one point (maybe several points) but decided for various reasons not to pursue it. My interest, though, has remained.

Today, though, my interest is not in creating and molding and shaping and coaxing a city into existence. Instead, I’m interested in creating and molding and shaping and coaxing a small, declining town on a path toward either extinction or rebirth. I’m not sure SimCity would be of use to me, though. I’m not sure whether the game would be helpful to me as I envision the effects that actions taken by characters in my story would have on my little town.

I’ve incorporated my fictional town into a few stories I’ve already written. To date, though, they have been simple vignettes. Now, I have in mind a much longer story that follows my protagonist, Calypso Kneeblood, as he copes with the decline of the town in which he lives, the tiny businesses he runs, and the lives of the people with whom he interacts. Perhaps SimCity would allow me to create backstory about Struggles, Arkansas. I don’t know, though. I’ve done only cursory research about what the nuts and bolts of the game, so I am not sufficiently familiar with the degree to which I might use the game to model my little town.

Given that my story is character-based, versus action-based, it’s possible that a simulation game would prove utterly useless. I’ve never before used a crutch to aid my writing. But I might give SimCity a try, regardless of whether I use it in connection with my story. I might even incorporate the game into my story. Calypso Kneeblood, who runs the Fourth Estate Tavern and Struggles Brewery, could conduct SimCity simulations in an effort to determine the likelihood that sales of the brewery’s Desolation Stout would be adequate to warrant having the product bottle (or canned). But I doubt the game goes into that level of detail. But maybe. I’ll explore what’s involved in buying or otherwise getting access to SimCity. But not today.

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Pretension

We often judge others by the machinery they own. I submit that it’s true of the cars they drive. For instance, I am quite certain that two people who are otherwise virtually identical would be viewed quite differently if one of them drove a Hyundai Accent and the other a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. The Hyundai driver, compared to the Porsche driver, would be judged as less affluent, more reserved, less of a risk-taker, and more modest. Conversely, the Porsche driver would be seen as more affluent, more flamboyant, more adventurous, and more egotistical.

Now, if both of these hypothetical people drove Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolets, one car white and the other red, observers would view the driver of the red car as more flamboyant, more adventurous, and more egotistical. I’m not sure about whether color would translate into assessments of affluence. Actually, I not sure about any of this. But I’m quite confident that my perspectives are on track with reality.

It’s not just cars, either. The same thing applies to household appliances. Take, for example, the devices coffee-drinkers choose to make their coffee. Most of us would view a person whose morning brew comes from a Miele CVA 6805 built-in coffee machine with bean-to-cup system differently than we might view someone whose coffee leaks from a ten-year-old Keurig machine. And we might ascribe still different attributes to a Mr. Coffee aficionado. We would probably ascribe the following characteristics to the Miele owner:

  • arrogant, grandstanding braggart
  • obscenely, unjustly affluent
  • name-dropping pretentious snob

Hmmm. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so blatantly biased in your assessment of the Miele owner. The question arises, doesn’t it, of whether my assessment might be related to envy and blind resentment? But let’s get beyond that, shall we? What about how we see the Keurig owner? Some of us might assume he’s lazy and can’t discriminate between French roast and green tea. Others, like me, might assume he hates to waste good coffee and would rather drink a single cup of mediocre French roast than brew an entire pot of what could be the world’s richest, most spectacular coffee, the majority of which would be thrown out.

And what of the fan of Mr. Coffee? Some people would assume he; does not have a discriminating palate; is not particularly affluent; doesn’t drink much coffee; and/or thrives of his self-described persona as “the common man.”

Reality speak to the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of our machinery-based judgments. While some of our biased assessments might have a modicum of validity, most probably do not. But we let ourselves judge people on the basis of factors utterly unrelated to their personalities or behaviors. We don’t need to know anything more about a person than the car she drives or the equipment she uses to make coffee to begin painting, in our own minds, a portrait of her personality.

What do we do when confronted with facts that, taken separately, say one thing but, taken together, say another? For example, the Miele coffee maker owner who drives a fifteen-year-old white Hyundai Accent? Or the Porsche Carrera driver who makes her coffee with a fifteen-year-old Mr. Coffee machine?  The incongruencies are almost limitless. The guy with the Miele who uses Folgers coffee. The Mr. Coffee owner who, with his Krups grinder, grinds custom-roasted Ethiopian yirgacheffe beans every morning. The Porsche owner who relies on GasBuddy to find the cheapest regular, low-octane gasoline.

For the record, I used to buy expensive, freshly-roasted coffee bean blends and grind just each morning enough to make a small pot. Now, I pop a recyclable pod (just to clarify my stance on treating the planet well) of San Francisco Bay brand French roast coffee into my old Keurig most mornings. The flavor isn’t as good as the freshly-roasted beans, but it’s good enough. And I am able to make just enough; I don’t drink a lot of coffee. Laziness does factor into it, though. If I wanted better flavor badly enough, I’d use an Aero Press; but the preparation and the clean-up are more involved than I’d like.  But when I have a cup of coffee, expertly brewed from freshly-ground beans, I almost decide to repent by vowing to grind and brew and to discard the Keurig. But “almost” is never enough.

And, inasmuch as I’m revealing things about myself that might factor in to the way you judge me, let me reveal this: I drive a 17-year-old Toyota Camry. When we drive together, I drive my wife’s car (I prefer to drive and she prefers that I drive), a three-year-old Subaru Outback.

I could go on and on, of course. Not just about cars and coffee but about computers and televisions and smart-phones and stereo equipment (do they still call it stereo?).  I recall, even when I was in college, watching eyes bulge when someone would claim ownership of a Marantz or Pioneer turntable. I never knew much about them, personally. But stereo gear was associated with status; I knew that much. Today, the most expensive turntable, according to Mother Google, is the Av Design Haus’ Dereneville VPM 2010-1, valued at $650,000. At some point, pretension comes with an unreasonable cost.

I’ve limited my comments here to machinery. I could launch into a lengthy tirade on other matters involving how we judge one another (and ourselves). Like wine. A simple bottle of wine. Valued at hundreds or thousands of dollars. What?! WHAT?!

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Kindness and Mortality

A couple of days ago, I wrote that my contractor failed to show up. I tried to remain “chill” about the situation, but my temper got the best of me. I sent the guy two texts, the second one after I tried to call him but got a message saying his voicemail box was full. In the first text, I wrote, “If you’re not going to show up as promised, will you at least call me?” I added a few more comments intended to induce shame and remorse. I ended the second text with “Let me know whether you will be here tomorrow and, if so, a time I can depend on.”

On one hand, I am proud of my restraint. In days not so long ago, I would have unloaded on the guy. I would have allowed my indignant rage to spray forth in vitriolic waves. So, in comparison to what I might have done, my two texts weren’t so bad. But, after he responded via text a few hours later, I wished I would have just kept my fingers in their cases for a while longer. His response indicated he had been without his phone the entire day. He had been at the hospital on a family emergency. He apologized and said he would be here by 10 yesterday. And he was.

He told me the emergency was that he had to rush his daughter to the hospital due to an asthma attack, something that has happened before. Now I realize the story may have been a fabrication, but it’s just as likely it was true. And I felt like a jerk for assuming the guy just flaked out on me. And I recalled the admonition I’ve seen and embraced so many times before: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle about which you know nothing.” Or words to that effect. Some attribute the advice to Plato, Socrates, and various others. It doesn’t matter who first said it, it’s wise advice to follow.

As I contemplated the matter, I concluded that it doesn’t matter whether the story is true. Something kept him from being here. It could have been something else equally serious or more so. Or, it could have been sheer laziness or simple disinterest in showing up. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The condition of my deck is not the most important thing in life. It doesn’t warrant the kind of angst I’ve been allowing it to cause.

***

On March 28, my oncologist ordered an abdominal x-ray, which I had done the same day. The reason she ordered it was that I felt some pretty severe pain in my abdomen from time to time. She also ordered a CT scan, which was done a few days later. On April 18, when I had my next appointment with her, she said the CT scan was normal. She didn’t mention the x-ray. A week or so ago, I received an email indicating I had new test results available on my patient portal. I looked and saw the hospital radiologist’s report on the x-ray. The doctor noted in the “impressions” section: “Coarse calcification in the right upper quadrant may reflect cholelithiasis.” Naturally, I looked it up. Cholelithiasis is a condition where gallstones are formed in the gallbladder, liver or bile duct. After waiting a few days to see if the oncologist would call (and she did not), I communicated with my primary care physician, who said the x-ray did, indeed, suggest the possibility of gallstones and the next step should be an ultrasound.

Aside from being upset with the oncologist for apparently ignoring the x-ray (or being incredibly slow to do anything about it), I’m annoyed at my body for behaving so badly. I’ve had too damn many health issues over the years. Crohn’s disease and the emergency surgery I underwent because of it. Double bypass surgery. Cancer, causing removal of a piece of my lung and a bunch of rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Arthritis. A clogged sweat duct in my left foot that occasionally makes walking quite painful. And, now, perhaps I have gallstones? All right. I get it. I’m approaching an advanced age. I understand. No need to convince me. I need no more reminders. Stop, already.

On a more serious note, all these things do, indeed, bother me. The collective crush of health-related issues, both major and minor, scream at me, “You are mortal and sooner or later, you’re going to die!” I know that, of course, but the “sooner” part is jarring. I’ve not thought enough about the preparations one might want to make in advance of that eventuality, whether it occurs sooner or later. Making the transition easier for my wife, should I be the first to go. That sort of thing.

Oh, there’s much more on my mind, but I’ve lost interest in sharing it with whoever stumble across these words. The world outside my window this morning looks damp and grey, the sort of day that invites bleakness to enter one’s mood. I suppose I could draw the blinds, but I’m too attached to the view out the window, dreary or not. Maybe another cup of coffee will enhappy me.

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Paying for One’s Sins

I would have shared this on Facebook, but I suspect it would be offensive to some people who don’t share my sacrilegious sense of humor. I almost sprayed coffee through my nose while I watched this video.

I may actually write a bit this morning, so this post is simply a prelude to whatever odd idea wins the battle to escape from my head and make its way to my fingers and, ultimately, the world of the internet.

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