Banter

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of an acquaintance and follower of this blog, I spent time yesterday afternoon sitting at a bar, drinking and engaging in extemporaneous conversation. During my discussions with my hospitable host, we had occasion to converse with fellow drinkers Joseph and 90-year-old Mary, his companion. We also spoke with  57-year-old Steve, originally from Tulsa, along with J.D. of unknown age, a singer/songwriter and wearer of a cowboy hat. After I got home, I googled J.D., for he revealed his last name, and found his singer/songwriter website and his Facebook page. I expect I will include a character, modeled in part after him, in a piece of fiction I will write one day.

It had been so long since I sat at a bar in the late afternoon that I had forgotten that barstools lead to the erasure natural inhibitions. Alcohol, while not necessary to the process, tend to accelerate it. I know this not so much from personal experience but from watching it unfold in people around me. Whether the process emerges from loneliness or simply from a desire for social interaction, I do not know. In either case, I rather enjoy watching it and participating in it. But I have to admit it can be intrusive and annoying when too much social lubricant is involved.

My acquaintance/new friend and I share an enjoyment of writing and music and, I believe, similar political and social philosophies. And he exhibits compassion and, as I’ve already mentioned, kindness. And generosity. He bought my drinks and paid for at least one for Mary and Steve; I may have missed others. We do not share other attributes, like his love and sophisticated appreciation of motorcycles. And he has children, of whom he is extremely proud. And he actually spent a significant amount of time touring in an RV, while I only dreamed about doing that.

I enjoy and appreciate diversity. My appreciation of diversity seems to grow with time, as opposed to what seems more common to me; many people appear to shrink from differences as they grow older, taking greater comfort in the familiar. Yet I am by no means an adventurer, though I wish I could be. And I picture myself in that role, from time to time; I have a close resemblance to Walter Mitty.

At any rate, I enjoyed and appreciated yesterday afternoon so very much. Thank you, sir, if you read this post. Or even if you don’t.

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Yesterday morning included my first session with the UUVC grief support group, via Zoom. I was the newbie and, as such, a fair amount of discussion was for my benefit; learning the history of other participants and getting feedback about my experience. That’s all I’ll to say about it, as the participants commit to absolute confidentiality.  I’ll continue to participate.

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I took a break to shave, shower, and collect the trash. Later, I will wash clothes, sheets, and towels. And I will return to mountains of unfinished paperwork and make telephone calls that should have been made when I was younger and possibly thinner. Later still, I will go to the grocery store to buy something suitable for hors d’oeuvres for this afternoon’s neighborly wine-fest. I have toyed with the idea of inviting another neighbor, a woman down the street who kindly brought me sweets and treat, to come for a visit, but I do not want to send the impression that I am coming on to her; I suppose I could suggest she bring her husband along.

Enough of this banter with myself. More coffee, please, and some sort of salve to lesson the constant pain, even while I joke and jest.

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Searching

February 3 is the 32nd anniversary of Hot Springs’ Wednesday Night Poetry, the poetry event (sometimes including music) held every single Wednesday evening since its inception in February 1989. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to become virtual for as long as necessary, but it will emerge again as a live event one day. I hope that emergence will occur at its most recent host venue Kollective Coffee. But for the 32nd anniversary, it remains a virtual open mic night. Kai Coggin, currently the host, has invited a number of Arkansas poets and writers of poetry (there’s a difference, in my mind) to provide a video to share for that evening. I am among those she asked and I agreed to write and record a poem for the celebration. I haven’t finished my current poem yet, but if I read the one I am writing at the moment, it will be an exploration of pain and regret.  That seems to be a consistent theme in my writing. I suppose I’ll keep doing it until I get it right. Wednesday next week is yet another obligation, but one I treasure.

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This morning, I’ll participate in my first grief support group, orchestrated through my church as a virtual event now, as most of them are. Yesterday, I participated in another UUVC virtual event, Articulating Your UU Faith. Both activities reinforce my appreciation for accidentally overcoming my utter and complete rejection of church in all its forms. But I’m still reeling from my surprise at engagement with a church. Nonbelievers don’t do church. But they do, I’ve found. We do.

Yet I’m still struggling with some of it. The word “faith,” for instance. My faith? Some of the definitions of the word prompt me to reflect on what I am attempting to articulate. For example: 1) belief that is not based on proof; 2) belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion; and 3) a system of religious belief. Yet all three definitions apply in my case. My belief, in the absence of a divine being, is not based on proof. My belief in the teachings of the Unitarian Universalist “religion” confirms my “faith” in those teachings. And, by definition, Unitarian Universalism is a system of religious belief—I grudgingly admit.

I could argue that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion but a philosophy, instead. I could argue the same with respect to other “faiths,” though. I freely admit I have had a bias against church teachings since childhood. My bias was not against the core foundations of morality upon which the various religions rest; it was (and is) against the supernatural elements and the hypocrisy of the content of religious texts and their interpretations. I’ve always thought the Bible was a book of myth that contained substantial amounts of valuable endorsement of moral positions that mirror my own. But it was only relatively recently that I was able to articulate that. During yesterday’s virtual conversation, one of the other participants said it very clearly; I think she said it is a text that teaches through mythology. My difficulty, from as far back as I can remember, has been with the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. In my view, that’s akin to madness.

I wonder how many people “out there” are like my wife, who silently and without fanfare readily accepted what she considered the moral lessons of the Bible and dismissed the rest? Unlike me, she did not argue vocally and forcefully against those elements of the book that are clearly impossible and in opposition to one another. For her, the arguments were not worth the energy they required. “Live and let live” could well have been her motto. I miss her so much this morning. I want to ask her questions and hear her answers. I miss long, silent embraces that say so much, proving that words sometimes unnecessarily infringe on communication. Embraces that say, “I understand” or “It’s okay” or “All that matters is that we have each other.”

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I’ve allowed my emotional state to spill onto the floor. Suddenly, as I look around at the piles of paper that need to be sorted or recorded, my energy slithers away like a snake shedding its skin, leaving only a dead dry shell that can accomplish nothing. I need to get things done, but I cannot even imagine moving a pile of paper from one corner of the desk to another.

No, it was not sudden. I did not change the HVAC filters yesterday. It would have taken too much dedicated attention; all of fifteen minutes. Perhaps I’m just inherently lazy, after all. But, then I think, maybe if I had someone here to help urge me on, I’d get things done. No, I would not want to work; I would only want to sit and drink coffee or wine and engage in mindless chatter or philosophical explorations. Work is for another day. Always for another day.

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In spite of my lust for an empty calendar, yesterday afternoon I willingly added another obligation to it. I invited my elderly neighbors (he’s over 90 years old) to visit tomorrow afternoon for some wine, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation. They have been very kind to me and they are just delightful people. Plus they share my political leanings. They have always seemed to have only a few visitors and they spend most of their time in their house (but they do go on walks on occasion). They had me over a few weeks ago and it’s time I returned the generosity. I want to do the same with other neighbors and church friends, too.  But I am conflicted. On the one hand, I enjoy them all, but on the other I enjoy social interactions on a rather limited basis. But, on yet another hand (one of many), I don’t want my desire for solitude to override my interest in enjoying their company. And on another hand, even in solitude I have an abiding interest in the company of some people in particular. Maybe all these arms are, in fact, legs. I think I may be an octopus. Another arm (or leg) wants to have my sculpture instructor back for wine and conversation. Schizophrenia may be at play here.

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I am in favor of modular housing that can be expanded or made smaller with very little effort and money. As families grow, smaller starter homes could expand with the addition of modules such as bathrooms and bedrooms. Then, when the kids leave home or spouses find greener pastures, modules could be removed. Tax structures would need tweaking to adjust to the “living” home. Zoning in many place would require some flexibility, as well. The concept of modular housing would fit well with the practice of building co-housing communities, too (a concept I’ve favored for many years). The co-housing community could start small and grow as people see how attractive and appealing privacy and simultaneous social support, going hand in hand, are.

One of many things I would like to do if I could relive my life again would be to become an architect with a specialty in co-housing design. Oh, and I want to be a sociology professor. And a professional rodeo cowboy. And a lawyer. And a singer/songwriter. So many wishes, so few lives to live.

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It’s nearly 7:30. Between drinking cups of coffee and writing more mindless drivel, I’ve managed to waste more than an hour and a half. I have to get going. There must be energy somewhere in this house. I just have to find it.

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Shaped by Circumstance

This morning, it seems I awoke to a different climate or, at least, a different season. Last night’s thunder and lightning signaled the change. This morning’s reality illustrated it in dense fog and warming air. According to my live-in girlfriend, Alexa, today’s high temperature may reach 75 degrees. Her assertion is generally supported, if only in direction if not in specifics, by my computer’s weather widgets; they claim the high will not quite touch 70. The widgets also say a dense fog advisory was issued this morning at 6:18 and will be in effect until 9:00. I assume that is when Zeus and Thor will each take a deep breath, lifting the fog. Apparently, though, they will not chase all the clouds from the sky; we can expect occasional thunderstorms in the morning and a few showers in the afternoon.

I rarely watch the weather report components of local television news because, try as they might, the meteorologists and weather-readers do not satisfy my desire for interesting weather forecasts. I’m not suggesting the weather itself must be interesting (though it always is). I’d like the forecasters’ delivery to be more interesting to someone like me—someone with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor. I would like to hear them blame Zeus and Thor for the weather. And I want them to tell stories about the influence on the day’s weather by Guabancex, the supreme storm deity of the Taino people; they were located across Florida and environs and in places like Puerto Rico. Hearing the forecasters talk, I might learn how to pronounce Guabancex.

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The reality of my calendar is that it’s mostly empty. But I allow its brief intrusions into an otherwise obligation-free plan for the passage of a week’s time to cause me anxiety or something like it.

My calendar for the week does not provide the open, freeing landscape I crave. Commitments and obligations and reminders dot the days and hours, though Wednesday and Friday look refreshingly empty for now. Today and tomorrow and Thursday are not jam-packed, but short commitments split the day into pre- and post- segments, mostly segments of my own making. Today, for example, I am committed to changing the HVAC filters, a task that might take fifteen minutes from start to finish, including disposal of the used filters. But the fact that it’s on the calendar restricts my freedom to do something else during that fifteen-minute period. And I have calendared a call to the Social Security Administration to ask questions and to Home Instead to inquire where a promised refund check might be. These little things interrupt my desire for an extended period of uninterrupted serenity. My attitude about calendars probably reflects some form of mental deviance that could be readily addressed with the proper treatment. But I’d have to schedule it and that would be yet another interruption.

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If my mental state could be displayed on a monitor—an electroencephalogram monitor, perhaps—I think the display would show a series of jagged lines. The height of the peaks would be short and irregular and the valleys would drop off the edges of the monitor, becoming invisible for a time. Between them, the lines would fluctuate wildly, suggesting the power to the device was switching on and off with lightning speed.

I think those jagged lines have always existed; they are just more pronounced lately. In an ideal world, I might be able to compare the output of my electroencephalography to that of others. I could see evidence of  similarities and differences between me and people around me. Hah! We could compare ourselves by getting reports of psychometric assessments that wouldn’t require brainwave monitoring. I sometimes usually make things more complex than they need to be.

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Without church, the extent of my social engagement largely would be limited to two neighbor couples, a few physically distant friends, and an occasional phone and/or Zoom call with members of my family. That is, my social interaction would be much like it has been for most of my adult life; limited to people in a very small circle. Late in life, though, improbably stumbling upon a church that was not only tolerable but attractive expanded my social sphere exponentially. Suddenly, I was surrounded by inquisitive, intelligent, friendly, compassionate people whose attitudes and ideas were, unlike any groups of people to which I have been connected before, compatible with mine. That is not to say we’re in lock-step; only that we’re sufficiently tolerant, curious, and open to different perspectives to enable us to communicate and disagree and argue civilly. If I had encountered such openness and intellect in my earlier years, who knows how radically different a person I might have become?

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Since my wife’s illness manifested itself in mid-July, people from my neighborhood and from my church have rallied around me. The compassion they have shown has been exceptional. People have kept in touch with me, have visited me, and have generally tried to show me they care. And I appreciate that very much. But, thanks to the way my brain is wired, I lately have wondered how my life might be different now if my wife had not been ill. She and I would have spent most of our time at home during the pandemic. The visits and expressions of care would have been unnecessary and, therefore, probably would not have taken place. Would I have reached out to people during that time, attempting to stay in touch to show that I care? Probably only in the event someone was ill or obviously could use a display of affection and/or compassion. Ideally, I would not need to hear of someone’s misfortune to trigger compassionate behavior toward them. It should not take such challenges to give me reason to reach out to others. Unfortunately, I think it takes misfortune to provide an opening to display affection that otherwise might be awkward and misinterpreted. Without a misfortune to provide the “legitimate” reason to reach out, we (that probably should be “I”) tend to keep a safe distance. I hope I can overcome that self-imposed limitation. I hope I have learned to try to overcome my discomfort at the awkwardness of reaching out without a “reason.” Maybe I have been changed by circumstances. No doubt, actually. I have been shaped by circumstance; now, it’s a question of maintaining that shape.

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I delayed getting up this morning until 6:00. That delay robbed me of at least an hour of otherwise productive time. It’s nearing 8:00. Madness! And I still haven’t showered and shaved. Time’s wasting.

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Mornin’

A day, beginning as an immature bud, can—with a little tender loving care—unfold into a beautiful flower. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The challenge, of course, is to continue tending the blossom, keeping the bloom fresh and bright in the hope of maintaining its life-affirming energy for longer than a fleeting moment. Days turn into weeks and months and years. Flowers rarely follow that path.

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Yesterday afternoon, I sat with a friend. We talked about whatever entered our minds. And we laughed. There’s something about a free-wheeling conversation, lubricated with a touch of wine, that tends to strip away old, dried mental scabs. Beneath evidence of old wounds there’s freshness and healing; opportunities for deeper connections.

Still, there’s distance because of the ongoing plague and hugs remain rare these winter days. They have to be just as rare as they were in the heat of the summer. But even in the absence of long, heartfelt physical hugs, conversations can feel a little like the embraces for which we hunger. The craving for affection is both intellectual and emotional, both mental and physical.

Our conversations yesterday afternoon spanned time and generations. This morning, as I think about some of the things we talked about, some of the lyrics from a Greg Brown tune, Spring Wind, come to mind:

My friends are getting older
So I guess I must be too
Without their loving kindness
I don’t know what I’d do
Oh the wine bottle’s half empty-
The money’s all spent
And we’re a cross between our parents
And hippies in a tent

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A perfectly buoyant mood can drown in other memories of musical lyrics. Three times, and now four, I’ve written in this blog about a single line in a Gordon Lightfoot song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. That one line, a question, is among the most mournful I’ve ever heard; it captures grief more completely than any long-winded explanation.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

My wife and I went to a Gordon Lightfoot concert when we lived in Houston, sometime between 1979 and 1985. He performed in Jones Hall (I assume Jones Hall remains standing). Janine and I rarely attended concerts; they just weren’t our thing. We both liked music (I have always been more of a music buff than she), but were not enamored of the crowds, noise, difficulty parking, etc., etc. But we made exceptions. For Gordon Lightfoot. And Leonard Cohen. And Leon Redbone. Before I met Janine, I went to a Leo Kottke concert. And when we lived in Chicago, we made a habit of visiting the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park; that was an outdoor festival that, at the time, either allowed or tolerated festival-goers to bring in wine. Times change. Moods change. Likes and dislikes change.

My fingers just follow my mind. That’s why grief and happy times at concerts and mental gymnastics all found places to fit into this short section of this morning’s ruminations. And if that (or not), then my thoughts and my mood are just as disjointed as they seem to me.

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Lately, I’ve noticed dozens of typos in my posts. My fingers type what they think I want to say, not what I think I want to say. My fingers rely on their tiny arthritic brains to keep up with my thinking. I could go back and correct my typos. Sometimes I do. But more frequently, I notice them and promise myself I’ll relay on an editor to find and correct them if I ever decide, seriously, to publish a compilation of some of my writing.

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Having failed to watch and listen to our church minister’s mid-week Wednesday video, I took a break from typing and I watched it. As usual, it offered insights into what is happening with the church during the COVID-caused hiatus from in-person gatherings. It also made me realize that, even though I read the words at least once a week, I have not successfully committed the church covenant to memory. I tried, but failed, to type it from memory. I’ve grown used to reading it rather than reciting it. I think it’s worth committing to memory.

Love is the doctrine of this church,
and the quest for truth its sacrament,
and service its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
to seek knowledge in freedom,
to serve humankind in fellowship,
to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the good.
Thus do we covenant with one another.

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I repeatedly tried yesterday to figure out which device in or around the living area of my house was emitting an annoying intermittent tone, signaling that a battery was in need of replacement. I thought it might be a smoke detector, so I replaced the battery. A while later, I heard the tone again, so I disabled the smoke detector. Later, still, I heard the tone. I vowed yesterday that I would find out today what was making the noise. I just heard it again. And I think I remember the last time I heard the noise that I finally determined it was the battery in the NOAA weather radio in the master bedroom. That will be my next check, after I finish wasting my fingers’ energy on this drivel.

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Once again this morning, I am in the mood for something sweet for breakfast; a cinnamon role, an apple crisp, anything doughy and sweet. Once again, I have nothing of the sort in the house. In the absence of something doughy and sweet, I may make plain congee, thus confirming the assertion made by a friend that I tend to make “weird shit” for breakfast. If I trusted the very old tofu in the fridge to still be edible, I might use it. But, after just checking, I learned that it should be consumed within three to five days after opening; I’ll discard it, instead. I hate to waste food, but I’d probably hate even more getting deathly ill from eating tainted tofu. Wait! Grits! Grits and sardines with Tabasco. That will make a pleasing and nutritious breakfast, so off I go to make it.

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3500 Observations and Conversations

After eight years, five months, and two weeks, here is my 3500th post on this blog. If I keep up the pace, I’ll produce post number 7000 as I near my seventy-sixth birthday. I am confident I will not achieve that milestone.

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Yesterday, I drove through downtown Hot Springs. Because the time was approaching noon and I was hungry, I decided to have lunch at Las Americas, a combination tienda/ diner I visited on occasion before COVID-19. It’s a place where I can buy gallon cans of pickled jalapeños, as well as ancho chiles, the latter inexpensive and in bulk. The restaurant/diner portion of the place has expanded since I first started going there; I don’t think the menu has changed. My lunch yesterday was a local Mexican restaurant staple, a ranchero mixto, that’s loaded with cheese and rice and bell peppers and strips of chicken and beef and onions and who knows what else. I asked the waitress whether the kitchen would substitute fresh jalapeños for the bell peppers and she assured me they would. They didn’t. But, still, it was tasty. The chips and salsas (two kinds; the green one is quite spicy and incredibly good) that are delivered upon being seated would satisfy me as my meal; I feel obliged to spend money, though. Everyone wears a mask and, both times I’ve been there in the times of COVID, patrons are seated quite far apart. The waitresses speak fluent English, but most patrons do not; fortunately for those patrons, the waitresses also speak fluent Spanish.  I miss eating in restaurants; sitting in a booth, across the table from Janine, felt so comfortable. I did not realize just how comfortable and “right” that felt until after it was no longer possible.

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When I came home yesterday, I expected the floors to shine; the reason I left the house was to give a housekeeper free rein without me being underfoot. Generally, she comes every two weeks. But she did not come yesterday. Apparently, two weeks ago, I told her I did not know whether I would continue to engage her; I did not recall that. When I got home and realized she had not been here, I sent her a text to inquire whether she was okay. She responded with the explanation. Her schedule is full, so her next available day is two weeks hence. Oh, well. I am used to cleaning between her visits. Perhaps I should devote my of my time to housekeeping as a regular practice.

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Before I drove to Hot Springs, I went to the post office to drop off several pieces of mail; letters of instruction to financial institutions to transfer ownership of IRAs. And before that, I called the county tax assessor to inquire about what, if anything, I needed to do about the county’s property tax records. Monday, I will continue to plod along with those duties. As I wade through the administrative functions required of a person in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, it occurs to me that the process could be smoother and less painful. It’s almost as if every step of the procedure is intentionally geared toward reminding the survivor of a painful absence; a solemn and difficult process made even more excruciating by bureaucracy. I suppose the process might be easier if the estate had been put in a trust. We were advised to create a trust; we chose to reject that advice, opting instead for traditional wills. When I finish with this series of unpleasant reminders, I may revisit the idea of a trust.

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As usual of late, I was up before four this morning. It’s now approaching 5:15 and the cold remnants of the first cup of coffee just barely cover the bottom of my cup. I purloined the pure white cup, a stylized word “Vortex” imprinted on the underside of the bottom, from a motel several years ago. My vague recollection is that the motel restaurant overcharged me by a few dollars for breakfast and I responded by taking the cup home with me. I suspect the overcharge was greater than the value of the cup. But the cup is my favorite. Not long after I took it home, I decided I really liked it and wanted to have a few more like it. But after doing some research, I learned that it is a product designed for restaurants and is available to purchase only in volume. I did not need 144 cups, so I decided to stick with just the one.

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One of these days, when the mood strikes me, I will return to complete the many posts I’ve placed here without assigning categories. I think I should assign at least one category to every post. But I have been neglecting to assign categories for several months, I think. Even before the recent disregard for categorization of posts, I often put off that task until I had forgotten it. The task may be more than I want to undertake, though. The count of posts that are uncategorized is 754. I do not know if that includes both published and unpublished posts. In any case, it may require more attention that I want to give. If I decide to produce a compilation, that might be the time to assign categories only to those I select for inclusion. Work. This involves work.

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In spite of my physical age, I feel much younger…mentally. Probably thanks to the fact that I never had kids, I never matured in a way that “normal” adults mature. I still like to “raise hell,” albeit in a more reserved manner than I did in years past. I still like to push the limits in some of my undertakings. I enjoy exploring and trying on new ideas that, traditionally, give way to rather inflexible belief patterns as people age. While I believe that  time and, especially, experience tend to breed wisdom, I do not believe wisdom is an automatic outgrowth of age and experience, nor do I believe wisdom is reserved for those with experience.  My wife, in her infinite wisdom, restrained my more outlandish tendencies toward getting involved in wild undertakings. But she, too, had a pretty strong streak of adventurousness in her. She was ready to do a tandem parachute jump, but we only had enough cash for one of us, so she let me go, instead.

One aspect of my youthful perspective expresses itself almost exclusively when I’ve had enough alcohol to loosen me up. My inhibitions tend to diminish almost to the point of disappearance. There’s good and bad in that. The good is reflected in my becoming more social, more likely to engage in conversation, and just generally friendlier. The bad is reflected in taking those characteristics beyond generally accepted limits.

I tend to be more restrained around people close to my physical age than I am around people ten or twenty or thirty years younger. That’s not always true, but it is a tendency I’ve noticed. I remember, of course, when I was much younger and someone considerably older acted artificially younger than their physical age. Often, people my age found them laughable and silly; they were judged to be trying unsuccessfully to cling to their lost youth. Fortunately, for me, I am pretty good at not caring when people misjudge me. Maybe it’s a defensive, protective reaction; whatever it is, my mental response is to be contemptuous of those judgmental people. I see the irony in my reaction, of course, but my sense of superiority allows me to overcome the irony.

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Sometimes I wonder whether I unconsciously write about matters I have confronted but that haven’t yet been fully resolved. The age issue, and judgment by younger people, for example. Did that come up because I recently felt the barbs of youthful judgment? Hmm. I don’t recall any incidents that would trigger my thinking, but maybe I’ve blocked it out of my mind. It’s sometimes frightening to attempt to understand oneself without success.

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How the hell would I categorize this post? I’d have to assign a dozen categories to even begin to cover it. It’s just after 6 and my stolen cup remains empty. That is a sin against Man and Nature; I shall repent.

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Thrasher

It’s just after 4:20, twenty minutes after I finally surrendered to the forces of insomnia. I have been awake, more or less, for hours. Thrashing about in bed, I would first throw off the blanket because I was too hot, then draw it back around me when I felt too cold. This went on for three hours before I finally gave up. During that stretch, I either fell asleep long enough to have either an odd dream or I had a bizarre hallucination.

I found myself in a large hotel suite, unpacking my suitcase, when my assigned roommate arrived. Marcie, an association executive I have known ever since I moved to the Dallas area around 1990 (but who I have not seen or even thought about since before I moved to Arkansas), said she wanted to take a quick shower before the two of us were to drive someplace two hours west of Fort Worth for a conference. The next thing I knew, Marcie was sitting in a monstrous tub—more like a pool—with two other people I did not know. And, then, I was in the tub with the three of them (by this time, the “tub” was the size of a backyard pool), feeling incredibly awkward. Needless to say, I have never seen Marcie nude, but she was nude in the pool in my “dream.” She was very tan and taut.  As were the other two people. I was nude, but not tan and taut. And then I was either too  hot or too cold. My thrashing about with the covers interrupted the experience.

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The coffee maker is programmed to turn on at 5:00. This morning, and on several other recent mornings, I had to start the thing manually because I was up early. While I waited for it to be ready to start my morning ritual, I glanced around the kitchen. The dishes in the sink reminded me that I had run the dishwasher before dinner yesterday. I was too lazy to put them away last night. So, this morning, I need to put the clean dishes away and begin refilling the dishwasher with last night’s dinner dishes. And today’s breakfast dishes, if I choose to have a breakfast involving dishes. I might, instead, just peel a mandarin and call it breakfast. Or have piece of Jewish rye toast, using a paper towel as my plate. I have to shower this morning, though after my time in the tub/pool with Marcie, I should be clean.

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Sometimes, when I have even a single obligation on my calendar, I allow that one intrusion to derail my day. I need several obligation-free days to permit me to slog through matters that, for some reason, get side-tracked by the calendar. An obvious solution is to create to-do lists instead of calendar my to-do items; it’s obvious, but also unfathomable that I have to resort to such psychological tricks to overcome mental roadblocks of my own construction. I sometimes need a keeper. My wife so seldom asked me to do things for her that I jumped at the chance when she did. That was her way of exercising control over my activities. I sorely miss being lovingly managed in that way.

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I tried to buy a treadmill, online, yesterday (or was it the day before?). Too late. They already were sold out. I am convinced I would use one, if it were conveniently located right  here in my house. After recovering some of my long-lost stamina, I probably would begin venturing out to tackle hills again. I used to walk a lot and I loved it. After walking at a rapid clip for a mile, the adrenalin rush was so strong that I felt compelled to keep going. I had to overcome lethargy for that first mile, but after that I felt like I could walk forever. But I’m older now. I’m always older now than I was then, no matter when now and then were.

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Thrasher. That’s the name of one of the small-batch seasonal beers a friend gave me. It’s a black lager, a German style Schwarzbier. I’m a fan of seasonal and small-batch craft brews. I tend consume them in “one and done” mode, which is far better for a person than drinking flavored water style beers that are better at quenching thirst (in quantity) than satisfying cravings for flavor. A friend of mine is well on his way to becoming a Cicerone, though I suspect he already possesses the requisite knowledge and discerning taste to achieve the title. As much as I appreciate beer, I will never have sufficient qualities and capabilities for that designation. Much like the difference between gourmet and gourmand, my appreciation for beer is more like the fan than the performer.

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The world would be a better place, I think, if every culture would willingly embrace the concept of mid-career or mid-life “mandatory volunteerism.” In my view, the oxymoronic term should not be limited to the conservative suggestion that recipients of public assistance should be required to “volunteer” their time to qualify for benefits. Instead, it should apply to everyone.  At a certain middle age or stage in one’s career or profession or point in life, everyone would be expected to devote a year or two (or more) to some form of public service. So, for example, a 43-year-old architect reaching the pinnacle of her career would be expected to take a specified period of time off from the profession to do public service. It could be like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps; something like that. Service in another country or in our own. A mandatory break in the madness of getting ahead could do individuals and communities enormous good. Regardless of whether a person is a physician or a bartender, a corporate executive or an auto mechanic, a required break involving doing volunteer work unrelated to one’s job would both expand horizons and benefit the world at large. I wonder whether anyone besides me would get behind the idea?

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I need more coffee and the soothing aroma of patchouli incense; except I have run out of patchouli, so I’ll go for copal.

 

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Tapestry

Yesterday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris was a watershed moment. I think. I hope. It is well beyond time we had a woman in a senior executive position in our government. Many, many other countries have long since gone beyond debunked notions that women are not suited for executive power; it’s time. And Biden’s call for unity, as difficult as it might be to achieve, is critical to the future of the nation and the world. I am hopeful. But I remain a realist. I am crossing my fingers and wishing for the best.

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The notions of forgiveness and absolution are noble concepts embraced by people for whom peace, serenity, and compassion embody far greater value than do power and control. Yet in the act of forgiving, an individual exercises authority that can be bestowed by no one else.

“Forgive and forget.” Those admonitions are easy to make, but hard to take. Once taken, though, and adopted with enthusiasm, tranquility is achievable. Blame and its companion, disparagement, agitate and brew turbulence that clouds any effort to create an atmosphere of peace.

The hardest forgiveness to achieve is forgiveness of oneself, but it is perhaps the most necessary if an atmosphere of calm ever is to be achieved. It is easy to forgive someone else for even the most egregious transgression, but forgiving oneself requires compassion and acceptance that seem undeserved. And forgiving oneself requires acknowledgement that one’s flaws are forgivable. Even when they are not. Even when one is irretrievably broken and flawed beyond redemption.

I suspect one of the reasons religion has a ready foothold in the human psyche has to do with the concept of forgiveness and redemption. Even when one is unable to forgive oneself, another person—who embodies the strength of the church and who has its authority to forgive—can remove an obstacle to self-acceptance. “I am redeemable” becomes a path to internal peace.

But those who do not accept that such power rests in the hands of others, or in the hands of a divine being, have a harder time of it. It is easy for us to believe others are forgivable; but we cannot forgive ourselves because we know ourselves too well.

All of this may be just so much nonsense; philosophy fed by an inability to stay asleep after four in the morning. But it is what’s on my mind and why I sincerely wish this morning I had access to powerful sleeping pills, something that would erase my thoughts and leave me completely empty. Wish in one hand, spit in the other…

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Television characters often have exceedingly bad luck. Their lives are laced with unfortunate experiences so numerous that viewers weep for them and wonder what they did to deserve such misfortune.

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Finally, an hour and twenty minutes into my day, I am having a cup of coffee. I did not feel well enough to start the morning with coffee when I first got up, thanks to overeating last night. My midnight snack, consisting of the remainder (from dinner) of a large piece of extremely rare beef, apparently did not set well with me. I think I have sufficiently recovered now, though, to allow coffee to safely enter my system.

If I were smart, I would embark on a month-long fast, drinking only water and eating only radishes. At the end of the month, I would comfortably fit into my jeans (and possibly my genes) and be well on my way to a more reasonable weight for someone of my limited height. After a month of it, I might even see and feel evidence of muscles that have long since been disguised by the results of too much food and drink. I am eating far too much and far too often, as if that’s the only thing I can do to occupy my time. That’s not true, of course, but I seem to have allowed my body to reach that conclusion. There was a time, not long ago, that my usual breakfast (when I wasn’t experimenting with international breakfasts) consisted of a poached egg, a piece of Canadian bacon, a small tomato, and a few radishes. That’s a good, healthy breakfast (more or less). Cinnamon rolls and mandarins and bananas and leftover pasta and such, not so much.

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Companion: a person employed to accompany, assist, or live with another in the capacity of a helpful friend. That definition seems so sad; “…in the capacity of a helpful friend.” Yeah, “employed” because, otherwise, it would be impossible to have access to that “helpful friend.” The reason I looked up the definition of companion is that, last night, I had a conversation about co-housing and how the concept has always appealed to me. The idea of being alone is both appealing and depressing; but co-housing offers the possibility of the best of both worlds. Both access to and service as a companion, while simultaneously offering solitude and privacy. But does the idea of companionship by way of co-housing seem a little like one essentially is “employing” companions, rather than developing them through natural evolution? I don’t know. I still have a great deal of interest in co-housing. I’ve explored the idea for years. My wife was not a particularly big fan of the concept, but then she was an even more dedicated introvert than I. But I find it appealing. Although it does sound, this morning, a little like “friends with benefits.” But who’s to say that is all bad? We are judgmental beasts, aren’t we? Our ideas of morality are shaped by our experiences; we probably would have completely different ideas if our experiences were different. If we lived in a different culture, behaviors we find shocking today might be absolutely normal. Sociology has always been appealing to me.

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My wife was attracted to dragonflies. She bought artwork that depicts dragonflies. She had shirts with images of dragonflies printed or sewn onto them. We had garden art with dragonfly motifs. If I were to get a tattoo, I think I might get one of a delicate dragonfly. I just do not know where I would have it placed on my body. Maybe I would have it on my left wrist, in place of a watch. If I ever get a tattoo, though, it will be a while yet. I’m not ready for a tattoo; then again, maybe I am.

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It’s just after six. After weaving this little tapestry of unrelated ideas, I may try for twenty minutes of sleep now. Or I may not.

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Sleeping on the Job

Last night, I joined three friends for an evening reminiscent of “the way things used to be.” We sat in a pub, eating tacos, drinking margaritas (one drank a beer, as she has a dangerous allergy to agave), telling and listening to stories, and laughing. Only after I got home did grief and guilt begin to infringe on my mood.  I overcame it for awhile by watching another episode of Bosch and opening a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Alcohol offers an easy, but temporary and potentially dangerous, solution to sadness; it can wash away pain, yet it can magnify it, too. In small doses, though, it can dull sharpness.

I returned home last night with a nice sampling of small-batch beers, products of the brewery owned by the son of one of my dinner partners; she brought them to me, knowing I would appreciate them. I wish my good friends and beer aficionados, Jim and Jim, lived nearby so I could share the beer with them. Alas, they live in Virginia and New Hampshire, respectively, and these beers probably would not survive the trip.

The chief problem with going out for an evening is the return to an empty house. After spending a couple of hours with three engaging women last night, I came home to quiet. After five months at home by myself while my wife was in the hospital and rehab facilities, I had adapted reasonably well to being alone. But it’s different now. I no longer can look forward to the day she returns. Enjoying an evening without her seems wrong. I know that is absurd. It doesn’t matter, though. It is what it is.

I suspect my posts are becoming repetitive, as if all I can write about is grief and sadness and guilt and feeling empty and lost and alone. I look forward to the time when those things comprise only a tiny fraction of what occupies my mind. Listening to the other participants in yesterday’s grief group, some of whom had lost loves ones many months ago, reinforced for me the fact that that lessening of grief is a long, long process.

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I spent about twenty minutes this morning watching a fascinating YouTube video about primitive glass-making. The videographer and his associate collected all the materials, created clay kilns, and (after multiple tries) made just a few shards of glass. I think I’ll try to find the follow-up videos (the guy’s series is called How to Make Everything)  to see how (and whether) he progresses.

I’ve often wondered how modern glass, both sheet glass and bottle glass, is made. This morning’s video did not answer my curiosity about that, but it took me back to the earliest processes of attempted glass-making. I imagine I’ll find another video or two to see how it’s done in today’s modern glass factories, as well.

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Today, a new President and Vice President of the United States take office. The demeanor of the people in those positions will be radically different from what we have become used to during the past four years. Only time will tell whether the results of their leadership will be radically different; I suspect the results will be different, provided Congress does not obstruct them.  I have hope, but I am something of a realist, too. The level of my excitement today is considerably lower than it was when Bill Clinton took office and when Barack Obama took office; wild-eyed enthusiasm is better suited to people with fewer years and disappointments behind them.

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A few years ago, I dreamed up a series of make-believe how-to magazines geared toward various segments of the criminal population. I think I called them Home Invasion Today and Auto Theft Today; I may have had another one or two.  I designed covers for them, using Photoshop and a page layout program. It might be fun to resurrect those covers and create bogus content for the magazines, place them on shelves in the magazine section of a bookstore, and secretly film the reactions of people who come across them. Perhaps I’m too easily amused.

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Death is mysterious because life is all we know. Everything we have ever learned, every emotion we have ever felt, every sensation we have ever experienced has required life. No matter how hard we try, we cannot imagine the experience of death. That is either because there is no experience to be had or because we cannot fathom experience without an association with life. I find it hard to put into words a concept I do not fully understand. But I feel the concept inside me, trying to break through the dullness and confusion.

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I cannot keep my eyes open. I must get up, out of this chair, and make another cup of coffee. Otherwise, I will go to sleep where I sit and will awaken with a terrible crick in my neck.

 

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My Take

How does a divided nation attempt to heal? How can a torn social fabric be stitched together again in a way that might ensure the cloth survives intact for at least a while longer? Purging Trump and his narcissism from the political landscape will not do it.

The fibers of national cohesion began to fray long before Trump’s deadly arrival on the political scene. In my opinion, the metastasis of healthy patriotism into deadly and divisive nationalism can be traced back to Joseph McCarthy, maybe even earlier. The definition of patriotism began to change with McCarthy’s madness; with that change in definition came a subtle change in attitudes that, over the years, has ebbed and flowed with events and policies associated with successive U.S. administrations. I think the assassination of John F. Kennedy fueled the growth in nationalism, especially in light of the conspiracy theories surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald’s role in a plot involving both international and national players. Then, the Vietnam war’s growing unpopularity, coupled with the social upheavals of the sixties, stretched the fabric that had once unified the country. The reaction to the Nixon years led to Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency; in spite of Carter’s inherent decency, the Iran hostage crisis and Carter’s inability to end it stoked the fires of nationalism and led to Ronald Reagan’s presidency. From that point on, the divisions within the populace grew with each succeeding election. The fires were self-fueled from that point forward. Divisions, themselves, stoked the flames. Newt Gingrich’s brand of political hatred while he was Speaker of the House in the last half of the nineties should have sent signals of the coming explosions. Since then, an ugly blend of nationalism and patriotism has metastasized into a conservative/progressive divide that pits one half of the population against the other. Trump simply took advantage of the divide to feed his own ego and thirst for recognition and power. His disregard for civility and human decency is serving as a model that has very nearly torn the country apart; it may yet have that effect.

So, how do we heal? Time (if enough of it remains before the pressure cooker explodes), education, and charismatic leadership. Education will be harder now than ever before because so much of it has morphed into miseducation and propaganda. Separating fact from fiction and truth from stubbornly lodged belief will take enormous effort. And charismatic leadership might be the toughest of all. I thought Barack Obama had the charisma necessary to bring us together; instead, the fact that he was both liberal and Black seemed to have had the opposite effect. Joe Biden remains a wild card, as is Kamala Harris; we’ll just have to wait and see how they lead and whether their leadership can overcome bigotry, prejudice, and stubborn insistence at both ends of the political spectrum.

Maybe the toughest of all the elements of healing will be our collective willingness to forgive one another and our willingness to stop assigning blame. As hard as it may be for me to withhold judgement of Trump, I have to try; at least I have to try to be silent about it. And the same is true for people who loathed Barack Obama and blamed him for everything from World War II to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  See? It’s hard not to be cynical.

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So, social and political unrest has been occupying my mind thus far this morning, as I worry about the future of our country. I like to say it’s pointless to worry about things over which I have no control. But I do have just a tiny bit of control in this case. Each of us does. Just like our votes matter, so do our attitudes and our behaviors.

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This morning, I am sitting in a sacred space. I am sitting at my wife’s desk, the place where she spent so much time overseeing and managing our lives. Handling finances. Preparing grocery lists. Searching for recipes. Reading. This room was her study, the place to which she retreated for solitude and quiet. And this room is where she watched television.

While she was in the hospital, I bought her a new television. The old one was not bad, but the picture wasn’t as sharp as I thought she should have and the sound quality wasn’t what I thought it should be. I bought a sound bar to go with the television. Between hospital and rehab center stays, she only spent about a week a home, so she got the benefit of the new technologies only briefly.

I now use this desk to do what she used to do. And I watch the television here instead of in the family room where I used to watch. And this morning I think I might find it impossible to ever leave this place. This place was her “nest,” the place where she worked and relaxed and enjoyed herself. I don’t know whether I should forever treasure this space or whether I should try to avoid it and the memories that spring from it. I suppose I’ll discover the answer to that myself, over time.

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Later this morning, I will participate in an Arkansas Hospice grief group, via Zoom. I got a call a week or so ago, inviting me to join in the conversation, which takes place two or three times a month. I do not know quite what to expect. But if my behavior during the past month is any indication of how I will react to conversations about my wife, I will have a hard time maintaining my composure. I’ve been told by a number of people that I should not worry about maintaining my composure. I know that. But, still. At any rate, I’ll see what comes of it.

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I ordered dishwashing tablets and a few other items online on Saturday. When I went to pick them up at Sam’s Club, I was asked to show my ID. I wonder whether that is a preventative measure or whether someone has ordered groceries online using a stolen credit card? If the latter, I find it sad that someone would find it necessary to steal someone else’s credit card in order to buy groceries. So many people, though, are just days away from being unable to pay rent or buy groceries or pay their utility bills. I imagine the organizations and agencies that serve people in need are stretched beyond their limits nowadays. When I think about such matters, the idea of anonymously paying for a stranger’s lunch is no longer so appealing; I’d rather pay for someone’s lunch if I know they really need it. “Paying it forward” by buying someone’s lunch does more for the purchaser than for the recipient. I guess I’ve made a 180 degree turn on that matter.

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It’s nearing 7:00, time for a little breakfast. One of my favorite blog followers told me I need not worry about showering every day. That’s good to know. But I think I’ll shower today, anyway.

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Routines

Yesterday, I left so much unwritten. I had so much more to say. But today I struggle to write anything. It’s not that I have writer’s block, it’s simply that I cannot summon the intellectual energy to search my mind for anything worth recording.

One month ago, my wife died. The time has simultaneously dragged by at the speed of ice-cold syrup flowing on a flat surface and flown past at twice the speed of light.  Perhaps that’s it. An artificial milepost I see in the rearview mirror, just as I slam into it in front of me.

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During my most recent CT scan, last month, the radiologic technician gave up after two tries. Blood vessels on the inside of my elbow were uncooperative. My reaction to each jab—an overt expression of discomfort bordering on outright pain—convinced him that the normally more painful route, a needle jabbed into a vein on the top of my right hand, was the better option. It turned out to be the least painful one, as well.

Every time a get a CT scan, I feel the odd warmth caused by injected fluid coursing through my body. Each time, before they inject the fluid, I’m warned I may feel warmth in my throat and I may also feel like I am peeing. And I do. I sense warm urine spreading throughout my nether regions. Fortunately, it’s only an artificial sensation; not the real thing.

I never worry that the results of the CT scan of my chest will reveal lung cancer has returned. Until I hear otherwise, I will assume cancer has been permanently eradicated from my body. There’s no sense in worrying about something over which I have no control. I wish I could transfer that very healthy attitude about worry for my health to every other aspect of my life. Far less consequential things torment me. It’s just the cancer that I’ve learned to ignore.

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“I have a book in me.” I hear or read those words occasionally from people who want to write a book. I do not often speak those words, though, because I think my book has been written. It just hasn’t been organized, edited, and published. Within the nearly 3500 posts I’ve written for this blog—coupled with the hundreds or thousands I’ve written on blogs I’ve abandoned and the other material I have written but kept to myself—there’s enough to cobble together a book. These thoughts are not new. I’ve probably written them down for this blog more than once before. What’s missing is not the material, it’s the discipline to go through everything and to discard the vast amount of irrelevant drivel in favor of a few gems. There may be one or two hundred pages worth weaving together into something of emotional or intellectual value. “Value.” That’s the key issue. Would enough value remain after all the effort to warrant going to all the work? There’s only one way to find out. Thus far, I’ve been unwilling to expend the energy to risk learning it wasn’t worth my time. Still, maybe one day.

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Yesterday, I put on sweats and flip-flops when I got up. I did not shower, shave, or otherwise prepare for a “normal” day all day long. I never changed clothes. So far today, I am following the same pattern. Same sweats, same flip-flops. The idea of showering and shaving does not appeal to me in the least again today; there’s too much effort involved. But I must drag myself out of the doldrums. I need to get things done. While I do not necessarily have to get out of the house, I might feel better if I do. And I always feel better after showering and shaving, even though it involves “work.” After I shower and before I dry myself off, I use a squeegee to wipe the shower walls and the glass wall and door “dry.” And I use a soft cloth to wipe the remaining droplets of water off the glass and the chrome fixtures to avoid the formation of water spots

I sometimes ponder what a typical day was like for people in the mid-1800s. How did it begin? How often did people bathe back then? What were their morning routines? What time did the “average” person get up and how often did they bathe? I suspect my routine is quite different. I wash my hair every time I shower; how often did my great grandparents shower/bathe and did they wash their hair every time? I do not remember ever reading a book that took me through a day in the life of someone in enough detail so that I could truly envision how their lives unfolded, day by day. I remain curious about that, even now in geezerhood. I wonder whether other people have similar curiosity? It would be interesting (to me), to listen to ten people each describe their typical early mornings in great detail. Would there be a discernible pattern, or are we radically different creatures?

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I’ve already had coffee this morning. I think I’ll start tomorrow with tea, instead. It will make me feel a little closer to my wife. She was not a coffee drinker. She enjoyed her hot tea in the morning. As a rule, neither of us added anything to our morning beverages, though on extremely rare occasion when she opted to brew a special tea she used a bit of cream or milk. My wife bought tea in quantity. She bought tea bags, usually decaf tea from Kroger. She liked it as much as she liked any other tea. She rarely used loose tea and an infuser; the bagged teas were quicker, simpler, and just as satisfying to her. The little things like morning routines can be excruciatingly painful to think about sometimes.

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I do need to shower today. And so I will. And wash my hair and shave and take my regular medications and, probably, have something for breakfast.

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Painted in Pastels

God, what an emotional morning. An emotional morning that followed an emotional night.

Last night, I invited my former sculpture and pottery instructor to come to my house for a visit. She and her partner accepted my invitation, arriving at my house around eight. They brought wine and compassion and ears willing to listen to me mourn. I issued my invitation after I already had more wine than I should have had. But without the wine, I would not have been so brash; I would have spent the evening alone, aching for company. So, I am glad I indulged myself in a wine solo. My friend and her partner (I consider her my friend, too) were willing listeners and partners in my grief, lubricated with pinot noir. They drove more than half an hour, each way, to give me solace. I suspect they had better things to do on a Saturday night than to visit with a teary geezer; I so appreciate their kindness in giving their time to me, instead. I must send them words of appreciation; they undoubtedly do not read this blog, so this off-the-cuff paragraph won’t do.

This morning’s emotion arose from watching and listening to the church service recorded yesterday and days before, stitched together by a dedicated team of volunteers. I started watching and listening to today’s service a little before six this morning. Usually, I consume the recorded services in bits and pieces, but this morning I watched it from start to finish without a pause. The presentation by the woman who introduced the service was especially moving. Not only were the words she spoke quite powerful, the way she delivered them seemed directed entirely at me, as if we were alone in a room and she was offering her comfort and compassion specifically to me. When she finished, I felt like I wanted to reach into the screen and  hug her.

After the introduction and the music and so forth, an excellent video remembrance—with photographs of people the church has lost over the years—was shown. It was moving, too. I was touched by the images of friends who are no longer here. And the photographs of my wife brought me to tears. I am so grateful to the people who put in so much effort to produce the remembrance. The minister’s words, too, were powerful and helped deepen the meaning of the recollection.

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It’s now just after seven, two hours since I fought my way from under the covers. When I woke up, I felt like I was bound to the bed; the top sheet had somehow wrapped around my legs, lashing me to the bed as if I had been tied down.

The sky has shed darkness in favor of light. I did not notice it happening, in that the video sermon/presentation commanded my full attention. I didn’t notice the light even when I went into the kitchen, where I made my second cup of coffee and peeled a clementine for phase one of breakfast. My mind was too focused on recalling the video to pay attention to the sky’s metamorphosis.

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There’s so much more I want to write, but I think I need to give myself some time to simply experience coffee and silence, instead. Maybe I’ll play Words with Friends if anyone has played with me since last night. And maybe I’ll invite my sister-in-law to come over for our more or less routine morning chat. And maybe I’ll write thank-you notes to people who have been, and continue to be, so kind to me. Emotions do not necessarily evoke tears. Sometimes, emotions paint smiles.

My thoughts this morning seem to be lighter than usual, as if they were painted in pastels.

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Another Post

No surprise. Awake at three again. Thrashing around in bed, trying to empty the tangled fishing line, treble hooks, plastic bags, soda cans, and soggy empty cigarette packs from my brain. I just wanted to get comfortable so I could sleep. After giving it all the time I was willing to give, I gave up. I played a few games of Words with Friends, tried to find some unusual and appealing recipes for sardines and grits, and contemplated making an early breakfast. That still has not happened, but I may go the sardines and grits route a little later.

I don’t think I’ve made sardines and grits since we moved to Hot Springs Village. It’s an easy dish to make and I like it quite a lot, at least my version of the dish. I just cook some grits on the stovetop, put them in a bowl with hot sauce, ground black pepper, and smashed canned sardines, mix it all up, and heat the concoction just enough to warm the mixture nicely. I was hoping to find something simple with a little more pop to it, perhaps with habanero peppers for heat and some vinegar and sugar for some surprising zip. I didn’t look hard enough or long enough.

Though my wife liked sardicado sandwiches (consisting of a paste of sardines, avocados, ground black pepper, and lemon juice spread between two pieces of toasted black bread), she was not terribly fond, otherwise, of sardines. I convinced her to try smoked herring and before long she liked it as much as I do, but sardines were another story. When I first tried to get her to take a bite of a sardicado sandwich, she thought I was attempting to either play a trick or poison her. But she rapidly came around. She anxiously awaited the availability of inexpensive avocadoes every year so we could have sardicado sandwiches for lunch. Thinking about that this morning is simultaneously painful and comforting.

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I still have done nothing about selling the Camry. All I need to do is to get it as clean as a whistle and talk to McCann’s (thanks for the tip, Colleen) about selling it on consignment. But even that little task is easy for me to put off and, so, I have. But it’s on my agenda for the upcoming week, along with a bunch of other odds and ends. The weather forecast, at this point, calls for rain and showers toward the end of the week, so I am apt to do my “outdoor” errands early in the week. Inside the house, I plan to move the borrowed twin bed to the side and try to get the massive, heavy, overwhelming beast of a queen-sized bed frame back up so I can attempt to put the Sleep-Number box springs and mattress on it. Then, I’ll be able to give the guest room bed, where I’ve been sleeping, a rest. Pun intended. My next-door neighbors have offered to help with the bed. It’s easily a four-person job, so when I’m ready to give the task a try, I may seek at least one additional set of strong arms and shoulders.

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Men—and of course I include myself—can be vain, stupid, undisciplined, and lazy. My wife tried for years to get me to regularly use lotion on my skin. I would acquiesce for a while, but I always slipped back into my habit of letting my skin do without lotion. I now understand her point. My skin dries out incredibly fast now. It gets chalky and scaly and otherwise unpleasantly brittle and inflexible. A little like leather left out in the sun; maybe not quite that bad, but it’s heading in that direction. Aside from my sloth and other indefensible reasons for not using skin cream or lotion, I was always in too much of a hurry. “If I don’t let it sit there on my skin for a long time, it makes it hard to pull on a t-shirt because it ‘catches’ on the moist skin.” My excuse was that it takes too much time. What an idiot.  Now, every time I wash my face or shower, the skin on my face and neck dry into skin deserts almost immediately. If I don’t use something to moisten the skin, which too often I still do not, my skin looks and feels like dry paper that’s been sanded just enough to raise the fibers. Let my wisdom-gained-too-late be a lesson.

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I am only just beginning to read a book entitled It’s OK that You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand, by Megan Devine. My long-time Facebook friend and blogger, Bev, recommended it to me. I’m finding it both illuminating and comforting, with a little hopefulness and hopelessness on my part thrown in. So far, I especially appreciate the author’s concise statements and her insistence that grief is different for every person. Thanks to my sister-in-law thumbing through the book and calling my attention to something near the back, I read the Appendix entitled “How to Help a Grieving Friend. ” I found it especially especially insightful. A printable version of the appendix can be found at this URL: https://www.refugeingrief.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/grieving-friend-essay-PDF.pdf, in case anyone is interested.

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Yesterday afternoon, I glanced at a photo hanging in front of my computer screen. It is of several members of my family. My wife is in the photo. I almost called out to her to come look at it. I’ve spoken to her many times, half expecting an answer. I’ve apologized for things I’ve said or ways I’ve behaved, hoping to hear her respond, saying it was okay, don’t worry about it, it was nothing. But it must have been something, because it weighs heavily on my mind. Whatever it was, it was thoughtless, inconsiderate, and on the cusp of cruelty, if not well beyond it. I think all these thoughts are telling me one thing: I want to make sure she knew before she died that I loved her beyond measure. But I can never be sure of that. Never. It always will be an unanswered question. Of course I hope and believe she knew, but I can never be one hundred percent certain. And that pain is impossible to erase or excise or scrape away. That aspect of grief is almost intolerable.

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The story is too long for my fingers to tell, so I’ll get to the point: a couple in the market to buy a mountain view home came to take a look at my house yesterday. They loved it. They know I am not prepared to sell right away, but they want me to keep in touch with them and, especially, to let them know when I’m ready to sell. Nothing may come of it, whenever the time comes, but it was good to hear how interested they were.

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One year ago I wrote something of which I am proud, though I’m not quite sure why:

What is fiction? It is truth clothed in costumes. It is the view from the other side of the mirror. It is the tragic/comic outcome of unrestrained authenticity. It is reality disguised to protect the writer from judgment or institutionalization or both.

I believe I wrote truth when I wrote those words. And now, I will leave these words to go engage with the requirements of January 16, 2021. Never forget, whether you read this or not, I love you.

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Early Wine

Synchronicity. I encountered an example of synchronicity yesterday. I spent some time with a financial advisor, asking questions about steps I should take to simplify my rather complex, but not particularly large, investment portfolio. Of course, the primary question for me was how to first take care of transferring joint ownership to sole ownership and some related matters. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I might want to sell my too-large house at some point, but probably not right away.

A few hours later, as I was playing Words with Friends with my sister-in-law, I got a call from the financial advisor. Another new client—a couple who just moved to the Village from the Pacific Northwest—visited her after I did yesterday afternoon. They mentioned that they were looking for a house with a mountain view. She told them about me and suggested, though it might be a bit early, they might want to talk to me.  Apparently, they wanted to; they asked her to contact me to ask me to call them. I tried to reach them by phone, but voice mail had not been set up on the number I was given. And it probably is too early. But…synchronicity.

Some people would say “everything happens for a reason.” Though I cannot accept that within the framework it is usually presented, I can acknowledge that there’s a “reason,” but not necessarily a reason orchestrated in accord with a grand plan. Yet, such coincidences sometimes seem to happen with a frequency that cannot be easily explained by statistical probability.

I would have a hard time explaining away the coincidence if the financial advisor suggested her new client allow her to reach out to me had I not mentioned to her my possible interest in selling my house. That would have been beyond coincidental; it would have been paranormal. Or something like that.

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Early wine can lead to unintended sleep and disorientation. I woke up last night just before nine, unsure of whether I had slept all night in front of the television. The closing moments of Law & Order: SVU were on the TV when I opened my eyes. By the time I had recovered enough mental presence to understand my surroundings, Dateline had begun. I had started watching television at 5:30, when I decided to watch the Nightly News with Lester Holt. I used to watch that news program with regularity, switching at six to the PBS Newshour. But not last night. Somewhere between Lester Holt and Judy Woodruff, I fell asleep, catching roughly three hours of unintended sleep without changing the channel. That’s what can happen when one starts drinking wine at three in the afternoon, pacing oneself to correspond to games of Words with Friends.  It’s exceedingly rare for me to have anything alcoholic quite that early, but it just seemed like the thing to do yesterday.

Between the time I had my first glass of wine and the time I fell asleep, I made an early dinner. My neighbors had gone to Little Rock yesterday and generously dropped off a few bags of frozen dinners just before three. Perfect timing. I made an early dinner of Trader Joe‘s chicken & fried rice before I sat down to watch Lester Holt. Sometime between three and 5:30, I consumed enough wine to anesthetize me. My empty bowl of chicken and fried rice, which I had flavored with sambal oleek and soy sauce, was next to me on the love seat when I awoke just before nine.

It is pointless to try to go to bed immediately after arising from a lengthy alcohol-induced nap. But one’s disorientation and general displeasure with oneself at having over-indulged is not suited for much else. I turned off the television upon waking and had no interest in turning it back on, nor was I interested in surfing news sites on the internet or doing anything else, for that matter. So I sat and stewed for a while. I considered emptying the dishwasher of clean dishes, but opted to delay that until the morning. And I considered calling a friend in Fort Smith, but I generally avoid calling anyone after eight so I opted not to do that. Instead, made a gin & tonic. I should have known that was a waste of decent gin and tolerable tonic. I drank a few sips of it before realizing a gin & tonic after a three hour wine-induced nap tastes awful. I hated disposing of a perfectly good drink down the drain, but gin & tonic over ice does not keep well so I discarded the newly-made drink. And I switched to Diet Coke, once a favorite of mine but something I rarely buy these days. It was good. Very good. Much better than wine or gin & tonic, at least at that hour.

I had a thousand things on my mind yesterday afternoon and last night, but I was able to hide them from myself for long enough to go to sleep after my non-alcoholic refreshment. I was not able to keep them hidden all night, though. I awoke at three to pee. Getting back to sleep took a very long time. In fact, I was almost sure there was no point in staying in bed but, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the clock suddenly displayed 5:00. Somewhere between three and five, I must have gone to sleep. A few minutes after five, I got up for the day.

As I type this, the dishwasher remains full and the chicken & fried rice dinner dishes remain in the sink. Unless my discipline fails me, both of those situations will be handled forthwith. But not until after I’ve finished exercising my fingers and finished at least my first cup of coffee.

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Cinnamon incense has a pleasant aroma. So does opium incense. As do several other uniquely odoriferous incense choices. But I find that I prefer patchouli and sandalwood, the more traditional scents I once associated with head shops (but, to be clear, I never frequented head shops).  Before I buy more of the traditional stuff, though, I have a rather enormous number of cones of other scents to go through. Twelve scents, I think, each of which has six or twelve cones. My house will smell a little like an Indian grocery store for a while.

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A friend came by for a while yesterday morning, bearing a plate of keto-friendly foods; stuffed jalapeños, cheese crisps, thick bacon, and more. Though I had eaten breakfast earlier, I was more than ready for the late-morning infusion of energy. It constituted my lunch. The foods were the sorts of things I would happily eat every day, but the amount of time required to make them would strain my patience and put my limited discipline to a revealing test. While we ate, we touched on memories of reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. The title of the book is from Exodus 2:22 of the King James Version of the Bible: “And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.” It has been almost fifty years since I read that book; my friend and I will read it again and compare notes. I think I may try to find the original unedited version, which his widow arranged to have published in 1991. Heinlein is said to have preferred his original to the heavily edited version we read.  The book came up during a conversation about friends, friendship, and my recollection of the deep friendships described by the term water brothers in Heinlein’s book.

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This blog has evolved over time. Originally, I think it was more of a place for me to store short stories and snippets of fiction I thought I might use in longer pieces. Lately, especially, it has become more of a journal than anything else. In the intervening years, it was a combination of fiction, philosophy, journal, and platform. I suppose it remains a hybrid of sorts; not enough of any one thing to hold anyone’s interest for long. I sometimes think it represents a raw display of a jumbled, jangled, mind released from its skull cage; spilled onto the screens of a dozen unfortunate readers. But, then, as I go back and read what was on my mind five years ago or three months ago or day before yesterday, it seems to me to be my personal treasure of memories. It reminds me that I can think deeply about things and that I can question my own thoughts and beliefs and motives. It is, in some respects, my lifeline to the world. It sometimes is my only connection to the universe outside my windows. Why would I write this paragraph? Simply to record a thought. To give myself a chance, later in life, to remember what I was thinking. There’s no guarantee that there will be a time “later in life,” of course, but if there is, I want to have something to remind me how life was “back then.”

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If I could get an injection that would fill me with all the knowledge of humankind …physics, philosophies, science, carpentry, medicine, forestry, road-building, printing, everything…but getting that knowledge would be paid for by limiting my life to one more year from today, would I take the injection? That would have been a reluctant “no” a few months ago, but today I would lean heavily toward “yes.”  Emotional ties can be far stronger than a desire for knowledge. Knowledge is like attractive thin rope, while emotional bonds are more like tempered steel chains. But that attractive thin rope can be braided into something stronger. So maybe I would not just lean toward “yes” but be lashed to “yes” like a captain to a ship’s mast in the aftermath of a mutiny.

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Somewhere in the Middle

I’ll probably write this post in two pieces: one, Wednesday night before bed, when I am contemplating sleep but knowing it will require effort to achieve; and, two, Thursday morning after I awake, either early or late but not likely somewhere in the middle.

Time slipped by quickly this evening. After an excellent early dinner with neighbors, I came home and changed into comfortable lounging gear, then watched another couple of episodes of Bosch, before turning to “live” television for the tail end of the PBS Newshour. In the remaining minutes of the program, I listened and watched Judy Woodruff engage Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, and Amna Nawaz in conversation about their experiences during the insurrection of the Capitol. I found their personal perspectives just as intriguing as the news they usually report.

While I was watching the news, I exchanged a series of texts with a couple of (physically) distant friends, ultimately almost confirming a telephone and/or video chat for next week. We had a workable date until I realized I had double-booked; I’ve done that on multiple occasions in the recent past. My memory seems shot, though I’ve received assurances that the aftermath of grief (or the effects of ongoing grief) can play havoc with short term memory. I hope it’s a short term problem. I really hate forgetting whether I’ve had lunch or dinner just hours after finishing meals. So far, the memories have returned, but only after intense coaxing. Somewhere along the spectrum of television-watching, I heard statements that made me question whether I remain relevant. Relevance, like so many other matters, is contextual. Am I relevant in the context of my maleness, my whiteness, or my European ancestry? Am I relevant in the context of the extent to which I am very different from the demographics of people who are becoming a diverse majority? Am I relevant in the context of how divergent I am from the stereotypical standard of American males? So many contextual comparisons, so many opportunities to fall short.

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As expected, I could not sustain my writing for long. Just after midnight, I called it a day. But to the best of my knowledge, my concerns that I would have a hard time getting to sleep and/or staying asleep were unfounded. I fell asleep quickly. I awoke at 6:00, somewhere between early and late; “somewhere in the middle,” after all.

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Once again, I have scheduled too many obligations and too little time to “chill” between them. So, I will miss the men’s parking lot gathering at church this morning. As much as I enjoy being outdoors and listening to the conversation (and contributing to it just enough to feel like I am not simply an eavesdropper), the gathering is something I can safely remove from my schedule, giving myself a little breathing room between self-imposed obligations.

Today’s obligations include one that, I hope, will kickstart my efforts to take care of the unpleasantness involved in removing my late wife’s name from accounts, credit cards, and title to the house. Today I will meet with an advisor. Afterward, I expect to prepare letters to send to account custodians, giving them instructions. I just want those things to be behind me, so I will be free to get away for a while. A road trip, whether short or long, might do wonders to clear my head and restore some semblance of normalcy to my thinking.

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I took a short break from the computer screen a bit ago. As I walked back to the study, the view out the southeast-facing windows was stunning. A bright orange and coral band stretched across a purple, almost black, horizon. Above that band of distant sunlit clouds, the sky softened into muted salmon and tan and, finally, a pastel mix of pale blue and white and grey. Wisps of violet clouds, brighter above than below, stuttered across the sky. Only a painter or expert photographer could do justice to the scene; even a highly skilled novelist with a penchant for describing landscapes could not possibly capture the glory of that vision.

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“All politics is local.” The late Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House, is said to have uttered that phrase and inserted it into popular culture. While I do not necessarily agree with the idea completely, I think it is generally correct.  So, too, are all insurrections local. But “local” has taken on a new meaning with the advent of instant global communication. “Local” means intellectually nearby, not just in close physical proximity. Local ideas about insurrections merge into regional and national and even global miasmas. Facebook and Twitter and their tribe of similarly capable distributors of both rational and irrational thought put dangerous tools in the hands of both twisted monsters and thoughtful protesters. They do it without regard to merit and without any realistic constraints on dangerous, twisted lies. Local lies become widespread “facts.” Perceived injustice becomes irrefutable evidence of the trampling of rights.

Many, and perhaps most, people would argue that tools of mass instantaneous communications cannot legitimately be withheld from the masses. The same people argue that free speech cannot and should not be subject to interference for political gains. And I cannot argue with them. Except that I can. And I do. Collectively, we seem incapable of determining that point on the spectrum of “free speech” at which speech becomes incitement. We seem incapable of reaching even tentative agreement that code-speak can be just as dangerous as outright instruction. And so we simplify our dilemma by saying all speech should be free. Except yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. But screaming “stop the steal” to an agitated crowd, many members of which are carrying weapons, is okay. Somewhere along the line, we need to come to agreement on the points at which “speech” transforms into “incitement.”

We haven’t been able to reach agreement on the point at which “the right to bear arms” is beyond the pale, yet there seems to be almost universal acceptance, if not outright agreement, that the right to bear arms does not include the right to a nuclear arsenal or a collection of pipe bombs in the basement. But it’s okay to have caches of semi-automatic weapons for use in “target practice” or “deer hunting” or “home defense.” And it’s okay in many places to have “silencers” or “suppressors” to minimize the sound of the discharge of rifles and pistols. The better to keep neighbors unaware of the massacre taking place in the house next door.

All politics is local. The sale of liquor is prohibited, except in bars, in Arkansas on Sundays. Because “Jesus,” I suppose. But Jesus carried an AR-15, so no such prohibition exists for weapons. Just as regulation of silencers is stripped away by local politics, regulations can mushroom by the same mechanism. When will the sale of liquor be prohibited on Monday? Because, “barbers,” perhaps.

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My mood this morning is not reliable. I can be “up” one minute and “down” the next. If I had sweet rolls, I could be reliably cheerful. But I forgot to buy a tube of cinnamon rolls yesterday; and I think I promised myself I would transform my lifestyle into a healthy, Mediterranean-based mode of living. Perhaps I lied, but it was an accidental lie. I did not mean to do it. After I have a sweet roll, I will rethink my position on Earth in the hope that I will become the paragon of virtue I’ve sometimes wished I were. Sometimes is the operative word. Periodically deviant and sometimes a model of decency.

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It is too close to 8:00 for me to be blogging. Time for more coffee and to find my phone.

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Confrontation with Another Day

The clock has not yet reached 5:50 a.m., yet I am clean-shaven and freshly showered. I went to bed last night just after eleven, having watched an episode or two of Bosch, a detective story I know little about but that, so far, seems interesting. It is available on Amazon Prime, a channel I rarely bother to explore. Desiring a break from Hinterland and Queen’s Gambit and a few others, I decided to venture back into Americana television, which is how I began watching Bosch. It is somewhat interesting and it is entertainment and it gave me a respite from genres whose attractions for me are beginning to fray.

I think the wear and tear is not so much on the genre but on the medium. Television, in all its iterations, has become boring, at least for now. I think a vacation from spoon-fed news and entertainment may be in order. If my eyesight was more consistent and my eyes less likely to tire from reading, I might immerse myself in books again; but I’m not quite ready for that. Music and thought are the two remaining forms of immersive diversion readily available to me. Music takes only one form for me: listening. Thought takes two: analysis and fantasy. But I detest the word “fantasy” because for me it conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland or Behind the Green Door. I am not quite sure what word better describes flights of the imagination that allow one to escape into an inner dimension free of restraints and constraints and obstacles. I shouldn’t say I detest the word; that’s ludicrous. I detest my knee-jerk reaction to the images the word extracts from deep in my brain.

Even music I love can become tiresome at times. I enjoy every kind of music I have ever heard, though admittedly it has taken time to get used to some of it. Yet even my hundreds of favorites tend to wear thin. I suppose my moods and most recent experiences dictate my response to music. One minute, I can thoroughly enjoy The Who or Gordon Lightfoot or Pachelbel and the next desire the music of Simon & Garfunkel or Ween or Doc Watson. And the next moment, all I want is silence. Absolute silence. But silence is never available to me. I told my sister-in-law over coffee the other day that I constantly hear a background noise of “crickets” or the sound of my heartbeat as it pumps blood through the vessels and veins in proximity to my ears.

Imagination or fantasy or make-believe or whatever you might choose to call it never gets old, though. At least I think not. Perhaps I just don’t realize it, though. Maybe when I switch to music or reading or consuming spoon-fed entertainment, the trigger is boredom with my own fantasies. Occasionally, I try to put myself inside the head of people about whom I know almost nothing. For example, a young boy, a kid who at ten years old already is becoming a bully, thanks to poor self-esteem and classmates who have no compassion for him—the child who later will be targeted for elimination by a smarter and more lethal deeply-introverted classmate. Or a fifty-something woman who seeks companionship and adventure and affection outside of her marriage because she feels an aching emptiness in her life, an emptiness based on a need for her life to have meaning; to matter. But “fantasies,” too, can become tired and repetitive. When music and reading and television and flights of fancy lose their appeal, what’s left to fill the void? Companionship and conversation and social exposure can replace it all, but COVID-19  has wrecked much of that. Isolation, as attractive as it can be, can rob a person of feeling that she matters or is loved.

Love, that’s another emotion that—like friendship—calls for descriptive terms that make sense across a long spectrum. Either that, or my perspectives on friendship and love are subject to unnecessary self-imposed restrictions. Maybe both. “I love you.” Those words rely heavily on context to supply their meaning. “I love you as a friend;” those words are loaded with meaning supplied not so much by what they say, but by words that are missing from the sentence. “But.” When combining “friend” with “love,” the complexities become labyrinthine.

When I left the academic environment so many years ago (when I left graduate school in pursuit of truth and beauty in the real world), I did not immediately lose access to attractive and fulfilling conversations like those readily available in academia. I had a friend, a professor at a junior college, who enjoyed engaging in probing conversations and friendly debate as much as I did. But over time I lost touch with him, as I moved from city to city and state to state. I learned several years ago that he died suddenly of a heart condition. Over time, those conversations faded into memory.

Our conversations were not really “academic” in nature; they were simply interesting. They gave both of us opportunities to explore ideas and to get reactions to concepts that might have seemed foreign and even off-putting to many people. I miss those conversations. The only other person with whom I’ve been able to have those conversation has been my wife. While she was not as engaged in many of them as my old friend had been, she understood my thoughts and she gave me the opportunity to express them. Some mornings, when memories of some of the conversations my wife and I had surface, I have a hard time keeping my composure.

I’ve wandered in and out of this post, giving myself a chance to have more coffee and to see that the sun has risen while I was distracted by the screen. It is nearing 7:20 and I have a day to confront, so I will gently end this thought-dump and go about my life.

 

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Everything Is Broken Now

Everything is broken now.

Thus begin the lyrics to a song, Or the thoughts within a poem. The words spilled from my lips in a panicked sprint, as if attempting to avoid pain or danger or an enraged predator, angry that its first attempt at a kill had failed. More words followed, some rhyming and some avoiding the repetitive sing-song pattern that incensed the hunter. The song—if that’s what it was—escaped my mouth in a rush of words, its redundant chorus emphasizing the theme. Everything is broken now.

More than a day has passed since then. I did not post here yesterday.

Once the verses stumbled toward their awkward conclusions, I woke up. That is, if I really had been sleeping. I doubt the trance was actually slumber. More likely, it was an emotional coma, brought on by the late hour and the disturbing television programs of the night before. Augmented, without doubt, by gin & tonic and its earlier companion, red wine. Mixing the stuff is troublesome, and I know it, but it’s not deadly in small doses. I drank the liquid anesthesia sometime before 10:00. And I watched the television screen, fully awake, until 1:45. I consciously decided, just before 2:00, to try to sleep. And I did. But I woke yesterday at 4:00 and got out of bed for all of forty-five seconds, returning with a promise I would get up by 4:45. My promise was worth nothing. I woke up just after 7:00.  After showering and shaving, I dressed in jeans that no longer fit and decided to abandon my usual routine of writing—I had “written” enough during the brief period of sleep. I spent most of the remainder of the morning retrieving medications from the pharmacy and picking up old mail from the post office. And, of course, I tried to document the lyrics to the extent my memory allowed.

A friend brought me two bottles of his hand-crafted wine yesterday afternoon. We drank from a bottle of white Bahama Mama while discussing the species of wood he might use to craft an urn for my wife’s ashes. Another of his wine creations, a chocolate and orange hybrid he says people either love or hate, awaits tasting. While we chatted and sipped the wine, I volunteered I was pondering what I might want to do with what’s left of my life. I suggested to him I could become a geezer gigolo, given the number of single and widowed and otherwise lonely women in the Village; I think I must have been slightly drunk at the time of my suggestion. More realistically, I told him, the idea of a year of travel appeals to me, but COVID-19 and anarchy could effectively eliminate the option.  The few opportunities I have been able to take to meet virtual friends—bloggers and Facebook connections and a few followers of my blog—have confirmed for me that I want more. In some cases, I know what those people look like; I have seen their photographs. But in others the only concepts I have of their appearances are in my imagination. It’s interesting to me that, without even the slightest hints, I envision hair style and eye color, body shape, skin tones, and the shapes of their mouths when they smile. Experience tells me my visions usually are far from reality. Surprises keep me on my toes. Like this one; I have drifted far afield of where I was going when I started this paragraph.

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I continued drinking other wine after my friend left. And I burned incense, despite my earlier misgivings; another friend suggested my reticence about doing that was misplaced; she observed that my wife would rather I burn incense to find comfort than to see me sad and broken. I use the term “friend” even when the word may not be completely appropriate. Calling someone—with whom one has an amiable and casual but not truly deep relationship—an “acquaintance” seems almost derogatory. But calling that person “friend” seems too familiar and a bit disingenuous. I lack the vocabulary I believe is necessary to describe degrees of relationship between close friend and utter stranger. Acquaintance seems to fall much closer to utter stranger than to friend, but what other words are there? The English language should have a spectrum of terms to describe relationships.  Consider the range of terms to describe romantic or sexual relationships: lover, paramour, sweetheart, beau, girlfriend, boyfriend…and on and on and on. But more casual or platonic relationships? Acquaintance, pal, chum, associate…the pickings are slim and awkward.

As I gaze at the lists above, I notice my use of girlfriend and boyfriend. Those terms convey different meanings, depending on the sexual orientation and the sex of the players. Women often use the term girlfriends to describe both friends and acquaintances of the same sex; the term boyfriend seems to suggest a closer, nonplatonic engagement. Many, if not most, men would be hesitant to call a male friend or acquaintance boyfriend. They would be equally hesitant to call a woman girlfriend unless the relationship clearly was romantic and/or sexual in nature. These observations or, more correctly, assumptions rely on my heterosexual identity; I might see things differently if I were gay or bisexual. Who knows? I don’t.

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Sunday, my regular “yard-guy” came by with his colleague to blow leaves and otherwise tend to making my lots look reasonably well-maintained. The cost of the service, while probably reasonable, is considerable. I have, for years, toyed with the idea of buying a gas-powered backpack blower; spending $300-$400 now could save me literally thousands over the course of a few years. Or, the expense might encourage me to attempt to scale steep slopes and walk on unstable ground when I should not. I could die by smashing my head against sharp rocks because of losing my balance and falling. Or, I could move to a place with safer surface area. Or, I could devote time and effort to improving my strength, endurance, and balance, minimizing the likelihood of yard-work-related death or disability. Such seemingly minor matters grow more pressing as years go by. I write this paragraph as if I really am a geezer. I’m not. Yet. My father climbed up on the roof and otherwise took unwise risks well into his late seventies. I’m just past my mid-sixties, yet I seem to think I am more fragile than I am. I’m not fragile. At least not physically. Physically, I am just a tad out of shape; nothing that a bit of discipline and exercise can’t fix. “A tad” may be an understatement. Still, I’m repairable. My legs, especially, are strong and as stable as mesquite. Hmm. Something to not only think about, but do something about.

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I will pick up a grocery order this morning. If I had been thinking clearly when I put in my order, I would have ordered some breakfast sweets. For reasons unknown to me, I lately have an appetite for cinnamon roles or apple crisps or something equally as unhealthy but just as satisfying. But, no. Instead, I ordered radishes and a cucumber and bananas and apples and tomatoes and broccoli and cheese and several inedibles like deodorant and paper towels and Dove bath soap. I tried to order dishwashing tablets, but the store does not have the ones I want in stock. So, Amazon probably will come to the rescue. As it did yesterday, when I ordered a used paperback book and an assortment of incense. My life is too easy; I can order what I want online, while many millions the world over do not have access to adequate clean water and sufficient food to keep them alive. Or maybe my life is not too easy; maybe theirs is just too hard. Or, maybe, we exist at two ends of a spectrum, when a point somewhere in the middle is where all of us should be.

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I finished Bad Blood. I continue watching Hinterland. and Queen’s Gambit and various other things that keep me occupied and fill my mind with unnecessary but deeply appreciated diversions. I want a massage, given by someone who views the process not as a financial transaction, but as a healing gift. Even after acknowledging my life of unnecessary luxury, I still “want” as oppose to “need.” The very idea that I would rather appreciate what I have as opposed to what I desire is yet another “want.” I want to be a different, decent, better person. I want that. But do I need that? Maybe I don’t, but others do. The reward of giving. Reward. We seek rewards, even in altruism. I want a hug. I want an embrace. I need to give an embrace to someone who needs it more than I. This paragraph, like so many before, is attempting to slip into a worm-hole.

And I still need to see my doctor to have him remove skin defects, whether with scalpel or with a red-hot iron or with a sharpened axe and a pocket knife. Maybe later. You’d be surprised there’s so much to be done. Count all the bees in the hive. Chase all the clouds from the sky.

 

 

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Cracking

The sun will not rise for almost two and one-half hours. Peering into the darkness, I cannot forecast what the day will look like. I could look into the weather forecast, but that would take the mystery out of what awaits me. So, I am satisfied to know only that the temperature outside is uncomfortably cold: 22 degrees, according to the indoor-outdoor thermometer. It’s almost fifty degrees warmer inside. If I were more adventurous, I might take my computer outside on the deck to experience what 22 degrees feels like. Or, perhaps, if fear did not hold such sway over me, I would throw water on the deck boards and attempt to skate as the water froze; but I am afraid I might slip and fall. I might slide off the deck and plummet to the rocky slope twenty feet below. If the fall did not kill me, the elements probably would. It’s not death I fear; it’s the potential agony on the way there.

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The prospect of pain has too much control over us; over me, anyway. It can dissuade me from doing what I should do and it can protect me from doing what I shouldn’t. Both popular and professional literature about pain differentiates physical pain from emotional pain. Memories do not trigger earlier physical pain but memories can evoke emotional pain; remembering emotional pain can cause that pain to be replicated. I read an article in Psychology Today that claimed people use physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain, but not vice versa. As an example, the article mentioned the unhealthy practice of slicing one’s skin, replacing emotional pain with its physical counterpart.

Physical pain, even excruciating physical pain, does not reverberate the way emotional pain does. Emotional pain returns over and over and over again; memories of emotional pain can do lasting damage, whereas physical pain rarely has the capacity to do the same. Yet the two types of pain can intersect and can feed off one another; I’ve not read anything that supports that, but I am confident the statement is true. However, I am not sure whether the strength and direction of the correlation between them is always clear. And I am not sure I want to know.

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Guilt is a form of emotional pain. And like so many other kinds of emotional pain, it is not anesthetized by admonitions to “stop feeling it.” Logic, whether valid or not, has as little bearing on reducing emotional pain as it does on physical pain. Telling a person “you did all you could to try to save the drowning child” is just as useless as telling someone “you’re not at fault for slicing your finger while chopping onions.” The motives behind both statements might be pure and full of good intentions, but both are equally ineffective.

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I wonder whether “analgesic” applies to the relief of both physical and emotional pain? Google would tell me, if I asked, but I’m not interested at the moment in what Google has to say about the matter. I’m more interested in what actual humans think. “Actual humans.” What other kinds of humans are there? Artificial? We seem to be moving closer and closer to artificial humans with artificial intelligence. Is artificial intelligence any better or worse than actual intelligence? And what about emotional intelligence; what is its counterpart in the real (actual) world? I do not like the term “emotional intelligence.” Something about it seems artificial; intentionally deceptive, as if it attempts to hide something beneath its irrationality. Emotional intelligence seems a little like slip-on seat covers for car seats, hiding cracked leather beneath a cheap weave.

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The idea that I will never be with my wife again is impossibly hard. She was the reason I woke up every day; she was the person who was there for me, even when she was ill and locked away in hospitals and rehab centers. Most days, I wade through and think I will get beyond the dark sense that there is no longer a reason to wake up. But then I realize I am deceiving myself. For more than forty years, she inflated me, as if I were a balloon, and gave me purpose. I lie to myself and tell myself I will recover that sense of purpose. But no matter how hard I try and no matter how much other people try to help me get through it, I doubt I’ll ever feel that again. Without purpose, there’s just emptiness. And guilt that I did not do what I should have done; I should have brought her home, not shuttled her off to Good Sam, where she became horribly depressed. When I saw her depression, I should have brought her home, but I did not. If had done that, I think she might have recovered. Maybe not her physical strength, but her will to live. Maybe I deserve the emotional pain. Maybe the idea of wanting it to end is just more selfishness. Perhaps the pain of eternal guilt is an appropriate sentence.

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Sunrise is still an hour away. Darkness surrounds my house, but inside is a cozy pocket of light. I am too comfortable here in this protective nest. My ready access to coffee is too easy. It is too easy for me to wallow in pity. Is my sadness based on wishing for my wife a longer, more fulfilling life? Or does it rest on my own desire to have her back? Who am I sad for? Is it pure selfishness? I cannot stop thinking that my tears may be for me, not for her. That is unbearable.

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I spent most of the day yesterday preparing materials to review with a financial advisor. It seems I should do that, but I don’t know why. And I thought, during the day, I should begin the process of giving my wife’s clothes away. But then I thought I should not do that; her closets are still her closets. Her clothes belong there. Her desk was her province; I should leave it the way she left it. I had already put some of her things, on the bathroom vanity, away; I should put them back. I feel like I’m going crazy; these thoughts are insane.

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The fact that I’ve been burning incense in the house now seems so wrong. What the hell was I thinking? Why would I do something that I know she would have hated? It is utterly absurd. I wonder who I have become. Whoever he is, I loathe him.

I assume my moods this morning are just part of the grieving process. But it could be that my shell is cracking. My protective armor could be rupturing, exposing me to the carrion-eaters and opening me up to the elements. If that’s it, so be it; the sooner, the better.

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Incense

My wife was not a fan of the aroma of incense. I am and have been for years. I used to sit outdoors, alone, on the little patio of our house in Dallas, enjoying the scent of burning cones of incense. The flavor of bourbon or wine went well with the scent of incense; I sat for hours, listening to the sounds of crickets and birds, drinking in my celebration of the senses. I imagined my wife sitting with me, but she did not appreciate the outdoors the way I did. Later, or the next morning, I tried to entice her with descriptions of how my experience with the sounds and the smells and the tastes enriched me. But she rarely took the bait. On those rare occasions she did, I think she was disappointed that she did not find the experience as delightful as did I. She wanted to, but it just wasn’t as appealing to her as it was to me. Of course, she had other experiences that enriched her life that I did not find as appealing. Despite our differences, we meshed well, as if each of us represented a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fit with the other to complete a finished form. She tolerated my many flaws, more so than she should have had to live with. I doubt anyone else on Earth would be willing to accept me the way she did. She deserved far better, but she was satisfied with the assortment of my broken pieces.

Because the smell of incense bothered my wife, I burned it outdoors or, since we moved to Arkansas, in the shop area behind the garage. Since her death, though, I have burned cones of incense in the house a few times. I have mixed feelings about that. I feel guilty for doing it, knowing my wife would find the odor offensive. But, since she is no longer here, I know it no longer has the capacity to bother her and the scent helps me relax. For some reason it helps me feel her presences, as if she finally has developed an appreciation for the odor of patchouli incense. I think her objection may not have been to the smell but that the odors might have clung to her clothes. But I do not know. I cannot ask her.

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Last night, I continued my pattern of watching Bad Blood. But I paused it several times so I could sit and think about things that popped into my mind. That way, I ensured that I would not lose the plot while I ignored it in favor of a mental detour.

I wondered whether I might one day decide I simply cannot continue fighting to overcome or to tolerate the emotional pain I feel on a regular basis. How could I quietly slip away from it, never to feel it again? After I had my lung cancer surgery, I was given a significant number of oxycodone pills that I rarely used for pain. I kept them, thinking one day I might need them to erase pain of one kind or another. But I do not think they are particularly potent. I told a friend some time ago I was collecting such stuff to ensure that, if confronted with a prognosis of a painful death, I could end my life on my own terms.  I am a firm believer in giving individuals the options of making the decision to end their lives on their own terms. As much as I hate learning of suicides brought about by emotional states that could have been corrected, I think the choice of euthanasia should be entirely personal.

This section has gone completely haywire and badly awry. I intended to explore the oddities that emerge from watching emotions play out on television dramas. The control I have over my own emotions is sometimes taken over, replaced by emotions written into screenplays by talented screenwriters. And sometimes it’s just the opposite.

Last night, I made the mistake of pouring, and consuming, two whiskeys and then, later, switching to wine. I made it half way through the glass of wine before deciding that had been a bad decision. Half a glass of red wine awaits me in the refrigerator; it will wait at least until the end of the day, maybe longer. I don’t know whether it was the combination or the size of my two whiskey pours—or maybe something else—that caused my fierce headache this morning. Here’s hoping the coffee will tame the beast.

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I did not begin 2021 with resolutions. But I may may some commitments to myself within the next few days. Among them could be assurances that I will try to eliminate some of the excess weight I accumulated over the past several months—years. I spent some time yesterday looking at a ledger of meals I ate during the first three-plus months of 2017. I keep returning to that list because the meals I prepared were low calorie and completely satisfying. But sticking to the types of meals I ate for long enough that the routine would become a lifestyle would have taken longer than three and a half months; my discipline apparently failed before my lifestyle changed completely. I seem to have gone badly off-course; rather than simply reeling myself in and correcting my deviance, I adopted gustatory deviance as my mantra. My problem, I think, is that I ran out of radishes. Radishes tend to keep me in line. Radishes and tomatoes. Let that be a lesson to me.

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A church friend mentioned to me last week (was it last week?) that her financial advisor has been very helpful to her. Given that my wife was my financial advisor, I decided to call my friend’s advisor to get some help with my transition to financial widowhood. I have an appointment with her late next week. Between now and then, I will assemble financial records and compile a list of questions to ask; assuming she knows about Social Security matters and tax treatment of retirement accounts, I expect I will have plenty of questions to ask. Fortunately, my wife kept meticulous records. And, during the last six months, I kept records just as meticulously. My wife taught me so much about so many things.

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On this date last year, I wrote about poverty, particularly food poverty, in Mexico and other impoverished countries. And I compared U.S. income levels with income levels in Mexico. My diatribe effectively constituted a condemnation of the immorality of our individual and collective failures to do something about the problems; I argued that we have within our power the ability to address these matters. Here, a year later, what have I done? Precious little. I complain about hypocrisy, yet I am a practicing hypocrite. Throwing a few dollars a month, through my church, at domestic issues just does not seem adequate to assuage my guilt. On the other hand, should I ask my financial advisor to help me redirect forty percent of my wealth toward the elimination of poverty and hunger? Would I do that if I would be the odd man out by not doing it? As I mull this over, I also consider whether we are leaders of ourselves or followers of others. Ach! I will continue to turn things over in my head until I grind them into soft mush. Perhaps incense will help clarify my thoughts.

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Softening the Anxiety

My primary care doctor gave me a prescription for medications to help with depression/anxiety a couple of months ago. I was not sure I needed it, but I had been feeling anxious and a little depressed, so I had the prescription filled and have been taking it once a day since. I took the last pill a few days ago and there are no more refills remaining. It occurred to me I might want to ask the doctor to renew the prescription, but I decided against it. I never sensed the medication had any effect on me and I am growing increasingly skeptical about the necessity for several other prescriptions.

In addition to skepticism, I have been debating with myself whether “treating” naturally-occurring phenomena is always the right thing to do. Doesn’t everyone feel anxious and/or moderately depressed from time to time? How appropriate is it, then, to try to erase those emotional rough spots with drugs? What about hypertension? Should medications be the first line of defense? Instead, should doctors urge patients to change their behaviors/ lifestyles before prescribing chemicals?

I’m still mulling over these matters. I know I should change my sedentary lifestyle and my diet. Whether I do remains to be seen. If I opt not to, though, should I expect my insurance to cover the cost of medications that intervene on my behalf, doing the work I should be doing myself?  I have no quarrel with medications that address all manner of maladies, but I question the point at which those medications should be used in lieu of alternative treatments. I should know more about these matters. However, I think the massive amounts of “information” available to me is laced with misinformation driven by marketing decisions. Yet it’s my health, so should I not invest the time to wade through it all and reach decisions based on my assessments of the best information? Only if I value my health and my life enough. And I wonder whether any of us pay adequate attention, until it’s too late. Just thinking about these matters has an odd impact on me; rather than making me more anxious, thinking about them softens my anxiety.

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Speaking of anxiety: A day or two after my wife’s death, I started the slow, unhappy process of dealing with its administrative aftermath. I notified Social Security. I contacted some of her lifelong friends. I cancelled some accounts. I made adjustments to automatic payments linked to credit cards in her name. I cancelled credit cards. I looked for our wills. And I continued looking. Day after day, I searched for the wills. I thought I would find them where our other important papers were located. When they were not where I expected them to be, I looked in our safe deposit box. And when they were not there, I called the attorney who handled our new wills when we moved to Arkansas. She assured me the original must be at home or in a safe deposit box. And she said she could supply me with copies, but the originals might be necessary for some legal matters. I kept looking. I decided I would go room by room, looking in every box, every bookshelf, every possible “hiding” place. My wife was incredibly well-organized when it came to such matters; I had no doubt the documents were in the house, but I had to put myself inside her well-organized brain to find what she had done with them.

Yesterday, I found them. I stumbled upon them, literally a few feet from her desk; I was stunned I had overlooked them so many times during my search. My level of anxiety diminished and softened immediately. The administrative matters I delayed during my search can now be addressed without the anxiety associated with being unable to find the documents. The long, unhappy process of addressing the aftermath of the death of the love of my life can now resume. My disquiet has eased; the matters I must handle will be a bit easier. Now, it’s a matter of setting priorities. Do I sell the car first, or should I have the title to the house changed, naming me sole owner? Is now the time to talk to a financial advisor, or should I wait until my wife’s IRAs and 401Ks are put in my name? There are plenty of resources to help me make those choices; I just have to give myself time, which I will.

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Yesterday afternoon, I sat and chatted with some neighbors, a couple I rarely see or talk with. The man almost never leaves the house and the woman ventures out on very rare occasion, going grocery shopping when crowds are sparse. They are exceptionally nice people and very interesting. We raised a champagne toast to the memory of my wife and discussed topics ranging from Netflix movies to the cost of housing in southern California to their intentions to keep their very attractive Christmas decorations up inside their house until mid-March or beyond. After the champagne bottle was empty, we moved on to chardonnay. By the time I returned to my house next door, we had agreed to get together every so often. I’m quite conscious of COVID-19, so we’ll be sure to take proper precautions.

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Lunch yesterday was potato soup, left for me a few days earlier by a neighbor down the street. Dinner last night, leftover lamb vindaloo, called for something cold to temper the heat, so I finished a bottle of sauvignon blanc. After champagne, chardonnay, and the remnants of a bottle of SB, I had no anxiety whatsoever. And I was in just the mood to watch another episode of Bad Blood. I have decided that Kim Coates, the actor who plays a main character (Declan Gardiner) is an extraordinarily accomplished actor. Until I looked up information about the series, I was unaware it was a Canadian program. Live and learn. The head of the crime family, now out of the picture (in Season 2), was played by Anthony LaPaglia; he is an Australian actor, though I could not have known that except for what I read. LaPaglia’s accent, in character, does not betray his birthplace.

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Today, a woman I knew from my work life plans to come by to leave me a dinner. She and her husband have stopped in once or twice already since my wife’s death. They are very nice people. Although their political perspectives run counter to mine, and their religious views clash with mine, I find them gracious and caring, evidence that political perspectives do not necessarily define the person. But that is a hard position for me to accept and internalize; yet it’s true. I don’t know how to discard the conflict.

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This morning, I am sitting at my wife’s desk. I look around the room and see reminders of her everywhere. Almost every time I think of her, my eyes brim with tears. I miss her terribly. It’s nearing six months since her first hospital admission, making it almost six months since she spent more than a few nights at home. I missed her all that time, but the intensity now feels so much stronger and so much more painful. Even though I think I am doing pretty well with my grief, there are times when I feel like collapsing into a heap and sobbing. I wish, right now, I could just go back to bed and stay there all day. But I can’t. I have obligations and commitments and work to do this morning and throughout the day. I just have to buck up and wade through it. I’ll wipe away the tears and get with it. My wife was so much stronger, emotionally, than me. I could use some of her superior strength right now.

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A Thousand Thoughts

Yesterday’s assault on the Capitol will long be remembered as the primary lasting legacy of Trump. The rest of his nightmarish presidency can be undone over time. But his invitation to QAnon, Confederacy-loving anarchists, and other delusional groups to “protest” the simple act of certifying the count of Electoral College ballots with the objective of overturning the results of the election is now permanently sewn into the fabric of American history. Even in the face of raw and rabid nihilism, he refused to concede that he lost the election. And he opted to foment a coup as a last-ditch effort to stay in power. Finally, some of his staunchest supporters still inside the White House and his administration have begun to resign, joining the ranks of the dozens of former officials who long since have abandoned him in favor of democracy and decency and sanity. Trump’s golden years, beginning January 21, 2021, should be spent in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.

I feel just as much rancor for his powerful supporters, people who have attempted (and continue to attempt) to make a name for themselves by supporting him to the detriment of American democracy. A few names: Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Roger Marshall, John Kennedy, Tommy Tuberville…and there are so many more.

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Once again, I awoke very early this morning—before four. I stayed in bed, awake, until I finally got up sometime after six. During those two-plus hours, my mind raced. I tried everything I could think of to empty my head, but nothing worked. As the minutes dragged on, my body and my mind grew more and more tense, until I felt like I might be a stone statue, but with a brain. And in my mind’s eye, a high-speed video displayed thousands of images that reminded me of obligations and commitments. Utter confusion, but with a directional pattern that I could not quite discern. When I got up, I discovered that I had not planned well; I should have laundered my underwear and socks yesterday. I still haven’t. I’ll put them in the washer while I shower in a bit; and when I get out of the shower, I will find some old stuff. Backups I keep around for precisely these situations. I did plan well; but only for long-term contingencies.

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Yesterday afternoon, my sister-in-law and I made lamb vindaloo, using the leftover leg of lamb from New Year’s Day. It was a good thing she was involved in the process. I had about decided to leave out the “Base Curry Sauce” from the ingredients, because it seemed like too much of a hassle to make and it seemed to me that it would not have added much to the dish. She thought otherwise, so she cut up the five onions the sauce recipe called for and I measured out the spices. When the sauce was finished, it had a nice flavor and was thick and creamy. I discovered that, without the sauce, the meat would have been quite dry and inedibly spicy hot. As the dish turned out, with the sauce, it was quite spicy (but not too painfully spicy) and wonderfully flavorful. After we ate, she took some home and I put the remainder in the fridge. I may have some for breakfast this morning. And dinner. Who knows? It’s very tasty; it would be good for any meal. Before she left yesterday afternoon, my sister-in-law suggested vindaloos tacos might be good. That reminded me that I had planned on using lamb vindaloo as tamale filling. Either vindaloo tacos or vindaloo tamales would be good. Maybe I’ll give them a try. or maybe I’ll wait until I make the next batch.

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Yesterday, I re-read some messages from someone with whom I’ve been communicating via email off and on for a few months. One of the comments I read triggered a resurgence of thoughts I had the first time I read the message. The comment said we literally create our own reality. I responded that I thought that was true, but we rarely acknowledge it because we are busy responding to the world around us, as if the world around us imposes realities on us. I went on to suggest the world does impose realities on us, but we impose realities on the world, too. During my sleepless time this morning, one of the thoughts that sprinted across my mind was that I was creating my own reality simply by thinking, yet my thoughts also were changing the world because the world responds to me based on how I perceive it. If I spent more time on the concept I probably could explain it better than I have, but I think what I’ve written thus far will be sufficient to trigger my recollections when I read this later. If not, all I need do is to think about synchronicities. That will do it! At least I hope so. So, I know how to set my mind to reproduce some memories. But how do I turn others off, just to give myself at least a brief period of tranquility? I suppose I’ll just keep trying.

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It’s already after 8:30. I must get to work on washing clothes and myself. But, first, breakfast. Vindaloo? Pizza? Cereal? Time will tell.

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The Morning of January 6 2021

My drive to Little Rock to retrieve my wife’s ashes and a stack of death certificates from the crematorium yesterday was uneventful. The interaction I had with the crematorium’s representative was all business; she was polite, but I experienced no genuine warmth nor any indication that our interaction was anything other than business. Condolences and consolation were not part of the interchange. Like the text message several days earlier, our conversation yesterday was strictly transactional; sign here, sign there, now here is your package and have a good day. I am not sure I should have expected anything more than I got, but I left with a sense that matters of death and cremation are, for her, simply business transactions. And I am not sure that isn’t as it should be, though it felt cold and empty to me. But I got over it or, at least, I will.

From the crematorium, I went to Colonial Liquor, where I bought Flyway Honeybird blonde ale to satisfy the thirst of last night’s guests. Because it was still early when I stopped by Colonial, I called the Subaru dealer to inquire whether I could have the 72K maintenance service for the car done in a timely manner. I was assured it was doable. And so I took the car in. In less time than the service advisor estimated, they had replaced the engine oil and filter, cabin air filter, rotated the tires, and conducted a survey of other systems that revealed nothing of consequence. So I headed home. The trip to Little Rock and back was not nearly as difficult, emotionally, as I had expected. My anticipation of spending time with friends from church last night probably had a great deal to do with that; that coincidence may well have kept a fragile vessel from shattering. That may seem overly dramatic; I know myself, though.

Last night, my guests brought two pizzas and a tasty dessert pie and a complementary dessert beer, as well as a bottle of wine that remains unopened. I did not even realize the wine was here until they left. And it did not occur to me until they were gone that I contributed no money to the purchase of the pizza. I feel a need to reimburse for a significant share of the pizzas, especially because one, untouched, remains in my refrigerator; I’ll figure that out.

I think the evening with my guests was largely responsible for my ability to withstand what could otherwise have been a very trying day. We laughed at one another’s stories and I truly enjoyed the company of people with whom I am finally beginning to allow myself to open up. And I’m not referring to opening up my grief; I mean opening up my self.  I enjoyed a few hours of genuine relaxation, a casual atmosphere in which laughter filled the air.

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I awoke to the news that Raphael Warnock won in Georgia yesterday, defeating his obnoxious opponent, Kelly Loeffler. The other Georgia race, between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue is still too tight to declare a winner; I am so very hopeful that Ossoff will win it. But, still, there is the perfunctory Congressional “sign-off” on Biden’s victory that, thanks to partisan lies and Republicans’ abandonment of decency, honor, and integrity, that has become yet another Republican attempt to overturn the will of the people. I am attempting to control my rage this morning; I am sure I will, but it will take more effort than usual. There was a time, not too many years ago, when I disagreed with Republican philosophies but I respected our differences. Not today. Today, I hold the majority of Republican supporters of Trump and his legion of liars in utter contempt. Their philosophies do not drive them; their motives are based entirely on an unhealthy lust for power and control.

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I watched an intriguing BBC video this morning about the widespread and very strong support in Sweden of the country’s welfare state tax system. What I find especially illuminating about Swedish attitudes about high taxes is that Swedes view their taxes not as paying for welfare for the least productive members of the society but, instead, for public sector services for all members of the society. They look at the taxes they pay for schools, public transit, social safety nets for everyone, etc. as valuable benefits and good justification for high tax rates. I would be interested in getting the perspective of one of my online friends and bloggers, an American who is married to a Swede and lives permanently in Sweden. If she happens to read this little snippet, I would love to read her take on the pros and cons of Sweden’s tax structure and the benefits that accrue thereto.

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Distasteful tasks and chores tend to make me lethargic. That’s how I justify my slothfulness, anyway. In fact, though, work I do not want to do amplifies my lack of discipline. It’s not lethargy; it’s capitulation to undisciplined weaknesses and shortcomings. I wonder whether I should explore taking drugs to rectify my failings? Speed, for example. Probably not. I’m scared even of the idea.

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I must take out the trash today, unlike last Wednesday. Last week, I got the bag as far as the garage, but never got it to the curb. Since then, I’ve added three or four more bags (justifiable, I say, that I’ve added so much; it’s not that I have generated so much more trash, but the explanation is longer than my fingers wish to explain). I have until about 11 to take the bags to curbside; if I do not do that, I will punish myself in some way. Perhaps it’s better if I reward myself if I do it, yes? That’s the perpetual question: is punishment or reward the best teacher? We all know reward tends to work better, yet we keep falling back on punishment when we do a poor job with reward.

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I’m leaning toward melancholy as the morning matures. I do not want to give in to that mood. I will move on to something else, something other than writing, to improve my disposition. But what? Time will tell. It always does.

 

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Why Disable Power Breaks?

The luxury of sleeping through the night is history. But I will try to avoid complaining. Lately, I have been able to nap, at least briefly, during the day; that makes up for sleepless nights. Today, though, I think I will have to forego napping; today, napping could be dangerous. It’s odd, my sleep pattern. Midnight. Two. Four. Last night, at midnight, I awoke with an awful cough, triggered by sinus congestion and drainage. The sinus congestion is not new, but the extent to which it triggered such a ferocious coughing fit is, thankfully, rare. But not unheard of.

I tried to avoid complaining. Right. And then I set about doing exactly what I said I would attempt to avoid. Frivolous grievances seem to find their way into my head and out through my fingers. I have more weighty things to complain about, if I were to choose to complain.

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Tonight’s Taco Tuesday gathering has morphed into a pizza fest, thanks to Beehive being closed for repairs. Instead of a small gathering at Beehive, we’ll have a small, masked, socially distant gathering at my house. So, I also will miss something else that I learned this morning will occur tonight. Home Plate Cafe is hosting French night tonight, including Ménage à Trois and escargot, and chateaubriand, among other  French attractions. What a surprise to learn that, in what is primarily a conservative retirement community, Ménage à Trois would be on the menu. Perhaps I live in a more adventuresome place than I thought. But ménage translates into “housework.” Ménage à Trois translates into “threesome.” So, this risqué expression may refer, in the Village, to housework for three, not an arousing, titillating experience.

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My plan for dinner last night, preparing lamb vindaloo, dissolved in a cloud of my torpor. Luckily for me, my wonderful neighbor called, offering some smoked pork tenderloin her husband had prepared for their dinner. I readily accepted and she delivered it to my door. It was outstanding. So, my lethargy remained intact. But even if I have to force myself, I will prepare lamb vindaloo tomorrow night; letting the remaining leg of lamb spoil would be a crime against man and Nature, which I will not abide. While in Little Rock, I may visit an Indian grocery to pick up some green cardamom pods; apparently I do not have any and the recipe calls for them. And the base curry sauce required for the recipe calls for ten large onions, a quarter of a head of cabbage, six tablespoons of various other Indian spices, and nine tablespoons of garlic/ginger paste. I think I will plan on a much-reduced recipe of the base curry sauce. The recipes, though relatively simple, are time-consuming. The lists of ingredients of both the vindaloo and the base curry are as long as my arm. I love the sweat-inducing heat of very spicy Indian food. Years ago, a good friend introduced me to the phrase “hurts so good” in describing Indian food. I wonder whether she remembers?

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Attempts to escape from grief induce guilt. When I think of or plan time with people in an effort to get my mind off loss, I invariably feel a sense of guilt, as if I am being unfaithful. But I know, intellectually, I need to escape from grief from time to time. And I know, intellectually, those times need to be more and more frequent and longer and longer in duration. Yet even acknowledging those facts seems like abandonment. Either way, the mental pain is difficult to live with. But in saying that to myself, I feel even more guilt in the knowledge that others, in the millions, have dealt with more deeply excruciating pain than mine, and for much longer periods. Intellect and emotion do battle with one another, neither willing to budge from their steadfast positions, nor accepting of the idea that adjustments might be possible to satisfy both. Even reading about how to deal with grief seems like a ploy to justify abandonment. Sometimes I think the overtly masculine demeanor of “just soldiering through it” may have some merit, although I suspect that method of dealing with grief can do long-lasting damaging to one’s psyche.  One way to deal with it, I think, is to just take a damn break from it.

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For months, I have spent little snippets of time off and on to remove some hideous wallpaper borders from just under the ceiling in a couple of rooms; the laundry room and the “workshop” area behind the garage. I’ve been in no rush, obviously, but I have planned to get the job done so I could patch the spots where the wallpaper peeled paper from the sheetrock. I want to paint those rooms after I smooth the damage, making the walls ready to accept paint without leaving tell-tale signs that three-inch strips of paper once covered horizontal bands along the ceiling. I’m getting there. One day soon, I will move massive amounts of crap out of the way (including a washer and dryer) so I can put down protective tape and paper on the floor in preparation for paint. And, then, I will paint. That project, when finished, will give me an enormous sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that it really amounts to, probably, only three full days of work.

At about the same time, I will begin going through stuff that has been stored behind the garage for almost seven years without being used. It’s a safe bet I will never use those things. That includes several power tools that still work, but which weigh two or three times (or more) what newer tools weigh. I have a circular saw that must weigh fifteen or twenty pounds; maybe more. A new high-power circular saw today might weigh eight or nine pounds. I’ll need a truck to take all the excess junk to the dump or to recycling. A moving van might be more like it. I’m afraid, though, that once I remove all the excess stuff from the garage (and inside the house), the building might be so light it will float away.

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I know about fostering homeless animals. But that concept worries me. How would I know, for example, whether the creature is house-trained or sufficiently well-behaved that it will not ruin the furniture or tear into foodstuff in the pantry? Those concerns, among some others, prompted me to conceive of the idea of pet-rental. Pets could be certified as house-trained, etc. so the renter would feel confident the rental experience will be positive. In some ways, the concept of pet-rental would be a little like engaging a housekeeper whose references have checked out. Like hiring a housekeeper, one need not make a long-term commitment until the chemistry is right. I’m in favor of this.

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I hope I can keep it together today. Despite the assurances from people that it’s okay and even therapeutic to let one’s emotions flow, often it’s best to keep them in check until one is alone. Isolation allows emotional meltdowns to take place unnoticed by the rest of the world, avoiding embarrassment and more.

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Donald Trump should be institutionalized. He is a power-mad narcissist whose self-interest is dragging the U.S. closer and closer to the collapse of democracy. And his enablers in Congress should be jailed. Just thought I’d mention that.

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I do need a break. I should not disable my power breaks.

 

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Even-Tempered

For the first time in a very long time, I participated yesterday in a “live” Sunday event with the Unitarian Universalist Village Church. “Live” via Zoom. The production took considerable effort by several people to coordinate and orchestrate the program; it showed. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but what I saw surpassed my expectations by a significant amount. It was stellar in many ways; the pre-sermon conversation, the well-organized series of presentations, and the music/video elements incorporated into the event. Perhaps the most gratifying element was the opportunity to see and hear about 80 members and friends of the church who joined by Zoom.

The theme was the “2-cookie communion,” which used ritual to encourage congregants to mentally discard the negative behaviors and circumstances from the year just ended and to commit to taking action to guide the coming year into the positive experience we are capable of molding and expressing. Though I have always disliked church ritual (as I remember it from my childhood), since getting involved with UUVC I have come to appreciate ritual as symbolic expression, not as voodoo; that’s how I perceived it in other church traditions.

Despite the artifice of ritual, though, it caused me to feel strong emotions about the loss I have just endured; I am glad, during much of the service, my image and my sound were both muted/invisible. Even now, as I think about yesterday’s emotions, they return in all their power. All in all, I was very pleased to have been a member of the audience who participated. And the minister’s guidance and his words were both inspirational and healing.

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My afternoon yesterday included a too-short Zoom conversation with my oldest brother and his wife, another brother, and my sister. Another brother cannot get his computer to cooperate with Zoom, so he cannot participate in the conversations. I did not realize how very long it had been since we’ve had a video gathering. My oldest brother’s hair is quite long, courtesy of admonitions about avoiding close proximity to strangers due to COVID-19. He and his wife are behaving intelligently, unlike too many others in their community in Mexico (and so many here). Our chat was a welcome departure from my normal Sunday afternoon routine of…doing nothing. I may invest in a Zoom paid membership so we can have longer conversations. And I may develop a pre-chat questionnaire so everyone involved can have at the ready tidbits to address for those occasions when empty air lasts a bit too long. Or I may not. It’s an idea. But it sounds a bit contrived and superficial. I’m quickly turning on myself, berating me for offering such a strange structural response to natural pauses in conversation. Hmm. Thinking through my fingers. I like that description; always have.

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Last night, I chose to microwave frozen potstickers from Trader Joe’s for dinner.  I made my own dipping sauce, using only soy sauce and Sambal Ooleek. Though the meal was not especially nutritious, I suspect, it was tasty. And I augmented it with a salad and some hummus & crackers (and chips), some of which boosted the nutritional value of the meal. While I ate, I watched Season 1, Episode 1 of The Queen’s Gambit. I started watching that with my wife the last morning she was at home, before going back into the hospital for the last time. She decided, after watching only a short while, she wanted to go back to sleep and had no real interest in watching anything; no film, no series, nothing. She had just finished watching a Christmas movie the home health aid had suggested to her; she watched that whole film and was not really ready to watch something else. Later that day, she went to the hospital. I promised her she would come back home. I did not keep that promise; she went into inpatient hospice, instead. My mind could not stay focused on The Queen’s Gambit last night; I kept returning to my wife, who will never see it. It shocks me how seemingly little things can land such powerful blows on me, as if I’m an inept boxer almost knocked unconscious by a much stronger and forceful adversary.

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This morning, as I peered into the darkness behind my house, I thought to myself sunrise would begin before long and how it would be nice to sit and watch it with someone, someone interested in conversing about the rapidly-changing skyline and the colors arising from it. It’s not that I miss those conversations with my wife; she was rarely awake for sunrise. But I often talked to her about the sunrise and described to her what she was missing by sleeping in. She appreciated the word picture, but it was not enough to spur her to get up earlier. She liked her sleep. And I’m glad I didn’t try to change that.

The sunrise has begun, now. The southeast horizon is bright orange and pink, streaked with grey and salmon and ochre ribbons. By the time I finish this paragraph, the colors will have begun to merge into a pale watercolor tapestry. No matter what takes place in the sky, it’s beautiful this time of day.

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I have personal business to address today. I’ve never been very good at personal business. My wife took care of almost all of it, from banking to taxes to scheduling HVAC service and on and on. I am not sure whether she liked it, but she certainly tolerated it far better than I ever did. It’s time I grow up and tolerate it for myself now. I’m not sure whether I have the discipline just yet, though. Soon, I will find out.

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A few years ago, I wrote “thoughts for the day” every single day for two years running (2014-2015). Here’s one: “There is a point at which even the most even-tempered person will snap. I have no personal experience with this, though, as I am not even-tempered.”

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Just Beyond the Edge of Confusion

Yesterday was, for all intents and purposes, a washout. I woke up a bit late, after an unpleasant night. My morning coffee with my sister-in-law did not include any Words with Friends; apparently I was not sufficiently awake and alert—I overlooked the normal routine. She left a little after 9 and I decided, about 9:30, to rest in my recliner, listening to Amazon Spa music. I awakened several times to pee, but each time I returned to nap. I did not get up to finish the day until just before 2:30 pm. Five hours, more or less, of fitful napping seemed to have more or less erased my narcolepsy.

Every time I think of that word, I remember sitting in the Albuquerque airport with a couple of colleagues, one of whom was the president of the association for which I worked. The president kept nodding off as we waited for our flight. At some point, he said something to the effect that “I’ve had a terrible case of necrophilia.” My staff member and I howled with laughter for what seemed like hours. I still don’t think he quite understood what he had said, even after we explained it.

A late lunch of black-eyed peas, followed by a run to the mailbox, led to a late afternoon call to a friend, accompanied by wine, following up on a text message I had received the night before. Scanning Facebook, I learned that the place some friends and I planned to have tacos on Tuesday will be closed until Friday. Whether Taco Tuesday will take place somewhere else or another time remains to be seen.

Later, still, I opened a can of chicken and rice soup and poured some more wine. And I recalled the evening events from the previous night, when I watched an utterly absurd, ridiculously stupid film called Sharknado.  At least the moronic film caused me to laugh. Oh, and I watched an episode of Hinterland; that series is worth watching, I’ll say again.

Here I have slipped from yesterday morning and afternoon to the night before. Writers who confuse readers in that way should be horsewhipped. But not yet. Later. Much later.

So, last night, after the soup and wine, I sat in front of the television for quite a while and wished for a time before this nightmare. I did not turn the TV on; I just sat there, looking at the blank screen. I thought about the L-Pill I read and wrote about yesterday. It would resolve things for me, but would create nothing but grief and pain for others, so it’s off the table for now. Not that I have access to such a device, of course. But even if I did, it would be off the table. Following my little foray into self-pity, I turned on the TV and watched another episode of Hinterland. I rather like the fact that episodes of the series are much longer than many programs, running an hour and a half, sometimes. I think. I should have timed it last night.

One’s purpose in life, as difficult as it is to comprehend, becomes clear only after that purpose is lost. That purpose is noble and positive and it inspires happiness in the face of trouble and pain; yet it remains hidden. When it disappears into a mist that fades into oblivion, it is too late to capture it and hold it as one’s guiding principle. But that is when the purpose becomes clearest; the purpose is always outside of oneself and impossible to retrieve once it is gone. Only then does another purpose take its place, a purpose designed to replace joy with grief; that purpose cannot be abandoned, though, regardless of the pain. But the L-Pill, at the moment when all of one’s obligations have been met, might erase the purpose when the purpose has been achieved.

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Well, that was an odd trip around the psyche, wasn’t it? Indeed it was. Fortunately, Hinterland was sufficiently attractive to lure me out of a flood, just in time to escape drowning beneath a heavy metal livestock grate. (Only by watching Hinterland will that reference make any sense at all; fortunately for me, I understand exactly what I mean.)

I still weigh far too much. And I will until and unless I change my lifestyle. I need to eat less, exercise more, and pretend I will be able to look at myself in the mirror without disgust and shame if only I lose 70 pounds. I must figure out a way to place myself just beyond the edge of confusion so the changes I desire become the changes I seek. Seeking change is the active form of desiring change. Desire does not necessary trigger action. Wishing is not a motivator.

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Last night, after all my pre-sleep activities, I went to bed around 9:45, still far too early. I woke at 12:30, at 1:45, and at 2:45. In each case, I went back to sleep quickly. But at 3:30 the wakefulness lasted longer, around 45 minutes. I woke just before 5 with another set of leg cramps, though not nearly as severe as the night before. I stomped my feet and they diminished considerably; thanks for the tip, David. I drank a little tonic water before bed, but not quite enough. And today I will consume a lot of water to see if that addresses the issue.

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It’s just a shade after 5:40 now. I’ve unloaded the dishwasher and put the dishes away. I’ve almost finished a cup of coffee. There’s no Words with Friends and coffee visit with my sister-in-law on the morning agenda. I think I may indulge myself in a breakfast of bacon and eggs, though my desire for a healthier lifestyle looms over my conscience, urging me to start today, now, to improve my eating habits. I decided to check my January 3, 2014 “Thoughts for the Day,” to see if that motivational tidbit might give me any direction. It reads as follows:

Any recipe that calls for a single clove of garlic must be considered suspect; that recipe was very probably produced by someone who does not like you.  Always use a minimum of three cloves of garlic, regardless of the recipe’s measure, or you’ll have vampires running rampant in your kitchen.

Obviously, I should go forward with my plan for bacon and eggs, augmented with three cloves of garlic. There’s always tomorrow to start living a healthier lifestyle. But, as we know, there’s never a guarantee of tomorrow; certainly no guarantee there will always be a tomorrow. My wife would have tolerated my hunger for bacon this morning, but not at this hour. I would have had to be as quiet as a mouse in the kitchen. And so I shall.

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Thumbnails

Leg cramps, deep in the middle of the night, used to plague my wife on occasion. When it happened, I began to massage her legs in an attempt to quell the pain. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it exacerbated the pain and she let me know, urgently, to stop. Less frequently, I experienced the same excruciating cramps and she did the same for me. Neither of us knew what caused the pain, nor why massage sometimes helped and sometimes made it worse. I still do not know. Last night, I experienced severe leg cramps. When I woke to the pain, I attempted to get out of bed. But when I moved my legs, the pain got much worse and my legs suddenly contorted and locked in odd positions. The muscles on the outside of my lower legs seemed to freeze in position, becoming as hard as rock. I was able to overcome the paralysis, but the pain endured for a very long time, though at a much lower level. When I finally got back to sleep, it happened again, though not as bad as before. This cycle repeated itself four times—maybe five.

When I finally got up (late, for me) around 5:45, the lower-leg muscles in both legs were extremely tender. I did not sleep in; I just did not want to move my legs and risk another outbreak of pain. Finally, though, I forced myself to move. I was relieved that I did not feel an electric jolt of pain and paralysis. A hot shower helped a little, but I still feel slight remnants of raw pain. Ever since the first flare-up, sometime deep in the early morning hours, I’ve been thinking how my wife would have tried to help me, had she been by my side.

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“Mixed feelings.” That phrase has more meaning at this moment than I recall in times past. On one hand, I feel grateful that friends and family reach out to me to try to comfort me in a time of grief; knowing that people care makes me feel protected, in a way, and watched over. On the other hand, though, I want solitude and isolation, free of obligations to talk to anyone or be in the presence of anyone or otherwise participate in the human race. The tricky part of these “mixed feelings” is that they spin around me like a top, trading places with one another at lightning speed. If I were to verbalize my emotions, I can imagine saying “thank you for being here” one minute and then saying “please go” another and then “please come back” a moment later. Were I on the receiving end of my “mixed feelings,” I would quickly lose patience with me and suggest I make a decision and stick with it.

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One day soon, when I can comfortably abandon any and all of my responsibilities, I may wake up one morning, put a few clothes in the car, and abruptly leave. Not for long, necessarily, but just long enough. Ideally, I would go to a house nestled in a wooded area in the middle of an enormous fenced pasture. There would be no other houses for miles in every direction and no way in except through a locked gate, for which I would hold the only key. Whether that ideal is realistic is open to debate; I would argue it is not. I might have to accept less space and unobtrusive people nearby.

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I recently read a short article about something called the L-Pill (lethal pill), which supposedly was supplied to British and American spies and other agents operating behind enemy lines during and after World War II. It was a very small capsule containing highly concentrated potassium cyanide. If an agent/spy were in danger of capture, he or she could commit suicide by biting down on the capsule, thereby avoiding torture and/or revealing secret information. It occurs to me that a pill of that sort would be valuable to carry inside a pendant hanging on a necklace. If the world were to become too much, one could quickly escape. I suspect I won’t find much support for the idea. But consider all the people who would, if they could, go to Oregon or Sweden to put an end to needless suffering…but for various reasons that just cannot do that. An L-Pill might do the trick. The very idea of an L-Pill might be extremely painful and offensive to people who have experienced the suicides of friends or loved ones. A very difficult issue, this is.

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Every time the HVAC system shuts off or comes on, a very loud noise comes from the vicinity of the return air ducts in the hallway. It sounds like metal against metal. I used to think it was just the AC filters dropping when the air flow cut off (and getting sucked up when the air flow begins). But the nature and volume of the sound seems to have changed. I may need to get someone in here to take a look. Or perhaps I should take the return-air grate off and watch to see what I can see.

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I can barely keep my eyes open again. God, I wish I could just sleep through the night and stay comfortably awake during the day. I’ll stop writing and wishing for a while.

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First Words

Here we are at the first day of the first month of the two thousand twenty-first year. There it is again, the contrivance of time. “Two thousand twenty-first year,” indeed. I have no better measure of time in mind, so I’ll stick with what we have. And I bid good riddance to a year laced with pain, sadness, heartache, fear, anger, and lies. With that boot to the rear of an ugly year, I also welcome a year that holds promise and potential that can be met only if humanity collectively applies itself to correcting the errors of the past. I wish I felt more optimistic about the likelihood that the potential will be met. That having been said, I believe attitude contributes to accomplishment. Attitude alone, though, is impotent. Attitude coupled with engagement and commitment, along with a significant store of resources, is necessary. But not sufficient. Without collective will, wishes and dreams languish and shrivel. I’m rambling. It’s what I do best. I’m not at all good at writing motivational copy. 😉

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Yesterday morning, a phone call from the crematorium notified me that my wife’s ashes are available for me. I was told I could select from one of two times to arrive at the Little Rock office of the crematorium. I chose Tuesday morning. The woman with whom I spoke said the death certificates I ordered would be available at the same time. Though I did not expect a deeply solemn conversation, I think I expected a bit more dignity of the interaction; something a shade less like I was making an appointment to pick up an appliance from a repair shop. Perhaps it was just my extreme sensitivity that left me feeling dissatisfied with the conversation. The woman was perfectly pleasant and professional; I just expected a tone more like the one I heard when I was making the arrangements last Sunday.

Maybe it was the text, not the voice interaction, that unsettled me. This is the text, verbatim (including the lower case “mistake”), except for the pickup address:

This is Arkansas cremation and you have a scheduled pickup on 1/5/2021 at 10:30 am. Address

It struck me as cold. My immediate thought was whether my wife would have been treated with dignity by an organization that would send such a message. I got over it. I can never know how she was treated. I do not want to think about it. But I felt like I had to document it here, if for no other reason than to have a record of it to mull over at some time in the future when my emotions are not so freshly raw.

I do not know quite what to expect, both from the process and from myself, when I get to the crematorium. My emotions could well overflow, making for a teary, awkward encounter. I suspect teary, awkward encounters probably occur there with some regularity, so I should not be concerned. Regardless of how I react to the situation, I will get through it.

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I got a call later in the day yesterday from a friend, asking if I was interested in getting together on Tuesday afternoon. By then, my confusion had allowed me to forget the time and even the date of my Little Rock appointment, but when I checked I thought a visit that afternoon would be exactly what I needed. The call could not have come at a better time. A rather new virtual friend has suggested such things are part of a pattern of synchronicity, as if the universe is responding to circumstance. My mind attempts to argue against it, but I have to admit I do not know precisely how to interpret, nor to understand, all the laws of physics. And all the rest. So, on Tuesday afternoon I will meet friends for tacos and social lubricants, AKA alcohol. My focus on weight and health will have to wait.

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Last night, my very fine neighbors had me over for dinner and drinks and conversation in celebration of New Year’s Eve. We ate Mexican food from a local restaurant and drank some of my friends’ favorite wine, followed after dinner with ice cream and then, later, some champagne and, still later, a snifter of cognac. As I thought about all the kind and generous things my neighbors have been doing for me, I felt enormous gratitude. And then I started thinking about all the other kind and generous and compassionate things others have been and are doing for me. A sense of guilt for being so receptive to all that kindness and generosity started welling up in me, as if I should refuse such goodness. But I caught myself. All the caring things people have been doing for me should not cause me to feel guilty in the slightest; instead, I should allow myself to embrace the love and decency and humanity they are showing me. And I should allow them the opportunity to demonstrate their care and their interest in helping me get through a tough time. Even knowing this, though, I still cannot help but feel I don’t deserve so much kindness; I am not entirely sure why that is.

My neighbors urged me to play the game, Mexican Train, with them. It’s a game my wife and her sister played fairly frequently, a game I steadfastly refused to learn because I am not much into games. I relented last night, though the fact that I did so bothered me. Not long ago—I don’t recall precisely when—I promised my wife and sister-in-law that I would learn the game and play it with them when my wife came home. Because putting off learning to play it was a standing joke, I offered to put it in writing; I wrote a note saying just that. But she never came home. I came across that note yesterday. Seeing the note triggered some tears. Succumbing to my neighbors’ urging to play with them made me feel like I let my wife down by refusing to play the game with the two of them for so long. My neighbors knew nothing of my history of avoiding the game; they would not have suggested it if they had known.

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After I got home last night, intending to go to bed before the stroke of midnight, I started watching some BBC coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. Most of the celebrations had taken place hours earlier: in Sydney and Wellington and London and Hong Kong, etc., etc. Sydney Harbor was awash in spectacular fireworks, but without crowds. Wellington, though, did not have to keep crowds at bay, thanks to Jacinda Ardern’s leadership; she led New Zealand through a response to COVID-19 that yielded spectacular results. Somehow, I missed the ball drop in an empty Times Square; I suppose I was in the midst of switching channels by then. I finally went to bed around 1:00 a.m. As usual, I woke with some regularity through the night and finally climbed out of bed at 5 this morning.

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No shave this morning; I opted only to shower. I doubt I’ll be going out today, so my almost invisible stubble won’t ruin anyone’s day.

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I went to the grocery store yesterday in search of black-eyed peas, thinking I would buy a can. There were no cans to be found, so I bought a bag of dried peas. Half the bag soaked overnight; I will cook them so that they will be ready about the same time the leg of lamb comes out of the oven.

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No matter how much I try to boost my own spirits this morning by writing silly nonsense and meaningless drivel, I think I feel sullen and grey. I am in no mood to celebrate the beginning of a new year. I hope that changes as the day wears on.

 

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Laughing at the Last Day of an Ugly Year

Thanks to good friends passing through, on Tuesday evening I enjoyed the spectacular taste of a beer I could not hope to find in Hot Springs (and probably not in Arkansas): Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Caramella Ale. The beer is labeled as wheatwine ale aged in bourbon barrels from Larceny Bourbon with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavors. And it is, indeed, a marvelous drink. The label also claims it develops in the bottle for up to five years, but the elixir we drank was bottled in 2020; I cannot imagine it “developing” and getting better until 2025. These friends, a couple I have known since 1997 (I think that’s right), are among a relatively small cadre of people I admire for their adventurous spirits and their generous and compassionate natures; people who care.

That happy experience was followed yesterday morning by a masked visit by a writer friend who brought wonderful breakfast treats: a Keto Egg Bite and a Cheesecake Fat Bomb, along with an array of savory treats for later and a coffee mug I’ve coveted since I first saw it at her house a year or more ago. The mug is imprinted with dozens of Shakespearean insults, all styled in different fonts and colors. We had a great conversation that wandered through a maze of all sorts of subjects, the kind of conversation I enjoy immensely.

As that conversation was coming to a close, I got a call from a woman at church who asked if she could stop by to give me cookies for the church “two cookie communion,” which will take place via Zoom next Sunday. One day I will write about the “two cookie communion.” For now, though, it will suffice to say the word “communion” is not as typically religious as one might expect. At any rate, a while later I answered the door to find two women from church, bearing the two cookies and a bottle of wine. I invited them in and we had a gloriously long conversation. I knew both of them only casually beforehand, but by the time they left I felt I had developed two friends. They are funny, energetic, intelligent, and obviously caring and compassionate people.

Before my new friends left, another friend from church came by to share with me a coffee table book about Newfoundland; she had read my blog post about my desire to go there and thought it would be of interest. She was right. In addition, she brought a journal of the trip she and her late husband took in 1990 to Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. The day-by-day journal is a fascinating read; well-written and packed with information. While their trip took place thirty years ago, I suspect quite a bit of the information is still valid today. I was enthralled by many of the details she incorporated into her journal: Canada is the world’s second largest country, behind Russia; at that time, at least, Montreal had absolutely no slums and was graffiti-free; it was illegal to leave a vehicle running longer than three minutes (to minimize pollution); and much more.

In addition to the coffee table book and the journal, my friend left me with some advice on dealing with grief, based on the wisdom of experience. She suggested that, as soon as circumstances permit, I get away from Hot Springs Village for a while. By getting away, she said, I will be giving myself a break from all the daily reminders of a life no longer available to me. Whether my “get away” is a road trip to Newfoundland or a trip to visit family, getting away will at least temporarily relieve some of the pain of loss and accelerate the process of healing. She also passed on some advise someone else had given to her: make a list of the little annoyances my wife caused me (everyone has some of these). Then, use the list to tell myself “at least I don’t have to deal with [whatever] now.” I am not describing its value as well as she did; it made very good sense and sounded to me like an excellent idea.

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This morning, I got up at 4:00, after checking the clock at 2:00 and again at 3:00. I may have slept some between 2:00 and 4:00, but if I did it was brief and shallow. Waking in the middle of the night is contributing to my early-to-bed habits of late, I am sure. I prefer not to go to bed so early, but by the time 8:30 or 9:00 rolls around, I am ready to call it a day. I think I may force myself to stay up much later than usual tonight. My next door neighbors invited me for dinner tonight. We may watch television coverage of New Year’s Eve festivities around the world; I do not think I’ll try to stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square. But maybe I will.

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Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, I will roast a leg of lamb. It has been thawing in the refrigerator for a few days; I hope it is (or will be) thoroughly thawed before I roast it tomorrow. I will stab the lamb as if I were a crazed murderer, frenetically plunging a knife into the meat at intervals of about one to two inches. In each murderous incision, I will place a thick sliver of garlic. I am certain most recipes that call for garlic slivers to be placed in knife wounds do not call for as much garlic as I plan to use. I love garlic in general. Garlic in leg of lamb is even more wonderful. So I go a bit overboard. I may make hasselback potatoes to go along with the lamb. And a salad or peas. And I must make sure to have black-eyed peas. My sister-in-law will join me for the feast. I assume I will have leftover lamb, perhaps enough to make lamb vindaloo, another delightful dish, within the next few days.

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Yesterday was trash day. I bagged the trash and put it out in the garage early in the morning, intending to take it to the curb before 10:30. I realized I had not done it only after I noticed the garbage truck pass my house. Once I get the trash ready to take to the curb, I never forget it. Until yesterday. My memory must have hit a glitch. What else have I forgotten? I haven’t necessarily forgotten to do things, I just haven’t done them. My lethargy continues to plague me. Though it may not be lethargy, it may be lack of interest and absence of discipline. I made jambalaya a couple of nights ago, which requires a significant amount of time and energy; much more than sorting and recording receipts; if I can make jambalaya, I can sort and record receipts and have energy to spare. But I continue to resist doing what must be done in favor of doing something I enjoy. I think I may have to resort to terrorizing myself if I have any hope of getting stuff done. I might threaten to crush a finger with a hammer every day I put off doing these administrative chores; I would, of course, need to clarify that I’m referring to my own fingers. Yeah. I’ll make that threat tomorrow if I get around to it.

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I just noticed that my fingers seem especially thick this morning. It’s not an optical illusion. I tried to slip off my wedding ring a moment ago and it would not come off easily. Yesterday afternoon I recall pulling it off and on, sort of a nervous tic. It slid on and off without resistance. This morning, though, my fingers seem to have become much thicker and heavier. I’ve never noticed that before. A quick check of Google offers sixteen possibilities, including pregnancy. That leaves fifteen possibilities; my guess is that there are more. Unless time reveals otherwise, I will assume the swelling will diminish. Then, I can decide what to do with my wedding band. I’ve worn it almost every day, except during surgeries, when I was required to remove it, for more than forty years. It would feel a bit odd to be without it. On the other hand, it seems strange to me to wear it when my wife is gone. I was pleased to read that the decision about what to do with it is purely personal; there are no “etiquette” guidelines about which one should be aware. Some people continue to wear it, some switch it to the right hand, some take it off, some put it on a chain to hang around their necks, etc. I’ll decide, one day, what to do. There is no rush. There is no time too soon or too late to worry about. So I won’t. I just hope the swelling of my fingers self-corrects very soon.

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I have not been to the recycling center in far too long. My recycling bins and bags are full to overflowing. I may go today. Or maybe not. Whether today or next week, I must do it soon. Otherwise, bags of recyclables will begin to fill my garage. And the time will come that I’ll have to decide what to do with my wife’s clothes, etc. There’s no rush on that, though. I will not simply discard them. Some of her clothes might well be in demand at resale shops. But maybe not now, not in the time of COVID. Do those stores get any traffic these days? Probably not much. We shall see.

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I just had the strangest urge. I felt like having a shot of bourbon. It’s 6:40 a.m. It is most definitely not the time to have a shot of bourbon. But that urge was strong. I’ve never had a shot of bourbon (or any other alcoholic drink) this early; except once when I caught an early flight from Chicago to Houston. It was probably about 1983; I was on the way home from a conference with several workmates. We each ordered a Bloody Mary in celebration of a successful conference. And then another. And another. Now that I’m thinking of that flight, a Blood Mary sounds even more appealing than a shot of bourbon. Neither should sound appealing this early. I think I’ll let this urge pass.

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Years ago, before we moved to Hot Springs Village, my wife and I talked about taking a year or so to travel. The idea was to get an RV and just go. Though we ultimately abandoned the idea, before we did we went looking. I found one I really, really wanted: a wonderfully compact Roadtrek van-based RV. I don’t recall the specific model. My wife, though, said “we wouldn’t last a week together in that.” There just wasn’t anyplace for privacy, which we both needed but she needed more. I checked the 2021 models and found one I think I would like: the 2021 Play, offered at a price of only $104,986. Hell, at that price I should just go ahead and buy two. Right. I don’t think RVing is in my future, after all.

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I’ve quenched my thirst for alcohol. I had some tonic water, instead. No gin at this hour. For some reason, I absolutely love the taste of tonic water, especially diet tonic water. Diet tonic is not always easy to find, though. So I occasionally buy regular tonic, usually Schweppe‘s or Canada Dry or, if at Walmart, Great Value.  But non-diet stuff has about 390 calories per bottle. I can drink a bottle at one sitting. Almost. The diet version may have various highly toxic poisons in it, but they are deeply satisfying highly toxic poisons, so I will continue to partake of them.

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My sister in law just texted me that she is on the way over for our morning coffee and Words with Friends fest. I have wasted a perfectly good hour or so writing when I could have showered and shaved. Oh, well. There will be time for that later. For now, I will laugh at the last day of a miserable, nasty, no-good year. And I will put black-eyed peas on my shopping list, because I do not have any…I thought I did!

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Early in the Mourning

They remain unfinished lyrics to what was shaping up to be a country-western song. The working title, “Early in the Mourning,” emerged from my mind as I pondered how long I might feel the combination of sorrow, guilt, and myriad other emotions enveloping me. Initially, as I mused about whether this turbulent storm of emotions might ever end, the title seemed appropriate for an essay. But as I thought more about it, and slipped deeper into a depressed mood, the more it sounded to me like the shrapnel of discarded song lyrics. I find myself attracted to lyrics that tell a story, even maudlin lyrics bathed in self-pity. I think that’s the appeal of country-western music; it is story-telling to a catchy tune. The elusive catchy tune, though, can make or break an otherwise decent set of lyrics—in my opinion. There’s the rub. If my opinion amounted to anything of substance, I might be a country-western music promoter. “Promoter.” The word reeks of rotted capitalism, doesn’t it? Well, yes, I believe it does. Music promoters work to mold products around public desire. But that’s an unfair description to pin on people whose only sins relate to making a living off meeting the public’s demand for poetry accompanied by a tune.

Here is the first verse of the unfinished song:

When I woke up early in the mourning,
my eyes were salted shut.
My tears had flowed and left a solid track.
I tried and tried to dry them,
but they just kept right on flowing;
‘Cause I knew that you were never coming back.

There was more, but I decided audiences might overlook the clever wordplay. And I couldn’t stem the flow of salt. Maybe I’ll come back to this later. Maybe not. I started another piece long ago but abandoned it when I decided it was going nowhere. It was called “Bad Poetry.” It started out like this:

Bad poetry smothers empathy with a pillow of ill-formed phrases.
Bad poetry digests the imagination the way a snake eats a rat.
Bad poetry causes people to drown tires and slash kittens.

It didn’t even begin to fit into a musical pattern. There are ample reasons I am not living in Nashville, turning down recording contracts right and left.

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Yesterday, I attempted to reach an attorney to discuss various matters about which I thought I might need professional advice. I haven’t received a return call yet. I suspect the lack of a return call might have something to do with the fact that 85% of the American public is taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The 85% figure is a figment of my overactive imagination. But, still. I remember my years of owning a business; the only time I could get away was that one week period, when I closed the business for the duration. It was an easy decision. None of my clients were active during that week. In fact, none were reachable. I could have used the week to get caught up. Instead, I used the week to breathe. And my staff were forced to take one of their two weeks of paid vacation time during that period. I required them to breathe, as well. In hindsight, I probably should have given them two weeks of vacation in addition to the forced one-week respite. And I would have done so, if not for the demands of my clients. If I had it all to do over again, I would do things differently. Not just work, either. I would be a better person all the way around. Now that it’s too late, it’s easy to promise it all would have been different.  I have no idea why this paragraph found its way onto the screen. I think my fingers sprung a leak.

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Yesterday (or was it the day before?), I spoke to a woman I once considered a good friend. I had not spoken to her in a very long time. Her Chicago/Midwest accent was startling to me, despite the fact that it had not changed since I knew her. Something about it, though, was disturbing. Or maybe it wasn’t the accent as much as it was her demeanor; an air of patronizing superiority. The accent was the same, but the attitude seemed very different. I doubt she changed, though. I think, instead, I have become more attuned to how very grating it has always been. I kept hearing her say “you should…” do such and such, as if she had answers that someone of my lowly station could not possibly find on my own. Though I was polite, I could not get off the phone quickly enough. I ended the phone call with “I wish you all the best.” I hope that conveyed the message I intended to convey; that the conversation was the last one I plan to have with her.

Ach. I want to live according to this philosophy: “Everyone you meet is facing a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” But I fail to live my wishes. Who knows what she might have been dealing with? At the time, it did not enter my mind; I simply wanted to close a chapter. It’s not enough to want to be good. If I do not behave the way I claim to want to be, I am at minimum a hypocrite.

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Some days, and this is shaping up to be one of them, I would like nothing better than to curl up in bed and sleep until dark. But that is not going to happen. So, I might as well continue sliding into the day.

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Obsessively Avoiding Obsessions

There’s plenty to be done, but I don’t seem capable of motivating myself to do it. Finally, when I woke up this morning, I put a load of sheets in the washer, a full week after I should have done it. Whether I clean and polish the stove top remains to be seen. Ditto the kitchen counter. At least I’ve kept the bathrooms reasonably clean and sanitary.

When the sun rises, the dust on the hardwood floors will be so obvious that I might be moved to vacuum. But it was obvious yesterday and the day before. I was moved only to use the mini-vac to pick up the more intrusive bits and pieces. And these are only the normal housekeeping matters. Filing paperwork and shredding paper with identifying information remains to be done, along with dozens of other minor, easily doable chores. And the windows are in dire need of cleaning, inside and out when the weather cooperates.  I can hire someone to do that chore, if I get around to it. I’ve never been good at eliminating streaks; windows often look worse after I tackle them than they did before.

I did manage to get to the Post Office again yesterday, where I extracted a bill and several pieces of junk mail from the P.O. box. And I bought gas for the Subaru. So I’m not entirely consumed by slovenliness. A very kind friend generously took the time to scheduled the Subaru for service on my behalf. But I decided yesterday to put it off again for various indefensible reasons. I really could use an injection of energy. Sweet treats won’t do it. I’ve had more than my share of cookies and other such sugar-laden goodies.

It’s not that I’m incapable of coping in a time of sadness. I think I have that under reasonable control most of the time, so I can’t blame grief. I’m just deeply lethargic. I’m retiring early and getting more hours in bed than normal, by a fair amount. I’m not necessarily sleeping all those hours, but at least I’m resting. Now that I think of it, though, maybe I’m spending too many hours in bed. Last night, I was in bed by nine. I got up at five. I was awake between one and three, off and on, but I was in bed for eight hours, which is considerably more than normal for me. I may be thinking my way to a solution for this lazy attitude of mine. Stay awake later and get up earlier. I’ll try that.

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I read a few minutes ago that a strong (6.3 magnitude) earthquake struck central Croatia not long ago. A 5.2 magnitude struck yesterday. News reports say the quake was felt throughout the country and in neighboring Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. My wife and I traveled to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, along with Montenegro and Slovenia, last year. We spent time in Zagreb while we were in Croatia. I was sorry to read that the earthquake apparently caused widespread damage, though I’ve seen no information about deaths or injuries.

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In other reading this morning, I came across an Italian dish that supposedly is among the favorites in the country: cacio e pepe. It consists of three ingredients: goat’s milk cheese (Pecorino, ideally, according to BBC.com), black pepper, and pasta (including lots of starch-infused pasta water). It is said to be very difficult to perfect, but spectacular when perfected. I should avoid pasta if I want to fit in my clothes much longer. Dammit.

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Yesterday, while sitting at my computer doing nothing productive, I stumbled across a record of every meal and snack I ate during a nine-week period at the beginning of 2017. I recorded not only every meal and snack, but the approximate number of calories in each, based on the calories in the ingredients. My records were maintained in excruciating detail (for example, a lunch consisting of 1 can kipper snacks; 1 medium tomato; 1 zucchini; 1 jalapeño; and a glass of water, for a total of 226 calories). It appears my plan was to limit my caloric intake to 1,300 calories per day, maximum, with a target of 1,000 calories. My records reveal that I maintained my targets or, at least, my maximum almost the entire 9-week period, with a few notable exceptions when I hit a high of 4,000 calories one day and 1,600-1,700 a few others.

Though I had to prompt myself to remember that endeavor, after I started thinking about it, it all came back to me. I remember the process being interesting to me. It was not terribly difficult to stick to my plan, either. Of course, after 9 weeks I have no idea what I did; I could have started consuming multi-thousand calorie meals. I doubt that I did, but I just do not recall. I think I’ll consider doing something like that again, just to kick-start a healthier food-intake-lifestyle. I do not want to diet. I want to change the way I think about food. I want to look at eating as an attractive challenge: make meals that have the tastes and textures I love but that keep calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and processed ingredients to a minimum. I refuse to become obsessive about it, but I think a Mediterranean food lifestyle makes good sense; based on much of what I’ve read about it.

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My shoulders and neck seem to be slowly recovering from the strains I have felt during the past several months. I still feel like my shoulders hide steel cables beneath the skin sometimes, but the cables are loosening, bit by bit. I may yet treat myself to a massage, but not until I have a better sense of how I will need to structure my financial life; that’s a slow process. When I have a handle on that, though, I may put an N-95 mask on and visit a masseuse, assuming I can find an N-95 mask that’s not needed by healthcare workers. I may have to wait for a while.

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Whenever I have seen a photo of my wife the last several days, which has been frequent because I have been searching for them on my phone and my computer, I have been overwhelmed by grief. The emotion actually feels like a powerful wave is sweeping over me and I have to fight to stay vertical. I know it will not last, but I’m not sure I want the sensation to fade. Somehow it makes me feel more closely connected to  her. Sadness or grief or whatever combination it is seems both punitive and palliative. I am not sufficiently clear in my thinking or feeling to know just what takes place in my emotional center. It’s a little like a slow-motion tornado, I think; as if I know what a slow-motion tornado would be like.

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I want more coffee. Actually, I want a double espresso. I will settle for another cup of coffee.

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The Maritimes and More

Last night I awoke from a clouded memory—it was not a dream—and I wanted to ask my wife a question to help me clarify it. When I became sufficiently conscious to realize I would never again be able to ask her a question, I felt a sensation somewhere between terror and excruciating physical pain. The memory was not especially important, but the subsequent awareness of perpetual separation tormented me; it still does, several hours later. I wonder whether that sensation will ever fade?

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Yesterday afternoon, I invited a friend to come for a visit. During the time we sat and talked, we covered a variety of topics. Naturally, I suppose, many of the topics concerned my wife’s death and how I am dealing with it. I think I am dealing with it pretty well, though on occasion I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and grief.

I heard an interview on the radio a few days ago in which the person being interviewed spoke of grief having only, I think, two stages (not the five stages copied from Elisabeth Kübler Ross’s seven stages of dying). If I recall correctly, she said grief consists of the intense sadness and pain of loss (stage 1) and the never-ending evolution of recovery from that sadness and pain (stage 2).  I guess that answers my question.

The visit was cathartic. I think I needed, or at least wanted, to talk about the emotional turmoil that seems to surge through me in waves. Although I do not think I know any more now than before, I feel a little less compressed; as if a relief valve was turned, emptying a bit of pressure.

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I spent some time last night reading about Newfoundland; its climate, its cultural and social environments, and how one approaches becoming a resident. Having never been there, I suspect my interest is more of a fantasy than an actionable curiosity, but one never knows. It is most definitely an active fantasy, though. Before I would do anything rash, I would force myself to peel away the romantic images that dwell in my mind, requiring me to look at the place and its people with ample skepticism. I would insist on understanding more about it than the magical sketches I have allowed myself to paint in my mind’s eye.

My dreams of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and various other places in the Canadian Maritimes are just that: dreams. They are not new. I guess Newfoundland is not part of the Maritimes. It doesn’t matter. My dreams of the Maritimes and environs have been resting comfortably in the back of my mind for decades, along with fantasies about other places in which I imagine living a contradictory life, one of isolation in the midst of the powerful embrace of loving community. It’s a fantasy. A dream. An imaginary place that quite possibly does not exist. Somewhere in my fantasy world there exists a co-housing community that offers privacy, intimacy, community, and a passionate connection with nature. A place with rugged, rocky beaches and magnificent cliffs under constant attack by fierce waves. I envision a place where only pleasant memories are allowed; where painful recollections are kept at bay. It’s all make-believe, of course, but it’s a place I fervently seek, nonetheless.

But would I be satisfied to be alone in Newfoundland? Or anywhere else, for that matter? It’s far too early to even think about such things, but I cannot help it. Even though I’ve spent more than five months living alone in my house, while my wife was in hospital and rehab facilities, I’m not entirely used to it. And I am not sure I am suited for it for the long term, even though I love my isolation and my solitude. It’s hard for me to understand myself; how can I be so private and so comfortable with my own company, yet so susceptible to loneliness? I should not allow myself to even think this way.

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As I am wont to do from time to time, this morning I explored what I wrote a few years in the past. Among the words I recorded on December 29, 2017 (I did not post the day before) were these involving a character I created, Kolbjørn Landvik:

He and I share many attributes, which is natural inasmuch as we are the same person, just in different times and in different places. He and I absolutely love the taste of pickled herring. And we love feeling the salt spray on our face as we sail into the cold wind in search of good fishing spots and ourselves.

Kolbjørn Landvik and I share another attribute. We’re both enamored of the French phrase, “le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle,” and its English translation, “the game is not worth the candle.” Something about the phrase causes tears to well up in our eyes. Hearing or reading the phrase causes the deep sadness sleeping in our chests to rise from its slumber and overtake our consciousness. We weep, Kolbjørn and I, and we struggle to understand why it seems at times that we, alone, grieve for the world we wish for, the world that never was but should have been.

I’ve written and plagiarized myself enough to call it a morning, for now. The clock is racing toward 6:45 and my coffee cup is empty except for the gritty wash at the bottom. Time for more.

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More Thought-Skipping

Yesterday, a friend stopped by with some little gifts and a massive amount of solace and comfort. During our masked conversation, she mentioned a friend’s description of emotions at the loss of a loved one as something like shocked disbelief. That sounds familiar. That, and endless emptiness.

But, for me, it is not like that all the time. Those unwelcome waves—sadness and loss and vacancy that continue a week into the experience—come and go. Most of the time, I am fine. Except for those grief storms that attempt to uproot my sanity and send it flying in powerful gusts of raging sadness, most of my time is relatively peaceful.

It is odd, though; those periods of peace and calm usually end with feelings of guilt that I have allowed myself a respite from the pain. I begin to think I should not permit anything but darkness to invade my mind. I understand the guilt probably is a natural but unnecessary reaction to circumstance, on the one hand, but on the other hand it seems an insufficient price to pay for an unearned sense, however long, of solace.

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Yesterday, I napped early after a night of inadequate sleep. But it seems the two hour nap was insufficient. Later in the day, while playing Words with Friends with my sister-in-law, I found myself nodding. A lot. Later, I think around 4, I sat in a recliner and promptly fell asleep for two more hours. When I woke, I heated leftover  minestrone soup; it was exactly what I needed to fuel me through two episodes of the English language version of Hinterland, originally a Welsh language police detective drama series. The original title of the series is Y Gwyll (Welsh for “The Dusk”). I am enjoying it immensely, though I think it would be cool to see the original Welsh version with subtitles.

After two episodes, though, I could no longer keep my eyes open. I went to bed and fell fast asleep. And then returned to my regular cycles of waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, etc. The most recent cycle ended at 5 this morning, when I got up, folded and put away a load of clothes I had left in the dryer, added another load to the washer, made coffee, and made my way to the keyboard.

The letters have worn off several keys on my keyboard. Missing entirely are: a, s, d, o, and l. Barely visible are c and e. The left shift key, as well as the key once known as a, is badly scarred from repeated pounding by the fingernail on the little finger of my left hand. The blank l key, too, has been damaged by the nail of the finger next to the little finger on my right hand. As I tried to name that finger (instead of saying “the finger next to the little finger”), I wondered whether each finger has a unique name? We know what to call the thumb and the little finger, but are there other names? And are thumb and little finger really the best names for those digits? I suspect medicine has names, not only for the bones of those fingers, but for the fingers themselves. Even if the names are code, like L meta2 or R3, I suspect. Phalanges could be used, but if I remember correctly there are three phalanges in each finger (are toes also phalanges?), so the codes would have to incorporate all the phalanges in a given finger.  This is oddly of interest to me, but not sufficiently riveting to merit stopping what I am doing to explore and find an answer. Sometimes my interests are so shallow I would barely get wet if I immersed myself in them. But, then, even my deepest interests often summon only cursory exploration; I am the inverse of a Renaissance man. I’ll have to see if I can find an antonym for the term. Actually, I may be a Renaissance man wannabe; I’d like to have deep interest in and knowledge about an enormous array of subjects, but I don’t have the discipline or the capacity. I’ve said it before: “I know so very little about so very much.” There, now I’ve said it again.

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A local guy who’s much more of a Renaissance man than I could ever hope to be has made it one of his missions in life to visit the oldest bar in every state. I admire the dedication it takes to tackle such a challenging endeavor. I should identify such a goal for myself. I have no idea what it might be, though.

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I remember a time when I would sit outdoors, smoking a cigar and drinking from a snifter of brandy or a glass of Scotch. I very rarely smoked cigars; they were not necessarily for special occasions but for special or unusual moods, I think. I smoked cigars in celebration of life and happiness and free will and hope for the future. I doubt I would ever become addicted.

I rarely, if ever, intentionally inhaled cigar smoke. It is too harsh to comfortably take in an entire breath of smoke. But the taste in my mouth, smoky smooth vanilla and an indescribable earthiness, was delightful.

My wife loathed the smell of cigars, so I made a point of smoking them only when the smoke would not bother her. That has been years ago. I stopped smoking in 2004 and I suspect my last cigar would have been a year or two before that.

Would it be possible, I wonder, to get those celebratory moods back? Instead of celebrating by smoking a cigar, would smoking a cigar bring back the appreciation of life and happiness and free will and hope for the future?  I’ll have to think about that. It may be madness that it’s even entered my mind, but there you have it.

I equate cigar smoke with incense. Neither are meant to fill the lungs, only to tease the nostrils with pleasant aromas that somehow bring about a sense of comfort and peace. The other night, after dining with neighbors, the male of the pair lit a cone of incense and put it inside a German hand-carved wooden Santa Claus incense diffuser. I think that’s what made me think of cigars.

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It’s almost 7:30 and I haven’t showered or shaved or gotten dressed yet. But I have washed another load of clothes and finished two cups of coffee. For the umpteenth morning in a row, I have a strong hankering for a double espresso. Unfortunately, I have neither the appropriate coffee beans nor an espresso maker suited to the task. I have an espresso maker I bought when we lived in Chicago, more than thirty years ago. It never made the best espresso, but it made a pretty damn good cup when I used the coffee my Italian friend gave me. He had family in Montreal who he visited from time to time. When he did, he bought vacuum-packed bricks of super-finely-ground imported Italian coffee. Once, he brought a couple of bricks to me. That espresso was, by far, the best I ever made in my little Braun or Krups or whatever brand espresso maker. I never made cappuccino with that machine, but it has a milk steamer attachment. Once, there was a little stainless steel milk container for use with the steamer attachment, but the little container is long gone, I think. But I should try it again. And I should get back to getting showered and getting dressed. First, though, I am going to sneak out to the Post Office in my sweats and, probably, my flip flops. No one else would be at the Post Office picking up mail at this hour on a Sunday morning, would they? I’ll soon see.

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Wasted

Every two hours, like clockwork, I awaken. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been going to bed early that sets the mental alarm clock: 11:30, 1:30, 3:30. By 3:30, it’s almost pointless to go back to bed, because I know I’ll be up even before the next biological alarm goes off. But I try, only to hear the “beep, beep, beep” of a garbage truck backing up about an hour later. I get up to explore what is making the sound in the middle of the night. I look out the window to see a large cargo plane being pushed, backward toward me, by a compact truck. I am confused by seeing the plane and the tarmac outside my window. The confusion is interrupted when my arm gets caught in the sheet. The sound and the plane and the tarmac were elements of a dream that had no other components. I have no explanation for that dream. So I ignore it and get up. The clock says 4:13. I am up for the duration.

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If I close my eyes now, I think I will fall asleep at the desk. Though I’ve been getting sleep every night for the past week, sleep has come in packets of varying length, mostly shorter than I’d like. I’ve gone through almost two cups of coffee so far, which have enabled me to stay awake long enough to read and watch BBC.com and to read a few Aljazeera pieces. I’ve read the latest on the Nashville RV bomb, despite wanting to avoid knowing what happened. It’s almost 6:00 now and I don’t think I can keep my eyes open another minute. Time for a break or a nap or a lengthy sleep.

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I decided to take an early morning nap. I was awakened by the telephone nearly two hours later, around 7:45; my sister-in-law called to check on me because I hadn’t responded to her text message. It’s just after 8 now, and she’s on her way over. I will have another cup of coffee and attempt to restart the day. This is a completely new experience, waking to brilliant sun.  It’s like I have wasted half the day.

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About My Wife

I want people to know who my wife was, the brilliant woman whose intellect was far superior to mine but who sometimes concealed her superiority, to the extent she could, so I would not appear so obviously dim by comparison. I want people to know a little more about the extremely private woman who simply refused to have her inner-most thoughts dragged out of her, unlike her husband who randomly and wantonly opens up to strangers who stumbled across this blog. But I have to think long and hard about what I should or can reveal about the woman I’ve loved for so long. She valued her privacy, keeping many of her feelings and opinions and emotions and beliefs locked in a vault to which very, very few were given access. I respect her decisions to keep much of herself hidden.

The trappings of prestige meant nothing to her. Though she earned a Ph.D., she never flaunted it. It was extremely rare for her to mention she was a licensed psychologist or that she had an undergraduate degree in mathematics. Those educational credentials, in part, led her to gravitate toward research psychology, psychometrics, and statistics, areas in which she excelled. Those accomplishments did not define her; she would not let them.

Unlike so many people who define themselves by their professional roles, my wife refused to allow her value to be equated with her job. And she was not too proud to do work outside her “professional sphere” when necessary or appropriate. Years ago, not long after she was hired to do research into white collar productivity, the organization that hired her suddenly disbanded the entire department. My wife was quite particular about the kind of psychological research she wanted to do, which was quite specialized and limited in availability. So, instead of despairing of the absence of jobs locally in her field, she quickly learned a new field: geophysical mapping or coding or something like it; I could never quite understand it.  Then, a few years later, when I encouraged her to return to her first professional love, she found a job in Chicago. I followed her there when I found a job a few months later. She enjoyed that work, conducting research into correlations between measured aptitudes and job satisfaction and performance. But she readily followed me a few years later when I found a position that, after roughly a year in New York, took me back to Texas.

Later, when I formed a management company, she willingly took on the financial management role for both the company and our client organizations. The business was a team effort; it would not have survived without her dedication and long, long hours.

During all this “professional” time, though, she made a point of living a life separate from work whenever possible. We enjoyed weekend jaunts, day trips, film, theater, and cooking, among other joint endeavors. And she carved out time for herself, too. She was a voracious reader, wading through enormous volumes of books, from classics to thrillers and mysteries, especially mysteries with female protagonists. She watched television, allowing herself to get enmeshed in PBS Masterpiece Theatre series and foreign films while simultaneously watching “reality” shows that I found silly and wasteful of her intellect. She did not care a whit whether I approved of her television tastes. She was not one to be moved by the trappings of intellectual snobbery nor was she willing to be shamed by judgments based on that snobbery.  She was a real person, her own person; unmoved by the artifice of social convention.

This fiercely private woman was my foundation and my anchor for more than forty years. I cannot imagine how I will get by without her, but somehow I must. I wrote a poem, five years ago, that attempted to describe what we were together. I called it Armature.

Armature

You and I have lived this life for an eternity,
detritus of our dashed dreams serving as bricks
and the two of us as mortar, cobbling together
this fragile, monumental tower where we reside.

We have scuffed our emotions against sharp
sentimental objects so many times they have
shredded into strings like worn cotton,
as soft and ephemeral as clouds.

The scowls and snarls of daily battles
between us have become so comfortable
I know I could not live without them and
the easy fit between us they concede.

I would not last an instant without them or you,
sitting in your study behind a closed door, book in hand,
exploring fantasies and frustrations, by proxy, of writers
who know you without ever having met you.

I would crumple into the useless hulk I have always been
were you not there to inflate my emptiness into a
figure in which you somehow find substance,
a man only you, in your wisdom and courage, could love.

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Good People Abound

Life-altering decisions may be best made during periods of relative serenity. I have heard and read that suggestion many times, and not just recently. The advice is probably sound, so I will plan to heed it unless circumstances forcefully argue otherwise.  That having been said, I’ve been bouncing around, mostly alone, in a fairly large house for upward of five months. I am comfortable in the house and I love the view, but it was a lot of house for my wife and me. It’s even more house for me, alone. The idea of selling the house, though, brings up other matters that surround such a potential change. Do I want to trade in a large house for a smaller one in a blood red pocket of America where I’ve lived for almost seven years? Or might selling the house present an opportunity to look elsewhere for a place where my political and social views are not so out of step with the mainstream?

Aside from the political and social isolation (though, to acknowledge reality, I gratefully am part of an even smaller pocket of progressive thinking and friendly people in my church), I am spatially distant from my remaining family. That said, though, they are scattered all around…Mexico to California to Texas to Ohio. Perhaps I should consider an even more radical change, like heading out to our original first-choice of places to which we might have relocated: Oregon. Or another pipedream I’ve harbored for years: the northeast or, even more distant, the Canadian Maritimes. I do not know whether it would even be possible for me to move to Canada; I think the restrictions may be too great. Even more radical, but possibly doable, would be Scandinavia. The idea of living in a place where the concept of social responsibility is engrained in one’s mind is appealing.

I think I may be engaged in escapist fantasy; trying to erase or dull the reality of the present by dreaming about the future. I do not have sufficient financial resources to pursue several of the ideas rattling around in my head. And I probably do not have the courage, either. Yet is it courage that’s required to make such significant changes, or it is fear; fear that one cannot long tolerate unwelcome, externally imposed change? That question merits long, honest, and deep consideration. All these questions in my head warrant such examination.

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I just watched a video I recorded in July 2011, announcing the decision my wife and I made to “at least temporarily” shutter our business. I attempted to be funny in the announcement but I think I failed. I made some statements in the video about our plans that never came to fruition (growing enormous vegetable gardens, taking many long road trips, etc.).  The image of  me in that video seems, now, to be a much younger man. And I guess I was; about nine years younger. I think, perhaps, I should pay heed to that video and attempt to follow the plan I laid out.

+++

I just watched another video, this one about the world’s first happiness museum. An analyst with the Happiness Research Institute defines happiness as having three components: life evaluation (how satisfied is one with the course of her life); daily emotional experience, also known as affective happiness; and life meaning, our our sense of purpose.  Another reason to consider Copenhagen and environs as my next home.

+++

Yesterday, I was visited by a woman from church, who brought me a jar full of soup ingredients (along with instructions for making the soup), a table of contents for a church member/friend soup recipe book, and some other goodies. That sort of thing, the genuine goodness of such people who plan and execute such programs, gives me reason to look at where I am as a safe harbor. A neighbor also came by with a bag full of goodies. I spent about fifteen minutes on the phone with the minister of the church, a truly good and caring man who helps make the church the appealing entity it is. And I spoke to a friend by phone last night; he offered to travel to any Flying Saucer I choose, after the pandemic, to attend my “plate” party (I’ll write about this again one day, to explain). Good people abound.

 

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Different Times

As I went about my usual Wednesday morning routine—showering, shaving, preparing trash to take to the curb for pickup, making my first cup of coffee, etc., etc.—it occurred to me that this Wednesday is no different that most Wednesdays. Except my wife is no longer here. Yet that has been true for most Wednesdays, most days of every week, since July 15. I adjusted my routines to account for my wife’s hospitalizations and her times in rehab facilities. During the times I was able to visit, my routine included a trip to visit with her. When she was in isolation due to COVID-19, I spoke to her by phone, or tried to, and/or visited through a window when I could.

So this Wednesday is very different from past Wednesdays. And the past five months were radical departures from virtually all the months that preceded them. Every day going forward will be dramatically different; my life has changed in ways beyond my comprehension. My wife’s death last Saturday launched the remainder of my life in a direction I do not yet understand and do not want to. But I have no choice. At some point, I will have to come to grips with my new reality. That point is not here yet, though. I am unable to think of the future. It has been only three days. Three of the longest days, I think, I have ever experienced.

Several times each day, I catch myself wanting to tell my wife something. It’s natural; it’s to be expected. I can no longer make a mental note to mention something to my wife; at least I can no longer act on that mental note. I know that. And I know that desire to say something to her will diminish over time. Though I’ve never before lost a spouse, I’ve lost a sibling; I recall the experience. This, though, is different. And I know that, too. I just don’t yet know how the differences will affect me.

My ruminations sound so clinical, as if they are devoid of emotion. They are not. I am just thinking about how my life has changed. The most important person in my life, the irreplaceable anchor and guide, is gone. Millions, billions, of people have experienced what I am experiencing, but this experience is unique to me. I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

+++

Friends and neighbors continue to express their condolences and their concern in many ways. Notes, messages, telephone conversations, and properly distanced and masked doorway visits have shown me the compassion that resides in so many people. A friend from church delivered a marvelous, comforting, and nutritious dinner last night, with enough for another meal as well. A neighbor I know only in passing, a woman who used to play cards with my wife, brought a dish of sliced cinnamon cake. Oh, I failed to mention before that I have two nice servings of lasagna in my freezer, courtesy of another friend who, day before yesterday, also brought cheese cookies. I am in no danger of starving.

+++

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. My family’s tradition has always been to enjoy tamales and chile con queso on Christmas Eve. The best tamales, in my memory, are those made in the kitchens of Mexican and Mexican-American families. The tamale-making process is overseen by little old Mexican grandmothers (who, now, are probably considerably younger than I am). They teach the proper ways to make the masa, prepare the corn husks, slowly cook and shred the spiced meat (pork is best, in my view). Then, they demonstrate the proper techniques for smearing the masa onto the corn husks, ladling and spreading the meat filling, and folding the tamales. Sadly, I did not go out in search of homemade tamales. I could buy manufactured tamales, I suppose, but they are not the same as crafted tamales. Tamales made with love and skill and a deep appreciation of the culture from which they emerged.

Oh, well. I have some of the makings of tamales. All I have to do is buy the rest. And make my own. Maybe another time. I’m not in the mood right now. But maybe I’ll stop at the sign on Highway 7; the sign that offers tamales for sale for $20 a dozen (extremely expensive, in my opinion). Or maybe I’ll delay. Who knows? I don’t.

 

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The Shortest Day of the Longest Year

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of arguably the longest year. This year has been a monstrous beast, intent on testing humanity’s resolve to survive. I thought 2019 was a bit tough, beginning as it did with my chemo and radiation treatment following my November 2018 lung cancer surgery. But that year improved as time crept by; in hindsight, time sped by like a bullet, but it felt slow and laborious for awhile. This year, though, started slow and ugly and seemed to get worse with every passing moment. My wife’s weakness got worse and worse and, finally, her fall in mid-July triggered an awful degradation. This longest year is ending with a sense of crushing defeat and ruin. I know it will get better, with time.

I’ve contemplated time so many times on this blog. Even recently, I’ve mused about the seemingly molasses-like speed of time in youth and the blazing speed of time in latter years. But time has both crept and sped by this year, in fits and starts. Now, I wish I could accelerate time so it could hasten the softening of the pain of loss.

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It took almost all day, but around 4 pm I finally showered and shaved, just in time to don my evening apparel of sweatshirt and sweats. I spent my time until darkness fell sitting outside on the deck, sipping a Dogfish Head 90, a first-rate imperial IPA. I thank my sister-in-law for giving me the beer.

Bleached orange and brown streaks, accented by pale pink and white wisps of clouds against a darkening sky made for a peaceful sunset. While I love arrays of brilliant orange and red and purple and blue and black—swirling and stretching in stunning layers—yesterday’s more placid display better suited my mood. I watched until all the light in the sky disappeared, replaced by darkness. Some days, light from the setting sun seems to last for a very long time. Yesterday, though, it disappeared quickly, as if an opaque curtain hid the dim glow of the sun below the horizon.

I had eaten more for lunch than normal and snacked on cheese cookies a friend dropped off (and who gave me a much-needed hug), so I opted to snack for dinner. Almost an entire bag of corn chips and a jar of Pace Picante Sauce disappeared while I was watching the final episode of Mindhunters. That last episode was a disappointment in some respects; but it disappointed not in execution but in the reality reflected by the events upon which the series was based.

Someone I knew from my business in Dallas called and later stopped by with muffins and a couple of books, one of which she had written. The books are based on Christian philosophies. I was grateful for the thoughts that prompted her and her husband, who I also knew from my business, to stop by to offer condolences and support.

Another friend stopped by to give me some goodies and a much-appreciated hug. I haven’t had many hugs during the past five months. I appreciate them, both getting and giving. That’s such an enormous change in me. Until just a few short years ago, hugging and being hugged felt awkward to me. Now, I thrive on them. People change, long after change is expected.

Yesterday’s errands included returning a borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet and going to the post office to mail a check to the crematorium. I could have handled the crematorium matters online, including credit card payment, but my wife would have been disappointed in me if I had agreed to pay a $28 “convenience fee” for the privilege of paying by credit card. I asked whether they would accept a check; the response was that credit cards were the preferred method of payment, but they would accept a check. So I paid by check; my wife would have been proud of my principled frugality.

After the post office, I sat in line at the car wash. When I had finally gone through the high-pressure spray and soap-soaked brushes, the exterior of the car was moderately cleaner, though the back window needed, and still needs, to receive special care.

+++

As I read what I’ve just written, I realize I am thinking and writing in something like circular reverse order. I suppose that is how my mind is functioning at the moment. I told my wife’s sister this morning that my wife would have been proud of something else I did, aside from refuse to pay the credit card “convenience fee,” but I don’t recall what it was that would have made her proud. I need to write those things down so I will not forget them. The idea that I could possibly forget anything about her or about us is upsetting.

+++

My family and friends, both face-to-face and virtual, are scattered around North America and, indeed, the world. I am so grateful for their expressions of condolence and support. I hope I will say it enough, at the right times, and to the right people, so that they all really understand how important their words are to me.

+++

I just got a notice that my groceries are ready for pickup. So, off I go.

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After

All the sincere expressions of sympathy and messages of love and support I have received since my wife’s death have been immensely helpful and heartwarming. I plan to respond to every one—and I will—but I do not have the energy to do justice to how grateful I feel for each and every message. Comments here—responding to yesterday’s short message—along with emails, text messages, Facebook comments, etc. reinforce my sense that I am surrounded by good, loving people. But beyond that, the knowledge that my wife, a very private person who kept so much to herself, meant so much to so many emphasizes her impact on the world in which she lived.  To all who reached out and who read these words, thank you from the bottom of my heart. On day, and I hope it will be soon, I will have the strength to connect directly and express my appreciation personally.

+++

I spent the day yesterday inside my house. I wanted to feel the sunlight I could see from my windows and I wanted to experience the crisp air, but the idea of enjoying it for even a moment so soon after the death of my wife felt utterly wrong. The gloom of the previous day, with its thick fog and grey skies and constant drizzle, seemed more appropriate to the circumstance.

As if the weather somehow reflects our emotions. As if the texture of each day should somehow mirror the texture of our moods. As if the entire universe should somehow echo the chaos in the tiny space surrounding our brains.

We sometimes give ourselves more control and more credit than we are due. How many hundreds of billions of times has the universe proven that the world goes on without us? As important as we are to microscopic clusters of those like us in our “nanospheres” (I borrowed and adapted the term), the universe constantly and consistently disproves the butterfly effect, in spite of my multiple arguments in support of and to the contrary over the years. We’re too small and the universe is too big for any one component to have an impact on the entirety. But because we understand only the part we can conceive of, the butterfly effect is absolutely true in our experience. In my house yesterday, I controlled the weather; it was a gloomy, dreary, foggy day. I provided the rain and the mist.

I did not sleep well the night before and by mid-day the lack of sleep was getting to me. But I managed to call two of my wife’s high school friends to give them the news. I’d met both of them in years past and knew how close my wife had been to them, even though they rarely communicated any longer. Friends from church came by with food for my dinner (which I discovered later was a wonderful sausage-and-tomato-based soup). The morning telephone experiences drained me, so some time after noon I relaxed in my recliner to nap, where I slipped into a reasonably restful sleep for two or three hours.

My sister-in-law, who had come by for coffee early in the day, came by again in the afternoon. We chatted, played Words with Friends, and tried to emerge from the rain and mist I had created in the house.

+++

I tried to watch another episode of Mindhunter last night, but promptly fell asleep. I find the series quite interesting, but mental fatigue seems to hold sway over interest.  A half glass of wine could have contributed to my drifting off so early, but generally a half glass of wine only encourages me to finish the glass and pour more. Not last night. At 10:30, I awoke and put a half glass of wine in the refrigerator. Perhaps I’ll try wine for breakfast. Probably not, though.

Predictably, I awoke last night around 3:00 with a need to pee. Fortunately, the dream that preceded the waking did not have enough of an impact to ruin the night. My wife and I had parked in front of a small meeting venue on the waterfront. I wanted to look at the place; my wife opted to stay in the car. When I went inside, a woman asked if she could help me and I said I wanted to see the meeting rooms. She showed me two meeting rooms, both with a wall of windows on the waterside. I asked for rental prices. She pointed to five artificial trees in pots in one room and told me the cost was one hundred dollars per tree to rent the room. In the other room, there were six small trees in pots; the cost to rent the room was fifty dollars per tree, which translated to $300 for the room. I told her I would think about it. She asked for my name and contact information. I made up a name and address and spent quite some time drawing elaborate letters and numbers on a sheet of paper. I then asked to use the restroom. The room was tiny; when I tried to close the door (which was a wrap-around door), I had a hard time closing it because I had more circumference than the room. Just as I started peeing, some guy pushed his arm through the space between the door and the wall and laughed, causing me to list to the side, peeing all over the leg of my pants. Then, as I looked down, I could see that there was a hold in the floor where the toilet should have been and there was a man’s face below, looking up at me just as I let loose with a stream of pee. Somehow, I got out of there and to the car to drive away. The dream ended just as I awoke with an urgent need to pee.

+++

How can one’s mind mix such utterly disconnected sensations? Though the dream was not at all funny to me (I was quite worried that the men were going to try to hurt me), it was not in keeping with my mood during the day. I think our minds slip in and out of control; mostly out. We cannot corral our emotions and thoughts enough to make them acquiesce to our desires or expectations. Unless, of course, we have been trained to discipline ourselves to such a great extent that the natural expression of ourselves is bound and gagged and left to wither while the expectations of society are drummed into us.

+++

I should take a shower today and I probably will. But not now. This morning, I will be lazy and will not punish myself for it. I will try to relax for awhile. Later, after my possible shower, I will see about returning my wife’s borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet. I will finish my online grocery shopping. But I may do nothing of the sort. Time will tell.

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Permanent Emptiness

There’s a hole in the universe, an empty spot that cannot be filled.

My beautiful wife, the woman whose smile was more magnificent and more genuine than any other I have ever seen, died last night.

After I got the call, I called her sister to ask if she wanted to make one last visit to see her; she did. So we drove to the hospital and went to see my wife. It was the last time I will ever see her.

I have so much to say about my wife, but I am so empty that I cannot put words down.

One day, I hope soon, I will write about her. In the meantime, I will contemplate a permanent emptiness and the incredible beauty that once filled it. And the treasure inside me that my wife created simply by loving me and allowing me to love her.

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A Thousand Little Pieces

Just a matter of time. As if time were almost inconsequential; a byproduct of experience  rather than the framework within which experience is defined. It’s just a matter of time seems so dismissive, so insignificant, so brusque and crude. I prefer time will tell, though I won’t claim I have never used the harder, less sensitive phrase. Time will tell gives time its due; it inculcates time with more meaning and more power. More gravitas. The former phrase suggests predetermination. It robs circumstances of choice. But time does that, anyway, doesn’t it? Maybe I am making too much of a simple turn of phrase. But everything has meaning now.

+++

When I watch my wife sleep now, I have to acknowledge she’s not really asleep. She is in a coma. She cannot be wakened.  A nurse explained to me yesterday that the process of organ failure has begun. My wife’s kidneys are shutting down, her other internal organs are slowing their processes, her lungs are beginning to fill with fluids, and her extremities are cooling and changing color because her heart cannot pump sufficient blood to them. To the nurse, these processes are natural end-of-life occurrences requiring matter-of-face explanations. To me, they are excruciatingly painful reminders that it’s just a matter of time. Time will tell, indeed. No one can tell me with any accuracy how much time remains; no one wants to guess, I suspect, because a guess might trigger a response from me that neither I nor anyone else could control; an emotional breakdown uncomfortable for anyone in close proximity to witness. I cannot control my tears. I tried when my father died and when my mother died and when my sister died; I failed each time. There’s nothing wrong with tears, but their power can be shocking to people unused to seeing them shed in such volume.

I spend time writing about emotions in the hope my cold, analytical assessment will enable me to control them better when they inevitably come. But, really, I know better.

+++

I have so much to do at home; financial recordkeeping, filing, bills to pay, checkbooks to reconcile, etc., etc., etc. But, despite intentions that I will do that work each day when I come home from the hospital, I don’t have the energy. I received a long, thoughtful, and extremely welcome email from a church friend this morning, explaining her experiences when her daughter and her husband died. She described the same fatigue and the same assessment that, after a long day at the hospital, those important tasks no longer seemed important. That message made me feel like my lethargy, at least, is not unique and may well be natural. In my case, on some days (yesterday and today, for example), my lethargy started before I left the house; the bed remains unmade, though I might convince myself to make it before I leave this morning.

+++

National and domestic news is of no interest to me this morning. I feel a little like, if global thermonuclear war would break out before 8:00 a.m., that might be precisely the kind of stimulant I might need to just go back to bed. Just stop the scrapping and get to the meat of the fight.

+++

I had a conversation last night with a friend who is, like me, happy with her own company and the company of her spouse. I wonder what happens with such tiny units when one of the pair dies? I hate that I will find out. I am glad my wife did not have to find out, though five+ months in tiny hospital and rehab rooms probably gave her more of a taste of it than she ever would have wanted.

+++

I think my mind is splitting into a thousand little pieces, with nothing to connect them. More coffee may repair the rifts.

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Adrift

Over the years, my writing has made frequent reference to “context.” Understanding context, in my view, is absolutely crucial to interpreting experience. Without context, reality is experience seen and felt through gauze and vapor and smudges of translucent oil. That sounds suspiciously like a dream, doesn’t it?  A hazy mist revealing bits and pieces of recognizable elements against an utterly indistinct background of confusion.

Even dreams, though—their foggy images and sounds and emotions partially hidden behind layers of bewildering “meaning”—are contextual. Last night, the context of my dreams was clear to me ever time I awoke from one. In every one of them, I thought I could see my wife in the room with me or next to me, only to realize the vision was imaginary. And in every one of them the circumstances of the dream were somehow related to my wife being in hospice care. The details of the dreams, as ethereal as they were, are too complex and detailed to worry with here. My point is that the dreams emerged, in large part, from the context of the life from which they sprang.

The dreams were not extremely distressing, but neither were they comforting or reassuring. In the hindsight of wakefulness, they seemed representative of confusion and uneasy fear. God, why am I trying to interpret my dreams and their context? There is no value in that. Especially now. I should allow myself to dissolve into a flood of tears. But I am afraid if I did, I would never be able to reconstitute myself. No matter what I do, I will leave a million uncorrectable mistakes in my wake. I could spent the rest of Time trying to fix them; it would be pointless.

It is odd, I think, that I have absolutely no belief in a life beyond this brief one we have here on Earth, yet I feel an urgent need to eliminate the damage my foibles have done to her before my wife leaves this life. So that, just in case I’m wrong, my mistakes don’t stay with her after she goes. I would not have had these irrational thoughts a month ago. I am allowing myself to indulge in ridiculous ideas.

I spent part of the morning yesterday reciting/reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to my wife. She could not hear me read it, I fear. The reading was more for me than for her, I am afraid. My wish was that she could hear it, so she could close a chapter with a remembrance of eternal love. The words were read at our wedding 40+ years ago. I think they always gave me more comfort than she got from them.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

I hope she heard them. I hope she remembers all the times I read them aloud to her.

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Internal Conversations

When one’s thoughts seem unable to focus on anything but matters too difficult and unpleasant to accept, I think the brain reacts by pursuing the meaningless and mundane. That is the only explanation I can think of to explain why I began pondering this:

How it is that we like our coffee at 189 degrees when it’s brewed, knowing full well it will cool quickly to temperatures far lower? The same is true of casseroles, steaks, etc., etc. Some of us insist on beginning our experience with food and drink at precise temperatures, but subsequently accept previously unacceptable temperatures after initial exposure to our lips. Does coffee at 187 or 180 or 175 taste appreciably different than hotter coffee? Or is it the temperature that makes hotter coffee more appealing? If the latter, why not discard the remainder of the cup after a sip or two, replacing it with a new, perfectly hot coffee? Ditto steaks, casseroles, etc.

The more I ponder these matters, though, the more my thoughts begin to answer my own question. As I begin to sip my very hot coffee, I have to be careful not to burn my tongue. Still, I enjoy that hot liquid quite a lot. As it cools, the sips become larger and the taste fills my mouth more. But, at some point, it becomes cool enough that I realize I must hurry to finish the cup or it will be too cool to be appealing (iced coffee, of course, is another story). When it reaches that “too cool” point, I either microwave the remaining coffee in the cup (which yields a warmer but not as satisfying liquid) or replace the cup with a new one.

And with steak, as some point in the cooling process the delicious fat begins to congeal, trapping the most flavorful flavor components of the meat. Either I reheat the steak or save it for another meal in which the flavor of cold beef steak is appropriate; think a salad of some sort.

I think I went off on a tangent, as I am wont to do. Let me return to my original thought. We tend to reach out and grab anything that promises to anesthetize emotional pain. Drugs, alcohol…meaningless and mundane questions. But the problem with anesthetizing emotional pain is that it comes back after the anesthetic is withdrawn. In other words, the anesthetic masks the pain, it doesn’t eliminate it. It doesn’t excise it from the brain. But what will? What removes that pain? Some say time heals all wounds. Perhaps.  But consider a bullet wound to the abdomen; do we want to rely on time to take care of it, or would we prefer professional medical care in a sterile environment?

What might be an emotional equivalent? How about the death of a spouse or the sudden abandonment by a lifelong partner? Let time handle them? The victim of a gunshot to the gut needs immediate attention and aftercare that will help prevent infection and promote healing. What about the emotional victims? That’s the question. That. Is. The. Question.

But in all this consideration of the “survivors” of pain, both physical and emotional, do we forget the other end of the spectrum? The guy who accidentally shot his friend in the stomach? The dying spouse? The long-abused partner?  Life is complex. Simple answers work only with simple questions. Therefore, simple answers don’t work with life. I think I could write a dissertation on the complexity of human life. But it would be incomplete, because human life is far too complex to be analyzed or explained in even the most voluminous dissertation.

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Yesterday, as I was skimming Facebook, I came across what may be a bogus ad for WishDate, I think (or maybe a real one), advertising that it connects “Gorgeous young women seeking older gentlemen.” Yeah, right. Let’s make it more realistic, shall we?

“Gorgeous young women seeking older, balding, overweight, homely gentlemen.” Then, below the tagline, we could have an image of a gorgeous young woman with an air quote: “I’m so tired of men with six-pack abs and endless energy. What I’m after is a generous old fat man who can barely stand up but has boatloads of money.”

Does anyone ever fall for these ads? I am too much of a skeptic to ever entertain such obvious schemes. And I’m glad I am so skeptical.

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Overpowering guilt washes over me like a wave when I think about my pain and my sadness. I’m not the one whose pain and sadness matters. I will remain. I will continue to be able to experience the offers—or inflictions—of life. I am not the victim, though I wrote something a moment ago that suggested otherwise. Life is too complex to categorize and compartmentalize. I wonder whether our attempts to impose the logic of impossibly simple physical laws on the impossibly chaotic realities of life?

+++

Today, I will go to the hospital earlier than usual, in the hope of catching the attending physician on his rounds. I spoke to him late yesterday afternoon (he sought me out, which I deeply appreciated) and gave me assurances my wife would not be discharged to home hospice care. She had become nonresponsive, which I gather is one of the Medicare measures of eligibility for in-hospital hospice care. I want to be there when he examines my wife and evaluates her condition. I’ll leave within an hour or so. For now, my sister-in-law in on her way here for coffee and conversation. A very welcome respite from my internal conversations.

 

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Not Knowing What to Expect

After experiencing a strange blend of consciousness and dreams and, I suspect, side-effects from the Shingrix injection night before last, I feel reasonably stable this morning. My back still hurts and a new sensation—that I’ve been kicked in the kidneys—is bothersome, but over all, I think I am as “well” as I deserve.

The result of the bizarre incident is that I did not get to the inpatient hospice until just before noon. My wife was asleep and responded only briefly to my gentle efforts to wake her; she accepted a couple of sips of water before falling asleep again. The nurse told me efforts to give her breakfast were futile; she was awake enough to refuse the meal. When a meal was brought in after I arrived, my wife slept through my efforts to cajole her into eating; she remained asleep all afternoon.  The nurse suggested I eat the meal if my wife would not; I finally had the lunch of green beans, penne pasta with meat sauce, sliced canned peaches, and iced tea. I left the roll and the milk.

It is hard to sit next to my wife, watching what appears to me to be her restless sleep, while a nasal canula delivers oxygen to help her breathe more comfortably. Periodically, a nurse will come in to ask how she is doing. She does not respond, but the nurse senses by watching her grimace that she is in some degree of pain. So, she takes my wife’s hand and asks her to squeeze it if she wants the nurse to give her pain medication; I watch my wife’s hand squeeze the nurse’s. The nurse leaves and comes back a few minutes later with a syringe containing a small dose of morphine. She delivers the morphine and leaves. I have mixed feelings: does the morphine rob my wife of the ability to speak to me, or on the other hand is it enough to eliminate the pain? I decide she should be given as much as necessary to be sure to eliminate the pain.

From time to time, as I gaze at my wife and see her struggle, my eyes fill with tears. I feel guilty that I do not know whether they are tears for me or tears for my wife.

The social worker came in during the afternoon to ask if I had thought about “arrangements.” I deflected. She then said she had spoken to the doctor about whether my wife is likely to continue to qualify for inpatient hospice; unless there are requirements for her comfort that can be delivered only in an inpatient setting, she would not qualify. I brought up the morphine. There are under-the-tongue medications that dissolve and accomplish what morphine does, though not as thoroughly, she replied. The decision would not be instant; I would have a couple of days to arrange things. Later, I called the company that delivered the hospital bed and Hoyer lift. I need to be at the house on Friday to let them in to take the equipment. Although I may have to do it sooner. The hospice organization will provide equipment if she is sent home.

Periodically during the afternoon, I checked the weather forecast. Talk of sleet, snow, and freezing rain beginning early in the evening convinced me I should leave before darkness fell, so I left around 4:45. The drive home was uneventful. I have not checked to see whether the forecasts were correct. I may stay the night at the hospital tonight and/or tomorrow. It depends.

+++

During my morning perusal of news websites, a sentence from the AP website struck me: “For the first time in history, the U.S. government has carried out more executions in a year than all states that still conduct executions…” The article, based on a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, notes that 55% of respondents to a 2020 Gallup death penalty poll support the death penalty and 43% oppose it. But Americans, the report says, “had “nuanced views” and that even many who say they support the death penalty in theory don’t like it in practice.” Personally, I oppose the death penalty, though I think I can understand the emotional and intellectual arguments of those who support it. In my view, our justice system has too many flaws that can allow innocent people to be erroneously convicted of heinous crimes and sentenced to die; those errors, once carried out, cannot be corrected. And I understand what I call the “revenge reaction” to horrible crimes in which people are brutally murdered, tortured, etc. But, still, our own Declaration of Independence clearly states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I wonder whether the Federal government, under Trump and his henchmen, have altered the course of the arguments? I suppose we will see what we will see in the years ahead.

+++

I think I am withdrawing from everyone and everything. It’s a selfish reaction to emotional turmoil. For some reason, though, I think the withdrawal may outlast the turmoil; it would be different, I think, if I did not feel most of my interactions are fraught with uncomfortable formality. Formality inhibits a person’s ability to be open and unencumbered by social expectations. I think of the matter in terms like this: If I could choose between living as a member of a royal family in a spectacular castle or in a one-bedroom apartment in which I was utterly free of social expectations, which would I choose? I think I’d choose the latter. Keeping up appearances and being unable to exhibit the “casual me” would be nightmarish.

+++

Time for a shower and shave. If I had a hot lather machine, the shave would be more pleasant. But a hot lather machine is a luxury I do not want or need.

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Between Sleep and Its Companion

I spent another day at my wife’s bedside yesterday. She did not eat while I was there, from about 10:30 to just before 5. That worries me, of course, but the nurses say variations in appetite are not unusual. Relatively late in the day, she seemed to have some interest in a cooking show that her sister had been watching (the sound muted and captions activated). When I got home last night, darkness had begun to fall. I changed into my evening attire (sweats, sweatshirt, and flip-flops). I reclined on the loveseat and watched episode 3 of Mindhunters, a series based on book about the work of two FBI agents and a psychologist whose efforts transformed the agency’s behavioral science philosophies and processes. I’m enjoying it.

Yesterday morning, I took the time to get my second Shingrix vaccination. Very early this morning, I think I experienced some of the more common side effects of the vaccine: shivering, muscle pain, headache, tiredness, fever, etc. About 2:30, I woke up shivering. No matter how I piled on the blanket, I felt cold; I was shivering so much that my teeth chattered. At about the same time, I experienced rather intense pain in my lower back; the kind of pain that intensifies with any physical movement. Every time I turned over, the pain got worse; but unless I moved, the pain seemed to get amplified in one spot. The muscles in both arms felt achy and I had a headache.

Also, I thought I was having hallucinations last night. When I exhaled, I saw a rectangular “tube” arise from my mouth and go up, through the ceiling and into the sky. Inside the tube were barely visible earth-tone translucent shapes that I thought looked architectural in nature; those shapes were normal, I thought. But suddenly the shapes became colorful, though still barely visible, and transformed into animals, including unicorns and elephants and tigers. Then, the tube emptied. Finally, it disappeared. Somehow, the tubes were related both to my breath and to computer controls connected to my chills. As I try to remember the experience, I think the weird visions were not hallucinations but, instead, odd components of a dream that stayed with me for a few moments after I awakened; one of those strange incidents between sleep and waking that merge elements of both.

I tolerated these experiences until about 5:30, when I called my sister in law to ask whether she, if the streets were safe, would come over and look for blankets and pile them on top of me. I did not want to try to get out of bed for fear of being unable to stand up or get back in bed because of my back. She said she would do it once she could be sure the ice on the streets had begun to melt. Later, she wisely suggested the symptoms I was having might be COVID-19 or the flu and, therefore, she felt uncomfortable being in the house. She asked if I had taken my temperature; naturally, it had not occurred to me.  Later, I took my temperature with three difference thermometers: 97.5, 99.1, and 101.8.

I fell asleep shortly after the phone conversation. Finally, sometime after 8:30, I got up. My lower back still hurts; the pain feels just like the pain I’ve had before when my lower spine got out of alignment. Otherwise, except for muscle aches, I feel fine. To my knowledge, I have not been around anyone who has/had COVID-19. The fact that my nighttime “symptoms” seem to have diminished quite a lot suggests to me I am fine.

The blinds in the kitchen usually are up by the time the sun begins to rise. Not this morning, though. It was nearly 9:30 when I pulled the cord on the blinds. Immediately, I saw a box sitting at the front door. I suspect it had been sitting there all night; I just hadn’t noticed it when I got home. Once inside, I opened the box to reveal all manner of goodies; my nephew, his wife, and his mother sent us a fabulous assortment of chocolates, baked goods, canned goods, candies, and more. I was delighted when I saw that one of the packages was biltong, a dried meat product that originated in South African countries. I’ve been wanting to try it for months (maybe years), so that was a wonderful Christmas gift!

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Commencement

I did not expect to wake up this morning to snow, but there it was. The car sitting in the driveway was covered with the stuff. Not a lot, but there was a dusting sufficient to completely cover the front windshield. The solar lights along the driveway, capped with white smudges, offered more evidence of snow during the night. And so did the bushes on the far side of the driveway. The snow was visible only because something triggered the motion sensors that turn on the exterior porch and garage lights; the unusual brightness of those lights prompted me to raise the blinds. That’s when I saw the snow. As soon as the lights went out, all I could see was darkness. I had to walk outside, my motion setting off the lights, before the white blanket became visible again.

According to Alexa, who lately is prone to stretching the truth and randomly blurting out comments in Spanish, the temperature is 32 degrees. The app on my phone claims it’s 30 degrees. And the temperature sensor inside the screened porch registers 33 degrees. I know with certainly only one thing: it’s cold outside.

+++

My intention to get my second shingles shot yesterday went unfulfilled. Rain, slick roads, and cold temperatures conspired to send me directly home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. And I did not have the patience to wait for weekend opening hours yesterday morning. So, today I hope to get the second shot. We’ll see. I need to go shopping, too, but I’d rather spend time with my wife at the inpatient hospice. My sister-in-law offered to do shopping for me yesterday, but I can be rather picky about brands and the like (and slow to decide what, exactly, I want), so I declined her kind offer. I may opt to shop online again and pick up my order in the parking lot.

Shopping for groceries online is considerably easier than shopping for clothes online. To my knowledge, there are no reliable standards for clothing sizes for men. Inseams, for example, advertised as 29 inches (I have short legs) can range from 27 inches (a good length for me) to 31 inches. Waist size claims have even greater variations. And I’ve never fully understood the concept of “rise,” which seems to vary by manufacturer. So does the description of where pants should “sit,” often presented as “at the waist,” “below the waist,” “slightly below the waist,” etc. Inseams and waist sizes seem almost random. The common advice for men’s trousers is that their length should be such that there is a slight break at the shoes, but the pants should not “puddle” above the shoes. I would very much like to have pants that do not puddle, but they do not make inseams short enough (or, if they are short enough, the waist is not large enough). I suppose my girth is larger than it should be, which may account for the improper ratio of inseam to waist size, thereby causing puddling or, in some severe cases, deep pooling. I attribute part of my problems with pants sizes to my lack of a discernable butt; another part is the abundance of excess body size with respect to circumference of the waist.

But it’s not pants that I’m most interested in at the moment. Facebook reminds me, regularly, with photos of years past, that I am wearing the same shirts today that I wore ten or more years ago. Some of them, anyway. I still have a few shirts that no longer fit, probably because I used the wrong laundry detergents, causing them to shrink by a factor of 25 percent. But I wear at least four long-sleeve shirts that have maintained their sizes or, perhaps, have always been more than a little big on me. I can tell by the brand name tags sewn into their collars and the extreme similarities of pattern and style that I bought them at the same time.  I think it’s time to, if not replace, augment them with new shirts. Ideally, all of my clothes would be “bespoke.” I like that term. Custom tailored. I would not pick fabrics that require any special care. I would select durable material that does not wrinkle. That’s true of both shirts and pants. I’m getting a little tired of jeans, but that’s almost all I ever wear. I’ve been dissatisfied with other fabrics; perhaps my dissatisfaction has been more with fit than with fabric. Jeans can be forced to conform to my shape, or vice versa. Fabrics with less density and strength tend to make me look lumpy and frumpy. Or perhaps it’s me that makes the fabrics look that way.

+++

I want to have long conversations with my wife. I want to hear her talk about what’s on her mind; what she is thinking. But she has never been one to share her thoughts. Her thoughts are private. She defines introversion as clearly as anyone I’ve ever known. I am introverted, as well, but in a completely different way. I open up to the computer screen when no one is looking over my shoulder. She does not.

Now, though, her voice is weak and her energy is very low. She does not have the capacity to talk to me at length at the moment, even if she wants to. Much of our communication over the years has been nonverbal; we’ve known, to some extent, what was on one another’s minds. But her condition makes even that difficult for her. She sleeps much of the time. When she is awake, her thoughts often are far away, hidden in the distance of her eyes.

+++

I am close to no one. The isolation I’ve always coveted surrounds me like a shroud. It’s odd, I think, that I tend to express so much through my fingers and so little through real, honest, intimate conversation. I’ve always been afraid of revealing, verbally, my weakness and uncertainty; as if refraining from saying the words in favor of writing them will shield me from judgment.

+++

I had a brief online conversation this morning with a high school classmate, a woman I have not seen in roughly fifty years. She lives an isolated life in the desert of west Texas. Reading her words made me think of how life often is so very different from the way we imagine it to be. I think she envisioned that she would live a romantic “wild west” experience in the desert but, in fact, it seems to be more of a gritty, hardscrabble life among people whose softer sensibilities have been erased by smothering sand and inescapable poverty.

+++

One year ago today, I wrote about how it is almost impossible to relive, precisely, physical pain but recollections of emotional pain can be just as vivid in memory as they were in fact. My feelings on that matter have not changed. And, now, it’s time to commence the day.

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Floating

My sister-in-law and I spent much of the day in my wife’s room at the inpatient hospice yesterday. Before heading to the hospital, my wife’s nurse called to give me an update; she said my wife had refused breakfast, but responded to questions with short, one-word answers or nods. She wanted to sleep, the nurse said. After we got to the hospital, my wife developed a good appetite, asking for an omelette with “everything.”  Her monstrous omelette came with ham, spinach, turkey sausage, green peppers, cheese, onions, tomatoes, and more. Though she ate only a relatively small portion of it, she enjoyed it. When she was awake and she seemed to be in good spirits, off and on. She was happy to see her sister, who had not been able to visit her since my wife went to the ER on December 6. Most of the day, my wife was asleep, though she spoke to us a bit and she wanted me to continue reading to her from where I stopped before (but my voice tends to send her into slumber, so I don’t know how much of what I read she hears). Lunch, which came only a couple of hours after the omelette, consisted of Dijon pork medallions, cole slaw, and pinto beans. The pork medallions were large and thick; my wife finished every bit of them, as well as most of the cole slaw and all of the beans. Her appetite is better than it has been in weeks. The nurse is very caring and tender; she generally is not rushed like the nurses on the regular hospital floors, though they, too, seemed to spend as much time as they needed to ensure my wife’s comfort.

+++

When I left my wife’s room sometime after 4:30, I felt selfish and guilty for leaving her. I had walked with her sister to the elevator when she left and, when I returned, the nurse said my wife had asked for pain medication. The pain was not site-specific; it was a generalized pain. The nurse gave her a shot with a small dose of morphine to relieve her pain. The nurse advised that it could make my wife sleepy; I thought to myself she could have been getting morphine shots all day, then. But, obviously, she had not. I could have stayed the night, but I was exhausted, even though I had done nothing to bring on the exhaustion. I returned a call from a friend from church, who has regularly called to check on my wife and who has offered to help in anything I might need. Later, I sent a message to another friend from church, another person who has made a point of checking in with regularity. Neither of them overdo it; they keep in touch enough, though, to let me know they are thinking of us and are available to help. That kind of compassionate outreach makes me glad that, after roughly fifty years of eschewing church in any form, I finally found the right one. I hope and think they know I will gladly reciprocate if ever the need were to arise. That is true for anyone as kind and thoughtful, which is true of everyone in the church who I’ve gotten to know.

+++

After I got home, I opened three cans—pinto beans, corn, and diced tomatoes—for dinner. With some chile powder, cumin, oregano, and pepper, the beans made enough spicy goodness for two meals. But, with two large helpings, I emptied the pan, consuming three cans of vegetables.  I followed that with a glass (or two?) of red wine as I watched the final episode of Unforgotten. I hated seeing the series end. It was early in the evening, probably 9 or so, when I decided to go to bed. I awoke several times during the night, my arthritic elbows and wrists and knees punishing me for my sedentary lifestyle.

During the night, I had a disturbing dream in which I was about to participate in a board of directors meeting for the first association that employed me. I had forgotten to bring background materials for the board in support of my proposal to radically change the association. I was to recommend eliminating the board, replacing it with an advisory board comprised of members of the general public. In addition, I wanted to recommend the association abandon its narrow focus on corrosion control; instead, I was to recommend broadening its scope to include “everything.” I do not recall what possessed me to suggest that. Before I was to speak, though, I had to leave the huge board room in search of a bathroom. Once I left the room, I found myself in a huge convention center hallway, crowded with convention-goers from several other organizations. And, then, I could not find a bathroom, nor could I remember where the board was meeting. There was more, though I am not sure if it was part of the same dream. I followed a little girl and her mother into a big field, empty except for a single tree, tall and thin, in the distance. As we neared the tree, the mother said, “We were here yesterday. You have to watch out for the snakes. They are everywhere.” I do so wish I could electronically record dreams, both video and audio, and play them back; it’s frustrating to remember snippets of dreams that obviously were far more complex and longer.

+++

One of these days, I should go through the 429 posts sitting in my drafts folder and decide what to do with them: revise and post, revise and save, abandon and discard, or wait a while longer—leaving them for later, and returning to them with the same plan of action. “One of these days” is not really a plan of action, though, is it? It is procrastination, delaying a decision that, apparently, I am not ready to make. All my life, I’ve been advised to make the hardest decisions first, leaving the simpler ones for later. The rationale is that hard decisions tend to require more of one’s energies. Better to make them when one’s mental and physical energies are at or near their peaks, rather than wait until energy has been spent. Decisions made when energy is low are more apt to be sloppy. Important aspects of the decision-making process are too easy to ignore when tired, fatigued, or mentally worn.

It’s silly to place any appreciable importance on decisions about what to do with blog posts that, for one reason or another, failed to make the first cut for publishing. Blog posts are insignificant. When measured on a spectrum ranging from critically important to utterly inconsequential, they fall somewhere near to latter end of the scale. That notwithstanding, draft posts tend to command greater attention in the writer’s mind than the importance they would take on in the prospective reader’s experience. Readers, after all, usually do not even know that drafts exist; certainly, readers know nothing of their content. Only in the author’s brain do hidden drafts seem to merit consideration and procrastination.

+++

In a while, I will head back to the inpatient hospice in the hospital. I may leave early so I can go get my second Shingrix injection; having had a mild case of shingles even after I had the original vaccine, I feel absolutely compelled to get the follow-up injection; I got the first Shingrix shot about twelve weeks ago, I think. Yesterday I got a couple of reminders calls to get the follow-up. So, as much as I want to spend the time with my wife, I think I had better get the vaccination. It won’t be terribly long, I suppose, before I get scheduled to take the two-injection vaccine for COVID-19. I am floating between vaccinations.

+++

I feel like I am sitting in an idling car. I have been sitting in it for a very long time and I do not know how much longer I will need to sit there. The road where it sits is full of ruts and potholes and new, replacement roads are being constructed all around me. Busses and trucks and cars and motorcycles and bicycles are whizzing by me in all directions. When I try to put the car in Reverse, its engine sputters, so I quickly return the gear shift to Neutral. I cannot get it into Park. I cannot move the shift to Drive. I should just sit patiently, but I can’t. I try, repeatedly, to get the car off the decaying roadway. Suddenly I am at ease with my dilemma. I do not need to move the car, nor do I need to exit the vehicle. I realize that whatever happens with the car happens with me. I will stay with the car, even if the road collapses beneath us.

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Stop

Sitting in her hospital room yesterday while my wife slept, I occupied myself with my smartphone, playing word games and reading snippets of the day’s news. “The news.” The words suggest factual information, but hidden within them are layer upon layer of bias. Regardless of the media outlet, reporters and writers and editors busily craft messages that cleverly convey a soft chauvinism; opinions disguised as data. I suspect most of the people who manipulate their messages are guilty only of what they consider defensible prejudice; progressive perspectives on one end of the spectrum, conservative outlooks on the other. Regardless of the relative merits of their opinions, though, they are engaged in subtle (or not-so-subtle) attempts to sway media consumers’ thinking in support of specific viewpoints. Editorial pages once were reserved for such endeavors. Today, it seems editorials and raw reportage have merged into a form of propaganda. Not “fake news,” but predigested information. I try to find information untouched by presentation bias. It’s rare. A few media outlets, like the Associated Press and, to a lesser extent, the News Hour on PBS, seem to work diligently to remove bias from their reporting of the news. Most, though, no longer even attempt to hide their bigotry.

The news media is not alone in its innate biases, the ones that arise from philosophies of life that guide beliefs and behaviors. I think medicine, too, is rife with opinions that sometimes masquerade as facts. I am more forgiving of medicine’s opinions, though, because usually they seem to be guided by carefully evaluated experiences, coupled with (almost) universally accepted facts. Still, though, doctors present patients and their families with options filtered through the lens of the physicians’ experiences. I prefer hearing doctors’ specific options as recommendations, rather than as menu items, all of equal merit. That is, I want to hear a doctor to say, “Based on the options available to you, if I were you I think I would…” The recommendations can be argued and questioned, but the doctor’s point of view is clear.

That was true yesterday when the medical director of the hospice suggested my wife be moved to inpatient hospice care, versus being discharged from the hospital for home hospice care. My gut tells me the doctor could read the fear in me, fear that I would be unable to provide the quality of care that would ensure my wife’s comfort. In recognizing my concerns, he assessed the situation as one in which a recommendation from a physician was warranted. He clearly felt inpatient hospice was preferable, given the circumstances. And he said the decision could be reversed at any time my wife and I felt it appropriate. And, of course, he and his team could determine if my wife were no longer qualified for inpatient hospice care, in which case we could opt for home hospice, palliative care, or traditional home health nursing services.

For me, the difference in bias between news organizations and physicians comes down to accountability. News organizations can retract comments or stories and can explain how changes in the external environment can influence the reliability of “facts.” Doctors, though, tend to qualify their recommendations (biases) before making them; not after the fact.

I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning around 7:30. My wife was fast asleep. An untouched tray of food sat on the overbed table. When a nurse came in a while later to administer some medications, my wife roused briefly but did not open her eyes. She expressed with a shake of her head that she did not want to take medications and that she wanted to be left alone. A couple of hours later, the tray of food was removed and, later still, another tray was brought in. My wife remained asleep. It was not until about 2:30 that she opened her eyes and communicated with me, mostly with whispered words and barely-noticeable gestures. She was thirsty and hungry. I gave her tea. She ate an entire helping of penne pasta with meat sauce and made quite a dent in a scoop of whipped potatoes. Then, she went back to sleep. It was during those hours of sleep that the doctor spoke to me and made his recommendations.

My wife was moved to inpatient hospice around 4:00 pm. Not long after she was settled in, another plate of food was brought in to her and I helped her with the chicken and potatoes.  I left for home around 5:30.  I can visit her again this morning beginning at 9. If I leave after 8 this evening, I will have to exit through the emergency room. But I can stay overnight, if I wish and my wife is agreeable, sleeping in what I know to be a beastly uncomfortable chair. I suspect I can manage it, though, with pillows. I know I need to get things done around the house, but I may opt to stay there on occasion, if for no other reason than to let my wife know I’m there.

I’ve wandered away from a topic I hoped would distract me. I tend to do that. I guess I’ve always wanted or needed to be distracted from life itself but have, so far, failed to stay the course.

The clothes in the dryer will be ready soon and my coffee cup is in need of a refill. Good time to stop.

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Time Cannot be Captured

Some hours and minutes speed by, while others have the earmarks of extraordinarily slow motion, inching along as if time were trapped in a viscous jelly. The difference between the two sensations of time is impossible for me to capture in words. Only by imagining how it might feel—to quickly empty the air from one’s lungs and then slowly fill them again with congealed air—can one get a sense of how such days unfold. The excruciating, impossibly slow moments feel like one must gasp for oxygen. When moments alternate between the fiction of warp speed and the reality of geologic time, the experience defines fatigue in physical terms.

The casual observer, watching someone else experience time in these ways, does not notice the wear and tear taking place. Everything is normal; nothing seems out of the ordinary. For that reason, I think the experience must not be real. But on the inside looking out, the experience is as real as an experience can be. Two distinct dimensions must be at play, although they intersect only in one direction.

Clearly, on reading what I have written, a description of the passing of time at radically different speeds is impossible for me to accurately record. The closest “normal” experience that mirrors it must be childhood versus old age. Seconds and minutes in childhood are equivalent to decades in old age. “Old age” sounds so ugly and used up; there is no attractive term for it, though. “Golden years” is a trite expression. “Senior” is the same. All in all, though, it’s about equivalent moments, taking place at different speeds in the same spans of time.

Speaking of time, I must use mine wisely. Time to shower and shave and get dressed. Then, off to the hospital. One of those slow experiences taking place at the speed of light.

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Maybe Not

I spent an hour or more this morning writing what I had intended to publish here online, only to decide a few minutes ago that it was too personal and too private to post. Too often, in the process of exposing myself to the world, I expose others as well. I have no business doing that. It is insensitive and selfish. Instead, I will write something else; something brief and mundane that does not infringe on others’ privacy.

My plan today is to visit my wife in the hospital. I am taking a book to read to her. Neither of us have read the book, as far as I know, though I have been intended to read it for well over a year; maybe two or three years. The title is The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. I have no idea how far I’ll get, nor whether my wife will like it. We shall see. If she likes it, I will continue reading; if not, I will put it aside to read silently on my own.

It is possible that my wife will be released from the hospital today. Or it could be several more days. I have no strong sense of what to expect. On the chance that it might be today, I will take a bag of some of her clothes. I wish she could pick out what I am taking to her, but that’s impossible, so I will do the best I can.

+++

I’m having a hard time focusing on what I am writing. My eyes are drawn to dozens of birds darting between naked tree branches outside the window. Groups of tiny birds flit from branch to branch. I would call them flocks, but I don’t think that’s the proper term; there aren’t enough birds to merit the use of “flock,” so I use “group,” instead.  I wonder whether collective nouns vary across a spectrum, depending on numbers in “groups?” Among these groups of flitting birds are larger woodpeckers that seem to pay no attention to the tiny gatherings. The woodpeckers simply want to get at food buried in the trunks of trees. The little birds seem to ignore food and, instead, focus on playing games.

+++

I can’t do this. My mind is on what I wrote before, the stuff I should not post. Maybe I will write more later. Maybe not.

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A Skeptic’s Brain

Finally, yesterday morning, I put air in the tires of the Subaru—not precisely the proper inflations, but enough air to cause the tire pressure alert light to go out. I bought gas from the gas station so I would not feel guilty for using their air compressor. I wonder whether that’s the point of the air compressor situated next to the fuel pumps. That thought, I think, emerges from a skeptic’s brain.

I wrote yesterday about my “issues” with the hospital. No need to go into them again; except to say the nurse manager from two west sought me out in the ICU and offered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology. She then handed me a preprinted “we’re sorry we failed to meet your expectations, we hope this token of appreciation for sharing your experience will be meaningful” (or some such words) apology card, along with two $5 Walmart gift cards. Though I thanked her for the “gift” and for seeking me out, I felt the preprinted apology card and Walmart gift cards represented the epitome of “cheesy.” Again, the full-throated skeptic in me emerges.

+++

This morning’s schedule deviated dramatically from usual. Instead of getting up and having coffee, I got up and immediately showered, shaved, and got dressed. Then I took the trash to the garage in preparation for moving it to the street a bit later. And then I gazed at the budding sunrise: bright coral and salmon layers at the horizon underneath  blends of the two colors and, higher still, orange fading into blue. The sun still remained hidden, but the bright edge of the horizon announced its impending arrival. Clear blue skies and sunlight should welcome days full of gladness and cheer. They should. And then I sat at the dining table for a while, contemplating the day. I cannot visit my wife until 1 pm because she is in the ICU, where visiting hours begin at 1. Until then, I will contemplate the future and my place in it.

+++

Little of what I have just written—neither the tire pressure nor the hospital’s programmed behavior nor the morning’s show of colors—holds any special significance for me this morning. These events and visions do no represent good or bad, they just are. I am in a state of disturbed confusion, I think, because my wife was home from the rehab center for only two nights before going to the hospital. One of the ICU nurses told me yesterday she likely will remain there for at least several days because, as he said, “She is very, very, very sick.” Later, my wife’s attending physician, during a telephone conversation with me, verified that. I expect return calls today from my wife’s cardiologist and from the administrator of the rehab facility from which my wife was recently released. But I expected a return call from the administrator two days ago, so my expectation may again go unmet. I want to express to her my anger at the quality of the treatment my wife received at the hands of the facility. Expressing my anger may do no good; maybe all it will do is exacerbate the guilt I feel for having failed to better investigate the level of care the facility provides to its patients. I recognize, of course, that my wife’s underlying condition is at fault for the challenges she has faced and continues to face. But I cannot help but wonder why I, and some medical professionals, did not recognize symptoms earlier and help her seek treatment.

+++

There’s no chance my writing will do anything but ramble this morning, so I will stop for the moment. I need to write something private for myself, later, so I’ll preserve what’s left of the energy in my fingers so I can do that.

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Twists and Turns

When I attempted to check in as a visitor at the hospital, I was told someone else had already signed in to visit the room. A quick check revealed someone else was in that room; not my wife. Through more checking, the screening staff discovered that my wife had been moved to ICU overnight. No one had called me. ICU visiting hours would begin at 1 pm, three hours later.

I called the ICU and talked to my wife’s nurse; low blood pressure and breathing difficulties prompted the move. She might be moved back to a regular floor if IV meds stabilize her blood pressure at acceptable levels.

I tried to call the charge nurse on the floor where my wife had been. I left a voice message. I want to register concern about the lack of notice, but also to address multiple occasions of staff attempting to take blood pressure or draw blood from her right arm, which is forbidden and is clearly noted in her records. And I want to know if my request that a doctor order tests to check for UTI has been addressed.

I am so appreciative of competent healthcare professionals, but so intolerant of sloppy or dangerous or insensitive work by others who should not be allowed in medical settings.

Only 40 minutes until I can go to the ICU to see my wife. It seems more like 40 hours.

The twists and turns of health and illness are labyrynthine.

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