I Just Do Not Know

It turned out to be less ominous than it felt, but it was sufficiently troubling that it disrupted my routines. Assuming I have routines these days; I am not sure I do.

Tuesday night, at around 9 pm, less than an hour after I spent half an hour on the telephone with my wife, I got a call from the rehab center where she temporarily resides. The call was from a nurse, who informed me that my wife’s blood work revealed a critical shortage of a necessary element in her bloodstream. The shortage was so critical that it was necessary for her to be sent, by ambulance, to the nearest hospital emergency room. I spoke to my wife after speaking with the nurse, telling her not to worry, that this was something they needed to do to ensure she remained healthy.

And then I waited. My wife called me sometime after midnight to tell me she had arrived at the ER; all was well. The rest of the night, until about 4:45 this morning, I spent in my recliner; never far from wakefulness, always distant from sleep. Finally, sometime before 5, I got up and decided I would try to go to bed. Around 5:20, my sister-in-law texted me, inquiring what I knew. Nothing new, I told her. Then, ten minutes later, my wife called me. She had just arrived back at the rehab center, after a night at the hospital.

A few hours later, I spoke to the nurse practitioner who oversees my wife’s care. She was impressed that my wife was doing so well. She smiled, the nurse told me, happy at the change in my wife’s behavior. I did not speak to my wife until several hours later, when I went to visit her during one of the “Window Talk” visits, where we see one another through the window and talk to one another via microphone. My wife did, indeed, look wonderful. And she sounded like her old self. I was almost delirious with happiness. But our visit ended after 30 minutes and I have not spoken to her since. My guess is that she has been sleeping, trying to make up for an entire night of sleeplessness. Regardless, though, I feel her absence like it is a knife in my chest. Not knowing whether she is experiencing depression or sleep deprivation or displeasure with me for some reason is painful. I have no reason to think any of the above, but I feel those sensations anyway.

My pain, though, is nothing in comparison to what she must be feeling after more than two months of isolation in a tiny hospital room. I would trade places with her if I could. But I would not want her to feel the angst I feel at this moment, if we could trade experiences. I miss her so very, very much. Her experience, though, must be a thousand times worse. I am not sure whether this joint horror is worth the potential benefit of separation. I just do not know.

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Of Prostitutes and Physicians and Avoiding Icepicks

My blood pressure is not as high as I expected it might be, based on volume of the sounds in my head. 134/87 is, in fact, relatively close to the “normal” range, if memory serves me correctly.

I frequently hear my blood pumping through my body. The sound is enough to drive me mad. It is not really loud, but its volume is high enough that it intrudes on my thoughts to a degree sufficient to be upsetting to my serenity. As if I have experienced serenity these past many months. Would that I had.

My primary care doctor, the one who abandoned me and the rest of  his patients early this year, advised me to take my blood pressure every day and to make a record of the readings. The purpose, he said, was to capture shifts that could give me significant warnings about changes in my health. Dr. Sparkledogma was (and probably still is) a friendly, approachable, very young doctor. I am sure he’s still very young, even nine months after abandoning his patients. By the way, Sparkledogma is not the doctor’s name; I am using an alias to protect our respective privacies.

I do not feel abandoned when a grocery store clerk or a financial advisor or an attorney changes jobs; I might miss them when they go on to greener pastures, but I do not feel a sense of personal betrayal. But that is not so when someone in whom I place the security of my health and well-being moves on. When such people move on to new jobs, I feel let down; as if their assurance that my health is among their highest priorities was misleading, at best, or—more likely—an outright lie. How could they be lured away from tending to me in sickness and in health? How could more money, a less stressful schedule, an opportunity to work closer to home, or more friendly co-workers matter more to them than the health and well-being of someone who is, in the final analysis, a stranger? As I mull this over, it occurs to me that I am paying someone to care. Were those people in a different profession, I might not label them as doctors or nurses; I might label them as—to use a polite term—prostitutes. That is, of course, patently unfair. And it is simply untrue. Isn’t it?

Let’s remove judgment from the assessment. Both roles fill a professed need (the legitimacy of which can be called into question in either case, depending on circumstances). Both roles involve remuneration for service. So, are we all (or most of us, at least) guilty of applying different judgmental standards on the two professions? Social norms are fickle; they are rife with prejudice and bigotry.

This matter of feeling abandoned by a paid professional—who chooses to go in a different direction without the client—reminds me of an Australian series I recently watched on Netflix. The series, called Rake, features a n’er do well libertine barrister who, early on, is astounded when the gorgeous prostitute he has been paying for several years (and about whom he has fantasies that they are truly “in love”) decides to pursue another profession. The barrister is stunned to learn that, for her, the relationship was strictly transactional.  She tells him something to the effect that “you paid me to behave in a certain way in your presence and that ‘s what I did…apparently I did it well.” Good doctors behave as if they are caring confidants; their patients are the most important people in the world at the moment the patient is in their presence. Do not get me wrong. This is not a criticism; it is an acknowledgement of their professionalism. That’s what they should do; unless their patients feel a sense of absolute trust, the doctor cannot do everything within the doctor’s power to care for the patient.

Speaking of doctors, the doctor who abandoned me has been replaced. I got a call yesterday, letting me know that my annual physical, scheduled for next month, will be with the new doctor (unless, I was told, I wanted someone else). I chose to stick with the new doctor, Dr. Geezerfingle. I think Dr. Geezerfingle, whose first name I did not get during the call, recently moved here from a desolate small town in the midwest. If he is the one I found by searching Google, he has practiced medicine in the same little town for a very long time. I suspect he was lured to the Village by the promise of a slower pace, decent money, and a retirement “vibe.” Yes, I make a lot of assumptions. I could be wrong about Dr. Geezerfingle. He could be a strapping young physician, still wet-behind-the-ears, anxious to make his mark in general medicine with an undeclared specialty in gerontology. But, frankly, I doubt it.

The thumping or pumping sound in my ears has, thankfully, gone almost silent. Some mornings, it seems so loud I feel I might lose my mind. Seriously, some days it is so distracting I feel like stabbing myself in the hand with an icepick just to force my attention elsewhere so the noise will not be so all-consuming. Fortunately, I have been able to avoid icepicks by directly my attention to the keyboard and the screen, though this morning I feel a rather nasty, sharp pain in the middle of the top (opposite the palm) of my right hand. I felt it yesterday afternoon, too, as I was turning a screwdriver, with all the force I could muster, in an effort to remove a long screw from a board that forms the cap of my back deck railing. That’s another story that’s probably almost as interesting as this one. I’ll spare the unfortunates who stumble upon this blog; I won’t write about it.

The time is 7:16 and I am feeling breakfasty. Something simple, probably, but that could change when I see what ingredients beckon me when I enter the kitchen.

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Feliz Cumpleaños, Mi Madre

The last time I left yellow roses here on my blog in memory of my mother’s birthday was on her birthday three years ago. I think the first time I left these roses here for her was two years prior to that. Yellow roses were her favorite flowers. I think the reason for her adoration of yellow roses was the song, The Yellow Rose of Texas. My mother was proud of her Texas heritage. That song spoke to her of that heritage and the civility and gentleness of “the old days.”

But, this morning, after listening to the song on a YouTube video, I decided to do some research on it. I learned that it can be traced back to a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania racist minstrel show from 1853. The lyrics at the time were (by today’s standards) patently offensive and coarse. The sheet music version, classified as an American folk song, was published in 1858 by Firth, Pond & Company. The lyrics changed over the years until it became a far more innocuous love song, the one I think my mother appreciated. I hope so.

At any rate, happy birthday, Mom. I’ve lived more than half my life so far in your absence, but there remains in my memory (as poor as it is and has always been) a place with you in it.

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Universal Rumination

Another night of brief sleep, from midnight until 3:41. No dreams this time, though, that I recall. Instead, I spent many of the sleepless moments thinking about what the universe might be like if I had the wherewithal to recreate it.

The thoughts lacked detail. I did not, for example, ponder the composition of stars nor the processes whereby life forms might evolve from the combination of elements. My contemplations dealt more with concepts, like the relationships between time and thought. In the universe as we know it today, thought relies of what we already know; things we learned in the past. The concept of the universe that kept me awake is very different. Thought, in this very different universe, would absorb information from the future to create a past. Although it may sound like science fiction, this concept is rooted in neither science nor fiction. It is rooted in an entirely different framework of existence. The closest I can come to describing it is to portray it like this: information from a future that (obviously) has not yet occurred is processed to create a past that, also, has not yet occurred. Because neither has yet happened, they are independent of one another, but inextricably linked because, without each other, neither could exist.

And that is a possibility in this imaginary universe. Neither the future nor the past are necessarily givens. It is entirely possible, in this inside-out, upside-down universe, that time can both stand still and unwind, causing events to “unhappen.” That is not to say that events are erased; they simply are transformed into non-events. To understand that admittedly difficult to grasp concept, imagine a gust of wind on today’s planet Earth turning into a piece of pumice on a distant asteroid. Suddenly, there is no disturbance of molecules of air; the wind “unhappens,” replaced by evidence of a volcanic eruption. In this universe, the volcanic eruption may not have yet occurred; and it may not even occur in the same galaxy. Assuming, of course, there are galaxies. Distance, as you can tell, are just as irrelevant as time. Yet time must have relevance, in that a future is required if there is to be a past.

Emotions do not exist in this alternate universe. They cannot exist, because emotions depend on elements of time that are reversed in this new existence. Depending on one’s perspective in today’s universe, the absence of emotions could be either a terrible or a wonderful thing. Yet in this new universe, terrible and wonderful are meaningless concepts. Obviously, then, we lack the ability to comprehend existence as it might be in this new universe. Yet, here I am attempting to describe it. That is an exercise in futility. Futility, by the way, has no place in the new universe as I envision it.

Actually, the more I ponder this new universe of mine, the more I come to realize it is simply a structure within which reality plays out. It is not reality itself. Reality is what it is; it is not the framework within which it exists. But reality relies on that framework, doesn’t it? If reality had a different framework, it would be a different reality. Take, for example, kicking a football. In the framework that is today’s universe, kicking the football would send the football into the air in the same direction as the force of the foot that kicked it. But in the framework of my new universe, kicking the football would rely on events in the future (because, having kicked the football, the past would have been created); those events may be completely different from today’s universe. Kicking the football, then, could transform in this new universe into someone biting into a sandwich or a meteor striking a distant planet.

Would life exist in this new universe? I am not sure. Life introduces pain, so I am inclined to say it would not. But without life, what is the meaning (or, the purpose) of the universe? The same question may be asked today: with life, what is the meaning (or, the purpose) of the universe? I think the answer is the same. There is no purpose, per se. Purpose and meaning are artificial constructs humans use to justify their existence. But that may be too cynical. Perhaps all matter, both living and inanimate, has purpose. Even if that purpose is to take up space that otherwise would be vacant; or to interact with other matter to cause decay and regeneration; or to illustrate, by virtue of the appearance of the past, how the future will behave.

Meaning. Purpose. Even without humans, do those concepts exist? I’ve decided they will in my new universe. I just haven’t decided how they will be measured and how they will be justified in the absence of some overarching power that drives the universe to operate.

I wrote, in an as-yet-unpublished stream-of-consciousness screed, about celestial euthanasia.

Celestial euthanasia is a process that results in the death of all the stars in the universe—along with all matter associated with stars and their progeny—suddenly collapsing the universe into eternal cold emptiness.

My new universe would begin with that process. “Eternal,” though, may be taking things too far, although my new universe would be a replacement, so “eternal cold emptiness” should be fine. The concept of celestial euthanasia is useful only as a way to stage the introduction of a replacement universe. The concept is far broader than it need be; my original thought was not to euthanize the entire universe, but only the beings in it that are chiefly responsible for pain. That is, of course, human beings. I think I decided, ultimately, to just scrap the whole thing because getting rid of humans alone would leave plenty of pets and herds of cattle and horses and so forth in dire straits; wholly undeserved.

I could probably rattle on for hours about this. I’ll spare myself the indignity; I’ll stop here.

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Part Two of Two: Shaving While Driving in the Dark

I do not recall a night like last night when my thoughts were so insistent on refusing to let me sleep. I did all the tricks I could think of, to no avail. No matter the approach, my mind flooded with worry, apprehension, and other unpleasant emotions. I was in bed before midnight and I fell asleep rather quickly, but I awoke soon thereafter and spent quite a bit of time in between fitful sleep and worried wakefulness. Around 3:30, I got up for a few minutes, then went back to bed to try to sleep. I suppose I slept, but it was restless and uneasy. Finally, sometime after 4:45, I drifted off. Between that time and 7:05 when I got up, I spent time in restless sleep and in an odd dream. I awoke at 7:05 from the dream; I made notes of it right away so I would etch it into my brain.

My wife sat next to me as I eased the car out of a dark, rain-drenched parking lot onto a multi-lane highway. Before we entered the roadway, though, I lathered my face and neck with shaving cream and began to shave, using my right hand to hold the razor. My left hand was on the wheel.

The night was pitch black and the few lights I could see were distorted by glare and heavy rain. I could not see the road well enough to drive, but I continued driving nonetheless. I set the razor down on the seat next to me and searched the dashboard and the turn signal stalk, looking for a switch to turn on the headlights. All I accomplished was to turn off the dash lights. When I turned them back on, I saw that the speedometer indicated I was traveling at 50 miles per hour, far too fast for the conditions, especially since I could not see the roadway nor any guiding stripes. Somehow, though, we managed to come upon a gas station and convenience store. I got out of the car and walked around front; it seemed, initially, that the lights might have been on, but I discovered the beams of light were just reflections. I went back into the car and began searching for the fuse box, assuming a fuse must have blown. I decided I should go inside the store before I pulled out a fuse, just to make sure the store carried fuses.

I walked across the parking lot, my face and neck still almost fully covered in shaving cream, holding my razor in my right hand. When I entered the store, I saw a stack of napkins near the counter and tried to reach around someone to get some napkins; I wanted to wipe my face clean. Before I could get my hands on a napkin, though, two police officers—highway patrol, I think—came in the door I had entered. They were drenched from the rain. They looked at me; instantly, I was gripped with fear, thinking they were going to assume I must be drunk because I was inside a convenience store, carrying a razor and covered in shaving cream. They did not seem to be phased, though, as they headed toward the restrooms. That’s when I woke up.

The entire dream, from the moment I pulled the car onto the highway until I woke up, I was terrified. I am not sure why were were driving in the rain, in the dark; I have no idea why I would have lathered my face in shaving cream and started to shave while driving in the dark. My beard is notoriously slow-growing and thin; I’m sure a shave could have waited a day or two. I was unfamiliar with the car. I think I had forgotten to turn on the lights before we started out on the highway. I don’t know. I was just afraid and my gut was twisted in a knot. My wife had very little to say during the dream; the only thing I remember was hearing her say “I think they are on,” referring to the lights that I then learned was an optical illusion, thanks to a reflection.

Even though I remembered quite a lot from the dream, I am certain some of it has dissolved into the mist. Would that I could record dreams in their entirety, then play them back. Or, perhaps, maybe I would not like that at all.

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Post One of Two: On the Vestiges of Patriarchy

For the first time in quite a while, I knew by the time I touched the keyboard of my laptop computer than I would write and post two articles today. This is the first. Normally, I would have posted first about the topic on my mind when I awoke; for my own reasons, normal is not the order of the day.

Unless exposed to other cultures very early on, I think children assume their own cultural norms are “normal” and they do not think of, or even know about, the norms in other cultures. In most Western countries, with several notable exceptions, the custom is for women to assume their husbands’ surnames upon marriage. Children, when they encounter married women whose surnames differ from their husbands, think the concept of a woman retaining her maiden surname is odd. They do not necessarily consider the idea of calling a name “maiden” odd, though. It’s what their culture taught them, whether intentionally or coincidentally.

An online article on BBC.com, viewed on my Samsung phone, triggered thoughts on the matter. According to the article and several sources from which the article’s author got her information, 70 percent of women in the U.S. and almost 90 percent of British women adopt the surnames of their husbands upon marriage. Simon Duncan, a professor in family life at the University of Bradford, UK, is quoted as saying, “It is quite surprising… [so many women adopt the man’s name] since it comes from patriarchal history, from the idea that a woman, on marriage, became one of the man’s possessions.” He goes on to raise the question, “…is this just a harmless tradition, or is there some sort of meaning leaking from those times to now?”

This subject has interested me for many years. When my wife and I got married, she chose to retain her maiden name. I recall being more than a little proud of her for her independence. I remember, too, thinking the practice of adopting someone else’s name was evidence of subservience on some level. During the mid-1970s and early 1980s, I participated in a number of discussions with friends on the pros and cons of women adopting the surnames of their husbands. Ultimately, though I thought the practice was somewhat medieval, I came to accept that—in the U.S. and several other Western countries, at least—it was simply a cultural norm; a practice whose roots may have long since decayed, but whose fruit remained in full blossom.  Part of my thought process in accepting a practice I increasingly found patriarchal and subservient was based in learning about marriage naming practices in other countries. In Mexico, the naming convention is as follows: A person has two surnames; the first surname is the father’s first surname and the second surname is the mother’s first surname.  Marriage does not change the woman’s name. So, for example, here is a hypothetical example in practice: José Garcia López marries Luisa Pérez Garza (she retains her name); the full name of their child, whose given name is Estella, is Estella Garcia Pérez.

I think I have written before about naming conventions in some Scandinavian countries. In Iceland, for example, a child’s surname is created from the father’s given name, followed by “-son” or -dóttir (“daughter”). Again, marriage has no effect on a person’s names. As an interesting sidenote, though, in 2019, the laws governing Icelandic names were enacted which will no longer restrict given names by gender (a long story behind that, there is). Icelanders who are officially registered with non-binary gender are permitted to use the patro/matronymic suffix -bur (“child of”) instead of -son or -dóttir.

Strangely enough, I have gone off-track again. My intent was to explore the patriarchal nature in Western culture of women adopting their husbands’ surnames upon marriage (after doing so, I promptly revealed examples in which that is not the case). But it’s more common than not for women to give up their own names in favor of their husbands’ names. I think the cultural norms of a society are closely aligned with the political leanings of the society (or vice versa). For example, I would expect Republicans to be far more likely to oppose women retaining their names upon marriage because, in the Republican viewpoint (as I see it), to do so would be an affront to patriarchal culture; and that, my friends, is sacrosanct.

I have much more to say about this, but my focus has dissolved into a hazy mist. More when I am able to be more precise and persuasive. Next, my second post of the day. Eventually.

 

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Older and Wiser

Fastidious cooks, I suspect, clean their ovens after each use, preserving the bright-as-new shine that looks, to me, like an oven has been ignored. But looks can be deceiving; those fastidious cooks apply more energy and time than I am willing to give, thereby ensuring a spotless shine worthy of showroom display.

Although I do not use the oven a great deal when I cook, when I use it the things I cook apparently emit oily vapors and flecks of fat or tissue or strings of vegetable protein and the like. The oven in my house is not hideous, but the glass door is deeply unattractive and the once-shiny interior surface of the oven is dull and mottled. If it were a dog’s coat, I would call it a hazy deviant brindle. Except this oven’s interior was a bright cobalt blue when purchased. Now, it is a rather odd brindle blue, not at all pleasing to the eye. I hope it will shine again, though. I decided last night that the oven needed cleaning, so I prepared to tackle the job. I set out a spray bottle of filtered water, a plastic scraper, a towel, and soft cloths. Then, this morning, I sprayed water according to directions and set the oven to “Easy-Clean.”  Ten minutes later, the sound of a bell signaled that the task was finished. I opened the oven and wiped up the water. An improvement, but not at all what I expected.

The directions suggested especially dirty ovens might require a second “Easy-Clean” cycle. Though this oven was not especially dirty (but what do I know about the relative dirtiness of ovens?), I decided to go through the process again. While that is happening, I am writing. Ach! There went the bell again! I will return here when I am older and wiser.

I am older, but not appreciably wiser. The second “Easy-Clean” process did little to improve the appearance of the oven. I wiped the oven surface, expected the shine to return. An almost imperceptible improvement; still, not clean. The next step, the instruction manual says, if the oven remains embarrassingly unattractive, should be “Self-Clean.” “Self-Clean” requires the kitchen to be vented, all accouterments removed from inside, outside, and near the oven, and a long time period without access to either the oven or the stove-top burners. Three settings, ranging from three to five hours, are available. Temperatures inside the oven reach upward of five hundred degrees during the process. I remember that either the installer or the salesperson suggested “Self-Clean” be avoided because the high temperatures could damage the appliance’s delicate computerized controls, rendering the oven and the stove-top useless and exceptionally expensive to repair. So, what to do?

The manual does not mention oven cleaner, but I have some of the stuff I use on internal elements of my smoker to clean up after brisket, ribs, turkey, pork loin, etc. Those meats, coupled with high temperatures and smoldering wood chips, leave black, hardened goo and layers of smoke and grease on the racks, drip pan, and door, not to mention the internal sides, top, and bottom. I use oven cleaner on some of those elements. And I decided to spot-clean the oven with the stuff. It’s working, I hope, as I write this. I shall see.

Dramatic improvement, but still not as clean as I’d like. So, I did another spot-clean. The down side of using Easy-Off is that the stuff has potent ingredients that cause me, if even a tiny whiff of the stuff gets in my lungs, to go into a fit of coughing that lasts several minutes. I suspect several layers of lung tissue are vaporized when one part per billion mixes with air that I breathe in. Thankfully, though, my pulmonary decay contributes to a shinier oven. The next time I go in to wipe the inside of the oven, perhaps I should try to hold my breath for the three or four minutes necessary to accomplish the task. I rather doubt I would be successful, inasmuch as it’s tough for me to hold my breath for ten seconds during CT scans of my chest.

The deed is done. It’s as clean as it’s going to be, I suspect. Though dull spots abound among the shiny blue surface, they are not spots of dirt. No, they are the scuffs and abrasions of food preparation. Those hazy areas amid the polished luster of sparkling cobalt offer evidence the oven has battled pork roasts and pizzas and chicken breasts and sausage & cheese balls and hundreds of other explorations into meal preparation.

It occurs to me that the oven (as well as the stove-top and the smoker and the grill) constitutes one element in the cycle involving the combination of heat and ingredients. The animals and plants we consume transform nutrients and fuel from the sun into their bodies and substance. We then apply heat to the flesh of those animals and plants, transforming them into our own bodies. Eventually, our bodies decay to form nutrients that finally may make their way back into nutrients. The only constant in the cycle is the sun; it is required for the heat and for unleashing the nutrients required for the next step in the cycle.  If I were more inventive and more energetic, I could skip the oven and the stove-top and the smoker and the grill. I could rely, instead, on the one constant. I could harness the power of the sun to cook my food. Hmm. I suppose that’s exactly what I’ve done heretofore, without even realizing it. The sun’s power must have been harnessed to allow for the creation of those cooking devices. While I’m not directly harnessing the sun’s power, I am the recipient of the efforts of others to do exactly that.

This is the sort of thing that happens when one cleans the oven and thinks about the process. It leads places that, initially, might have seemed utterly out of place in one’s brain. I just referred to “places,” as if there are locations in the brain associated with thoughts and ideas. I know that is theoretically correct. I wish I could control places in the brain, mine and others, that deny entry to anxiety and fear and doubt and discomfort and all the rest of the emotions that can make life seem to be the enemy. But I can’t. So, instead, I clean ovens and wash the deck and patch dings in walls that should have been patched years ago. That’s my attempt at therapy. That, and cooking. And writing.

 

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Wayback

Sometime within the last week or two, dictionary.com and thesaurus.com got new looks. I use both websites quite often, though I haven’t visited them for several days. This morning, as I clicked on my desktop link to dictionary.com, I noticed a different color scheme—with a brighter intensity—right away. When I clicked on a word (I had looked up “anxiety”) to find synonyms, I saw that the color of thesaurus.com, the other half of the website pair, had changed, as well. Their respective logos, too, were different. Yet, as often as I use both of them, I could not recall precisely what was different about them; I just knew “something” had changed. My inability to recall just what the two schemes looked like before this new look bothered me. How can it be that I could not recall details about something I view with some regularity? My powers of observation or, at least, my powers of remembering my observations, are low.

My curiosity grabbed me by the collar and forced me to explore what I had failed to remember. It has been years, literally, since I made us of the internet’s Wayback Machine, but I remembered it existed. I had to depend on a Google search to lead me to archive.org, where a quick search revealed examples of the “old” look of both websites.

Having piqued my interest in remembering the appearance of some other websites, the Wayback Machine took me to the website of Challenge Management, the company we operated until we decided to retire. And I looked at various versions of the website of my church. Before I got thoroughly lost in old websites, I came to my senses. While I am glad to have the resources of the Wayback Machine, looking back at what has been replaced has only so much value and no more. Peering back at the “old versions” of every website I have ever visited would be an enormous waste of time and energy. And, as I learned this morning, the Wayback Machine has the capacity of becoming an enormously distracting attention-grabber. I do not even clearly recall why I looked up the definition of “anxiety.”

The Wayback Machine cannot take a snapshot of my thoughts at any given time; that’s what my writing does, but not if I allow myself to get sidetracked by wild goose chases. I wonder about the etymology of the phrase, “wild goose chase.” I think I shall see what I can find. Ah, wouldn’t you know it? Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, though its earlier origin is unclear. And that little exploration revealed something else about “goose,” the meaning associated with “jab in the rear” and a bevy of related sexual slang.

I could drift through the history of language for hours if I allowed myself the freedom to do it. Instead, I’ll have breakfast and a shower and make my way to my morning “Window Talk,” the last one of this week.

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Learning About Myself by Reading a Neighbor’s Obituary

Obituaries rarely capture my attention, but one I read this morning did. It was the death notice of the neighbor who died almost two weeks ago. The obituary told the story of his long life in a truly loving way, honoring his accomplishments, his interests, and his loves and passions, illustrating how they were so intricately intertwined with one another. I did not know the man as well as I would have liked; his obituary told me things about him, though, that reinforced my sense that he was a genuinely good person. Not just superficially good, but good deep down. The obit also caused me to reflect on my interests because this man’s interests were so varied: fly-fishing, playing pool, lapidary work, stained glass, silversmithing, woodworking, magic, woodcarving and golf. Each of those hobbies require both interest and discipline; a person has to be able to focus intensely on them to achieve a depth of skill that brings the level of satisfaction necessary to enjoy them. But maybe the skill is not the important thing; maybe it’s simply the satisfaction of doing something enjoyable.

I think the breadth of his interests illustrates the depth of his engagement with life. That concept is, for me, a bit hard to understand and explain; yet it’s so clear to me as I think on it. Adequate words to describe the idea elude me. The fact that this man earned his doctoral degree and taught at the college level for many years while spending time outside the classroom engaged in such diverse hobbies intrigues me. I appreciate what must have been the richness and intellectual range that such diversity suggests. Perhaps the intensity of focus required to attain a doctoral degree teaches one how to apply that same intensity to what, for me, would be a casual and short-lived interest.

My interests are just as broad as his, I think, but not as deep. And my discipline sometimes seems nonexistent.  For a short time, I was fascinated with welding and metal-working. I enjoyed it immensely. But my interest and involvement went only as far as the night class in metal arts that I took. Though I was extremely interested, I was unwilling (or, perhaps, unable) to invest in the equipment I would need to continue the hobby at home. The same thing is true of my interest in working with clay. I enjoyed pottery-making and mask-making for a couple of years or more, but when circumstances changed that prevented my free access to a studio at my leisure, I stopped. I was unwilling to invest the money to get kilns and pottery wheels and so forth. Ditto wood-working and painting.

I think I know why I have been unwilling to pursue hobbies that require investments. It has been because I know who I’m dealing with. He is the sort of person who is apt to lose interest when it becomes apparent his skills do not measure up to his expectations. Unfortunately, that is true of pretty much everything I have tried. Even engaging in interests that do not require significant investments soon reveal that I will not become a “master.” So I abandon them.

What is most frustrating to me is that I know I do not have to become a “master” at any of them. I simply have to enjoy them. That’s all it takes for a hobby or interest to be fulfilling. Or, at least, that’s all it should take. But for some reason that’s not all it takes for me. If I’m not good enough at whatever I try to satisfy myself, I’m not good enough to continue with it. No matter whether I enjoy it or not. My enjoyment begins to decline when it becomes apparent I will not achieve a greater level of skill. It’s like I want to reach the level of professional in everything I attempt; if I can’t, I stop trying. That’s not always true, though. I think I could have enjoyed metal-working and working with clay; the investments were the stumbling blocks. I have never wanted to fritter away money needlessly (though I do exactly that involving all kinds of other things).

I’m psychoanalyzing myself here. Doing a reasonably good job of it, too, if I say so myself. But I’m only recognizing the symptoms and identifying the disease; I cannot seem to find the cure. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s a chronic condition that must simply be managed, not cured. My way of managing it is to move on to the next interest, knowing it will be of limited duration.

Ed had it together. He achieved a long lifetime of accomplishments and he enjoyed a variety of interests outside his profession. I aspire to be more like him. Perhaps I will try stained glass next. I’ve had more than a superficial interest in working with stained glass for a very long time; just never explored it. Maybe now is the time. If only I can avoid thinking I need to achieve competence equal to the creator of the glass in the Chapel of Thanksgiving in Dallas or the glass in the Gran Hotel Ciudad de México in Mexico City. I try to convince myself that I must remember it’s the process, not the product. But I always forget. Ed must have known how to harness the attitude that what’s important is the process, not the product that emerges from it. I want to be like Ed.

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Battling Demons and Dreams and Overactive Imaginations

Soon after I awoke this morning, I developed a craving for congee. My impatience kicked in at the same time, so I cobbled together many (but not all) of the ingredients for basic congee, threw them in the Instant Pot, and am now hoping for the best. I have not familiarized myself with the directions for using the Instant Pot, which is a mistake; I tend to avoid directions unless the outcome of avoiding them is almost cataclysmic. That’s not always true, but usually. Give me a chain saw and a radial arm saw and an oxy-acetylene torch and watch the fun begin. I hope the outcome of making congee is less dangerous than the prospective encounter with shop tools. I may know by the time I finish relieving my fingers of letters of the alphabet and other keyboard characters.

My SleepNumber app informs me I did not sleep well last night. I did not need the app to tell me that; I was well aware that I was restless all night and slept only in fits and starts. It failed to capture one of two trips to pee, though, so I am not sure I should believe all it tells me. But it says I did not fall asleep for an hour and twenty-two minutes after getting in bed and that sounds about right; I had a hell of a time getting to sleep. According to the app, that finally happened at 1:33 a.m. The subsequent “restful” sleep amounted to two hours and forty-two minutes of my five hours in bed. So, I was tossing and turning for roughly half the night. The app gave me a SleepNumber score of 15 for last night; I average 61 and my best ever was 92. I have work to do on making my sleep patterns restorative.

Regardless of how long it took and how restless it was, I finally awoke at 5:14 a.m. from a disturbing dream, in which I asked a burly and very unfriendly-looking guy blocking my old red car to move his jalopy of a car out of my way. Then I realized I had lost the keys to my red Ford, a late 1950s model, that was improperly parked in the driveway in front of a monstrous and horribly disorganized box store (I had been inside). My assumption is that I was in Mexico, in that all the people I encountered spoke Spanish. Somewhere in the dream I realized I was supposed to be somewhere soon, but I had no idea where, and I had no transportation, given my misplaced or lost keys. There was more, but it’s gone now. But, toward the end of the dream (I think), it occurred to me that I have to record an introduction for a church insight presenter mid-week and the timing of that recording could conflict with my wife’s visit to the wound center in town.  After I awoke, I consulted my calendar and discovered there is no conflict, so I tore that little shred of anxiety from my psyche and discarded it. God, dreams are bizarre! They wrap one in such convoluted fears and place the dreamer in circumstances that he would never encounter in the real world of consciousness.

I wonder whether our lives would be appreciably better if all we had to worry about was staying out of the reach of hungry predators, finding adequate sources of food every day, and securing a reasonably safe and comfortable place to sleep each night? If we could discard worries about overeating, asylum-seekers, Presidential elections, the Oxford comma, too much salt, mass extinctions, Supreme Court appointments, artificial international borders, drug cartels, military spending, etc., would the challenges of survival seem less onerous and more appealing?

I remember so very little about my carefree childhood; assuming, of course, it was carefree as I suppose most childhood is. I wish I did, though. I wish I remembered a time when I lived for the moment and worried about nothing. That must be among the most spectacular and attractive mental states available (or not) to human beings.  I envy people who can remember in great detail the joys of childhood. I cannot remember much about any phase of my life, up to and including retirement—it’s like my memory of books and movies; once I experience them, most of the detail vanishes into the mist.

Soul-crushing worry and subsequent regret, though, stick with me for years. Someone told me recently I should be in counseling/therapy. They may be right. Either that or the magic pill I wrote about not long ago. Not the one that makes me larger, nor the one that makes me small, nor the ones that mother gave me… Where the hell is Alice when you need her? Someone else, a person who periodically partakes of mood altering substances, says they are not as innocent and innocuous as some say and as I’ve believed since the 1970s. That’s another thing one might not need to worry about if predators, food, and shelter were the only things that really warranted one’s time and attention. It occurs to me that some people who go “off-grid” may be battling their demons, the ones comprising what we ironically call modern “civilization.”

Demons, I think, are the attributes of our society that needlessly drag us into caves and beat us bloody and senseless with truncheons originally designed to provide for our protection. Somewhere along the line the purpose of these devices, intended originally to bludgeon attacking wolves and tigers, morphed into tools of control and subjugation.

Wait… Is the congee ready? Indeed it is. This post, therefore, shall be abandoned to its own devices, whether truncheons, clubs, cudgels, sticks, blackjacks, or hammers.

Now that was worth waiting for, in my opinion.

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Asylum

As the pressure builds inside this bubble we call the United States, I suspect more and more people are beginning to develop a tiny shred of understanding of what it might be like to seek asylum in a country other than one’s own. A person—gripped by fear, possessing little or no money, and unable to speak the language of a place she hopes will be a refuge—puts her faith in humanity that someone will offer assistance; someone will help deliver her from the hellish nightmare that caused her to abandon everything and everyone she has ever known. How would she react, upon reaching her hoped-for refuge, to being detained and treated like a common criminal, rather than an economic or political refugee? How would I react? I can only imagine my fear would be magnified a thousand-fold and my faith in humankind would diminish dramatically.  As we witness the deconstruction of democracy in this country, can we imagine a time when we feel compelled to leave everything we have ever worked for, to leave our birth families and our friends, and seek asylum in Norway or Iceland or Canada or Chile?

I call this country a bubble because we are insulated from reality by what we read and watch and are told. While a free press is integral to a free democracy, the benefits of a free press (which increasingly is in peril here) are delivered only when the people partake of what the press makes available. And the press must not only be free to report facts, it must actively investigate and dig to find them. Today, the free press is under intense economic pressure because “the people” are choosing not to support the press financially. Subscriptions are declining and advertisers are investing in non-traditional channels to reach into the pocketbooks of their intended victims. The result is an underfunded press and an uneducated populace. We don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t seem to care.

With a handful of exceptions, I think what’s left of the free press in this country tends to accept what they are told; they report accordingly. They are complicit, therefore, in the massive misinformation and disinformation processes that are taking place in this country. They, and we, buy the BS being sold by our own government. They, and we, accept carefully orchestrated information campaigns designed to pacify us and remove from our reach the weapons of recourse. Somehow, suddenly, the voting process in this country has become a hotbed of malicious manipulation; it cannot be trusted. The postal service cannot be trusted. Voting machines can be hacked. Ballots can be snatched and magically reappear with votes cast for the “right” or the “wrong” candidate. As the press reports on all manner of accusations made about the voting process, I believe the accusers are planning actual rigging and manipulation; that will offer “proof” that the accusers have been right all along. We are being carefully led to slaughter and what’s left of the “free press” is busy exploring accusations about the illegitimacy of vice presidential candidates and other such smokescreen distractions. If the “free press” ever turns its attention to the facts, the public will fail to read or listen, because we will be glued to “news” being delivered by QAnon or AlterNet or 1600 Daily or Anti-Fascist News. Those sources are not “news;” they are mouthpieces designed to slant “facts” to support their political perspective.

One of the definitions of asylum is “an institution for the maintenance and care of the mentally ill, orphans, or other persons requiring specialized assistance.” Given our refusal to acknowledge what we are seeing take place before us, perhaps that is the asylum we seek. But it will not be available to us, no matter where we go; arguably, we cannot prove we are mentally ill or otherwise require specialized institutional assistance.  The asylum we might ultimately have to see is  “an inviolable refuge; sanctuary; the immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.” When I arrive in Norway or Iceland or Canada or Chile, will I be detained, strip-searched, and placed in a holding cell for months while the authorities decide whether I will be permitted to stay? Will I be shipped back to an authoritarian regime staffed by thugs hungry for blood and the thrill of the screams of the tortured?  I suspect it will be both. Like every country facing an influx of refugees and asylum-seekers, my countries of “choice” will be overwhelmed by the flood of people fleeing in fear for their lives. The remnants of the free press will attempt to report on the travesty, but they will be silenced “for the public good.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the corruption becomes so blatant (but how could it become more blatant than it is?) that the people can no longer tolerate it, they might start a revolution. While that could start another civil war, it might instead trigger an intense national (or global) introspection that leads to a cleansing.

But until the majority of us realize that what we are all seeking is “an inviolable refuge; sanctuary; the immunity afforded by refuge in such a place,” we will not recognize that the asylum we desire can be right here. Until we are willing to share that refuge with other asylum seekers who have no place else to go, we will not find the peace that asylum should provide.

I don’t have the energy to weave all the threads of this meandering diatribe together. They form a fabric, in my head, but my fingers are incapable of stitching them together in a way that shows the cloth clearly. Asylum. I weep for all the asylum seekers, including those of us who one day may have to adopt that description.

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Labrador

I spent too much time this morning writing a post that I dare not make public, lest I be accused of conspiracy to practice unlicensed surgery by excising the malignancy of a grotesque public hypocrite from the body politic. That having been said, I join many millions around the world in mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She has been called a trailblazer. She was that and much more. Her remarkable legacy will be long remembered and honored.

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Today began, in earnest, when I finally got out of bed at 6:42. I cannot believe I slept that late. The day is half gone and I have accomplished nothing. My Sleep Number app claims I went to bed at 1:14 and, with the exception of five short periods of restlessness, slept through the night. Until 6:42! The app says I had four hour and fifty-three minutes of restful sleep.  And, then, I awaken to a day half-consumed by emerging daylight and lost darkness.

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I have a Zoom meeting this morning to discuss a website. Though I suppose it’s an important matter for the church, nothing much seems particularly important to me of late. Churches, in general, are on my list of snarl-eliciting matters. In another church-related matter, I have made multiple calls to the local Catholic church and to a Baptist church, seeking a sliver of information about parking lot maintenance contractors; I have not received return calls. I think my mistake may have been saying I am a volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist church; in the tiny little minds of some people… I won’t go on. I’m angry at the world right now. There’s some evidence my little piece of the world may be improving, but there’s so much more evidence the rest of it is swirling into an already clogged sewage mistreatment plant. Jeez! Can’t I finish a single paragraph without diving into the darkness?

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Yesterday, or perhaps it was the day before, I went through a bunch of photos from the trip my wife and I took to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzogivina, Slovenia, and Montenegro. I selected several photos that showed my wife’s smile, saving the images to a dedicated folder. Looking at the photos was at once uplifting and painful; I want to see that smile again, here at home.  It’s hard to smile when confined to a little room and with rare opportunities to interact with loved ones except by phone and an occasional window visit. But those visits will become more common, at least for the next week. The facility agreed to let me visit her every day for a while; I hope those visits lift her spirits.

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It’s almost 8:30. I should make the bed, eat some breakfast, and shower. I feel like crawling back into bed, instead, but I won’t.

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Ten minutes later and I’m feeling more “up.” I called my wife and spoke to her for a few minutes. We talked about a painting in her room; two dogs with a singled stick in their mouths. The dogs look like they are smiling. I think my wife would like a big Labrador retriever to come to her room, put its head in her lap, and allow her to lavish affection by petting its head. I’m in favor of that.

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Celestial Connections

I have only vague recollections of Buffy Sainte-Marie from the late 1970s and early 1980s, although I instantly recognize her name when I hear it. And I remember her fame emerged from her music, though I do not recall specific songs that I associate with her. Her name same to my attention again recently while listening to a SiriusXM station entitled North Americana, a mixture of music from the U.S. and Canada. The programming for the channel is described as “Today’s alternative country meets yesterday’s folk, rock & roots; everything from Tom Petty and Blue Rodeo to City and Colour.

Wikipedia describes Sainte-Marie as an Indigenous Canadian-American. Wikipedia reminded me that she was a co-writer (with Jack Nitzche and Will Jennings) of “Up Where We Belong,” the Oscar-winning song from the Officer and a Gentleman sound track. I learned, from reading that article, that she married Sheldon Wolfchild, with whom she had a son; her son’s name is Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild. Starblanket was the maiden name of the wife of the son of the chief of the Piapot Cree band. I won’t go into the connection; suffice it to say there was one.

Why I was so fascinated when I stumbled across Buffy Sainte-Marie’s music is a mystery. It’s an even greater mystery why I was possessed to explore more about her background. And I do not entirely understand why I was enthralled by her son’s name: Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, though I suspect my interest stems from something I wrote (outside of this blog; not published here) a few days ago. My words involved being wrapped in stars and witnessing the wild majesty of the universe beyond our planet and beyond our solar system. “Starblanket Wolfchild” seems to describe what was going through my mind when I put the words down.

I am sure it’s sheer coincidence, but strange coincidence can be twisted into evidence of spiritual connections. Coincidence can be rejected outright, replaced by belief that the “coincidence” was not coincidence at all but, in some mystic fashion, destiny. I dismiss such stuff as rubbish, but not everyone does. Some people thrive on such celestial connections. They build entire religions on frameworks of happenstance and accidents of time and proximity. Or, perhaps, they use the coincidence as fuel for their books and stories. Books and stories become mythology and legend. Humans’ ways of explaining the inexplicable or incomprehensible.

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I try to enmesh myself in writing and thinking to keep my mind off unpleasantness. It does not work. My thoughts get tangled. They create dreams that morph into nightmares that will not end. Last night, I dreamed of being in a two-car garage littered with small rattlesnakes that could strike double the distance of their outstretched bodies. The snakes could slither vertically up walls, too, and launch themselves across the width and breadth of the garage. The dream merged with another, somehow, in which people signed up to visit specific rooms in a house; someone had to accompany them to the rooms to protect them from the snakes as they made their way through the house.

My mind feels like it is wearing thin, as if my brain is made of thin cloth worn thinner by rubbing against a metal post. This thought reminds me of a time when, as a child wearing a new pair of slacks, I slid down the metal railing attached to a set of concrete steps leading from the sidewalk to the porch. The cloth of the new slacks wore through in the crotch until the fabric was almost transparent. That’s what my mind feels like; thin to the point of tearing.

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Light

Light is just now beginning to soak through the blackness of the sky, evidence that daylight is on its way. I hope the promise of light is not a false promise. I hope the brilliant light that illuminated my world returns to stay.

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Foreshadow

I spoke to the administrator and to the head nurse yesterday. And I spoke to my wife. The participants in the two former conversations seemed more interested in talking to me. My wife said she wanted to get on her computer; she said she would call me later in the day. She did not. I asked her to be sure to let me know when she had a few minutes so I could send her an invitation to a Zoom conversation. Nope. From the two others, I received apologies and explanations. And confirmation about a medical issue that probably is impacting my wife’s mood; and is, now, being treated. I can only wait to see what today brings.

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Work on painting the deck should be completed today, save for a few treated-lumber boards that will wait for several weeks to allow them to weather and dry. My hope to replace the spindles on the railing with welded grey (galvanized) hog wire was dashed when the preliminary quote came in: $4,000 to $4,500. So, I reluctantly will opt to paint the hideous spindles, covering the pealing brown paint with more paint; probably a charcoal, almost black, color. When remains to be seen.

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When I logged onto my blog account this morning, I noticed that I had assigned a category to only one of my most recent thirteen posts. That tells me my thoughts are jumbled and out of focus. I cannot direct my attention to a single category or topic (or even four or five topics), so I give up on attempting to assign a category to my posts. I’m probably the only person who has any interest in selecting a category and seeing what I’ve written on the subject, so the assignment of categories is not especially important. But to see “uncategorized” is maddening to me, for some reason. Yet when I go to an “uncategorized” blog post and attempt to assign a category, often I find it impossible to pick one. My thoughts while writing it must have ricocheted off of a thousand fleeting ideas; picking categories to fit the post would be an exercise in unnecessary complexity.  I’ve never counted the number of times I’ve used each category, but I know I’ve used some of them very, very rarely. I checked, for example, to see how many posts are labeled “mythology.” Two. Two! It’s hardly worth the effort of assigning a category if that’s the extent of my writing that touches on the topic.  Perhaps I should erase all existing categories, replacing them with “madness” or “confusion.” That should cover them all.

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I wonder, sometimes, whether other animals can hate the way humans can. We assume pet dogs love their loving masters, right? Can dogs loathe people who abuse them? Can dogs hate other dogs or cats or raccoons? I do not think we have universal agreements about the definitions of love and hate. Both are highly subjective, in my opinion, and highly personal. While I’m on the matter of love and hate, I wonder whether other animals can have feelings all along that spectrum. Can they “like” or “dislike” other creatures? Or is the emotional spectrum for animals more like a switch than a spectrum? On and off, versus varying degrees? Assuming there is an emotional spectrum, with love on one end and hate on the other, at what point does love become hate? Does it slide backward from love to like to dislike to hate? Perhaps love and hate, while antonyms on a linguistic scale, are not really related to one another in the way we tend to think. Maybe they emerge from different emotional roots in the brain. I’m sure someone has written at length about this, basing their writing on extensive, exhaustive research. Not I. I just think with my fingers and don’t bother to do my research. Especially not when I’m feeling lazy or depressed. I just ramble on, needlessly using up what must be a limited number of alphabet characters available to me in this lifetime.

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Without warning, my eyes brim with tears and I take in an involuntary breath, making a loud sound that surprises me. It happens too often. I don’t know why it happens; my thoughts cannot explain it. I believe my emotions sometimes diverge from what I am thinking, as if I become two people. I wrote about something like that, but not really about that, recently. Perhaps my writing foreshadowed my experience, but in a way that veered away from what I had been thinking when I wrote it. There’s bound to be an explanation. I just don’t know what it is.

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