Dislocations

I struggle with my tendency to shoot from the hip from time to time. The occasional misfires can cause me, and people in my sphere, discomfort I do not intend but that flows from my actions, nonetheless. There’s value in patience. Unfortunately, I do not have the composure to let the value bubble to the surface. On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to just let one’s emotions burst forth, the superficial damage their scalding heat may do be damned. The difficulty is in knowing which ones to let fester and which ones to let explode with fury.

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Here’s something to think about. It’s a complex set of ideas, delivered in compact form, that deserves serious and dedicated thought. A week’s worth of meditation might be required to fully absorb only half of the wisdom contained therein; a lifetime’s worth of meditation might be necessary to fully embrace the wisdom contained in the other half:

He who wherever he goes is attached
to no person and to no place by ties of flesh;
who accepts good and evil alike,
neither welcoming the one
nor shrinking from the other–
take it that such a one has attained
Perfection.

~Bhagavid-Gita~

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Yesterday, after a huge, filling breakfast, my visiting friend and I spent much of the day wandering aimlessly in Hot Springs, with no particular destination in mind. When hunger pangs hit, persuading  us it had been several days, instead of several hours, since we had eaten, we sought sustenance. The first stop was in front of SQZBX, hoping to sit down to a gluten-free pizza to satisfy my friend’s craving for good pizza and need to avoid products with gluten. A note on the door indicated no inside seating was available. Because we had not considered a to-go option, I drew a blank as to where we might sit and eat a pizza. In a matter of seconds, we decided to move on. Finally, after getting moderately lost in some residential areas, I got my bearings as we neared Malvern Avenue and Taco Mama. That became our destination. We were given the option of sitting outdoors, under a high overhang made of corrugated metal. We chose to sit outside, where other guests were enjoying the weather.

A family consisting of two kids, a mother, and a male and female dog pair, gathered at a table near us. I did not catch the name of the cute little male dog (both were naturally small, accentuated by the fact that they were—I think—puppies), but the mother called the female dog “Vivian.” I liked Vivian and suggested, to the mother, taking Vivian home with me; I believe mother heard me, but ignored my suggestion. If not for putting my dog-companion-odyssey on at least temporary hold, I might have stolen one or both dogs. I’m relatively sure, though, that, had I tried, the mother would have shot me. Although modestly attractive and quite friendly, the woman looked the type to both carry weapons in her purse and to use them without hesitation. You know the type: big, too-perfect-toothed smile, sparkling eyes, sprawling, far-bigger-than-necessary purse that could conceal pistols, automatic rifles, and small nuclear devices, and a jawline so sharp it could cut hard winter squash like butter. In hindsight, I am pleased that I exercised caution by allowing the dogs to remain with their human family. We’re all better for the decision to let it be.

Just as we were about to eat our last few bites of taco bowl (barbacoa for her, lengua for me), I asked the waitress whether she might have some habanero-based salsa I could use on my food. She brought me a little plastic container full of salsa that was at once fiercely hot and gently soothing to my tongue. Its smoky habanero flavor would have made my meal, as good as it was, far, far better. I must remember that salsa. After our meal, we continued wandering around Hot Springs. During the course of our wanderings, just as we passed Oaklawn Race Track, we saw a man who appeared to be in trouble, falling off what I thought was his bicycle. As it happened, we saw him just as we reached a corner, so I zipped around the corner and stopped. My friend sprinted from the car toward the man (because I had turned the corner and there was a fence at the corner, I could not see them). I stayed in the car, flashers flashing, wondering whether I should attempt to park a bit further up the street. Just about the time I was going to do just that, my friend came into view. It was a walker, not a bicycle, he fell from. His trouble was not a heart attack or stroke, as I instantly imagined. My friend said he has Parkinson’s disease and he had experienced a symptom that caused him to lose balance and to fall. He was fine now, she said.

Of course, the experience led to a conversation about healthcare, being alone, and all sorts of other topics that arise from a little knowledge and a lot of supposition. Compassion and concern bubble from us when presented with the effects of what we perceive as the unraveling of the social safety net.

The rest of the day was uneventful. But it was relaxing, as well. On the way back home, we stopped at Brookshire’s to pick up a couple of odds and ends to contribute to last night’s dinner and to today’s eating events. After having gotten only three hours sleep the night before (watching Arrested Development until 2, then waking at 5), I was ready to make an early night of it last night. I did not wake this morning until after 7, a sacrilege to my way of thinking. My friend had already gotten up and was in the midst of making coffee when I stumbled into the kitchen a while ago.

We have no specific plans for the day, but I feel confident I will want to “chill” for most of the day. I’m still tired, despite all the sleep, and my brain is fuzzy. Fortunately, my friend is independent and is perfectly capable of getting in her car and exploring all on her own. Several weeks ago, when she was still not sure whether she would make the trip and, if so, whether a fried would be willing to come with her, she expressed an interest in hiking. I offered up that my sister-in-law might be willing to show her some hiking places, but I was not likely to join in the fun. Though nothing has happened to further that along, I’ll leave it for her to decide.

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What will the remainder of this day give me to think about? How many dislocations can my brain take before it reaches the point that it cannot be put back in working condition again? Will I make time to prepare hummingbird nectar and put it out for the returning creatures? Time, alone, will tell. It always does.

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Fracture

Yesterday, a friend arrived for a visit. We spent the afternoon talking and wondering whether the rain would stop. When it did, we went to dinner at a lakeside restaurant; beautiful view, good service, tolerable but disappointing meal (for me). My “rare” steak was on the overcooked side of medium. But I did not complain, because I was in no mood to had the kitchen staff start over. Oh, well. After dinner, we talked some more and listened to our respective musical favorites. I stayed up after my friend went to bed, watching another couple of episodes of Arrested Development. The clock had just struck 2:00 a.m. when I got in bed. I got up at 5:00 a.m. I may regret getting a very brief three hours of sleep. I’m already nodding at it’s only 6:40. I may try to get another hour or three of sleep before my friend wakes up.

Today, we’ll go into Hot Springs for a look around. We’ll wear masks. I suspect many (perhaps most?) on the street will not. Ach!

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A very unfortunate brouhaha is underway within my church. As we begin to seriously discuss when it might be possible to reopen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wife (and several friends and supporters and admirers) of a man who recently died are now insisting that his memorial service be held in the church sanctuary. While the time may be right to safely do so, the arguments promoting the memorial service in the church are revealing the gross absence of “democracy” in the institution. I actually have heard comments suggesting that “[He] is not just another member; he is largely responsible for where we are today and we simply must honor him by opening up the church for his memorial.” The same comments have been followed by acknowledgement that the privilege would not be granted to someone with a “lesser” contribution to the church’s development and evolution.

It’s not the question of whether to allow the memorial to go on inside the church that disturbs me—that question deserves discussion and debate and decision. What disturbs me is the open assertion that “we’re not all really equal…some are more equal than others.” I would not have considered for even a moment asking for or insisting on a memorial service for my wife in the church. Even though her death took place before the vaccine was available, I would never have suggested that her death might merit special consideration for any reason. In fact, I decided shortly after she died that, if I organize a memorial service, it will be more of a “celebration of life” and will be held when we can comfortably return to the church. Now, though, the blatant attitude that “he deserves special treatment because…” is causing me to question whether the fundamental values the church claims to hold are, in fact, smoke and mirrors. I do not for a moment deny the enormous importance the man had on the church; his contributions merit long, loud, and perpetual recognitions and acknowledgement. But, in my mind, the very public suggestions or implications that he was more “important” than my wife makes me question the validity of the church and, certainly, my involvement in it. It appears from my vantage point that consideration is being given purely on the basis of who is doing the “asking” and “demanding.” Depending on how the discussions play out, I may decide not to try church after this experience; “won’t get fooled again.”  And that’s too bad, because I’ve been so utterly taken by the church and its congregation. Most of the people where I live who I call friends came to me through the church. What an unfortunate problem.

My position probably would be/will be attacked as having a basis in my grief over my wife’s death. Whether such attacks materialize, my grief has nothing to do with my position. In many respects, the optics may be almost as important to many people as the philosophy behind it. But my stance is rooted firmly in philosophy. And institutional democracy.

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Just over a year ago, my wife and I discussed the potential outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. We agreed it was entirely possible the virus could be the beginning of the end of humankind. And despite the progress science and medicine have made during the course of the last year, I still believe that possibility exists. While I think science and medicine have the capability of stalling the spread of the scourge and minimizing its effects on humanity, several realities argue against a “win” against the pandemic: politics; stubbornness; stupidity; and greed conspire against humans’ success in this battle. I am not suggesting the health challenges of the virus will entirely rid the streets of people; only that our collective unwillingness to treat COVID-19 as a truly existential threat might turn it into exactly that.

Many U.S. states’ politicians today treat COVID-19 as having been “conquered.” Consequently, they are not only allowing, but encouraging, residents to return to “normal” times without masks, without adequate personal distance, and a return to the days when handwashing was considered an annoying option. In spite of epidemiologists’ and others medical professionals; warnings, large swaths of the population (both domestic and abroad) seem intent on refusing to behave rationally; they value their “right” to expose themselves and their fellow citizens to COVID-19 far more than they value human life—even their own. Far too many among us enthusiastically embrace absurd conspiracy theories that suggest the virus is controlled by a cabal of dangerous and devious people whose purpose in exercising control over it is purely political, based in greed. Growing insistence that businesses be given free rein to operate without COVID-19 restrictions adds to the dangers we face.

But even in the face of these exceptional challenges, I think we have the capacity to overcome the virus from the perspective of science and medicine.  Our capacity to control, though, does not extend to repairing tears in the social fabric that have been showing over the last year. And while we might be able to conquer the challenges to our health that COVID-19 poses, I do not believe we have the wherewithal to recover from catastrophic economic ruin, a collapsed and shattered food distribution system, and the dozens of other social and economic fractures that could accompany the ongoing onslaught of COVID-19.

These issues suggest chicken and egg dilemmas. Which comes first: beating COVID-19 or beating its effects on society so we can turn our attention to eliminating the virus? In my view, those who would choose to “repair” society and its economies before ridding us of the virus are responsible for the decay of humans’ grip on the planet. Driven by skepticism and greed, those people exemplify stubbornness and stupidity. When, and if, they come to realize that society cannot continue to function without the fuel humans provide, it will be too late. By then, even a miracle “cure” for the virus will be insufficient for recovery. The slide into oblivion will have begun; it will simply accelerate from there. A decade, maybe two, will be more than ample time to finish us. Of course, I could be wrong. I hope I am. But I’m afraid I’m not.

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The Return of Old Habits

Another few tidbits from my little book, The Essence of Zen:

Past and future are illusions. They exist only in the present, which is what there is and all that there is.
~Alan Watts~

Solitude is freedom. It is an anchor, an anchor in the void. You’re anchored to nothing, and that’s my definition of freedom.
~John Lilly~

Within yourself is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.
~Hermann Hesse~

Questions, of course, grow from such quotations. Are they just so much hokum, meant to make us feel like we are receiving personal messages designed to change our lives? Or are they opportunities to spark our own thoughts, create and explore and contemplate? Or, perhaps, something else? By the way, the Hesse quote is one to which I return on a regular basis. I’m certain I’ve posted it here on this blog or, if not this one, another of my blogs. It resonates with me.

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I remember only vaguely the details about that lengthy period known as “the Troubles,” that roughly thirty-year period during which tempers and violence flared in Northern Ireland. The U.S. media and the public here seemed to believe the conflict was primarily religious, pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another. In fact, it was a politically fueled dispute whose participants coincidentally identified either as Catholic or Protestant, with religious affiliation that paralleled political positions. Here’s a statement from Wikipedia about that period of unrest and bloodshed:

A key issue was the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Unionists, who were mostly Ulster Protestants, wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists, who were mostly Irish Catholics, wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.

The reason the Troubles is on my mind this morning is that violence has flared again in Belfast, this time fueled by tensions about post-Brexit trade rules and deteriorating relations between the parties in Belfast’s Protestant-Catholic power-sharing government. Even though the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 effectively ended the open conflict between the opposing groups, the problems seem to have simmered over the years. The only party to oppose the agreement was the Democratic Unionist Party, which favored British identity. Today, the Democratic Unionist Party holds the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, by a tiny margin of one.

I have not been keeping up with the political rest or unrest in Ireland in the intervening years. Like most Americans, my political focus and my attention has been inward-directed; we are encouraged to believe that American politics are the only truly important politics. Or maybe we’re simply too lazy to pay attention to the world beyond our borders. For whatever reason, we are insular even when we claim to welcome the world with open arms; we may welcome the world, we just don’t want to be contaminated by it.

That lengthy introduction to the reason the Troubles is on my mind this morning is leading to a set of shorter points. My first point is that scars can become scabs again if not properly tended. My second point is that human societies tend to forget the lessons of history. My third point is that youth (the primary participants in the current flash of violence) tends to intensify and execute the biases of the rest of us; older and unable or unwilling to take up arms on our own behalf. My fourth point is that pleas for calm are ignored unless accompanied by emotionally moving arguments in their favor. And, finally, my fifth point is that youth tends to be unable or unwilling to deeply explore issues which foment violence; the wisdom of age and maturity is ignored, except for the wisdom and maturity of people who have never really matured intellectually. My bias shows in my declarations of what “is” and “is not.”

I dearly hope the violence in Northern Ireland dissipates quickly and completely and that cooler heads prevail. Another thirty-year war would do just as much good as the last one.

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Much of what I’ve read about grief admonishes the bereaved to ask for help when he needs it. “Don’t wait for someone to offer what you need, ask for it.” The problem with that, of course, is that unless the person has extensive experience with grief, I doubt he has even the most remote clue as to what he needs. He may not even know he needs anything—he just feels pain and wants it to subside. The same books and pamphlets and videos tell friends and family of the bereaved not to wait to be asked; do what must be done.  But how are they to know what must be done? How are they to know the bereaved person needs either company or solitude?

Frankly, and despite all the good intentions I’ve read and heard and felt, I think a lot of the advice about grief is based on the assumption that what worked for one person is going to work for the next. And I know with more than a little certainty that is not true. Sometimes, even months into my grief, I just feel a need to have someone in the same room with me. No tender words or soothing assurances. Just a presence. And, if not for COVID, an embrace—a long embrace uninterrupted by words. Sometimes, though, I want words. Lots of words. Words of appreciation for my wife and what a remarkable person she was. Too often, I feel like I am the one who’s getting the attention when it should be her.

As much as I appreciate the sympathy and tenderness and comfort that has come my way, I have to understand that no one—no one on Earth—knows what or how I feel. No one knows what’s buried inside me that I will never let out. Or maybe I will, but not to anyone I know on a personal level. I’ve considered the possibility of seeking some sort of counseling because I can’t or won’t say what I need to reveal to someone who knows me. Not even myself. Odd, that. I sense that I have to express myself in some way that will explain myself to me. Hmm. Who is that masked man?

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I was annoyed with The Local, but I should not have been. The Local is an English-language French online newspaper and companion website that I occasionally visit. I do not remember the last time I visited, but I suspect it has been several months. This morning, when I tried to read some articles about some idiomatic French expressions (one of which was être aux manettes), I was greeted with a short peek at the article, followed by a pop-up that demanded 5 Euros for two months’ access, then 5 Euros a month thereafter. That was the minimum. I was used to having free access to The Local, so when confronted with the demand for payment in exchange for access, I was perturbed. Yes, I should be given free access to all newspapers, magazines, websites, etc., etc. because “it used to be that way.” That was before it became glaringly apparent that ad revenue was not going to cover all the expenses. And it was before we should have begun to acknowledge that you get what you pay for. In an ideal world (the one for which I am in perpetual search mode), some form of global access to news sites would be offered for a set fee; the fee would cover every website, with some form of metered limit. If I could pay €5 per month for global access with a reasonable limit, I would. And that little payment would give me access to the slang or colloquial meaning of être aux manettes. It means “in charge,” but I think there’s another meaning that’s more commonly attached to the term; I just don’t know what it is, thanks to my refusal to pay too much for two months’ access.

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Would it be utterly unreasonable of me to buy a small tract of land, a tractor, and a manufactured home to place on my land? Would it be silly of me to finally, after sixty some odd years, pursue my dream of a “place in the country?” Yeah, probably. My bones are too creaky and my muscles are too weak to do what should have been the dream-fulfilled of a forty-year-old man. There are elements of my unlived life that I’d like to be able to pursue, but only as a younger, stronger man. Too bad I cannot exchange the years I do not remember for years I’d now like to experience.

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I’ve been up for two and a half hours now; back to my old habits, it seems. It’s 6:33 now and I’m finally ready to have a full international breakfast. But I’ll have bran flakes, instead, because they’re easy. And I’m tired now, having been “working” for a couple of hours.

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I Have All I Need

Once again, I woke late this morning. When I opened my eyes, the view challenged the majesty of an enormous and elaborate stained-glass window in a church sanctuary. The sun had only begun to brighten the sky, cloudless but awash in muted oranges and blues and pale beiges. The sun’s light was not yet bright enough to cause me to turn my eyes away, but it was bright enough to seem imposing and otherworldly. The tangle of tree branches in front of the bright mass of emerging morning appeared like the dark strips of lead between pieces of the window’s glass.

Now that I again sleep in the master bedroom, the view when I awake is very different from that in the guest bedroom. For one reason, the heads of the beds are on opposite walls at opposite ends of the house. Because I usually sleep on my right side, my view from bed in the master is far more expansive. I leave the shades drawn around-the-clock because I love the openness. A voyeur would have to take great pains to get a look inside. And the view in the morning can be stunning, as it was this morning.

But usually I don’t see the view from bed. Usually, I’ve been up for at least a couple of hours before the sun begins to rise. And I have no view from my desk; I stare into the back of a dark wood over-desk credenza (that may not be the proper term; life goes on). So, perhaps I’m getting up late more frequently is simply to get better and more frequent views of the outdoors. If that were the case, I’d be affirming the concept that “things happen for a reason,” which I simply cannot do. Hmm. I’m not sure how that slipped in here.

At any rate, I’m now up and about and ready to tackle the day, but not necessarily at full throttle. I remain unsure about whether I can attend the Thursday morning gathering at church. I think I’ll just opt out, which will remove a little from my plate.

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Last night, I got a note from someone who visits this blog periodically, letting me know she is taking a break and going offline for a few weeks. We have communicated via email off and on for the last many months. Her decision to let me know she will not be visiting nor exchanging emails with me was kind; it will lessen my worry when I do not hear from her. I am, of course, quite curious about her decision to go off-line. But it obviously is none of my business; if she had wanted me to know, she would have told me. It is easy to understand why the imagination can take one’s mind on a wild trip on the back of a chimera. Simply not knowing triggers illusions with no basis in reality. Yet those delusions can gnaw at the serenity one might have gathered like a warming blanket around his shoulders.

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I enjoyed almost two hours of conversation with a couple of friends last night; our bi-monthly video-call during which the subject of beer comes up with some frequency. My friends each drank high-quality craft beers during the call. I consumed Shiner Bock. I learned that my friend in New England does not like West Coast style IPAs, nor does he enjoy Imperial Stouts (or, for that matter, Imperial anything) and he holds beer aged in bourbon barrels in contempt. His preferences are Saison, Farm House Ale, and Hefeweizen. And he has developed an affinity for New England style IPAs. My friend in the D.C. area does not like coffee flavor in beers. His preferences, apparently, are all other beers! 😉 I like damn near all beers, though I go through phases when I like one more than another or I feel that I’m “done” with a beer style for awhile. But I always come back. I like Stouts (I’m especially enamored of Oatmeal Stout), IPAs (New England, especially), Brown Ales, Porters, some Lagers, etc., etc. The three of us will try to ship to the other two a different local craft beer so each of us can comment on the same beers during the next call, two weeks hence. I think shipping beer to friends is illegal and immoral and very possibly unethical, but I’m nothing if not weakly rebellious, so I’m in.

I really enjoy these video conversations with the two Jims. They are some of the only engagements of any length I have lately. It’s good to have brief interchanges with people, but it’s just not as satisfying as casual conversations with all the protective armor cast aside. Shortly after my wife died, someone mentioned to me (and I read in several “about grief” books) that I would be flooded with comments and visits by caring people who would bring me food and offer to do anything they could to help me deal with her loss. But, I was told (and read), that will not last. People will expect you to slide back into a routine before too long and they will have to go back to their lives as they lived them before the interruption to deliver kindness to you. And that’s right. People have their lives to live that, in the real world, do not revolve around me/you. Still, I miss the visits. I could initiate visits I suppose or, at least, phone or video calls, but I’m afraid that would intrude on their return to their real worlds. Catch-22 is an absurd, but very real, phenomenon. Besides, most of the people who reached out are married women and I am a little hesitant to send the wrong signals. Who would have thought that would enter my mind this late in life…that I’d have to deny “hitting on your wife?” But it would be even more embarrassing and dangerous if the charge were true.

Years ago, I think I heard about a “conversation service,” wherein people could call a phone number and get connected with someone with whom the caller could engage in conversation for as long as desired. The call was charged to the caller’s credit card, based on length of the conversation. I wonder whether that recollection is real or just another hallucination that becomes embedded in the part of the brain that stores memories? If my memory is correct, though, this service would have been advertised or written about in newspapers sometime in the late sixties or early seventies. At the same time, whenever it was, one of the day’s “hot topics” was loneliness; loneliness and its “cure” seemed to be on everyone’s mind. I doubt a telephone conversation with a nameless, faceless stranger on a topic that probably does not really interest her would be especially appealing.

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Pollen is necessary. But I wish it were not so. Everything in my world has a coating of yellow dust. Some things have a quarter of an inch of the stuff. Wipe the yellow dust off a glass table and the yellow dust turns black on the rag. And, then, the clean spot instantly is covered in a fine mist of more pollen. Pollen, it appears, is trying to take over at least this part of Mother Earth. And I cough. And I sneeze. And my eyes turn red and watery. And I curse and complain to Zeus that the world should not be thus. I was reminded last night that one of my two video-chat friends has a dog named Zeus. I don’t recall the dog’s name when they got it, but it began with a Z; obviously, they preferred Zeus. That’s how my mind misfires. “Look, there’s something shiny!” And off I go.

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I’ll end this lengthy spillage with this quote from a book I keep on my desk (The Essence of Zen: An Anthology of Quotations) to which I regularly refer for solace or support or to slap me in the face to remind me that I have all I need:

You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck!

~Rumi~

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Three Times Seven

For the first time in my memory, I measured the two surgical scars on the front of my torso. Both are roughly seven inches long. Though I can’t readily reach the scar that runs from my back around the side of my torso, in the mirror it, too, looks to be about seven inches long. Twenty-one inches of evidence suggesting I would have been long dead by now, in the absence of those surgeries.

The oldest of those scars, memento of my first serious surgery, was given to me courtesy of doctors whose names I do not know and probably never did. The operation took place during my one and only visit to Toledo, Ohio, a visit intended to demonstrate my respect of and appreciation for local members of an association of which I was the chief staff executive. Doctors rushed me into emergency surgery to deal with what they believed, based on my symptoms, was appendicitis. Instead, they discovered a lengthy stretch of badly-damaged intestine, courtesy of Crohn’s disease. The horizontal seven-inch scalpel wound low on the right side of my torso gave the surgeon the space necessary to cut out the useless and painful length of bowel, stitch the intestines back together, and—since they were already deep in my gut—remove my healthy appendix. Several days later, I was allowed to board a plane to take me back to Dallas, where I had moved only months before. I convalesced for a couple of weeks before returning to work. At the time, I think I valued my work more than I valued my health.

The next scar was delivered by a cardiac surgeon fourteen years later. This incident, too, was done on an emergency basis. My symptoms suggested to my family practice doctor that I needed to see a cardiologist right away, in the emergency room. That’s where I met the man who would become “my first cardiologist” for the next eleven years. My cardiologist tried to insert stents by way of an angioplasty, but was unable to make that work. So, they opted to open me up.  The fact that the vertical scar is in the middle of my chest is a reminder that the surgeon did some serious work. He used a Stryker saw to cut through my sternum bone, and then used a retractor spreader to open the chest cavity to give him access to my heart. While inside, he performed a double bypass. During a follow-up visit with him a week or so later, after I went home from the hospital, he told me I would be dead within two years unless I stopped smoking. I told him I had already stopped, thanks to the surgery he had performed. He said he had heard that too many times from people who did not stop; soon they were dead, he said. I had told him the truth. That’s when I stopped smoking.

The scar whose length I could not measure (but guess is about seven inches) was made because I had not stopped smoking soon enough. That scar, created the week of Thanksgiving 2018, was made to give the surgeon access to the lower lobe of my right lung, which he removed in its entirety. I think I was in the hospital ten days afterward, then recuperated at home for what seemed like an eternity. Then, I was treated with thirty radiation sessions and four chemo treatments; the doctors wanted to make sure any remaining cancer cells were killed. About half way through the radiation regimen, the radiation burned my esophagus, making it painful to swallow. That side-effect, alone, was enough to make me wish I’d never picked up a cigarette in my youth. But my experience with lung cancer and the treatments I received for it was far more tolerable than what many others have gone through. In fact, I feel guilty for remembering the experience as painful or unpleasant, when the nightmares others have gone through make my experience seem like a minor inconvenience.

Without having experienced those three incidents of life-saving surgery, I feel certain I would be dead by now. While I doubt that any of them were “touch-and-go” in terms of my immediate survival, in all three cases I suspect I would have been dead within months without them. Had those challenges to my health taken place only fifty years ago, the odds of my medium-term survival even after surgical intervention would have been extremely low. I was fortunate, indeed, to have been born during an era when science and medicine were making such magnificent strides.

I am sure I’ve written about all three of these surgical interventions before; probably several times. Anyone who has read this blog for long is probably tired of me returning to them as often as I do. I suppose my fascination with each of the three surgeries is that I feel certain that, without them, I would have died. And that means I am living on borrowed—or stolen—time. I am alive despite the fact that, in the normal course of Nature, my ashes should be providing sustenance to earthworms and oak trees. I made reference to that yesterday. And I wrote about the scars of battles with time. I guess today’s post is a continuation, of sorts, of yesterday’s musing.  Hmm. Death and dying is on my mind, too, courtesy of my sense that I’ve “dodged a bullet” three times.

The concept that some things are “meant to be” is not an idea that has much room in my head. I do not subscribe to belief in a grand plan in which “everything happens for a reason.” That idea suggests free will does not exist. Ach! I was about to go off on a tangent that might take me days to finish, so I won’t go there.

Something in my head suggests I’ve only touched the surface of what I feel or think about my three major surgeries and what, if anything, they mean. So, I’m afraid I’ll probably continue writing about them off and on until I figure out what, exactly, I’m trying to tell myself or trying to learn. Or trying to make sense of the fact that I’m still alive when, according to the natural progression without massive intervention, I should be dead. And why me, instead of someone else who wasn’t so fortunate? Is there an answer to “why?” No, I think not. I…we…want answers that do not and can never exist. I tend not to cry when I write, because writing is more an intellectual than an emotional exercise. But for some reason, tears keep slipping from the corners of my eyes as I write this. And I don’t think I want to deal with today. I just want to stay safely in my cocoon and rock myself back to sleep.

But I haven’t had breakfast yet and I’ve allowed my coffee to get cold. So I suppose I’d better get up out of this chair and face the world. I’ll rock myself to sleep later, when I can confidently predict no one will intrude on my thoughts.

 

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Surviving is Easy

As we age, we lose pieces of ourselves. In our youth, we could not conceive of the losses. How could it possibly be, we silently but mockingly wondered, that something so crucial to our sense of self could disappear into the vapor of time? How could our hearing fail? How could our sexual prowess diminish so thoroughly? How could we come to rely on canes for balance, instead of depending on our innate abilities to remain upright and strong? It was inconceivable, in the arrogance of youth, to think we might ever need false teeth or oxygen bottles or countless pills and capsules or inhalers or compression garments.

Bearing the scars of battles with time—too many of which we lost—we finally limp into the sunset, declaring victory in a war against eternity. It is the same war we dismissed, in our youth, as being fought against an imaginary enemy. Yet here we are on the cusp of a victory we know we will never win. The afterlife, a fantasy born of fear, still promises eternal joy. Except for those of us who feel confident that life and afterlife are one in the same. After life, we believe, the circle begins anew. Once again, we return to the stardust from whence we came. But we’ll never again be conscious of the cycle in which we place our “faith.” Because, like youth, once life is over, it’s over. We become deconstructed humans; food for one-celled organisms and energy for oak trees and poison ivy and raccoons.

Few of us long for the day we’ll begin to decompose and disappear. Many of us, though, attempt to delay that moment for as long as possible. Life-saving surgeries, death-delaying pills, exercise regimens designed to deceive our muscles and delude our cells. We start the deceptions early, pretending even in our teens and twenties that we enjoy stressing our bodies and eating bland, taste-defying fibers. Just as long as our sacrifices extend our lives by days or weeks or months, the atonement for our natural sins is worth the pain!

But is the pain of surviving worth sacrificing the process of living? A relatively new favorite song includes a line that goes, “surviving is easy, living is hard.” It’s a bittersweet tune by a Canadian artist; I am relatively sure I’ve written about Ken Yates’ music. Given that he’s Canadian, you can trust that his songs come from the heart. I know, that’s just so much B.S., but I like to believe it.

The conceit of youth is so maddening, in one sense, and so beautifully hopeful, in another. I largely wasted my youth. And once that’s gone, it’s damn near impossible to retrieve all the value that was mindlessly thrown away. But you keep trying. You try to resurrect the youth that you so carelessly misspent. You fail, of course, but you try anyway. And trying, sometimes, is almost as valuable as succeeding.

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Giving

The simultaneous intersections of a host of experiences of emotional and analytical experiences in my mind have, once again, highlighted significant flaws. That is, which ones can be repaired and which of the shattered and broken pieces should simply be swept up and discarded. While the two preceding sentences might seem negative and emotionally fraught, that is not the case. Emotionally-charged, perhaps, but not fraught.

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Yesterday afternoon, I got a text message from a friend from my long-ago Chicago days, a guy I had been meaning to get in touch with for months (but as they say, “…the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…”). His message wished my wife and me Happy Easter and asked how we are doing. And he suggested the four of us (he, his wife, my wife, and I) talk by telephone soon. I was busy when his message came in, so I put off reading it until last night, after dinner at my neighbors’ house.

Last night, when I took the time to read his message, one of my increasingly rare meltdowns occurred. I responded to his message, though it took me a long time to get through it. The shock and pain of my wife’s death came back to me with such full force that I thought I might not be able to reply to him. But I did. The fact that I hadn’t even told him about her death bothered me; it still does. I wonder who else who would want to know, who I might have neglected to contact?

That episode made it clear to me that, despite the significant improvement in my ability to deal with her death, it’s still almost unbearably hard for me to accept that my wife is gone forever. Even though I’ve made some truly extraordinary strides and can feel myself wanting to be (and getting) closer to people whose presence in my life I enthusiastically embrace, the excruciating pain is not gone. And it’s not yet really tolerable. If truth be told, it probably never will be tolerable because of who I am at my core.

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Other texts came my way yesterday, several from a friend from the D/FW area. She will visit soon (as in this Friday). She is someone whose attitudes and emotions seem to parallel mine. And she writes and reads poetry, to boot, so her time here is apt to be a calming influence; that’s what poetry tends to do for me. I’m very excited about her visit and the opportunity to have long, meaningful conversations with her. In my experience, people who write poetry tend to think and feel deeply and they tend to understand emotions and to feel compassion more deeply than the “average” person on the street.

Another couple of texts came from a woman who has left the Hot Springs area circle where I met her but who, even though quite distant physically (as in the Pacific Northwest) might as well be joined to me at the hip with respect to our disturbing humor. Until recently, I haven’t heard about or from her in around five years. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think I made the most recent contact, the purpose of which was to tell her about my wife’s death. This woman, who became a flight attendant since last I saw her, has two adult or near-adult children and a husband in or around Portland or Seattle or environs. I gather from our recent communications that she has had to rein in some of her more expressive behaviors/humor in her new role as airborne protector.

I got a phone message, too, from a friend and former teacher (who taught me to throw clay on a potter’s wheel and to create sculpture), asking about getting together for lunch sometime soon. We had tried to arrange a lunch recently, but her dog (who had been her close friend and companion for 10 years) experienced seizures and then died about the time we were to meet.  We’ll try for another time soon. Though she is more (maybe considerably more) than twenty years younger than I, if she weren’t in what I think is a stable gay relationship, I might have wondered whether an old man like me might have an opportunity to develop a passionate relationship with her whenever my on-again, off-again grief subsides. But I am too old and she is too young and I might never be ready, anyway, for a considerably younger lover. Especially a younger gay woman whose interests probably do not include old heterosexual men.

Speaking of visits, a week from this coming Friday I will be visited (for at least a few days) by a couple, close friends, who live in Fort Smith. These friends are the people I consider among a miniscule core of my very closest friends (as close as I think I am capable of getting, anyway). Although we don’t see each other often (even before COVID-19), there’s something about them that’s extremely comforting to me when I’m in their presence; or on the phone or Zoom with them. I wish we lived much closer together and could see one another far more frequently.

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Even amid all the visits and conversations and demonstrations that I matter to people who matter to me, slivers of doubt jabbed at me all day. People I’ve begun to think of as friends did not make contact with me as I might have hoped. But, it occurred to me, neither did I make contact with them. Yet maybe I had simply given up; my efforts, perhaps, had not generated “enough” responsiveness to satisfy me. Absurd! People have lives of their own. I should not and cannot expect everyone to make a point of caring for my tender ego every moment. I should not expect people to think about me and let me know it. Someone (but I don’t recall who) is quoted, roughly, as saying “You wouldn’t worry so much about what people think about you if you understood how seldom they do.”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that all I’ve written this morning is purely self-centered. And it occurs to me, as I think about that unpleasant realization, that most of my writing is. That disturbing fact suggests I need to have some uncomfortable conversations with myself and change my behavior and thought-processes accordingly. I must change myself so I get more satisfaction from learning about my ego-driven emotions than from indulging them. And I thought I knew, going into this morning’s writing, that I had begun to learn and take deliberate control.

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But yesterday was a delight in many ways. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a friend from church, disguised as the Easter Bunny, dropped by. And I spent literally hours playing Words with Friends with my sister in law, who was sitting across the table from me as she slaughtered me, game after game. And last night I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with neighbors who served some of the most delicious lamb chops I have ever eaten. And I watched and listened to the minister from my church (along with some lay leaders) express thoughts and ideas that I found both inspirational and challenging. My little pocket of the world, mostly hidden from view of the people around me, was generally happy and deserving of my appreciation and gratitude. How can I preserve and protect those moments of appreciation and gratitude?

+++

On with the day. It’s almost 9 o’clock. Crap. I started this day very late (waking around 7:30 with a brutal headache) and I’ve frittered away part of it on self-indulgent drool. Enough! I will grab this day by the neck and squeeze until either it, or I, can’t give any more.

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Numinous

My mother, a career English teacher who earned her master’s degree in English, was something of a grammar Nazi. That, no doubt, is part of the reason sometimes I am so particular with language. However, I am happy to ignore rules from time to time, as well. Not long ago, a friend sent me a link to a column by Brenda Looper (Arkansas Democrat Gazette). Entitled “Break Some Rules,” Looper’s article touches on the differences between scholarly (prescriptive) grammar and and the grammar associated with the way language is actually used (descriptive grammar). While not overly specific about the variances between the two styles, reading Looper’s words are good reminders of the differences not only between scholarly and descriptive grammar, but the differences between written and spoken grammar. The written form is much more formal and tends to be more scholarly. The casual grammar of everyday speech can be utterly divorced from written grammar, regardless of whether  it is scholarly or descriptive.

All that having been said, I remain a bit of a language curmudgeon. I cling tenaciously to more formal, scholarly grammar and tend to hold what I consider “bad” grammar in contempt. But not always. And I do not always use complete sentences. Because…emphasis. And messaging. And so forth.

Writers and speakers, if they look hard enough, can find all sorts of ways to massage the language (English or otherwise) to suit the intents of their communications. Selectively breaking grammar rules can add enormous impact to messages. Rule-breaking can convey unspoken messages, as well. Intentionally saying or writing, in certain contexts, in ways that break grammatical rules can carry messages of contempt or, at least, unfavorably descriptive judgement. “Ain’t that the dickens?! He don’t know where his ass is at.” The writer/speaker, depending on context, either is: mocking the person quoted; judging the person a bumpkin, a hick; or bemoaning the fellow’s loss of a donkey. The real pros, who can use grammar to slide in double entendre messages by breaking grammatical rules, are cunning linguists. (Forgive me, I could not help myself; it’s not original to me, but I admire the classy crudeness it presents.)

Language is interesting, entertaining, and extraordinarily frustrating. And that’s just English. Imagine the grammatical armies protecting all the other languages!

Oh, remind me some time to continue this one-sided conversation. I should say explain about my life-long inability to diagram a sentence which, in my mother’s house, was very nearly a capital offense.

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Numinous is an adjective that means mysterious or surpassing comprehension or understanding. It was new to me when I heard or read it within the last several weeks.  Another definition suggests divine or spiritual. I’ll stick with the first one I mentioned (which, if one considers it carefully enough, clearly describes the second one). I think, though, the religious definition is the one more commonly associated with the word. I am not quite sure why I think that, frankly, but if there’s a “definition contrast-compare-rate—and-rank” service, I believe its analyses would correspond with mine.

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Impure Fiction: His Perspective

To say it was disappointing would be a gross understatement. She did not notice I was nude. Naked. Had no clothes on. Nekkid as a jaybird. Wearing only a birthday suit. Clad only in a bag of skin. Sin ropas. Nackt. Desnuda. Naken.

But I hid my disappointment. I tightly embraced her when she reached me after shuffling, in my far-too-large slippers, across the kitchen linoleum. The embrace sparked a diminution of my disappointment, causing a short embarrassment, instead.

She noticed. “What? You’ve been naked all this time? I thought maybe it was my imagination.  Must be nice to be able to walk around the house nude, now that you’re no longer a working stiff. You’re enjoying retirement, I see.”

Her reference that it was nice to be able to walk around the house nude was made in reference to the fifteen-foot tall floor to ceiling accordion glass doors that stretched forty feet across the west wall of the living area.

Well, at least casual acknowledgement was easier to tolerate than absolute oversight.

Clandestine Broderick had been my initial wife, the first of several to follow. We met in high school and had several intimate moments but, within the first thirty minutes of college, forgot them and lost touch with one another. I did not think of her or see her again until I was twenty years older; I married her when I was thirty-eight, the night after our twenty-year high school reunion. Which coincided with our twentieth high-school-aged intimate liaison (completely devoid of sex, by the way). Though the marriage lasted only thirteen months, it was an education for me. And for Clandestine, I might add. Twelve months of the deaf, dumb, and blind leading the deaf, dumb, and blind and one month of practicing perfection. Unfortunately, the perfection was practiced by both us us, outside the marriage. It took just a month to undo twelve months plus twenty years.

Twenty years later, after the forty year reunion dinner, Clandestine suggested we finish the evening with a drink at my house. I obliged. My fifth wife, since Clandestine, had moved out roughly two months earlier, so I was feeling a little, shall we say…in need.  Clandestine could not hold her liquor any better forty years post-graduation than she could on graduation night or twenty years later. Nor could I. The result was the unclothed disappointment.

Clandestine had slept with me the night before, after intense foreplay led to perfection. But perfection never lasts. Memories of snoring and stopped up sinuses gnaws at their edges. Recollections of extraordinary flatulence and using a bent paperclips in lieu of floss or a toothpick, too, sully the color of perfection. And memory, itself, changes from a shade of brilliant white to an ancient pale yellow, awash in brown smudges and grease stains. My memories of Clandestine were more forgiving and appealing, I think, but I cannot remember what they were. Inhaling very high volumes of smoke from a burning reefer blew my memory out of my head, where it resided, to my left foot, where the ingrown toenail on my great toe tends to let memory leak out into the atmosphere. I’ve often thought other people could inhale my memories, floating around in the air. And, if they can, someday I will be unspeakably embarrassed when someone like Natasha or Edward or Priscilla or Merriweather inhales that air. But I digress.

“Would you like to have coffee on the deck? It’s beastly hot out there, but the umbrella protects you from the worst of the sun’s rays.”

Clandestine responded to my invitation with bedroom eyes and a slight twist of her head and neck.

“Only if you promise to relax me on the chaise lounge after,” she purred.

I have to admit that the deck, forty stories above street level with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, was the ideal place for  outdoor sex. No voyeurs could see what was happening on the deck, even with binoculars.

“Clandestine, don’t you think it’s time you got dressed and went home?”

“You know, Frank, you’ve turned into an unadventuresome old man. Where’s your…je ne sais quoi…your thirst for unbridled passion and dangerous thrills?”

How could it be, you might ask, that I married for the first time when I was thirty-eight years old, but by the time I reached fifty-eight years old, I had just discarded my fifth wife? I would respond by saying it was easy; I averaged just under four years per wife. That performance gave me three years before I might have gotten the seven-year itch, had I been counting.  It may have been a strategy to avoid infidelity. Unfortunately, that did not work, in that the average number of illicit affairs was about four per year, itch or no itch. You can calculate the numbers yourself; roughly eighty illicit sexual liaisons, give or take a few.

Impure Fiction: Her Perspective

With a name like Clandestine, I was bound to be teased. Even though I pronounced it Clandesteen, almost nobody else but my parents pronounced it that way. My parents were cruel psychopaths who tortured their one child mercilessly in ways Child Protective Services either ignored or treated as “normal.” There was nothing normal about my name and they knew it. And there was nothing normal about my father’s habit of walking around the house in the altogether. Well, it was normal to me because I was a kid. But, still, I found it vaguely improper, primarily because of what my friends thought and said. And he reveled in my discomfort when he displayed his wrinkled manhood while standing at the kitchen island.

“Want a peach, Baby?” he would ask as he groped himself absent-mindedly.

That was Dad. My role model. Along with Mom, who kept to herself most of the time, hiding in the master bedroom, which was absolutely out-of-bounds for us kids. I rarely had kids come over after school because the few that came reported their surprise to their parents, who spread the word and prohibited their children from ever again darkening the door of the Broderick household. But that all changed with Frank.

My experiences with Frank McKracken were both memorable—delightful in some ways—and nightmarish. On our six-month anniversary, he sent me a dozen red roses and he took me out to dinner at The Gregorian, one of the best steakhouses on the west coast. Located about five miles north of Gualala, The Gregorian attracted a rabid following all the way from the Bay Area to the border with Oregon. But two days later, after the roses and candle-lit dinner, I caught him in bed with one of my girlfriends, Omega Swartch. Omega was not the only one, though. Apparently, I later learned, he found some of my other girlfriends just as impossible to resist. And they found his allure more important than their connections with me.


And that’s an unfinished off-the-cuff attempt at writing a deviant, modestly erotic vignette that stops suddenly and with no warning; utterly incomplete. The question, of course, is whether it should be finished, discarded, or set on fire and thrown from a bridge near the Norwegian coast. I’m tempted to continue writing her perspective, which I imagine will be radically different from Frank’s. He is, obviously, a self-centered lecher who discards wives with wild abandon. But who is Clandestine, at her core? Really, is she brittle or is she as flexible as thick steel? And how does this semi-erotic vignette play out after a breakfast of hash-browns and thick links of habanero and chicken sausage? Maybe I’ll revise it, taking myself out of the equation as Frank’s first-person narrator and, instead, presenting the story in third-person. Or maybe I’ll simply abandon this story because of the lack of feedback (yes, I’m involved in casting about for guilty consciences).

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I’ve long had another story in the back of my mind about a guy who was named Angaroo by his thoughtless parents. He earns a nickname, Anger; an appellation attached to him both to mock his given name and to acknowledge his response to incessant teasing by children whose parents should be locked in prison cells for parental negligence. Angaroo’s experiences during childhood and beyond might explain his actions one day, weeks after his thirty-third birthday. One day before that fateful day, the Black Friday after Thanksgiving, Angaroo disconnected and emptied the automatic fire sprinkler system that protected shoppers and staff in a big box store. He then hooked up a pump to the fire sprinkler pipe to force pressurized gasoline into the system. A hour after the store opened, when it was jammed with Christmas shoppers, Angaroo drove a tanker truck around the store, stopping long enough at each entrance and exit, to drench the door and its surroundings with gasoline. He then lit the fire. Six hundred shoppers perished in flames.

This brutally vicious and violent story probably will never be written, if only because it is so horrendous. In fact, it doesn’t even belong in my brain.

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I’ve spend most of this Easter morning with my sister-in-law, playing Words with Friends. Then, a friend called to ask if I was home so the Easter Bunny could drop by. She came shortly thereafter, bearing a little gift box with goodies she had made, along with some traditional Easter bunny chocolates, etc.. She is among my favorite people; so incredibly thoughtful and so much fun to be around. If she weren’t happily married…she’d probably find someone far more appealing than I with whom to spend her time.

I have yet to shower, which is becoming urgent in that I am going to my neighbors’ house in about an hour for dinner. I shaved early this morning and planned to shower after my sister-in-law left, following our Words with Friends game. But we continued playing and talking about nothing for hours!

My Easter fiction vignettes should not be considered Easter vignettes. Instead, they should be considered flush fiction, the kind of incomplete garbage that belongs on rolls.

Enough of this. It’s damn near 3:00 p.m. and I have to get clean and presentable.

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No More Mistakes

Yesterday, I posted a rather silly comment on Facebook, ruing the fact that I was robbed of my Mexican heritage by having been born an Anglo. My “silly” comment, though, was based on my real admiration for and appreciation of all positive aspects Mexican culture. But after I posted my silly comment, I began to wonder whether there may be Swinburns in Mexico (aside from my brother) who were born and grew up there. These potential Swinburns, I reasoned, would have absorbed the Mexican culture naturally, regardless of their skin tone or ancestry. I planned to explore more about this on waking this morning. Before I thought long about looking, I stumbled upon a Swinburn who was born and grew up in Lobatse, Botswana. She is a Black woman whose name is Mmaselema Swinburn. Judging from her photos, she is somewhere between her late fifties and her mid-sixties. I have been unable to determine, yet, whether Swinburn is her maiden name; I’m still looking (the only other Swinburns on her friends list or on friends’ lists are:

  • a very young (late teens?) White girl;
  • an adult male (who may be in his forties?);
  • Patiko Swinburn (from Botswana but now in London, England), a Black woman (I think) but not sure which person in the photo is Patiko. Patiko’s list of friends on Facebook includes:
  • Charmaine Swinburn, a White woman in England.
  • Also on Patiko’s FB site was an image that shows Patiko (either the mother or one of two girls), all of whom are in the loving arms of a White man.
  • Justin Swinburn, details unknown except that he is from Sandton, Gauteng, South Africa

During my search, I’ve discovered that Mmaselma’s extensive friends list represents a rainbow of people from all over; mostly Africa, but I came across one in Indonesia.

As I considered this surname journey, I also remembered that I have a Facebook friend, Annette Swinburn, who ostensibly was born in Leipzig, Germany but grew up in Chile (or was it Argentina?). On FB, she shows her current city as Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.   Her first language is Spanish, but I believe she is fluent in English and she may be fluent in German; she worked for Red Bull at one time, I think, and may still. But her last post was from Bolivia in April 2016; that worries me.

I found plenty of other Annette Swinburns, mostly in England (England is absolutely lousy with Swinburns—they’re everywhere). One, who lives somewhere near Canterbury, posted a review (no longer visible, apparently) about Sundowners Gay Bar. Another one (or the same Annette Swinburn) was named HR Consultant of the year in 2007, where she represented Deloitte. And yet another (or the same one) received an award or recognition of some kind in connection with her discernment about a specific wine; it may have been a South African wine.

Mmaselema, I can tell from her posts, is fluent in English; it may be her native tongue. Oh, my, have I gone off the rails again? I was hoping to learn that I have Black blood-relatives from my ancestral home in Botswana, but it’s beginning to look like that’s not my ancestral home. Although I do not know for sure.  But wouldn’t it be spectacular if there were a way to demonstrate, without any room for error, that everyone on Earth is a blend of African, Asian, Anglo, etc., etc., etc.? Wouldn’t it be great to be forced to acknowledge that, ultimately, we’re all the same, regardless of skin color, country of origin, or language?

I may attempt to send a message to Mmaselema through Facebook; she might ignore it or she might be delighted by it. Who knows? It’ s worth a shot. Maybe. But I’m worried that her last post was in 2018. I hope they’ve just lost interest in Facebook.

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I slept long and hard last night, though I awoke at least four times during the night. Each time, I uttered something loud and long before deciding it was too early to get up. I was asleep again in a heartbeat. Before arising in earnest, though, I had a long, meandering dream in which I was a returning student at the University of Texas in Austin. The environment looked very different; the campus had grown enormously, covering several thousand acres. The dream seemed to have begun at the tail end of a lecture of some kind, held in an enormous auditorium. Though I was in the audience, I also was to teach a class and I needed to find the dorm in which I was to be housed. I also needed to find my student mailbox; I told someone I had failed to locate my mailbox the year before. No one could tell me exactly how to get to the student mailboxes. But the professor from the lecture spoke to me about cleaning up pools of water into which trash and used equipment had been thrown; that had to be done before I searched for the mailboxes. The search involved stopping in several coffee-shop-type places, where dogs roamed freely. Each dog had a tattoo on its belly and I think I was to view and record each tattoo. Finally, at some point, I thought I was in close proximity to the UT tower and the Co-op (the latter which may or may not exist any longer). But as I looked up, I could see that the tower was far, far away. And then someone told me the student mailboxes were located about twenty blocks east of the tower. And then I awoke and tried to determine whether the night had ended. It had, almost.

There was much more to the dream, but it was mixed up in ways that I cannot explain and I think parts of it were repeated several times. Dreams confuse me; one day I think they consist of unrelated snippets of experience that have absolutely no “meaning” and the next I believe they represent unresolved issues that, though hard to comprehend, might be vital in understanding one’s emotional dilemmas. And another day I may have a completely different perspective. Bizarre is the word I think I used early this morning to describe last night’s dream.

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Yesterday, I visited a medical dispensary and bought some very expensive goods that presumably will ease my troubled muscles and nerves and tendons and the mind to which they are all connected. We shall see. At least the goods will bring an unearned smile to my face and will drag laughter from my throat. I also went to a favorite Tex-Mex restaurant and had a nice meal of tacos de lengua and tacos de barbacoa. It was the restaurant’s environment and the meal it served to me that prompted yesterday’s silliness and longing for my Mexican heritage.

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I could spend all day today being utterly, completely, thoroughly lazy. But I have to make a bunch of phone calls on behalf of my church, informing members of an upcoming vote and urging them to vote, preferably in favor of the proposal (to fund a completely new website, built by professionals to present the site structure a team of members collectively decided on). I rather loathe making phone calls on behalf of the church, mostly because I generally do not like talking on the phone. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, phone conversation can last hours, but seem like only minutes. Especially, though, I find telephone sales calls unappealing. And I suppose that’s how I view these church calls. They’re necessary, but only because we cannot be sure members would read or understand our message if sent by email or text, my preferred modes of communication.

Today, I’d rather have a friend over to sit and chat all day. Someone whose mere presence would be enough, but with whom conversations and mindless chatter might be perfectly comfortable. Hmm. I guess face-to-face communication is my real preference; COVID has almost made me forget that’s an option.

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Feeling distant and discarded this morning. Disconnected, I guess, is more descriptive. That is not to say I feel either sad or depressed; it’s more that I feel unnecessary. How does one “feel” unnecessary? Hell if I know. It’s just the best descriptive word I can think of. Even though I’ve written about ancestry, human connectedness, and strange dreams, none of that feels relevant right now. I am just going through the motions of human irrelevancy. But. of course I do not think humans are irrelevant; we just think we’re more relevant than we really are. If a friendship or love life or sense of self comes apart in a thousand tiny, splintered, impossible-to-repair pieces, we can just ricochet off the walls of the life that confines and tortures us until we find a spot on that wall lathered with adhesives. Those little spots capture us, once again, permitting us to pretend everything is as it should be. As if “should” has any basis in reality or relevance. We’re adept at making mistakes about who and why we are. We rarely give a thought that the planet on which we live could be erased, almost in the blink of an eye, from the memory of the ever-expanding universe.

No More Mistakes

The sun shrunk into a black dwarf overnight,
its surface—once a cauldron of molten time—
cool to the touch, unimpressed by the
passing of irrelevant moments and planets.

Somewhere, the sun’s twin will take the cue,
it, too, drenching its healing heat and light
with darkness and ice so cold even electrons
and neutrons cower, deathly still, in corners.

Mother Nature, that leering beast born of
misunderstanding and mindless fury,
witnesses with cool detachment the rupture
of the fabric of a thousand galaxies.

Father Time, Mother’s doddering companion,
watches the cloth as it tears, aware
of the meaning of this monstrous mayhem:
there will be no more minutes, no more mistakes.

And in light of all that, is it a mistake to think about the possibility of a multi-cultural heritage as something meaningful? So what if we’re forced to acknowledge that we’re all the same? Why is it relevant that, regardless of skin color, country of origin, or language, we’re all part of the human race when, at any moment, the sun could shrink, leaving us to turn into instant icicles?

Once again, I fell asleep at the keyboard, the pinky of my left hand pressing on the “z” key and creating a lengthy expression of a symbol for sleep. So many zees.

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Ach!

Libido. One of the definitions of the word is:

all of the instinctual energies and desires that are derived from the id.

Id is defined as

the part of the psyche, residing in the unconscious, that is the source of instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle and are modified by the ego and the superego before they are given overt expression.

Pleasure principal is:

instinctive seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain to satisfy biological and psychological needs.

I find it interesting to explore the relationships between id, ego, pleasure principal, libido, etc., etc. because the entire mass of ideas is based not necessarily on reliable, verifiable, demonstrably valid data but, instead, on interpretations that are influenced by assumptions and beliefs. In other words, it’s all conjured by our minds as we attempt to understand things that may be unknowable. We may never truly grasp what drives us to think, feel, want, dislike, etc., etc. But we prefer to think we know, even when we don’t or can’t. The word “instinctive” is interesting in connection with the definition of “pleasure principal” because it acknowledges (or asserts) that we do not control certain of our urges but, rather, are controlled by them. We’re animals, in other words, just like other animals. We’re creatures just like birds that fly north and south during specific seasons; if we had wings, we might migrate without thinking of why we are doing it. “We just have to fly; it’s an instinctual urge.”

I do not know just why these thoughts are on my mind this morning. Perhaps it’s simply instinct that drives me to think the way I do. But maybe humans’ instincts are groomed and cultivated by what we think are our more advanced intellects. But maybe not. I’m enamored of the possibility of knowing “why” in almost every situation, every circumstance. It’s not really a possibility, though, is it? It’s more of an impossible dream, a wish so frail and tenuous that I’ll never know; it’s just a desire that always beyond reach.

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After getting my second COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, my emotional energy outpaced my physical energy by a factor of five. I did not realize this until I attempted to move the gargantuan queen-sized bedframe from the garage into the house. My physical capabilities paled in comparison to the amount of energy necessary to accomplish the task. Not one to give up, though, I contacted Bob (not the dog; the handyman). Unfortunately, he said he would be unavailable until sometime late this coming week. So, I decided to ask my delightful neighbor couple, approximate ages of 73 and 80, to consider helping me move at least a portion of the mass of dense wood. Long story short: the entire bed now resides in its proper place in the house and the neighbors survived the ordeal; I am not sure I did. I feel pain in parts of my body that, until yesterday, I did not realize could hurt. Muscles in my chest and side and back apparently were stretched far beyond their limits during yesterday’s ordeal. I am relatively sure I tore tendons, shredded muscles into ruined tissue, and snapped major nerve groups into pieces. This is the second time in a week that I have behaved as if I were a powerfully muscular 23-year-old, only to be forced to acknowledge that I am much closer to an advanced state of weakened geezerhood. I guess I survived the night, though. Multiple overnight trips to the bathroom to pee suggested to me that the physical exertion involved in moving the bedframe must have wrung all the liquid from my muscles into my bladder.

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My sister-in-law sent me a text this morning at 5:30, saying she did not feel so good; I assume she’s responding to the COVID vaccination (she, too, got her second shot yesterday, an hour or so before I went to get mine). At the time of her text, I felt the same. But I don’t think my discomfort was vaccination-related; I think it was the physical manifestation of the stupidity related to moving the bed.

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All I remember of last night’s dream is that I ruined a cassette tape, spilling the long strip of magnetic tape from the container into a spaghetti-like mass and accidentally breaking the flimsy strip. I think I was in a grocery store, but it may have been a library. I was chastised by a woman—either a librarian or a produce clerk—for ruining the tape, which was somehow related to either learning a language or producing a computer program. And on the periphery of the dream were dogs.

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I learned from my neighbors, the ones who helped with the bed, that our Easter dinner will consist of lamb chops, asparagus, and rice pilaf.  They invited me quite some time ago to join them for Easter. They’re not even remotely religious, as far as I can tell, but they tend to observe some Christian rituals, yet without any of the religious trappings of those rituals. Interesting, that. At any rate, the mention of lamb appealed to me, even though I still have a lot of leftover leg of lamb in my refrigerator. I think I’ll freeze the leftovers, delaying my planned Shepherd’s Pie to some time in the future. I am a passionate fan of lamb, especially lamb cooked very rare and touched with the flavor of garlic. Last night’s dinner consisted of a bit of leftover rare lamb, flavored with a touch of crushed dried mint leaves and heated just slightly. I should have had some vegetables, but I was too lazy to bother; my meal last night was a testament to the allure of carnivorousness.

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It’s already 8:30. I’ve not yet showered, shaved, or eaten breakfast. The day is attempting, with little success, to erupt from its molasses-like emergence. I need to help it along. Bran flakes and milk, which can be prepared and consumed even in a mindless stupor, await.

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A Post With No Name

Yesterday was the last official “class” that dealt with spiritual practices (AKA  “deeply introspective and appreciative examinations of the world and sometimes moments of unspeakable gratitude”). But there was talk about continuing the group as a means of prolonging the conversations. And that sounds interesting. While I’m generally unimpressed with “woo-woo” sorts of emotional exercises, this online class was different. The more I participated, the more appealing it became. And, for some reason, yesterday’s class sealed the deal for me; daily and/or weekly, monthly, annually, etc. intentional emotional and mental (and, in some sense and in some cases, physical) spiritual practices can be extremely useful. Meditation or yoga or a hundred other means of focusing on being present and feeling gratitude for elements of life seems to me, now, less “woo-woo” and more fundamentally powerful. Who knew?

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Leg of lamb, potato, salad, and broccoli. That was last night’s dinner of champions. And there’s a monstrous amount of lamb left for future meals. I’ve been wondering this morning whether the taste combination of lamb and bacon would be appealing? I suspect it would be. I may give it a shot later today or one day soon. The lamb was tasty, though I do not think it measures up to New Zealand lamb. Last night’s lamb was proudly American and proudly “natural.” I was pleased to see that the package was not marked “unnatural.” Thought that might have piqued my interest a bit more.

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Today is the day. COVID-19 vaccine shot number two. The day of invincibility! The day I will tear off my mask, wander into a crowded right-wing gun-fanatic demonstration, and take a deep, deep breath. Okay, only the first sentence is true. I know I’m not becoming invincible today, nor will I take off my mask and mix with crowds of dimwits. But it sure will be nice to get that second shot behind me. And in two weeks, I’ll feel like I might have dodged the bullet for a while yet. I hope. I’d like that to be true of everyone I know. And those I don’t.

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I wrote a long letter last night (typed, not long-hand) to a young woman I met only once, around six years ago. After I met her, we became Facebook friends, though neither of us follow the other’s posts very often. That’s where the letter thing came up. I saw, in the rare post that I actually saw, her request for people who would like to get a letter from her to let her know. She said she would write and mail a long-hand letter to them. I doubt she expected me to respond, but I did. And she was true to her word. She wrote a four-page letter, written on stationery with a plant theme. Last night, I finally replied to her letter (though it wasn’t really the kind of letter you “reply” to, in that it was just sort of newsy). Whether she will respond to this one I do not know. It’s not important. But I rather enjoy personal letters, on paper, delivered through the U.S. Postal Service. There’s something especially intentional about them; they take far more time and energy (and money) than email and text, etc. Physical letters, whether hand-written or typed, are appealing to me in part because they deviate from the form-letter swill that pours into my mailbox on most days. And because they represent the writer’s intention to communicate in a way that transcends the meaningless drivel that often comes in the form of electronic interactions.

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I thought of you last night. But you knew that, of course, though you may not remember. Memory is such an unreliable place to store recollections. You’re never sure whether you recall actual circumstances or whether, instead, you remember events that took place only during vivid (or indistinct) hallucinations or fantasies. You knew you were on my mind because my actions offered irrefutable evidence of the fact. Nothing untoward; just obvious and improper, if we accept the social mores of our time. And more than a little embarrassing—not to you, to me—now that I recall what I said, and in light of those damn social mores. These were not spoken words. They were word symbols, formed with components from the alphabet. Symbols that, collectively, revealed things about what was on my mind and that I hope do not cause you discomfort or unease.

From whose mind did the words from the preceding paragraph arise? Was it mine, or was it from a character in a screenplay? Or might it have been just an actor, exercising his vocal chords during a silent rehearsal? Or might the words have be transcribed from a brain-scan recording made more than two hundred years after the death of the person responsible for crafting the message? The paragraph’s content seems vaguely inappropriate and, possibly, with slightly erotic overtones; but only if you’re a mind-reader. And I often think you must be. I can tell from your smile. Or from the look of embarrassed discomfort on your face. What name am I calling you today? Phaedra? Ariadne? I think Aphrodite is a far more appropriate moniker; beauty, after all, is in your genes. And, as my old friend would say, in your jeans. Ah, you see where this could be going! We’ll have to watch out, lest Nurse Rached takes a fancy to handing out lobotomies in response to overnight travel through mental labyrinths.

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His name is Bob Mayer. He was president of an association I once managed. But not in the dream. In the dream last night, he worked in an odd corporate complex involved in business consulting in the financial world. I drove to the corporate complex, miles away from everything, and was led to a tiny, one-car tram on a sand-covered track, where I was instructed to sit. Once seated, the tram took off, heading through an elaborate series of doors hidden behind sliding file cabinets, safes, kitchen cabinets, and an assortment of other forms of camouflage. When the tram stopped, at the far end of an outdoor track a good hundred yards from the main corporate complex, I was told to sit in a chair and wait. I put my briefcase down and waited. Soon, another tram came to pick me up; I do not recall exactly where it took me, but wherever it was, that’s where I met with Bob Mayer. Bob reminded me that I had been interviewed earlier (but it hadn’t happened in my dream, I’m sure) and asked how it went. I told him I did not know. He assured me it went well. He told me the wrong answers I gave were understandable, since I had never been involved in the business before. Apparently, I had earned the job, but I did not recall whether it had been offered and I was concerned that I had no idea of the pay; not even a range. Suddenly I realized I had left my briefcase out on a distant track. And just as suddenly, I was there, relieved to find the briefcase was still there. And that’s all I remember. Although I can feel little shards of the dream stab into my brain from time to time, though the jabs are not sufficient to retrieve any recollections. Dreams are odd beasts. As are dreamers.

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Codes are systems used for brevity or secrecy of communications. Not necessarily hidden, they sometimes scream that their messages must be deciphered and understood. But in some cases, codes don’t seem like codes. They seem like natural, normal communications. Or unnatural, abnormal communications. The National American Code Talkers, so revered for their contributions to the American World War II effort, used their facility with an almost lost language to communicate important information; information that made no sense to people who did not understand.

Okay, I’ve written enough strangeness to last me through the day. Some of what I wrote could get me committed for a psychiatric evaluation. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it did it might provide more fodder for my writing. Maybe even fairly lengthy fiction. Time will tell. It always does. So, here it is; it’s time I’m finishing up this trip through my mental desert with a post with no name.

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What the Day Brings

The time is approaching 6:00 a.m. The remaining half of the first cup of coffee is cooling too fast. Or I’m drinking it too slow. Last night’s dishes, some of which I uncharacteristically left in the sink, now are either clean or in the dishwasher. The dining table is full of stacks of paper from yesterday’s efforts to wade through mail I had allowed to stack up. I am making progress, but I have much, much more left to do. So, I have a reason to go on; and I shall, if only because I vow to tackle my obligations to file with taxes with the IRS before they send Federal agents to haul me away to tax protestors’ prison. Oh, I do not protest the taxes; only the labyrinthine processes we’re forced to go through to fulfill our financial obligations to society.

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A friend from church recommended Pretend It’s a City, a seven-episode documentary series featuring Fran Lebowitz being interviewed by Martin Scorsese. I viewed the trailer and decided it’s the sort of series I will find entertaining and interesting and very funny (but also quite informative). So, it’s on my watch list. I’ve moved it quite near the top, because I feel a need for some humor that will challenge me a bit.

I read a bit about the series and learned that it is the second such collaboration between Lebowitz and Scorsese, the first a documentary film called Public Speaking in which Lebowitz espoused her philosophies. If I can find that, I will add that to my watch list, as well.

While reading a review on the rogerebert.com website, I read “…the two [Lebowitz and Scorsese] hold court in a few standard locations. The primary one is the Players, a Gramercy Park social club founded in the 19th century by actor (and brother of John Wilkes Booth) Edwin Booth.” Sounds intriguing to me!

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Yesterday, the-then current president of my church unexpectedly resigned from his position and, along with his wife, membership in the church. Their reasons, whatever they are, are personal. If the reasons are painful, I hope they resolve quickly and completely; I really like the couple. He and I have quite a lot in common, intellectually. While we don’t always agree, either practically or philosophically, I always have enjoyed visiting with him, both in person and via email, to discuss “big picture” issues. He is a contemplative deep thinker who seems to enjoy exploring philosophical matters as much as I do. When I received his announcement, I wrote an email to him, expressing my disappointment and expressing my hope that we can maintain contact and communication. He responded affirmatively, which pleased me and lessened the blow a bit. Fortunately, the very capable vice president, a woman I consider a close friend, is available to step in to lead.

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My dinner last night, by plan, did not include any meat. It consisted of a variety of canned vegetables (tomatoes and corn) and frozen vegetables (peas), liberally seasoned with an assortment of spices. I like those one-dish meals that take all of a minute and forty-five seconds to get on the stove. Add a minute to add the spices and thirty seconds to rinse the cans and the meal is nearly finished. Ten minutes later, it is heated through and ready to be ladled into a bowl. Sometimes, cooking is a joy; other times, a burden too great to bear. When the latter is true, restaurants and canned meals are blessings beyond measure. 😉 Oh, as for the intentional absence of meat, I’ve not turned vegetarian, but sometimes meat just doesn’t appeal to me. Sometime in the very near future, I’ll pivot to seafood for a while. I have a hankering for salmon, shrimp, cod, and many other creatures that emerge from the ocean. But neither my vegetarianism and my lust for seafood will hold sway tonight. Please continue.

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Tonight (or, I should say, later today—early this afternoon—thanks to my sister-in-law’s gradual transition to geezer-like dining schedules), I will prepare a meal including a roast leg of lamb. There have been two legs of lamb in the freezer for awhile; I prepared one a month or three ago and I will finish off the second one today. The “semi-boneless leg of lamb” weighs 5.3 pounds, so I cannot eat it all myself. Therefore, I invited my sister-in-law to share in my bounty. We’re planning a 4:00 p.m. dinner, so I’ll have to start early by piercing the meat with a paring knife and then filling the wounds with fresh garlic cloves. There will be vegetable accompaniments, possibly including a salad. And, as I mentioned a day or two ago, there will be sufficient leftover lamb for me to make Shepherd’s Pie soon. Whenever I eat Shepherd’s Pie, I feel my British roots stir and I feel compelled to think about writing to the Queen; I’ve not yet written to Windsor Castle, but I may yet do it.

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My plan to begin setting up the bed in the master bedroom did not come to fruition yesterday. Taxes and related financial “stuff” took precedence most of the day. And, then, when I started to move some bed pieces, I recalled how bloody heavy they are; I can move only some of the very small pieces. So, I will call in the troops to help me move and reassemble the bed. The very kind guy who along with his wife moved the bed frame into the garage for me is doing some work for a next door neighbor. I hope to ask him today if he can give me a hand with the bed when he finishes the project he’s doing for he neighbors. It’s really a four-person job, thanks to the awkward size and weight of the solid wood bed frame. My wife bought the bed before I met her. We talked, off and on, about getting rid of it and buying a king-sized bed. And occasionally we talked about getting rid of it and buying a simple queen-sized frame so as to diminish the overwhelming presence of the monster frame. But we never did either. And I’m not sure, now, whether I want to part with it. I doubt anyone would be willing to pay what I think it’s worth (though I don’t really have a specific dollar amount in mind). The fact that it’s solid wood (pecan, I think, but I could be wrong) is what makes me think it’s a really valuable piece of furniture. We shall see. Time will tell, as it always does.

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I stumbled across an unattributed quote this morning that means a lot to me and reminds me of some of my most painful failings, failings now impossible to correct:

To love a person is to see all of their magic and to remind them of it when they have forgotten.

I suppose the lesson in that realization and reminder is that, if there is to be a future, one must learn from one’s most painful mistakes and never make them again.

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Time has swept by me like the water in a raging creek. It’s now nearing 7:25. That’s how the day gets away from me. I sit and write and take a break and write a little more and take another break and sit and think and write, but stop, and stare at photos, and…that’s how it got to be nearly 7:25 and to have written so little. Off to tackle what the day brings.

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Twists and Turns

People express their fragility in different ways. For some, their brittleness seems spun from delicate, almost invisible, strands of molten glass. They seem at risk of shattering into sandy powder in the slightest breeze. Others, though, attempt to hide weakness through bravado; thick clumps of distorted glass fired at high temperature and left to cool too rapidly. The cooled glass reveals massive cracks that can fracture into dangerous, sharp shards when even modest pressure is applied. There is, of course, a spectrum of frailty between the delicate lace and the crude globs of vitreous sand. But, in spite of their differences, the danger of breakage is great. Everyone carries a hammer capable, in a single blow, of turning glass into scraps of silica sand and tears of either pain or rage.

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I finished the final episode of Paranoid last night. It ended in a way that suggested the writers and actors had gotten word of the series’ cancellation only fifteen minutes before filming was to begin. It worked, but only barely. It seemed to me a bit like I had read, before last night’s episode, the first seven chapters of a twenty chapter book and then skipped chapters eight through nineteen so I could get to the last one. It could just be me, of course. My expectations of television tend not to be met, though I’ve had reasonably good luck in recent months and years. I can’t say I was disappointed with the ending; just surprised.

A long list of movies and series of interest awaits my attention, but I have not had sufficient interest to start them of late. Though all of the options on my list seem interesting, I’m not in the mood lately to launch into them. Instead, I skim through lists of “what’s on” and pick from ones that seem sufficiently interesting and sufficiently short to maintain my interest for a while. Paranoid was one of them; I saw that it was only a single season of eight episodes, which seemed to me would stretch my attention span to about its limit.

However, after finishing Paranoid, I skimmed the list of the hundreds of available programs and settled on a long series I think everyone but me has already seen: Arrested Development. I think I selected it because I needed comedy. I binged on three or four episodes. Though it’s a bit sillier than I prefer, I enjoyed it. I suspect I’ll be watching it for a while to come. I understand it comprises 84 episodes in five seasons; that should keep me occupied through the end of the week.

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One of my brothers had angioplasty performed on his legs yesterday, an attempt to determine and possibly correct the cause of significant swelling and pain. He says he already has had some results on one leg, but not on the other. He’ll return for a visit with the doctor in six weeks. In the interim, he’ll exercise his legs as much as possible in an effort to shepherd along the healing.

When such procedures are done, I think it would behoove the doctors, et al involved in the process to record a description of what they did, what they found, what they expect, and how and when to follow up. That recording should then be supplied to the patient and the patient’s family so, after the stress of being in a hospital/surgical environment (not to mention the anesthetic) wears off, a clear record is available. Relying on notes and memory is, in my view, insufficient. I’ve been through many such situations and have, in virtually every case, wished for a clearer, more reliable understanding. That could have been given to me in the form of a voice recording. Who do I see about making this standard medical practice? 😉

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Last night’s dream involved at least two past places of employment, people with whom I worked in years gone by, and a visit to a former place of employment that had been in the throes of major construction for some twenty years or more (completely artificial, the construction not based in fact). It also involved seeing a woman, who replaced me in one of my past jobs, sitting at what looked like an airport bar, apparently drunk. A friend of mine was teasing her about trying to high-five President Obama in her state of inebriation and, instead, poking him in the chest. But this “airport bar” was inside a workplace. And somewhere along the line, I tried to convince my friends that I was serious about asking the CEO of a major company to give me $50,000 to start some sort of business venture.

Though I remember enough of the dream to know it combined multiple time periods and places, I do not remember sufficient details to make any sense of the dream. I know significant parts are missing from my last night’s experiences.

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Today, in addition to continuing on with significant amounts of paperwork (and trying to talk to a lawyer about a letter I received about some funds I am trying to get put in my name), I plan to begin the process of moving the big, monstrously heavy, old “four poster” bed back into the master bedroom. I’ve been wanting to do that for months, but now I’m operating under a bit of a time crunch due to an impending visiting by friends who will need a place to sleep. At the moment, I continue to occupy the guest bed; I need to vacate that bed and that room. I do not think I can legitimately continue to occupy the guest bed and just say, “pick which side you want.” That would be a particularly awkward conversation in the case of my married friends; I suspect the male component of the couple would not be pleased to have me sleep with his wife. And she might not like the idea, either.

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I think today is the day to include former co-workers and workplaces in my thoughts. I took a look at a post from one year ago today, where I discovered that a former co-worker from forty years ago had found this blog.  I haven’t heard from her much since then, but her comments stirred some memories of “the old days.” She worked with me, incidentally, in the same place that my dream suggested had been under construction for twenty years. Another incident of synchronicity.

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The ability to both wash and dry clothes in my house is a luxury akin to a need. My dryer finally arrived yesterday and I put it to work almost immediately (well, after running it empty for 30 minutes to “burn off” the smell of oil). I need to wash sheets this afternoon (and jeans), so I will keep the beast occupied for a while. The old dryer was 33 years old; hard to believe it lasted so long; I was 34 years old when we bought it.

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I think people a few years older than I, people who might have been of-age during the Woodstock era, probably have more experience with orgies than I. Inasmuch as I do not recall participating in a single orgy, that’s quite likely; assuming, of course, that some of those people a few years older than I participated in orgies. I’ve always wondered what that might be like; gluttonous consumption of decadent foods and alcohol (and other mood altering substances), along with serial sex with women I know only casually or not at all. I realize, of course, my vision of orgies may not reflect the reality of orgies. As a young man, even if I had been of-age during Woodstock, I doubt I would have participated in orgies. I was shy and reserved. And frightened of the world; and of being found out as an inexperienced kid. Now, in my old age, orgies seem to be a thing of the past. It’s just as well. I remain that shy and reserved kid; and inexperienced with orgies.

Some people who read or might read the preceding paragraph could be shocked or offended by what I’ve written. That’s an effect social norms can have on us. Shock and offense are personal expressions of fear (in my opinion). Social norms instill many good attitudes and behaviors in us, but they also tend to wrap us up so tightly in puritanical bandages that we cannot even imagine living outside the restrictive limits of what we’re told is “bad,” even when the definition of “bad” constitutes misunderstanding and fear. Okay, I’ll stop.

 

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The Examined Life

The unexamined life is not worth living.
~Socrates~

Since my wife died, I’ve read quite a lot about grief. I don’t know what I expected to learn; perhaps how to get through it and get on with my life. But I learned, instead, that grief is not something that a person gets through; it’s something a person endures for the rest of his life. Of course I should have known that. I’ve experienced grief before, most intensely following the deaths, quite some time apart, of my father, my mother, and my sister. That grief is still with me, but I have managed to accept it and allow it to change me in the way grief always will. But the grief on the loss of my wife has been stunning in its intensity. Though it is not as awfully painful and constantly present as it was three months ago, it still feels fresh and raw—not all the time, but still quite frequently. I think writing about it helps me examine my grief as analytically as I can, but I still feel almost overwhelmed by it from time to time. And as normal as I know it is to cry, when I’m around other people during one of those raw episodes, I still try to hold it in. I just can’t seem to overcome the effects of testosterone poisoning; the sense that men should be able to control and mask their painful emotions, especially around others. I hate that socially-manufactured bullshit, but I still let it influence me in ways that make me angry at myself. Sometimes I think I’m over it; but when I find myself struggling to maintain my composure instead of opening the spigot and releasing my emotions, I realize I’m not. I still let the prevalent concept of masculinity rule me. No matter what I tell myself about how I’m going to overcome that mistaken belief, I usually fail trying. Grief never disappears. It gets easier to deal with (as hard as it feels even now, it has gotten easier for me), but it is never erased. It changes the griever in many ways I don’t yet quite understand; I know it’s changing me.

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I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this to anyone before. In connection with grief, though more directly correlated with overwhelming depression, there have been a very few times in my life that I’ve seriously contemplated suicide; to the extent that I considered how I might do it. When those thoughts have taken hold, they scared me to think I could ever make such an irrevocable decision. But I know it’s a possibility. And that, too, scares me. That I could act, in depression, in a way that cannot be undone. That I could act, in pain, in a way that cannot be reversed. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying; it’s that I recognize the inconsolable trauma it would inflict on the people left behind to grieve for me.  There’s such a stigma associated with suicidal thoughts; the person is automatically considered unstable, deranged, or otherwise out of their minds. I do not think that’s the case, though. In my opinion, some circumstances or problems can seem so overwhelming to a person that the intense emotional pain the situations cause triggers desperate, if irrational, thoughts about how to make the pain stop. And the stigma associated with the very idea of suicide prevents people from seeking help, even from anonymous trained volunteers. The idea of telling friends or family about suicidal thoughts—people who might forever view one in a different and unfavorable light—may be as painful as the circumstances that trigger the thoughts. It is common to think that attempted suicides are cries for help. I question whether that is true. I wonder whether, instead, they are simply failed attempts that might (or might not) so fundamentally shock the suicidal person that he or she finally does seek help. There is enough pain in the world without adding to it with suicide. But I think I understand how utterly overwhelming life can seem. I wonder whether suicide is, in its simplest form, a response to stresses created in our minds by the way society teaches us to think? Albert Camus said it, I think: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” I’m just full of cheery thoughts on this Monday morning.

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Larry McMurtry wrote several books that I would list among my favorites if I had a favorites list. Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, Leaving Cheyenne, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, and Terms of Endearment would be among them. But, like most books I read, six weeks after reading them I couldn’t begin to tell you the plots of any of them. But I know I truly enjoyed reading them. I was sufficiently enthralled by McMurtry to have made it a point to go to Archer City where several buildings housed his bookstores (at least they did at one time and may still). My memory tells me they were closed, though; we may have gone on a weekend.  McMurtry’s death is not a tragedy; he died an old man. But in my view his recent death marks the loss of a literary giant.

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Speaking of books, I just received a copy of a book I ordered, A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I’ve only opened the cover and skimmed a few page thus far, but from what I’ve heard and read about the book, it is spellbinding. I will read it rather slowly, as my eyeglasses prescription does not seem well-suited to reading books. But read it I will. Speaking of that, I must return to reading The Cellist of Sarajevo; I somehow let that book sit too long on the shelf after borrowing it from the library, so I took it back before finishing it. It mesmerized me. I’ve thought about getting audio books, but that’s as far as it’s gotten; thinking about it. I’d love to get an audio CD and take it on a very long road trip with me. That might be an ideal way to get better acquainted with audio books.

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I think the quote from Socrates, with which I began this post, gets to the heart of why I write. At least why I write in this blog. I feel compelled to examine my life, to try to understand why I am the way I am. Examining one’s life, though, tends to lead to more questions than answers; a never-ending education that reveals an ever-growing body of ignorance that would not have been uncovered without examination.

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I’ve recently been watching a Netflix series called Paranoid. Last night, I watched episode seven and it left me wanting to stay awake and watch the last one (it’s a one-season series with eight episodes). But I didn’t. It’s another crime drama, but not “just” another one. I find it fascinating. It helps that most of the actors have British accents, with a sprinkling of German and American accents thrown in for interest and intrigue. One of the reasons I like Netflix series is that they last about 45 minutes per episode, with no commercials. American television series typically are 30 minutes or an hour in length, with something in the neighborhood of eight to fifteen minutes of commercials included. Maddening!

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This is the week for my second COVID-19 vaccination. And the week (and today’s the day) for delivery of my new dryer. And the week during which I’ll cook another leg of lamb. Which makes me think I should plan on using some of the leftovers (and there will be lots of leftovers, given that the leg is about five and a quarter pounds) to make shepherd’s pie. Shepherd’s pie uses ground (or chopped) lamb; cottage pie uses ground (or chopped) beef. I much prefer shepherd’s pie.

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With old age comes both wisdom and, occasionally, remarkably bad judgment—the latter stunning in its stupidity. That kind of poor judgment paints a person as an absolute fool. I’ve seen it. In the mirror.

I got a call as I arrived home from an outing yesterday, reminding me that my new dryer is to be delivered today. I paid for installation of the new dryer as well as removal of the dead machine. For reasons only a fool would understand (but still doesn’t), I decided I would do part of the work for the delivery team, so I managed to slide the dryer away from the wall and disconnect the electric plug and the vent. It was a piece of cake; nothing to it. Inasmuch as it was so damn easy, I decided I’d just move the dryer through the door in the laundry room into the garage. It was not as easy as the first part because I had to lift it instead of rocking it along the floor, but I did it. While doing it, I also managed to pull some muscles in my back and in my neck. The resulting pain in my back and neck, coupled with the ferocious headache that I suspect can be traced to my bad judgment/stupidity, reminds me rather sharply that I should not have done it. I paid for someone else to do it. A young buckaroo or two who are stronger and more experienced than I. What was I thinking?! When I was young and pulled a stunt like that, my oldest sister recognized my stupidity by saying, “Why don’t you go play in the traffic?” I think the point was to tell me she thought I was dumb enough to do it.

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I think I’ve done quite enough examination for this day of my life.

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Claws

I just spent an hour writing a post that will linger in my drafts folder until I finally decide the post should be euthanized. That’s how I managed to have 455 incomplete posts in my drafts folder. And that’s after having euthanized quite a few of them over time.

Sometimes, I write what’s on my mind only to finally realize it has no place in the public sphere. Posting those drafts would only confirm, for those who already suspect, that I comprise an incredible assortment of flaws. Such as the fact that I dwell on loneliness far too often. And I bounce between gratitude and sorrow with extraordinary speed. And plenty more. So, this morning’s hour of writing is awaiting its turn to be discarded. Instead, I’m starting anew. We’ll see how that goes.

I had a vivid dream last night. I think. But I cannot recall anything of it (them?), other than it/they made me feel like lightning bolts ripped through me. Whatever it was, it was an intensely emotional experience; I just don’t know which emotions. It’s odd to awaken to the knowledge that I’ve just had a powerful dream about which I remember absolutely nothing. For some strange reason, that frightens me. Or maybe it’s leftover fright from the dream.

I’ve just set my alarm for 8:00 a.m. When the alarm sounds, I will shave and shower. I have to look at least moderately presentable for a Zoom event at 10 and, then, lunch with church friends on the deck of a lakeside restaurant afterward. This writing is not going to go well. I can feel it. So I may as well surrender before I waste any more time. Mine and yours. I’ll go make some breakfast in preparation for wandering into the claws of the day.

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Spiritual Stuff

This morning, I rinsed off the soap and shampoo and stood under the showerhead, luxuriating in hot water. I always finish my showers by increasing the water temperature until it’s just barely tolerable; that leaves me feeling especially refreshed. I know I should feel some guilt—and I do—for wasting water simply for my enjoyment. But it’s more than enjoyment. It’s more of a “spiritual practice” (I hate calling it that; but calling it “deeply introspective and appreciative examinations of the world and sometimes moments of unspeakable gratitude” is impractical). Until a few minutes ago, it never occurred to me that my habit of nearly scalding myself in appreciation might be a spiritual practice. I knew my morning ritual of coffee and writing could be considered one, but a shower? Yes, a shower.

I’ve been involved—only sporadically, unfortunately—in an online video-class addressing spiritual practices (which are, remember: “deeply introspective and appreciative examinations of the world and sometimes moments of unspeakable gratitude”). During the course of the class, which has included meditations, mindfulness, prayer (not necessarily what you think), hospitality, etc., I learned a bit more about myself. For one thing, I learned that several of my rituals (which I had not considered rituals until the class) could easily be classified as spiritual practices. Like my writing, my morning coffee, my evening wine, my morning tendency to stare at the sunrise and the clouds, etc., etc.

It was only this morning I realized my post-shower hot drenching and the thoughts that go with it are, indeed, spiritual practices. It’s not every day, as I try to avoid showering every day, but it’s sufficiently frequent, sufficiently contemplative, and sufficiently entrenched in my routines to be considered a spiritual practice. This morning’s epiphany prompted me to consider what other activities (aside from those I’ve already noted) might be (or could become) spiritual practices. I think it behooves me to search for or create more because I think “deeply introspective and appreciative examinations of the world and sometimes moments of unspeakable gratitude” are important to my (search for) sanity. They help keep me grounded to the fundamental fact that I am indeed fortunate in more ways than I can even imagine. And they help keep me grounded to coincidental but fundamental responsibilities to try to help others achieve reasons to feel unspeakable gratitude.

Now, whether the the recognition of those responsibilities translates into action is questionable. But the recognition, alone, is enough for me to search for more spiritual practices as well as ways to fulfill the responsibilities that arise therewith.

An example: Yesterday, I picked up an online-order of groceries; my first from that store. All was well until I got home with the groceries, only to learn (by an apologetic call from the store) that one bag I had been given belonged to someone else and one bag I should have been given was still at the store. The caller, a young man, obviously was distressed by the mistake. It was made worse by the fact that the shoppers whose bag I had were due to pick up their groceries shortly. In recent years, I’ve consciously tried to avoid getting upset in such circumstances and, instead, to try to ease the tensions all around (admittedly, I sometimes fail to even try, though). Yesterday, I tried to lessen the kid’s worries by saying “No worries, I’ll just come down and trade the bags.” When I got there and was trading bags, I made the mistake of asking the guy whether my bill reflected a senior discount; I should have known that would exacerbate the situation for him. He said the bill should have reflected it, but looked at it and saw that it was missing. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a $5 bill and said “Please accept this as our apology for the problems.” I refused the $5, told him it was no problem for me, and that everyone makes mistakes and, again, not to worry. That’s a long way to describe an example of an occasional spiritual practice: me, trying to lessen a burden on someone by not adding to it. I was only partially successful, in that I did add to the burden with my question, but I hope I accomplished at least some of my objective.

Thinking about that little, meaningless, incident, I realized that I do that kind of thing often, though perhaps not often enough. When I do, it make me think about the responsibility I have to make even a tiny positive difference when I can. I am about as far from Mother Teresa as you can get, but I’m trying to head in that direction.

And that’s is, for now. More to come when I’m ready.

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Obligations

Before I get into yesterday’s failures, I want to soak in the beauty of this morning’s sunrise. The mist clinging like a cloud to a distant lake is grey and purple, colored by the sun’s rays and the reflections from the water below. A long, narrow strip of pink and grey clouds barely above the distant horizon define what appears to me to be the edge of the Earth. Otherwise, the pale cream and barely yellow sky fades into a white and blue expanse that reveals an empty universe beyond. I can barely contain my emotion, just looking up into the endless, beautiful sky.

The air is chilly now, but it will warm considerably, later. I want to sit and absorb the coming day as it washes over me, but my slothfulness is catching up with me. I can appreciate the sky only briefly before I write a little, then wade into the day’s obligations.

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Oh, I had plans! Grand plans! Yesterday morning and afternoon were going to be devoted to dealing with issues surrounding my dead clothes dryer and my uncooperative garage door, followed by a focus on paperwork. But Mother Nature forgot to take the drugs to tame her psychoses, resulting in violent, threatening weather. So, I stayed indoors, where I could focus on paperwork. I took stacks of paper to the dining table, where I could spread them out and work on them. And I began the process. But something went awry. My mood turned on me, putting one part of me in direct opposition to the other part of me; suddenly without warning, I was of two minds on that matter. Both parts wielded swords, daring the other to make a move. So, I slinked off, leaving my two minds to fight it out among themselves. While they were off doing battle with one another, the rest of me listened to music and created a YouTube music playlist, spending hours crafting a list to share with a magnetic media friend, who already had shared a list with me. And then I spent just a tad over two hours on the monthly Zoom board of directors meeting for my church. And then, just before 5:00 p.m., I opened a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc—my reward for a day’s hard work.

Today, I MUST get in gear and do my paperwork. I have to file for an extension on my taxes (first, coming up with a ballpark figure of how much I might owe, or vice versa). And I have to get some documents notarized (in lieu of an impossible-to-obtain stamp). And I have to write letters to accompany those documents. And I must go through other paperwork to determine what other mindless, bureaucratic forms I must complete before submitting mindless drudgery to bureaucrats to give them some sense that their jobs have value, when we all know they are simply filling space because they have to do SOMETHING to justify getting paid below-subsistence wages. And there is much, much more. All equal in drudgery and torment to the other paperwork. It all requires me to look up information that no one needs to know so that someone can claim they verified the information’s submission, despite the fact that no one will ever view it again—and for good reason—because it has no value to anyone for any reason at any time now or in the future. And not even in the past. But that’s neither here nor there. Regardless of how I might feel about this mindless nonsense, I must play the game in order to get paid. Or something like that.

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Knowing what I must do today, the fact that instead, I’m sitting at my desk writing speaks volumes of my discipline. I need a keeper, someone who gently will hold me accountable for doing what must be done.  That, of course, is a lame excuse for laziness. It’s not that I “can’t” get myself in gear; it’s simply that I “don’t.” Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. The etymology of the word suggests it evolved from the Latin discipulus. Somewhere during the evolution of the word its meaning included or involved “mortification by scourging oneself.” That’s really what I need; a whip suitable for self-flagellation and the willingness to use it.

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I ordered groceries online yesterday for pickup today from Brookshire’s; my first online order from that store. I received a text message this morning from the assigned shopper, Jade, asking me whether she could substitute an item and whether I qualify for a senior discount. It’s a nice touch, having the shopper responsible for my order getting in touch. I did not really need to order groceries, but I decided to give the store a try. Plus, placing the order gave me another excuse for steering clear of my critical, time-dependent obligations.

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Enough, John. Time to get back to your obligations.

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Me and You and Ellie (and Bob)

I am an occasional participant, but far more frequently I am simply a voyeur. I comment from time to time, but usually I just watch and absorb and wish my life were a little more like the ones I observe. “Wish in one hand and spit in the other…”

The subject of my musing this morning is a blog called Me and You and Ellie, a piece of internet real estate I stumbled on several years ago. I don’t recall how I came across the blog, but I remember how entranced I was by it, especially by the posts made by Ellie, one of three contributors.  Ellie and her husband, who she calls “Mistah,” were in the midst of wanderlust at the time. They had been wandering the U.S. and Mexico in their Westy since January 2001, stopping in various places along the way to observe, participate, and have fun. Somewhere along the way, Ellie’s father needed a kidney transplant. Ellie was a match. And that was all she needed to know. Her kidney was harvested and her father got a needed new kidney.

My memory is unreliable, but I think I first encountered Ellie when she and Mistah lived in (or had recently left) Fort Davis, Texas. She posted pictures of the house they lived in and wrote a bit about their adventures. Ellie uses photographs extensively in her posts; that’s why hers generally are much more visually appealing than mine, though that’s not the only reason. Some time later, when my wife and I took a vacation in and around Big Bend National Park, we drove to Fort Davis and searched out Ellie’s and Mistah’s house. We found it and I took photos of it. I posted pictures of it on my blog at the time. I operated that blog under the pseudonym of Springer Kneeblood. (I used a pseudonym because I wanted to be able to safely say what I thought of some of my clients; even though I did not name them, it would have been apparent, had they read what I posted and discovered my name attached to it.) Ellie and I commented back and forth on our respective blogs at the time. It was great fun.

At any rate, Ellie and Mistah ended their grand adventure by returning to Connecticut and settling in New London, Connecticut. As I recall, Ellie went to work in a cool bar. Mistah went to work writing and reporting. After they settled in, I learned about the Hygienic Art Show and the Ledge Light (or, as Ellie calls it, Ledgie) lighthouse and the joys of living in and around Connecticut.

Since they returned to Connecticut, I’ve followed Mistah (AKA Bill) and Ellie on a more or less frequent basis. I keep up to date with their family and friend happenings, including the painful loss of Ellie’s father and marriages and birthdays and celebrations and visits and on and on and on. I suppose my fairly frequent following of Ellie’s posts is a little (or a lot) like living vicariously through a distant acquaintanceship. I feel like I know a lot about New London and about its art scene and the festival-like atmosphere that accompanies the transitions between the seasons.

The fact that Bob the Dog is on his way to Connecticut is probably what prompted me to think about Ellie this morning. I hope Bob (or whatever his new humans name him) is able to make Ellie’s acquaintance, or vice versa. That’s an odd thought, I suppose, but I am admittedly an odd person. Another friend who, like Ellie, I have never met might call the Connecticut parallels an example of synchronicity.

One of these days, I hope to find myself in New London. If so, I hope to meet Ellie and Bill. That meeting would add to the list of bloggers and blog followers and Facebookers I’ve met after “meeting” them online: Kathy Withcats, Teresa, Roger, Robin, Tara, Juan, Kathy, Larry, and more. One of these days had better come soon, though. All days eventually come to an end.

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CORRECTION: It wasn’t a trip to Big Bend with my wife, it was a trip to West Texas with one of my brothers. It was in 2013. I found the reference and the photo of Bill’s and Ellie’s house on this blog post.

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Ethically Challenged is Not Necessarily Negative

There is poetry in all of us, whether we know it or believe it or not. Some of the poetry is stunning in its beauty and its clarity. Last night, I received a poem from a friend (who wrote the pem), along with a message saying the author doesn’t write poems. But the beauty of the poem argued, forcefully, otherwise. The poem’s title and its message hit home for me. For me, it expressed an aspect of sorrow we often keep hidden beneath layers of guilt. The poem expressed much more for me, but I like to hold close some elements poems’ messages to me.

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If I had been able to fully record last night’s vivid dream, it would have made a long, if incomplete, short story. My oldest brother and I, along with several other people both living and dead, were returning home from a bizarre trip to the grocery store when we were caught in heavy traffic. I was driving my brother’s car, a small Japanese vehicle with whose brand name I was not familiar and which I cannot recall this morning. Suddenly, I had to hit the brakes, but I had a hard time lifting my knees. I finally hit the brake pedal, but the car was very slow to respond. I almost slammed into a car in front of us. When we got to the front of the line, we realized it was a both a border crossing and a COVID-19 vaccination spot. When our turn came, we were asked to get out of the car, where we were questioned. My brother’s situation was unclear, as his documents indicated he and his car were from Mexico, but the rest of us were from the U.S. (we were clear). At some point, a drunk old hillbilly with many missing teeth claimed I had sideswiped his truck and threatened me. I threatened back and we both were ready to respond to the other’s first punch. But he left and another person I know, but who was not traveling with us, told us how to get in line for the vaccine. We followed her advice, which involved having our hair done in the COVID vaccination clinic, as in a permanent (we learned that was to avoid a side-effect of the vaccine, which was said to be alopecia). There was much more, but it made no more sense than the first part. I awoke during an interrogation following my vaccination.

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Today is Bob’s last day with me. I take him to the Animal Welfare League building today so the folks there can begin preparations for his journey, very early tomorrow morning, to New England and a new home. Yesterday, when I took him in for the veterinarian’s examination, she told me he already has been adopted. He will meet his new humans upon arrival. I’m glad for Bob, and for me, but I’ll really miss Bob. He’s been with me for only two and a half weeks, but we’ve developed a bond. An upside of his departure, though, will be the slow dissipation of dog-odor in every room of the house. The joys and sorrows of pet relationships.

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Last night, during a periodic videoconference with a couple of friends (one in New England, one in the DC area), I learned that the wife of the NE friend had 36 hours of moderate side-effects from her second Moderna vaccination (she’s a nurse). I imagine that’s what I should expect after I have my vaccination on April 1. Before my shot, I’ll prepare a little bedside comfort package, but I am not sure what it will contain. I should ask people who have gone through the brief “flu-like symptoms” what they wanted/needed during their short reaction.

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After Bob’s departure, and after current calendar obligations are met, I will withdraw from the world for much of the several following days. My purpose is to get back on track with respect to paperwork, taxes, financial recordkeeping, and the like. I have allowed myself to get badly behind during Bob’s stay with me. It’s not Bob’s fault, of course, it’s mine. I have a tendency to allow even minor interruptions to my day to sidetrack me for the entire day and then some. It’s a bad habit or personality trait or excuse or whatever. Regardless of the cause, I will become something of a recluse for a while until I feel my head popping up above the sea of paperwork. I may make some exceptions, interrupting my reclusiveness for poetry and the right conversations.

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I remember discussions about “situational ethics” from my college days. Arguments raged about whether ethics are steadfast and unbendable or, instead, malleable and subject to adjustment subject to the environment in which ethics are expected to control behavior. No one won the arguments. Regardless of the position taken, someone always presented hypothetical circumstances that crushed the position. I came to the conclusion, ultimately, that ethics are, by nature, situational. The situation may be cultural or circumstantial or, perhaps, something else. But there’s always a legitimate argument to be made to negate ethical positions. In the final analysis, ethics are choices we make; either to abide by reasonable limits on behaviors or to refuse to go along with unreasonable restrictions on our ability to live our lives as we please. And everything in between.

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Okay. I’m done for now.

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Dry

My attitudes about so many aspects of life have changed during the past few years. Perhaps retirement is responsible. Or maybe it’s a combination of retirement and the fact that I’m more at ease, not having to face the daily onslaught of self-important board members and others who seemed to think they owned my life because they paid for my company’s time. Or perhaps it’s something else. UUVC, maybe. Or the people I’ve met. Or maybe it’s just me, mellowing and realizing and regretting what a bastard I have been my entire life. That is a regret I can never “fix.” I can never undo the past and who I have been.  I would give my life a thousand times over if I could. No one has ever deserved my unmitigated wrath. I misunderstood humanity and human decency for most of my life. Only late in life did I begin to understand how misguided I always have been. And by then it was too late to repair the damage I had done. I will never be able to forgive myself for who I have been the majority of my life. And I shouldn’t. It is said that one must first love oneself before others can love you. I think that is probably true. I remember writing, though I do not recall just when, “love is granted only to the lovable.”

In an ideal world, one can remake oneself into the person he would like to be. Maybe that’s why Arizona is on my mind. More on that and my sinuses and wheezing in a minute. But maybe it’s not sinuses and wheezing. Instead, it might be a more complete revision I’m looking for. Last night, I read about nontheist Quakers. I had never known there was such a branch of Quakers. I admire what seems their devotion to realizing peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice. They simply do not believe in the divine, the soul, or the supernatural. I like the idea that people can be fundamentally good without relying on either guidance from or punishment by a vengeful being. That idea suggests people can be fundamentally bad in the absence of the same sorts of influences.

I wish I were gentle and lived among gentle people. Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I remember reading a book of poetry by James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. One of my favorites was the poem of the same name. I found it this morning:

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

Kavanaugh wrote something in the introduction of the book, I think, that says something I feel but cannot express any better:

Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter.

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For my entire life, I have been nearly certain that the concept of God is a human invention. I remain close to certain now, but for some time I have accepted the possibility that some force or being or massively-powerful “idea” exists beyond my comprehension. Whatever is or is not controlling existence, I will never understand its existence, but I will be equally as devoid of understanding its absence. That doesn’t make sense the way I’ve written it, nor in the way I conceive of the idea; but I understand what I believe or intuit or otherwise “feel.”

There have been times I desperately wished for a supreme being that could repair planet Earth and all its inhabitants. Those times usually came after I had given up on humanity as unredeemable. But I’ve never actually believed in redemption, either. My beliefs have always been the unremarkable “what is, is.” That sounds so mundane and unimpressed. But I am mightily impressed with all of “creation.” Call it what you will. Evolution. Existence. Whatever “it” is, it’s impressive. Seeing an electron microscopic image of a dust mite and learning that its “nose” is only 100 microns wide is stunning. But noticing that, next to the “nose” are several dozen tiny “hairs,” each a tiny fraction the size of the nose, is even more astonishing. Compare those tiny creatures with enormous whales. The magnitudes of difference between them are so immeasurably huge that I cannot full grasp the idea of anything.

These are subjects I sometimes want to talk about with someone close to me. People who would willingly spend time discussing ideas beyond our ability to prove or disprove. People who often look at the world with the same sense of stunned awe that I do, completely confounded by how a universe so grandly, yet so minutely, complex can possibly exist. Maybe, though, such conversations lead to “answers” in the form of religion. Maybe, when we confront ideas too convoluted to understand, we turn to mysticism. And perhaps mysticism is just as logical and meaningful as anything else in which we might immerse ourselves.

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Wheezing—making whistling noises when breathing—is becoming more and more troublesome of late. While my respiratory issues related to my lung cancer, its treatments, and its underlying causes may be the prime culprits, I think I have allergies of some kind. Not serious stuff, but sufficiently troublesome that my airways get tightened, blocked, or inflamed as a result of them. And those symptoms lead to the wheezing. As strange as it may be, I think I first noticed my wheezing and increased sinus problems when we moved to Arkansas. My sinus issues have gotten worse over the seven years since we relocated.

I have been seen by respiratory professionals, who have prescribed various remedies, including both long term and short term bronchodilators. Nothing has worked. So, I may try an experiment within the next few months. Or I may not. It depends on my level of courage and/or commitment. What I may do is to move, temporarily, to a place where forest pollen and common molds and the like are rare. A location in Arizona, for example. I think a test period of two or three months should give me a pretty good idea of whether the atmosphere here is to blame and/or the atmosphere there offers a solution.

But will I actually do this? Despite my desire for solitude, isolation, and time for and by myself, I am quick to get lonely. No matter than I crave the quiet serenity of being alone, more frequently than I admit I want and maybe need company. I had in mind that a dog was going to fix that. But the responsibilities of animal care and the disruptions to my routine that came with it forced me to face reality. I like Bob, the dog. I really like him. He is a sweet creature. His visible joy when I return home from being out is uplifting. Having him put his head in my lap while I’m watching television makes me feel loved by a caring companion dog. But the arguments against keeping him won out; he’s leaving me on Wednesday. The fact that last night he again attempted to get in bed with me and this morning I found him sleeping on the white leather sofa he was specifically told to keep off makes parting a little easier.

So, the question is whether the additional solitude of moving, even temporarily, to a place I know no one would be too much. Would my loneliness intensify? Even living here, where I know quite a few people, I do not see many of them often. Most days, I see just one or two people. I talk to just one most days. I crave isolation, but isolation is hard to take. I guess what I crave is the kind of isolation I had when my wife was here. She and I spent hours and hours apart most days, but we were there for one another in an instant. I felt her presence. I got so used to it that I did not realize just how incredibly important her presence in my isolation was to me, I guess.

I am an adult. I know  how to cope with the vagaries of life. Whether I get lonely or not, I should be able to wade through a test run. As an adult, though, I should be able to differentiate between wanting to test a new environment for health reasons and wanting to try to build a new life as a different person. The fact that I’m acknowledging the possibility floods me with memories of questions I’ve asked myself for years. The one question I’ve never successfully answered is: Who am I? Will Arizona answer it for me? But if Arizona were to fix my wheezing and leave my question unanswered, what then? Yeah. Exactly.

But, wait. This is absurd. I’ve been mulling over going to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. I’ve considered a trip to Mexico. I’ve thought about moving to the Pacific Northwest. What, exactly, is wrong with me? Why am I being so utterly scattered in my thinking?

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I bought a dryer online today. It should be delivered and the old dead one hauled away on March 29; parts required for installation should come April 3. Until then, I will wear either dirty or wet clothes. Or I’ll impose upon my sister-in-law to let me use her dryer. As I contemplate a temporary move, I ask myself what the hell am I doing buying new appliances?

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I have worn myself out. Turned myself into a piece of dry, dusty leather so weak it cannot hold itself in one piece any longer. I did this not through hard, manual labor but by wringing all the moisture from my brain—by forcing myself to think instead of letting thought come naturally to me. Water. Soon, we all will value water more highly than anything else. We will wish we had saved it, stored it, conserved it, treated it like the life-saving liquid it is.

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Fragments Again

Something is on my mind, something solemn, dreary, and depressing. But I do not know just what it is. I know only that there’s something buried within my brain and behind my heart—a dark and upsetting event or idea or possibility. I can only imagine what magma might feel like, cooling and solidifying around my internal organs; this is that terrifying sensation. Unless I break free from it quickly and completely, there’s no return to normalcy. What should I feel? Panic? Relief? Fear? Curiosity? Elation? I might be able to develop a character around these sensations and these emotions, but only if I can escape interment in hard, black, glass-like post-magma material.  That’s only modestly odd.

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Science fiction is easy to write, I think, but hard to encapsulate in character development studies. A merger between “pure” science fiction and “pure” character-based fiction is harder, still. But I may give it a shot. Unlike so many science fiction scenarios, though, in which Earth is under some form of attack or alien danger that is fought with high-tech weaponry, I have in mind a resurrectional sci-fi piece that paints a picture of rebirth after massive destruction, without the aid of imaginary tools. In my mind, the rebirth would involve relearning old technologies on a foundation of human decency. More oddities.

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Last night, I watched My Octopus Teacher. I enjoyed the film, though it was not as moving as I expected, based on the chatter about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was moving. But it was not an hour and a half tear-jerker. It was exceptionally informative and interesting; I learned quite a lot about octopuses/octopi and about various other sea creatures. I may already have known that octopuses die shortly after mating, but if so I did not recall it. That fact made me consider the apparent “meaning” or “purpose” of the life of an octopus—procreation. The point stressed several times during the film—that the creatures are extremely intelligent—made me wonder whether the octopus’s genetic drive to procreate can be short-circuited by the creature’s “choice.” For example, can an octopus choose to abstain from sex and, if so, how long would a celibate octopus live?

I suppose the most poignant message delivered by the film reflects the seventh principal of Unitarian Universalism: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I do not, of course, believe there is any direct link between the film and UU principles; only that the intellectual linkage is apparent to my little brain.

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My short time fostering an older but energetic dog has taught me something about myself. It’s a revealing and embarrassing lesson: my “routine” and my personal freedoms apparently are more important to me than having a “buddy.” I have no objections to taking Bob for multiple walks, nor do I find feeding him or petting him or letting him snuggle on the couch next to me anything but endearing. More than anything, it’s the fact that he has his own schedule and it does not mesh with mine. It doesn’t help, of course, that walking Bob is a more like being dragged…by an angry sheriff’s deputy in a hurry to throw me into the back of the squad car. I’m sure Bob’s walking behavior can be addressed with proper training. But his need “to go” conflicts with my need “to stay.” And I enjoy my early morning routine; easing into the day with a cup of coffee while sitting at the keyboard, exercising my fingers.  Bob deserves better than he has with me. And I’m confident he’ll get it in Connecticut, which is his destination when he leaves Hot Springs Village on Thursday morning.

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My keyboard time was just interrupted by a hungry dog. For a short while, Bob will be enjoying a meal of dry dog food, crumbled Milk-Bone treats, and tiny pieces of pulled chicken breast, doused with a little chicken broth. It’s the only way I can be sure he finishes his meal; a hand-finished breakfast with multiple ingredients. While this process took place, my near-full cup of coffee cooled to inadequate warmth. Dammit.

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Soon, my friends from Fort Smith will drive down for a little visit. We haven’t nailed down the dates, but it will be soon. They will stay overnight for an evening or two. While they are here, we will have lunch at the Kream Kastle Drive Inn in Benton, said to have one of the best greasy burgers in the entire State of Arkansas. It’s an old place that seems to be approximately in the middle of nowhere, but is not far from Benton, nor from where I live. More important than the burger, though, will be the opportunity to sit and visit, face-to-face, with these folks who have been friends for more than forty years.

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There will be another time, soon, when I will write something other than this fragmented swill. It may be cohesive swill, but it will by god not be fragmented.

 

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Nomad Dog Hallucidreams

I wrote most of what follows much earlier today. But the day fractured into pieces and went in different directions. And so did I. I went to church to meet a man who refurbishes parking lots. I walked Bob. Friends came to retrieve a twin bed and chat a bit in the process (and they brought a sausage role and a piece of lemon cake). I had coffee with my sister-in-law. I spent much of my afternoon in a thought-coma, one of those unusual emotional states in which consciousness chooses to rest while thoughts choose to replay themselves in different iterations. And a little late-afternoon dreaming took place, including serious plans to ride from New York to California clinging to the top of a van that is much higher in the back than the front. There was beer in that dream, too, but the cans were empty. But here it is, 4:42 p.m. and my early morning blog has morphed into an older and decrepit version of its younger and more agile self. To be honest, though, the blog never was really agile. It willingly contorted itself into uncomfortable tangles of flesh, cartilage, and brittle bone fragments before springing itself into its original, inflexible shape.

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Lately, I have had several extremely short flashes of “memory” that I can’t quite place. These recollections are very brief but quite clear; but they arise from a hazy fog and they disappear into the same hazy fog. One of these incidents involved a friend who lives in Kansas now. The reminiscence included an image of her bright yellow car and a comment about her husband’s love of a fish dish. I remember having a conversation with someone else about making the fish for him, so that may have triggered the memory. But it wasn’t a memory. It must have been a snippet from a dream. Many other such snippets have been flooding my mind lately. The visions are so clear I would swear they are memories, but circumstances are such that they cannot be memories; they are dreamflashes. I will claim that word as mine, although I know for a fact that it has been used by an ink manufacturer to name one of its lines of inks. That’s too bad. Just when I think I have a neologism of my own, I discover someone else has stolen it from me, apparently in my sleep.

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Bob is going to Connecticut. Apparently, the Animal Welfare League here has a relationship with a rescue outfit in New England; that organization will take Bob up there for adoption. I am told the demand for larger dogs, like Bob, is much greater in that part of the country than around here. No idea why. At any rate, I take Bob to see a vet on Tuesday, then on Wednesday I will take him to the Animal Welfare League facility, where he will spend the night. They will bathe him and get him prepared for departure on Thursday morning about 3:30 a.m. to North Little Rock.; the transport rescue-outfitted RV will leave North Little Rock about 5:30 a.m. and will drive straight through to Connecticut. People tell me the organization taking Bob is extremely good to the animals under their care. So, there it is, the culmination of Life with Bob.

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Years ago, my wife and I became enamored with a Showtime series called Homeland.  Despite the fact that it seemed more than a little biased (downright bigoted from time to time) against Muslims and the Middle East in general, it was an interesting action thriller series, full of espionage and gratuitous violence, sex, and other audience magnets. We watched only as long as our free Showtime offer lasted.

I took advantage of a free Hulu offer so I could watch Nomadland. I was surprised to see that Homeland, from start to finish (I guess) was available. I tried to figure out how long we had watched it before, so I could enter the series at the appropriate time. Couldn’t do it. I finally started watching at Season 3. I had not seen (or did not remember seeing) what I saw, but I decided to stop looking and just watch. What I saw was not nearly as intriguing as I remember. I rather doubt I’ll continue watching. But one never knows, does one?

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This morning’s walk with Bob was very chilly, but productive. Bob enjoyed dragging me up the hill across the street. I assume his wiggling stump of a tail indicated enjoyment. The experience was not as wonderful for me. I have a sore throat that’s getting more sore as I type and a slight headache whose intensity seems to be gradually increasing. Walking Bob caused me to be out of breath much sooner than normal. And I have the sniffles. I am awash in niggling complaints that really do not merit mention, but my fingers are on the keyboard, so it’s like I hardly have a choice but to spill drivel over my little portion of the internet.

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Last night, after washing an especially large load of clothes, I discovered that the dryer was not producing heat. This morning, I’m running it again, on the off chance that the Universe gave the dryer a little time off for rest and recuperation. I decided to give it another thirty minutes to see how things stand. I checked again; no heat at all. So, either I’ll have to get the dryer repaired or buy another one. Sometime last year, before my wife got sick, she located the original receipt for the dryer; we bought it more than thirty years ago. Even if I have to replace it, it has been an utterly reliable workhorse until now. But I hope it can be repaired. I hate replacing equipment when the problem may be just an inexpensive part.

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Friends came to retrieve the twin bed from the master bedroom this morning, so I should be able to get the monstrously heavy queen size bed reconstructed in the not-too-distant future. First, I need to move all the “stuff” I’ve allowed to pile up on the big bed frame in the garage. Then, I’ll need to clean up the master bedroom. Finally, I’ll need to get some big, strong-like-bull people to help with the process. It’s a four-person endeavor. It will happen soon.

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Last night, I thawed ground pork, a pork loin, and a link of hot Italian sausage. I’ve not felt even remotely interested in cooking any of them today, so they languish in the refrigerator, wondering about their fate. I still have no interest in cooking them; or anything. But I am getting a little hungry. I suppose I could go pick up a burger, but that would involve working to get food in which I have no interest. I could order a pizza for delivery, but that would mean spending an enormous amount of money on food that’s worth a quarter as much. Or I could just fast for a while this evening and watch my excess pounds slide off like butter cascading from a hot butter-filled skillet turned sideways. There are other options, of course. But none of them hold much appeal. I’m in the mood for something else, but I don’t know what. Hell, it will come to me. Or I’ll go to it.

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I could have bought a dryer today. Or I could have attempted to figure out whether my dryer is repairable by someone with below average appliance repair skills. Or I could have taken a load of laundry to dry at some out-of-the-way washeteria. But where are they? I’ll look another day, maybe. I know of one place; it’s next to a bar. It’s about eleven miles from here. My sister-in-law has a dryer, though, and she has agreed to let me use it. Last night’s clothes, though, are dry now. More or less.

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I’ll probably never read this blog post again. And I won’t be alone.

 

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Invisible Vibrations

People want to matter. They want to believe they have a purpose for being alive. Something beyond simply basking in enjoyable experiences and accumulating things of value and money. Most people want more than that. But for some, all that matters is wealth that gives them some sort of twisted sense of superiority.

And then there are others who are sure that mattering, having purpose, or believing their lives have some fundamental meaning are irrelevant and worthy of scorn. They are the nihilists, extreme skeptics who either deny all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth. Is truth subjective? And are goodness and badness and meaning also subjective and impossible to actually know? I think nihilists must be deeply depressed; either that or textbook sociopaths whose conscience, if it exists, lies buried deep in the recesses of the brain from which escape is impossible. I think I once was nihilist; or thought I was. I now like to think that was simply a phase.

My psychological-theory-of-the-day is pointless. I do not have enough knowledge of the human condition or the way the brain functions to really know anything. Almost all of my so-called “knowledge” has been delivered to me as factual. And, in most cases, I have not questioned it. What if most of our understanding of the world was based on lies or bad information? What if we learned that “the rest of us” are the mutants, the crazy ones, the deviants…and that the people society tends to lock away exhibit the natural behaviors of our species?

There are so many “what if” questions that compel me to think about them at night. Sometimes they are personal questions about different directions my life might have taken, like living in a van and getting odd jobs around the country, just to survive. Or what if I had taken the advice of a contemptible man who fancied himself a human resources genius and gotten a job as a Radio Shack manager instead of looking for something more in line with my interests. Some “what if” questions are a bit broader. Like, “Is a question about “before and after” with regard to the existence of the universe relevant? Is it answerable?”

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Have I mentioned that I have friends who have gotten into tarot card reading? I put no stock in the practice, but that doesn’t stop me from being intensely curious about what a reading might “reveal” about me. While I really do put no stock in tarot card reading, I am edging just slightly away from my unshakeable disbelief in such hogwash as mind-reading. What?! Can I have written that? Yes, but it’s not as woo-woo as it sounds. When I consider that invisible radio waves can be transmitted and received, I have to acknowledge that invisible energy exists. And if we can transmit information through the air with the proper equipment, might we not also be able to transmit (or intercept) energy in the form of information as it is transmitted from the brain to the open air. I am not saying I believe it happens; only that I acknowledge it’s conceivable.

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Late Wednesday afternoon, after the corned beef and cabbage dinner with my wonderful neighbors, I walked Bob a bit, hoping he would relieve himself of intestinal congestion. He did. A little. In spite of more walking, though, he seemed disinterested. So, we went home. I watched Nomadland. Bob sat next to me on the loveseat, watching me watch Nomadland. While the film is slow to develop, I think choosing to film and edit it that way helped tell the story. It was never boring, as far as I was concerned. Some people who either chose or were forced to live the life of a nomad, including two very visible characters, Swankie and Linda May, were featured in the film, along with Bob Wells, a well-known advocate for the RV lifestyle. I would give the film a rating of 9 on a 10-point scale. Definitely worth watching.

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After the movie, during which I drank a little wine and otherwise sought an elevated mood, I turned off the television and sat on the loveseat, thinking. Mostly, I thought about how stressful living in a van or an RV probably would be, but also how liberating it could be. The freedom to just pick up and go when the mood struck you would be wonderful. Of course, when you’re scraping by to afford gas for the vehicle and food for the stomach, freedom might be an overrated state of being. However, I might be able to get used to the RV lifestyle with the right vehicle; one that would cost as much as my house, probably. I have such mixed feelings about RV “camping” though. It’s not really camping. It’s Nature-insertable small-capsule living. I’m convinced camping involves small tents, sleeping bags, small and portable cooking gear, maps, and a compass. And food and water, of course. Unless you really want to rough it. I wish I wanted to, but I don’t.

Suddenly, the time was 2:00 a.m. I wondered how three hours sitting on the love seat could have passed without me knowing it. I told myself I should get up and go to bed. And I did. But it was three hours later. Finally, at 5:00 a.m., I awoke and stayed awake long enough to undress and go to be. I set the alarm, though, not trusting myself to wake up of my own volition. At 7:30, the alarm went off for all of one second; I heard its “preparatory noise,” which prompted me to lunge at it in an attempt to silence it before it began. I almost made it.

The remainder of the following morning, Thursday, was uneventful. I vacuumed a little, ate the remainder of some sweet rolls for breakfast, blogged a little, made a “tuna salad on steroids” for my lunch, walked Bob thrice (finally, I no longer have concerns about his digestion, by the way), and otherwise frittered away my time.  Then, around 4, a new friend stopped by to return to me a folder on the old Camry and to show off her new car. We chatted. And chatted. And chatted. At some point, I got hungry and suggested Mexican food from El Jimador. We took her car to pick up the orders. We talked and chatted and talked some more. It was a nice evening. Judging from the kitchen sink, the nice evening involved a not insignificant amount of wine.

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And here it is, Friday morning. Later than usual Friday morning. As in, almost 8 o’clock late. It’s an embarrassment and a Sin against Nature and Humanity (capitalizing just seemed appropriate) that I would be in bed after light spreads across the land. That happens only in sickness, madness, and tiredness.

Yes, here I am on Friday morning and I feel more than a little dizzy at this moment. Even sitting at the computer, my head keeps bobbing up and down in response to sleep and sudden wakefulness. I hope this is temporary and meaningless.

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Today is Thursday, Again

Finally, after 9 a.m., I am able to sit—however briefly—at my computer. I sit here attempting to write something other than my usual drivel. But nothing comes. Not even the drivel. I wish I could write a poem; sometimes, writing poetry helps wash away the broken glass scattered around inside my skull. Not this morning, though. I can hear the shards of glass slam into one another, creating ever-smaller slivers and tiny cubes the size of grains of sand but with edges sharper than scalpels.

During my brief attempt to write, or at least finish, poetry, I looked at my drafts folder and found eight poems…out of about 450 draft posts. I read all eight of them. Two of them seem very familiar and may be recent. I think I may have posted different versions of them here on my blog or on Facebook or read them for Wednesday Night Poetry, but I’m not sure. And not sufficiently motivated to take the time to look. Regardless, none of them could have been salvaged to fit my mood this morning. Said mood approximates a merger between Mary Poppins, Eeyore, Count Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster. There’s no particular reason for my odd sense of anger, anxiety, happiness, fear, innocence, and skepticism. I think I may have been infected with artificial intelligence; when I had the lobotomy, they extracted the intelligence and left the artificial.

Some emotions are wisp-thin at their fullest and invisible in their natural states. The problem with describing those emotions or demonstrating them is that they combine almost imperceptible movements of the facial muscles, nearly-invisible perspiration around the eyes and on the forehead, and a slight tightening of the skullcap, just enough to cause the hair to move just a “hair.” The best way to observe these emotions in the field is to watch close-up video images of television or film actors; when the actors respond to a surprise or a crisis or are caught in a lie, look at their faces. Watch that barely noticeable movements. Those are evidence of those wisp-thin emotions. What’s that you say? They are not emotions but, instead, visible expressions of some underlying emotion? Are you questioning me? Well, you may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for.

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See? Drivel. That’s one of the reasons I am no good in conversations. My mind sometimes works at the speed of a snail on downers. My fingers think much faster than my mind, but the fact that my fingers sometimes are drivel-driven contributes to the overabundance of drivel around these parts.  But I did have an idea a day or two ago for the plot of a novel. I hope someone writes it. I might write it myself, but I don’t recall the plot. I recall almost nothing about it, in fact. I may have told someone; if I told you, please let me know what I said.

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Okay. I’m back. It’s nearing ten o’clock now, that morning moment at which plans for the day should have been made, confirmed, and their execution begun. I’m running a little behind. I’m thinking of putting off until tomorrow the things I should do today. Making that conscious decision makes me more than complicit in the crime; it provides irrefutable evidence of my guilt. But I really should vacuum and dust and straighten up a bit because the housekeeper is coming tomorrow for her somewhat periodic now-and-again visit. I hope she enjoys working around a dog. No, I wouldn’t do that. I’ll take Bob in the car for a long, long drive. If I knew anyone nearby with a huge, dog-proof-fenced yard, I’d ask if I could impose by letting Bob run free. Then again, I might prefer to just keep Bob in the car, where he seems to be in ecstasy from the moment he jumps inside.

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Enough fun for now.

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Anew

I learned of Bob’s fear of thunder and lightning when I felt his paws pulling at the sheet. He was trying to climb up into bed with me. I succeeded in preventing it, but moments later—when a bright flash of lightning, accompanied by a crack of thunder that violently shook the house, lit the room—he tried again, much harder, to leap up onto the bed. Once again, I succeeded in keeping him off, but this time I tried to comfort him by stroking his ears and talking to him. I had to say “No!” a few times, but eventually he got the message. He settled down on the floor next to the bed. A short while later, following a few more lightning flashes and rumbles of thunder, I heard his nails click-click-click on the floor as he padded off, seeking solace elsewhere.

When I woke up this morning, much later than usual, I was surprised that he was not in his bed. I assumed he had decided to spend the night on the loveseat in the office. My assumption was correct. He was there and there he remains as I type this post. I imagine he’ll soon decide it’s time for breakfast, which means he will interrupt my post and urge me to hurry, hurry, hurry to prepare his morning meal. No long after, he may insist on taking a walk, but the prospect of thunder and lightning may dissuade him from that routine. I’ll be interested to discover how he deals with two competing emotions: the joy of walking and terror thrust downward from the sky.

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the day my neighbors will feed me corned beef and cabbage for dinner. It’s hard to believe we’re already mid-way into the third month of the year. Time, that artificial construct about which I write far too often, has apparently ingested large quantities of methamphetamine, AKA speed. That’s the only explanation that can fully explain the “rapidity of moments,” as I am wont to call the quick passage of time.

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The National Weather Service has informed me that Hot Springs Village is under a Tornado Watch until 1:00 p.m. today. That fact makes me wonder about the wisdom of taking Bob for a walk, whether he wants to go or not. On the other hand, Bob’s morning walks lead to intestinal cleansing events, which if they were to take place in the house would be unfortunate and stress-inducing all the way around. One assumes one knows how to deal with such situations because, well, people have pets therefore they must know how to address such circumstances. But confusion can overcome obvious knowledge. And so it has. I will learn. Possibly.

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A year ago today I found the answer to a question that had been on my mind for several years. But I did not accept the answer. This morning, though, I have come to accept the answer. And the answer is: Clyde McPhatter. The question was “Whose version of I’m Not Going to Work Today was played on the Glenn Mitchell Show on Labor Day, 205?” A year ago, I believed the answer was Boot Hog Pefferly and the Loafers. No longer. No, it was definitely Clyde McPhatter.

That’s one of several benefits of maintaining a blog. It can jog one’s memory. It can serve as a repository of minutia so utterly meaningless that the chances that one’s brain will recall such minutia without assistance are very, very small. And it can remind the blogger of moods, emotions, ideas, thoughts, considerations, and other such stuff that once occupied the brain. In fact, it can resurrect such stuff, weaving it together so thoroughly that it seems real. Even when it’s not. For example, I could make up something today and write about it as if it were real. A year or five from now, I could read what I’d written and I might successfully deceive myself into believing what I’d written. I haven’t done that, but perhaps I will. But not just yet.

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Artificial humor is an ineffective shield against the blues. It’s about as practical as replacing bulletproof vests with cellophane.

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It’s after 8 and I’ve still been unable to convince myself to get up and moving. But I have to feed Bob, so now is the time to begin a new adventure.

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Remembrance in Art

I did not do a very good job of taking a picture, but this image should illustrate reasonably well what the urn I had made for Janine’s ashes looks like. Her favorite color was purple, so I had the urn made with three bands of purple heart. The other wood is ambrosia maple, any of various varieties of maple that have been stained when beetles bore into the maple and leave acidic trails. I think she would have been extremely impressed by the work of Craig Annen, who made the urn, and June Lamoureux, who painted the dragon fly. Dragon flies were Janine’s favorite insect creatures. She had t-shirts with dragon fly motifs, she had garden art depicting dragon flies, and she had wall art with multiple dragon flies shown in multiple “shadow box” type displays. And more. Craig is an incredibly talented wood-turner and June is an amazing, well-regarded and well-known artist. I haven’t thanked her yet for the dragon fly art, but I will.

I asked Craig to make something elegant, but simple. Janine like clean lines, simple presentations, and superior quality. That’s what Craig produced for us. He was Janine’s friend, too, and he was happy and honored to craft her urn. He spent many, many hours on the project. In an ideal world, I would have paid him $50 per hour for his work, but this world, I’m afraid, is not ideal.

In just a few days, it will be three months since Janine died. It is a tiny bit easier, but at this rate, I’ll be a very, very old man before I can accept that she’s gone and I am completely alone. Friends, as wonderful as they are, can never take the place of a spouse. I guess no one can. But maybe one day someone will find a way to me; someone who can accept and understand my perpetual love of my wife and someone for whom I can provide the same protective anchor. The likelihood, though, is slim. Very, very slim.

I do need to try to adjust. Not get over it, but adjust. I don’t know whether that will ever happen, either.

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Imagination Station

I want to make an appointment with a surgeon. I need to find one who will do a lobotomy, no questions asked. Cash only. No record of the patient’s name, address, gender, race, hair color, eye color. Nothing. Just a quick operation and, Presto! I’m a new man.

A Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz performed the first brain surgery to treat mental illness, in 1935. The surgical procedure, which Moniz called a “leucotomy,” involved drilling holes in the patient’s skull to get to the brain. Eleven years later, Walter Freeman, a psychiatrist, performed the first “ice pick” lobotomy in his office in Washington, DC.  But for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years before that, humans have used trepans, tools that cut shallow circular holes, to drill holes in the skull to release evil spirits. I don’t know which process is most likely to give me the results I want: Serenity that’s unavailable to people overcome with evil spirits or who have tightly knotted balls of razor-sharp barbed wire in their heads. A lobotomy severs the connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain; something so simple it could be performed by children on their stressed parents in the comfort of their own homes.

Why, you may ask, am I expressing a need to make an appointment for a lobotomy? A more appropriate question might be, “Why not?” What valid and persuasive reasons might I have for NOT arranging for the procedure? Sure, the results might not be as I wish. And I might not survive the process. And the aftermath could leave me incapable of managing my own daily life. There could be hundreds of reasons to skip the procedure, opting for something else, instead.

Something a little more adventurous, like replacing my legs with newer, stronger, more attractive models. The legs of a 25-year-old marathon runner might do, as long as his knees and ankles and so forth have not been permanently damaged by the repeated poundings they took during the man’s ten year career as a professional marathon runner. As I see it, the biggest stumbling block would not be the removal of my legs and their painstaking replacement. The key obstacle is likely getting the runner’s consent. Why would he be willing to have his legs severed and exchanged with mine? I have doubts he would go for it. Money could enter the equation, but how much are two marathon-quality legs worth? And would the man be willing to exchange a lifetime of sprint-worthy mobility for, at best, hobbling around on geezer feet, simply to accumulate money? Even if he were motivated by money, where would I get it?

Inasmuch as he almost certainly will refuse to accept checks, I’ll have to gather plenty of cash. The only places that keep that much within easy reach, I think, are banks. So, I’ll have to rob a bank. A big bank awash in super rich clients who eschew credit and debit cards in favor of pulling out rolls of hundred-dollar-bills to pay for packs of gum and toothpicks. Banks that cater to the cash-loving über rich will have to be my targets. Once I’ve identified them, I’ll case the places; camera locations, security guards, ease of ingress and egress, etc. And I’ll need a disguise; I’ll want to look much taller and thinner than I am. I’ll want to walk in with blue eyes, cherry red hair, with a beard and mustache covering most of my face. And a black fedora. And I’ll wear a sky-blue leisure suit. The reason for the leisure suit is that…oh, I’m not allowed to say.

The box into which I will instruct the tellers to place the stacks of bills will measure 22 inches by 32 inches by 38 inches tall. That box should accommodate roughly $16,800,000 in $100 bills, the only denomination I will accept. Half of that will go to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the rest will go into my bank accounts.

From the moment I walk in the bank to the instant the full box is in my possession, I will be deadly serious and threatening. But when the money is in my possession, I will transform from a dramatically pudgy lump of White shortness into a tall, gregarious Black man with six-pack abs and skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Using my new identity, I will say to the tellers, “Thank you for your professionalism and grace in the face of severe stress. I will repay you soon for your efforts to make this engagement as flawless and possible.”

But things could go horribly awry. One of the tellers, a forty-four year old recently divorced childless woman named Michelle will have pushed the emergency call button immediately after I made my demands. Four police cars, their sirens blaring, will screech to a stop in front of the bank just as I will make my way to the front, carrying my box full of $100 bills.

When I see the police, I will shout out loud, “Oh, no! Someone called the police! You’ll be sorry. Half of my take was to go to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. But you were more protective of the damn bank than you are of children in need! I will remember this!”

Michelle will look at me and mouth the words, “I’m sorry,” but it will be too late. I already will have decided she must have been the one to press the emergency button. So I turned toward her, pointed my gun, and pulled the trigger. Michelle went down in less than an instant. I had envisioned a life with her. But she ruined it with her finger and her admission of betrayal.

+++

I’ve fallen asleep at the computer half a dozen times. I think I’ve contracted narcolepsy, perhaps from Bob, the dog. I’ve been sleeping quite lightly of late, trying to listen for Bob’s paw-steps while dozing. That act keeps me tired most of the time. The other time I’m tired for other reasons.

I’ve noticed that I twitch when I sleep upright in a desk chair. The twitch is not constant; in fact, it’s rare, but when I twitch the movement awakens me. It’s the same twitch I notice in Bob, the dog. But his twitches are followed by whimpering howls and legs moving as if he is running. I do not run, though I used to. Now, I tend to hobble. That is, I walk lamely, with a limp. Of sorts. Maybe it’s not a limp. It could be that I shuffle or stagger or stumble. Whatever it is, it does not resemble a run in any way, shape, manner, or form.  Why am I writing about twitching in desk chairs? Could I not find something more engaging? More interesting? More relevant to something…anything? Is it sloth-induced boredom? Do I need something to change my mind the way I change my shirts?

I’m in the mood for something completely different. Taking powerful mood altering drugs or special hallucination-inducing fungus or engaging in intimate relationships with married or divorced or single women. Actually, I might not take the drugs or eat the mushrooms; not without competent medical experts at the ready by my side. How strange would it be to hallucinate that a large tabby cat was morphing into an ambulance while doctors that looked like enormous crows stood by patiently, blood-drenched scalpels in hand? That would scare me. I am terrified of being scared. I get nervous and frightened and deeply apprehensive whenever I am scared. For that reason, alone, I probably would avoid the powerful mood-altering or hallucination-inducing options.

+++

All I’ve had for sustenance thus far today was a six- or eight-ounce glass of tomato juice, flavored with Worchestershire Sauce and Tabasco Sauce. I should have added some lemon juice from a fresh lemon, but lacking a fresh lemon I did not add lemon juice. So I made something like an incomplete Virgin Mary. The Incomplete Virgin sounds like a book title, doesn’t it? Sometimes the title can spawn a book. Other times, it takes a completed book to spawn a title. Life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes a person has to die for his life to have meaning. Other times, a person has to live for his death to have meaning. The philosophy in those statements is crawling with fleas, courtesy of Bob, the dog. I sincerely hope Bob does not have fleas; because, if he has fleas, I have fleas. He likes to rest his head in my lap while I watch television. Bob and his sleeping habits and possible flea infestation has nothing whatsoever to do with an Incomplete Virgin Mary. For that reason, I recommend un-reading the part of this paragraph that has anything to do with Bob. That’s the only way you’ll be able to leave this post, untainted.

+++

If I weren’t so damn introverted in the public arena, I might get into acting. No one who has not spent time as my wife would know that I am an actor from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed at night. But especially early in the day. The “real” me is evident during the entire period, but the characters I portray are in full form when no one who has not spent time as my wife is present. I sing, I attempt to dance, I alter my voice and my facial appearance…at least to the extent I can with my face muscles and tendons that come to my aid. I’m relatively sure a candid early-morning video of me would reveal enough doubt about my stability to justify an attempt to have me committed to a mental hospital. On the other hand, an actors’ agent with sufficient wherewithal to “sniff out” hidden talent might look at the video and insist on signing me on as a client

He would say, “Either this man is a genius or an imbecile. If the former, he can make us both rich. If the latter, he can make me rich.  Either way, it’s a win.”

+++

As I sit here, nodding off occasionally, the clock reads 12:38 pm. I have spent the morning whiling away the hours by taking Bob for a walk, having a conversation with my sister-in-law, and speaking to the woman from the Animal Welfare League. They’re going to try send Bob to Connecticut if the agency in Connecticut will take him. Apparently, bigger dogs have an easier time of getting adopted in Connecticut. We’ll see.

I’ve felt enormous highs and deep lows during the past week. While is beyond my comprehension. What I feel like now is a meal. Something to eat. There’s plenty to eat in the house; just nothing that I have is sufficiently interesting to me to warrant using it as a prime ingredient. Oh, well.

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First Thing This Morning

The clock claims the hour is 6:00 a.m., but I know better. The time actually is an hour earlier. But what, exactly, is a moment in “time?” Could I label this very instant in time as 5:37 p.m., adjusting all other moments accordingly, and still live a full and complete life? Humans, in general, have collectively agreed to a relatively simple system of differentiating “then” from “now.” And we call that system “time.” We base our assertions about “time” on the movements of the Earth and the Sun and the planets and various observations made by long-dead astronomical mystics. We call it a scientific system. Or, at least, we seem to believe it is scientific. In fact, though, it is an artificial pseudo-scientific construct used to organize chaos into easily-understood packets of experience that last “just so long.”

Yes, I’ve written about the mysteries of time before. Many times. Time is a fascinating construct; evidence of mass psychosis welcomed by billions upon billions of humans who willingly give in to its power over them. How would our lives be different if we did not bother with time? How could we answer the simple question: “When?” Without time, we would not need (or have the ability) to answer the question because the query would be irrelevant and meaningless.

Think of how time has invaded our thought processes and our languages. Before. After. During. When. Then. Now. Multiply those words by the number of languages into which they can be translated. Add other words to the mix; words that suggest different instances or moments or durations. All right, I believe I’ve made my point: the concept of time has crept into every element of our lives. We cannot conceive of life without time, no matter how hard we try. The concept of time is not limited to life, either. Death “follows” life; it comes “after.”  A “lifetime” of memories often are on display at celebrations of the life of a person who has died.

Speaking of language, and I was (at some point), what value would a past participle have in an existence in which time was missing?  Future tense? Was. Had. Did. Will. Looked. Spoke. They all merge thoughts with instances or periods of time.

Yeah, and so what? Nothing, really. Just some irrelevant observations about the human condition. Would time exist in the absence of humans? Hard to say, having never been in such a situation. Whether other animals conceive of the construct of time in the abstract is impossible to know, I think. We have introduced them to time by way of training them about “when” feeding time is/will be. But without our interference, would they have any sense of time? And, again, so what? Does it matter? “Again.” That word also suggests an underlying connection with time. “Not yet.” They keep popping into my head. If they don’t stop, my skull will fill to beyond its capacity and it will detonate in a fiery mushroom cloud; phrases are combustible in the extreme.

Even “combustible.” It suggests combustion “can occur later.” Doesn’t it? Have I lost my mind? Has time entered my cranium and eaten my brain, leaving only an empty container and thousands upon thousands of useless, broken, spent words? It’s possible.

+++

I mentioned the time when I first started writing this morning because the dog, AKA Bob, roused me much earlier. Bob has not yet adjusted to the time change. (Didn’t we just arbitrarily adjust time on a whim?) He wanted breakfast and, of course, a long, hard-driving walk. He got breakfast. He will get the walk. I’m not sure whether I’ll shower and shave first, though. I look a little like I slicked down my hair with cold bacon grease before bed. The thin, short silver and white and sandy blonde stubble on my face and neck suggests I have not shaved since I was younger (another dimension of time). I’ve not put on jeans or a sweatshirt yet, so if I were to go out now, I would be underdressed, cold, and subject to being detained as an old man who wandered out of his house looking for his youth. I do not feel old, though. I feel like a young buck, a raging stud ready to take on the world and make it mine. A little like that, anyway. I’ll take the damn dog for a walk, first.

+++

Damn! I just checked my calendar and found that I have a Zoom class. Not to worry; it will be recorded and I can listen/watch later. This is not a good moment to do that; nice that they will record it. I think.

+++

One way or another, I will set up the heavy wooden bed frame in the master bedroom this week. I will move the twin bed someplace else. Maybe I’ll switch their places. But I’ll need help; my neighbors offered to assist, but the queen bed weighs just over one million pounds, so I’ll need another body or two. That’s no problem. The problem, really, is the reconstruction of the queen bed; getting it back together will be the challenge. It always is. And putting the Sleep Number platform and air mattress back together will make me feel small and inept. Always does. That’s why I should hire a team of servants. Highly paid servants. Pay them enough and they’ll be willing to wash the windows, inside and out. Give them three weeks paid vacation, health insurance, and keys to a new LandRover and they will be willing to clean the rugs on occasion. I already know their names: Phaedra, Linda, Apollonia, and Alluria. By some strange coincidence, they’re each 43 years old and fiercely independent, though deeply jealous. None of them knows about the others; quite a trick, I must say. Each of them has her own room with ensuite facilities; I had to add on to the house to accommodate them.

+++

Apollonia is the namesake of Apollonia James, a character in Overdrawn and the Memory Bank. Arom Fingal is another character in that film; Raul Julia played that part. Linda Griffiths played the part of Apollonia James. I’ve read that some of the actors who played in the film did not like it. I don’t care; I liked it.

+++

How would the world (or your little part of it) react if you publicly acknowledged your most private, most tightly kept secrets or fantasies? Would you be shunned? Arrested? Placed in chains? Or are you the type whose fantasies would generate admiration and respect?  Tell you what: reveal those secrets or fantasies to me and we’ll keep it between just the two of us; I’ll let you know what the rest of the world would say without putting you through the embarrassment.

We want to know things about other people; private and personal things that make us feel closer bonds to them. I’m not talking about strangers on the street, of course. I refer to people with whom we’re already close…more or less. And I think we want to share secrets. When a secret is shared with us, we feel privileged. Until it is shared with the rest of the world; the privilege shrivels like a water balloon with a moderately fast leak.

+++

Enough for now. I’ve been dawdling here, off and on, for more than 90 minutes. Those minutes are gone forever; I cannot retrieve them. I could have spent them painting the laundry room or playing online games of chance. Instead, I spent them here. With you.

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Fear and Rice

A year ago, panic buying of toilet paper had begun. Grocery store shelves had been stripped of dried beans and rice. When a herd mentality, driven by fear of the unknown, begins to evolve, intelligence tends to slip beneath the surface, replaced in full view by emotion. But panic buying and hording and other such reactions to the emerging pandemic were not stupid. They were rational responses to a chaotic environment. We did not know quite what to expect, but in the event the supply chains for food and sanitation were interrupted, we wanted to be prepared.

Repeated circumstances in which at least a subset of the food supply chain has been interrupted have not taught us well. When strawberries are in short supply, we wish we had planted a bed several weeks earlier. When zucchini and yellow squash are not available, we wish we had put in a large vegetable garden at the beginning of the season. But we have no strawberry beds did we install a large vegetable garden. We did not plan for sustainable sources of protein, either, when thoughts of survival disturbed our unreasonable expectations of an unending food supply.

What might have happened if we had finally heeded the call of logic? What if we’d put out strawberries, planted a huge vegetable garden, and raised a few chickens for eggs and protein? If we had planted and raised and tended on a massive scale, many sectors of the agribusiness market, especially small operators, might have folded. Unintended consequences borne of what I might call responsible independence. The economy is an extraordinarily resilient social structure, but that pliancy is available at the cost of rippling fragility. Consider what might happen to the automotive industry if, suddenly, the demand for cars evaporated. Or to the oil industry if inexpensive, competitively productive alternatives to gasolines and plastics were to come onto the scene.

In a more ideal world, collaboration would reveal “unintended consequences” before decisions are made and actions taken. But in a competitive world, the victor takes the spoils, regardless of unplanned and unimagined consequences. Collaboration, though, in which the collective good is the desired outcome, would tend to examine (to the extent possible) potential outcomes at least several effects deep.

+++

Today’s sky is drab, wet, and unappealing. It is not a day to go walking, but I suspect I will, anyway. My creativity is languishing at the bottom of a sterile barrel. Bah!

 

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Charging into the Day

This morning’s moment of awe came when I paid close attention to the act of swallowing my daily dose of tablets and pills. Having very little patience, I do not swallow them one by one. Instead, I pour them into my palm, throw them into my mouth, and take a big gulp of water. In one fell swallow, the drugs begin the journey:

  • the tongue pushes the pills to the back of the oral cavity by pressing against the palate;
  • the nasopharynx is sealed off and the larynx is elevating, enlarging the pharynx to receive the pills;
  • the pharyngeal sphincters contract sequentially, squeezing the pills into the esophagus;
  • the epiglottis closes the trachea;
  • the pills move down the esophagus by peristaltic contractions, past the lower esophageal sphincter and into the stomach.

The only conscious decision I make in the process is the one involving the tongue. After the pills get to the back of the oral cavity, an automatic system takes over.  I did not write the bullet points above from knowledge or memory. I had to rely on The Neurology of Swallowing to guide me through the stages of swallowing. Had I not looked up the process of swallowing, I would have guessed at the physiological systems involved in transporting material from my mouth to my stomach. Thanks to teachers long ago, I would have gotten significant parts of the process right, but I would have overlooked some of the most crucial. The fact that people actually study and understand the complexities of swallowing is a wonder in itself. Life, itself, is awe-inspiring.

As I type this and drink a few sips of coffee, I pay attention to what I am doing. It transports me in some fashion to a different level of consciousness; an awareness of an action I take for granted and rarely appreciate for its mystical wonder.

+++

Platonic is defined (in one sense) as “intimate and affectionate but not sexual” or “purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes.” I think the term is simply a label attached to a specific spot on a spectrum of intimacy. Platonic friendships can morph into passionate relationships, just as concupiscent engagements can wither into indifferent partnerships. That is, passionate and platonic are not necessarily steady states; they can slide along the spectrum of intimacy, changing in parallel with the depth of the relationship.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “friends with benefits.” Generally speaking, in our society, the phrase and the behavior it describes are looked upon unfavorably. Again, though, our social rules are not necessarily carved in stone. Morality is a flexible construct. While I might (or might not) find the concept offensive today, that attitude might be different tomorrow. And it might have been different yesterday. I wish all people were more open and receptive to new ideas or revisiting old ideas already deemed immoral or unseemly. Even those of us who claim an open-mind live within spheres built of artificial mental boundaries.

And, then, the dog interrupted. Bob and I are not suited for each other after all, I think. Last night, at 1:45 a.m., Bob came into the room where I was sleeping and woke me. He pranced a bit with this two front paws, making me think he needed something. As I got out of bed, his prancing grew more animated. I quickly got dressed (more or less…at least I wore casual house pants, a t-shirt, and slippers), attached his leash to his collar, and took him outside. Aside from a bright streetlight and a brightly-lit house across the street, the street in both directions was dark. Very dark. I took Bob for a short walk, nonetheless, whereupon he demonstrated why he was in such urgent need of going outside. Fortunately, I was carrying gloves and a double-bagged sack from Walmart.

Bob is too big and demanding for me; I’m contentedly set in my ways. My morning routine is completely out of kilter. While taking him for walks is pleasant (except for his incessant pulling and that one late-night emergency poop patrol), I have begun to think morning walks alone, without the distraction of a dog peeing every forty feet and barking at distant dogs and a hundred other diversions, would be more peaceful and thought-inspiring.

Bob need much more activity than I can give. He needs a big yard to play in. He does not need to be cooped up in a house for most of the day, with or without human companionship. As much as I like Bob and enjoy his company, I have almost reached the conclusion that he needs someone with more space and more willingness to walk him several times a day. And take him for rides in the car; he loves car rides.

I think I may foster Bob for a while, just so he does not have to return to a kennel with very little room to roam and inadequate human company (though, as I understand, the Animal Welfare League volunteers do take their dogs out for walks and otherwise treat them well). We’ll see. I thought I wanted a dog. And I think I still do. Just a smaller, less physically needy dog. I think. I wish I could magically find Bob’s original human companion and reunite them. I can’t help but think someone is missing Bob deeply, just as I think Bob misses someone who used to be in his life.

+++

Two dreams last night stuck with me, at least in parts. In one of them, I was asked to buy a clothes hanger system for a girl who was going away to college. I never saw the girl, nor did I recognize the woman and her other daughter who asked me to buy it. The hangers comprised an ingenious system wherein the hangers were loosely attached to a rail that had multiple sections. Each section of rail expanded out of the section to its left, creating a very long rail when fully extended. The hangers’ design was traditional, except for the top; instead of a curved “hook,” the top was designed to slide onto the bottom section of the rail. It was ingenious except that it was made entirely of plastic; I thought it would not stand much use before breaking. But the woman insisted I buy and install it for her daughter. I do not know how or where it ended. Odd, that dream.

The other dream involved my late wife and me making some sort of frozen dessert and selling it to a bakery. We delivered it, but the passageway from the store’s entry to the area where the freezer was located was too narrow for me to pass through; so my wife when down that passageway and I went through another entry. When we started to unload our products into the freezer, we discovered it was completely filled with other products and, mostly, frost. It must have never been defrosted. Again, I don’t know where the dream went, nor how it ended.

Do dreams actually end with some sort of resolution or natural conclusion? Or do they simply stop, as if they were recorded on film that was suddenly cut in the middle of something important or relevant or meaningful? I’ve often wondered about that.  Many people find stories of others’ dreams boring. I find them fascinating. I can envision a dream-sharing group, just two or three or four of us, sitting around a table relating our memories of our dreams. We could then guess as what they might “mean,” as if we have any way of knowing what or whether dreams have any meaning at all. But it would be fun, I think. The conversations would be great over coffee. Or wine. Or something else.

+++

A friend from the DFW area plans to visit in early April. I think I’ve met her only once, face to face, but I’ve followed her on Facebook for quite some time.  She writes poetry, which is how I came to know her. My wife and I learned from another friend that this woman was going to read her poetry at a library event. We decided to go. I was impressed with her reading and have followed her, off and on, ever since. She has wanted to visit Hot Springs for years, apparently, and the fact that I am here and have a guest room helped make her decision to come. She may come with a friend; that’s up in the air, I think. She wants to go for day hikes; I told her I might be game, but my stamina may not permit it. I may suggest to my sister-in-law that she give my friend guidance and possibly accompany her on day hikes. My sister-in-law may read this before I mention it to her. That’s the thing about blogs; they sometimes tend to pre-communicate.

+++

I finished watching To the Lake, a Netflix Russian-language series, last night. To save myself and readers the trouble, here’s how Wikipedia describes its plot:

Residents of Moscow are infected with an unknown deadly virus, the main symptoms of which are coughing and discoloration of the eyes, and after three to four days, death occurs. Nobody knows how to resist infection. The capital of the country is covered by an epidemic, gradually turning it into a city of the dead: there is no electricity, money has lost its value, chaos and lawlessness reign everywhere and gangs of marauders are gathering, the media are panicking, and those who are not yet infected are desperately fighting for food and gasoline. The city is being quarantined; all entrances to it are closed.

Fleeing from the epidemic, Sergei, along with his new lover, her autistic son, his own son, his ex-wife who could not forgive him, his father and the neighbors who joined them, go to Karelia. There, on a desert island in the middle of Vongozero, they want to hide from the threat of contamination in a refuge ship.

Against the background of a terrible global catastrophe, a cruel family drama is also played out. People who normally would never have been under the same roof must now unite to try to escape the growing epidemic. On the way, they will not only face various dangers, but also overcome family troubles, learn not only to survive, but also to forgive.

I found the series (only eight episodes of about 45 minutes or an hour each) fascinating. It is based on a debut novel by Russian writer Yana Vagner.

+++

I think it’s about time to devour a bowl of bran flakes. In an earlier time, I might have made shakshuka, but it’s not as much fun to cook for one as it is to cook for a couple. My wife sometimes enjoyed my forays into international breakfasts, but more often than not she simply put up with them (or opted to eat something else, much to my dismay). But having her here to watch or, at least, view the finished dish was always gratifying. I miss her so much in so many ways. Until just now, I was ready to charge into the day; now, I’m splintering.

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Layers

My first blog was entitled Musings from Myopia. The second one was Brittle Road. The third, It Matters Deeply. Those three, plus this one, are the only ones with any significant substance. A few others, each only one or two or three posts long, have disappeared into the ether of my memories. They still may exist, but I have no reason to search for them. And then there is this one, the eponymous compilation of thoughts and emotions and ideas and contemplations I hoped might be worth recording for posterity. Maybe this one is simply a monument to my ego.

Despite multiple attempts to carve out or otherwise stake a claim to an intellectual legacy, the outcomes thus far have been inconsistent and incomplete. But that may be the most lasting lesson of my efforts—that consistency and completion cannot be achieved in the universe in which we live. Our world and everything in it is in a constant state of flux. None of us are consistently reliable. We steadfastly deviate from certainty. And the very idea that we really finish anything is laughable. We don’t even truly begin. Whether we know it or not, our efforts are just continuations of ideas of others; others about whom we may know little or nothing. Our knowledge is built in layers, like the petrified sediments of a million-year-old river bed. Each successive layer requires the ones that came before it to serve as its base. There may be an original layer, somewhere deep beneath the ones above, but probably it is thin and weak. And it may have merged with the ones above it, hiding its crucial role as the place where something started.

Digging deep into our own psyches, we can mine more riches than if we were to dig in a pit of diamonds. Looking within, we are capable of creating knowledge that simply cannot exist in a cursory universe. While we do not begin and we do not finish, we always serve as critical links between past and present and future. But only for ourselves. Only for that secret person hidden beneath the façades we show the world. For me, this blog is the tool I use to explore a mine; to find out where I have been, where I am, and where I might be going. This may sound mystical and mysterious, but it is far from it. Examining every facet of our lives allows us to know ourselves more thoroughly, though not completely. I think most people, though, either are afraid of searching beneath the surface layers. Or they do not realize the substrata reflect our selves far more realistically than does the surface.

I have more to say about this. But not just now. Now, I have other obligations that take my fingers from the keys.

 

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Direction

When we are unsure of the directions our lives should take, everyone in our spheres want to become compasses. No matter how different we are from one another, the fact that we belong to the same species suggests we should follow paths trodden by those who share our taxonomy.  Perhaps, though, we are the ones who seek out compasses. We find it easier and less dangerous to let others blaze trails than to carve out our own. But danger finds us, no matter where we go. But when we make our own danger, the path back to safety is unsure.

+++

This is not working. I do not know what I want or need to say; only that, whatever it is, it is not reachable. A dog can’t fix it. A friend can’t fix it. Only time has a chance of fixing it, and that’s only a slim chance.

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Distractions

The unlit day was cloudy, cool, and windy as I wrote this. I knew these weather conditions from experience, because Bob already had insisted on going outside into the dark. I assumed he needed to relieve himself, but it seems he simply wanted to go on a walk. I’d only barely touched my coffee, so I rejected his demands after taking him out for a brief stroll. A moderate walk, about a mile, came later, but not until after daybreak. Still, he did not seem satisfied. He ate breakfast, slurped some water, and then behaved as if he was ready to begin again.

My plan was to write, before Bob insisted on taking over my morning. I think I may have to do what his former foster family did; put him in his kennel overnight and then let him out after they had sufficiently engaged with the following day to become servants, treating Bob like royalty. I have never fancied becoming a serf.

+++

Distractions, the ones impossible to ignore, wreck my thought processes. They redirect my thinking, turning it upside down and sideways. Even when I crave solitude, distractions can convince me otherwise, causing me to pack my schedule with events I would appreciate and enjoy another time, but not then—not when I need to carefully unwind the spiral spring steel that resides inside my head. Distractions hatch more distractions in a never-ending pattern until I can’t quite understand whether I live in this century or another one long since passed or yet to be.

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Desire can have the same effect as distractions. Desire can bend a thousand perpendicular, steely strands of thought into a twisted, garbled, impossibly knotted mat of fragile and incomplete ideas. Wishes tangled with wants tangled with hopes and thirsts and passions. That snarled mass of emotion transforms reason into ignorance; motive into blind impulse.

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The need for affection can decay into a willingness to accept the embrace of the nearest set of arms. Loss of self-respect cannot be far behind and, with it, the loss of any sense of purpose…even a twisted, gnarled, damaged sense of purpose. When affection becomes more important than life, that’s the moment danger wraps its ragged, skeletal hands around the neck and squeezes as if the end of life depended on it.

+++

My only reliable reason for living was my wife. We had plenty of difficulties and unmet challenges, but we relied on one another for love and a reason to be. Her absence leaves a terrible wound whose pain is being deadened with time, but the wound remains, infecting all the remaining tissue.

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A year ago I wrote about wanderlust, a desire to be on the road and to experience different landscapes and different relationships.  My mind produced these words: “My daydreams about hitting the road may be about developing new relationships without worrying about navigating around existing potholes. It may be easier to repair an axle broken by driving into a new pothole than repairing a relationship damaged by misinterpreting, as cues, messages that were never sent.” I can only guess at what caused me to write that.

+++

I’ll have lunch with friends today, then late this afternoon I’ll participate in a Zoom call with other friends who live far, far away. Before the day is out, I’ll try to arrange to pick up a loaner telescope from the library and I’ll try to submit a form to the State of Arkansas. How could I describe my “productivity” for the day? What value will I add to humanity during the next twelve hours? Hard to say, really. Impossible, actually.

+++

More groceries, plus household goods. Two orders from two stores. Little that’s truly necessary, but apparently it’s sufficiently important to me that I’ve willingly spent nearly  $100 to satisfy my wants. I pick up one order tomorrow morning and the other one very early the following day. I am reduced to talking about my grocery-buying habits. I have nothing else of value to say. Jesus! But the thing is I do not want to have to take ownership and responsibility for being of value (or lacking it). So it appears I will continue to bitch about being lazy, while wanting nothing more than to be lazy.  What a sour mood I’m in right now. And there’s really no reason for it.

+++

I have yet to shower or shave or eat breakfast. And I’ve had only a single cup of coffee. I am tired. I could sleep for a year.

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Confusion and Its Cousins

A few days ago, the decision my late wife and I made to skip the joys and obligations of parenthood was a subject of my observations. Today, I am at least the temporary caretaker of a fifty-four pound lap dog named Bob; a dog that requires twice-daily feedings, at least two (usually, so far, more than two) walks per day, regular veterinary visits and the attendant expenses, unwavering attention, and more. And Bob has disrupted my life to some extent. My early morning solitude is a luxury of the past. Instead of getting up, making coffee, and meditating through my fingers, Bob urges me to take him outside. Now. He wants to walk. A more apt description is that he wants to run, his nose glued to the trail of some unknown target, but his desire is thwarted by having to drag an old man behind him.

As much as I like Bob, I wonder whether I have tricked myself into believing I need a companion? I wonder whether I just wanted a way to get through the loneliness? Yet my desire for a dog is not new. I have had a romanticized idea about dog companionship for a very long time. But I have not had a dog since I was in high school. I could have had a dog long, long ago. My wife would have been flexible about it; even though she did not embrace the idea, I am certain she would have been happy with a dog if it made me happy.

Do I really want a dog, or do I simply want the idea of how a dog at my side would make me feel? I suppose time will tell. But not too much time. I do not want a dog to become attached to me, only to be put back in the dog fostering system. The thing that really gives me second thoughts is the obvious fact that Bob wants room to run and frolic and play and chase real or imaginary quarry. I strongly suspect he had that kind of home before he was brought in to the HSV Animal Welfare League. I wish I knew more about his history. I thought, today, that he might have lived on or near Brookhill Ranch, where there’s lots of room to roam. I’m tempted to try to find out. But I’m not sure how. As much as I think Bob is a wonderful beast, I think he needs more room than I am able to give him. But if I’m his last best hope, then I’ll certainly give him a home.

Before I stumbled across an online listing for Bob, I was convinced the only dog for me would be a small (under 20 pound) dog; a friendly, easy-to-care-for animal that would quickly develop an attachment to me and vice versa. Bob is nearly three times the weight. He is fiercely powerful and dedicated to pull hard on his leash. He sits on command, but only when presented with a treat. He responds to a few other commands, but only in the right circumstances. He enjoys sitting in humans’ laps or sprawling on sofas.

I’m still leaning strongly toward keeping him, but I’m feeling quite guilty for doing it. He needs more space and energy than I am able to give him. Maybe if I bought some acreage and a mobile home…

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My home insurance bill came in the mail today, taking my breath and much of my financial cushion away. The size of the bill makes me seriously consider going “naked,” also known as self-insuring. Of course, self-insuring assumes adequate liquid cash to rebuild and restore one’s home and possessions. I ask everyone this question: do you have enough ready cash to rebuild your house and refurnish it with everything you have bought and kept for the last fifty years? If so, I applaud and admire and very nearly worship you. I don’t have that kind of cash sitting around collecting dust (or even interest). I will not go naked. I will pay the bill and plan to set aside even more each month so I have what it takes to pay the bill next year without blinking. My wife took care of this stuff until now; she provided the pump for the financial pipeline for our two-person family. I contributed gas and appreciation and recognition, but I did not get very involved. Now, I am. With each property tax bill and insurance statement and credit card statement, I am becoming more miserly.

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I went to be early last night, about 9:30, and awoke late, around 6:00. Despite the long hours of sleep last night I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. This has been something of a regular thing for several days, though, before I got Bob, so I cannot blame him. The other day, I fell asleep at my computer in the afternoon. I awoke and saw the computer clock read 6:27. I was confused; I thought I had slept late and that it was 6:27 in the morning. Maybe I am aging faster than I realized.  Whatever. I need a nap.

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Moody

The decision to have children is, to many and perhaps most people, no more a decision than is growing hair. It is viewed as the inevitable outcome of maturation; the natural process of replenishing and enlarging the herd. Contravening the process is as deviant as plucking every follicle in one’s head and filling the void with a chemical to induce alopecia.

On the contrary, the decision NOT to have children often involves making irreversible judgments after engaging in long, deep, and difficult thought. The hair analogy really does not quite reach the level of gravity involved; deciding against having children is more like opting to remove a limb. Obviously, one can choose to “correct” that decision with a prosthesis. The closest thing to it, with regard to children, is adoption; but after deciding against having children, I suspect agencies are not likely to permit adoption. That is not so in cases of infertility, etc. Once the decision is made and confirmed by vasectomy or other such procedure, the permanence of the choice is pretty much set in stone. But, I know very few people who, after having made the decision, wished they could reverse it. It’s simply the right decision for those who make it, despite the fact that some of them have the occasional and short-lived regret that there will be no grandchildren and no one to care for them in old age.

I have never regretted our decision against having children, aside from the very, very, very occasional (read that as “rare as ten-carat diamonds”) tinge. I’m happy to have a niece and nephews. But I think I would have made a miserable father. I would have resented the time and money and emotions I would have had to spend on children. Selfishness is a very good sign that opting to have children is a bad, bad choice. Maybe, though, all of this is on my mind right now because I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’m an old man and I’m alone. When the time inevitably comes when I grow weak and feeble and unable to look after myself, my options will be extremely limited. A civil, humane society would provide resources to peacefully and painlessly bring a lifetime to an end. Instead, our society  turns us into criminals who may have to illicitly assemble tools of compassion.

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I finished watching my Danish series, Warrior, last night. It got better as the series developed. Or my criticism weakened. Or I finally gave in to the idea that I do not really require high art in my entertainment. Sometimes, simple stuff that doesn’t pass the “willing suspension of disbelief” test is perfectly fine. But I draw the line on mindless slapstick. Usually. I don’t know what I want to watch next. If anything. I may have temporarily tired of the television screen and books and computer monitors and magazines. I may have tired of everything. Almost everything seems artificial. Relationships of all kinds are brittle replicas of reality so fragile they break into pieces when touched by frayed nerve endings. Life is not like a police drama in which a crime is committed, the criminal is caught and tried, and the future is successfully sealed in a half-hour episode.

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Yesterday was a good day. It should have left me with a platform upon which to build an excellent weekend. But in spite of positives, I’m sitting on a mat of shredded, decaying leaves loosely tethered by thin vines to the edges of a canyon fifty yards to either side. A thousand feet below me, a surly river rushes between jagged rocks and broken ledges. I’m bound, hand and foot, with barbed wire. And my nose itches.

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I’m scheduled to meet Bob this morning. Bob is a Mountain Cur mix, the Village Animal Welfare League says. Bigger than I was hoping to find, but apparently a nice temperament. We’ll see. Bob may require more exercise than I am able or willing to provide. And they tell me he insists on lolling about on the furniture. But, still. We’ll see, as I said. Over and over and over again.

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The backstory is too long to tell here. I received a multi-page handwritten letter from a young woman (as in 40+) yesterday afternoon. She’s a Facebook friend by way of my sister-in-law. Though we only barely know each other (I met her in person once and I’ve exchanged short messages with her…maybe twice). At any rate, the letter was a delight to receive, despite the fact that it revealed displeasure with her life at the moment. If I could write legibly, I would write a handwritten letter back to her; but I hope she’s satisfied with a typed letter. Her letter to me is part of a project she’s launched to write handwritten letters to people who are willing to receive them (I think to prompt her to get back in the habit of doing what she used to do).

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I’ve arranged to borrow a telescope from the library next Tuesday. The weather forecast calls for clouds and rain for the remainder of next week, so the telescope probably will sit, unused, for several days. The first day when sunny skies are forecast is Thursday, March 18. The forecast may change between now and then, of course.  But on March 15, I will participate in a Zoom educational program about dark night skies; I hope to learn enough about night sky viewing to know at least a little about what I’ll seen through the telescope.

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Time for breakfast. I’m hungry for something, but I don’t know what.

 

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Unexpectations

Dr. Fauci and another medical specialist used a word in response to interview questions yesterday that sounded, to me, a bit “stuffy.” The word is “efficacious,” a synonym for which is “effective.” Had I been the one speaking to the press, I would have used “effective,” but I am not a medical doctor. The website, etymonline.com, defines it as “sure to have the desired effect (often of medicines),” so I suppose it is not used to demonstrate superiority of the speaker. Perhaps I’m just a thin-skinned skeptic who prefers his own sesquipedalian usage. I hope not, though. I do like to use words with which I am either unfamiliar or only moderately familiar; it helps build my vocabulary, though my memory is fighting against that endeavor. For example, I’d forgotten the word for “given to using long or multisyllabic words.” I had to look it up; once I saw sesquipedalian, I remembered. But if I saw the word without a definition attached, I’d probably recognize it as a word I once knew but no longer remember.

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This post was not expected. At least not by me. I wrote a second post yesterday to take the place of this one, which I thought I would not have time to write. What with showering, shaving, and tidying up the house for the bi-monthly housekeeper, I thought I’d be hard-pressed to finish my “chores” before it was time to leave the house. Wrong. If I’d get over my penchant for cleaning up in preparation for the person I pay to clean up, I’d have more time. Or if I can’t stop myself from cleaning up, maybe I should stop paying someone to re-do what I just did. I know I am not alone in that absurd habit. Am I?

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I watched another couple of episodes of the Danish series, Warrior, last night. It’s not especially good, but it’s entertaining and sufficiently action-packed to keep my attention. Plus, I get to hear people speaking Dutch. That’s not common in Central Arkansas, so it’s worth a trip into the bowels of Netflix to get enmeshed in another culture and language. I find films and series in which characters interact in Spanish and French and Arabic to be just as interesting. Dutch fears of Afghans and vice versa flow just under the surface of the series, at least under part of it, and that’s an interesting tension to watch and hear.

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Once again, out of the blue, I got horrific leg cramps in the middle of the night last night. I was in the midst of a dream in which I felt awful pain in my legs; when I woke up, the scene was different but the pain was real. I hadn’t been using good leg-cramp-avoidance practices; I got up (finally, after painfully forcing my legs to cooperate) and drank a few big swigs of tonic water. Maybe it helped. Or maybe it was the stomping of my feet. Or perhaps the profanity had something to do with the subsidence of agony. Damned leg cramps.

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A British doctor with a Middle Eastern name presents, on a BBC video, his theories about seduction. It’s an interesting piece, though it has been a few weeks since I watched it. He defines seduction in a broader sense that most of us do and he claims seduction techniques work to achieve desired results in any number of endeavors, from romance and sex to job promotions and getting hired. Seduction plays a part in every part of our lives, he says, suggesting that the better one gets at seduction, the more likely it will be that the person will enjoy success in all aspects of his or her life.

I’m probably written about Leon Redbone and his song, “I Want to be Seduced,” before. I like that song. It’s so straightforward; incredibly direct.  Here are some of the lyrics I find appealing:

I want to be seduced,
I want a woman to take me out to dinner for two
I want to see her eyes gettin’ moody,
Flirtin’ with the thought of what flirtin’ can lead to
I want to act real cool, have her think about gettin’ little me in bed
Have a chat about Magna Charta, or Puerto Vallarta, or somethin’ Gandhi said
I might demure politely,  falter slightly, if she starts to fondle my knee,
But I’m relatively certain I’d compromise if I know me

I think the appeal is in the last line; “But I’m relatively certain I’d compromise if I know me.” Brutal honesty; but, then, that’s the way he begins the verse and the song. Nothing different, no surprise, but still it’s a flash of honesty that labels him in an unflattering way.

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Time to go. Off to Hot Springs.

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Creating Friday from Thursday Afternoon

Given that I seriously doubt I’ll have either the time or the inclination to write tomorrow morning, I’m writing Friday morning’s post on Thursday afternoon, instead. The possibility exists that I will write tomorrow, as well, but if not, I’m covered.

There was a time that I would type long letters to friends and family, but the letters rarely received replies. I am a throwback to a time when people wrote to one another instead of emailing or texting or calling or whatever. I do some of those things, too, but I prefer “writing.” My handwriting is illegible, no matter how hard I try to make it legible, so typing is the best option. I’ve read letters written in the 1800s, though, and their illegibility is simply more consistently attractive than my illegibility. I wonder how in hell people could read the stuff I’ve seen. But I suppose they could; perhaps it’s not my writing’s illegibility that’s the problem; perhaps it’s my illiteracy. Maybe I just cannot read cursive writing. I’m convinced that’s not the case, though; though it could be that I cannot read 1800s style cursive writing. Not that any of this matters much. Back to letters. I made the transition from letter-writing to blog-writing. My blog posts don’t get much response, either, but at least I know they can be read. But, then, so could my typed letters. Maybe it’s not the format; maybe it’s the content. Stream-of-consciousness insanity can be hard to follow and harder still to enjoy.

I have no idea where I was going with this. Suffice it to say I do not want to start over, so I’ll leave it as it is and hope some day I’ll remember what I was planning to write, so I can finish it.

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Thanks to a phone call from a friend who had just gotten her COVID-19 vaccination, I got my first vaccination today, too. She was notified yesterday she had been assigned to a slot at noon today. After she got her shot and was waiting the obligatory 15 minutes afterward before leaving, she was told there was a slight surplus of vaccines for that time slot and that people who arrived before 12:30 would be eligible to get a vaccination without an appointment. Her call came in about 12:15; I thought it impossible to get to the site before 12:30 and I was right. I arrived at 12:39. They accommodated me in spite of my tardiness. And I now have an appointment for a second shot on April 1. So, two trips to Little Rock to get my injections have been avoided. I cancelled my March 11 slot in Little Rock after I got home.

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On a very definitely related subject: the volunteers and professionals at the Balboa Baptist Church, where the shots were given, were extraordinary. The church provided the space and a number of its members provided the staffing to orchestrate and implement a remarkably well-organized process. From parking directors to parking lot ushers to people who checked credentials and provided forms for visitors to complete in advance of the shots, the volunteers were nothing short of spectacular. And the nurses and other professional staff were equally as capable and as friendly as the volunteers. I’ve rarely been so impressed with what amounts to an almost all-volunteer people-management process. Accolades to the Balboa Baptist Church. If they would radically alter their dogma, etc., I might visit occasionally just to express my appreciation.  😉

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Today’s weather has been outstanding. I think it’s about 72°F now and the brilliant blue skies are pristine and clear. Though the day started chilly, it warmed up nicely and very quickly. Word on the street, though, is that the temperature will drop to around 45°F tonight and will reach only 54°F tomorrow, with showers and clouds most of the day. If things go according to plan, I will take a friend in to town for a dental procedure and, then, if the timing is right, I will meet a friend and her partner for lunch at Superior Brewery. A little later, I am scheduled to have a telephone consultation with a doctor about the possibility of getting a medical marijuana card, the purpose of which will be to enable me to purchase products that may address should and neck pain and a few other physical outcomes of geezerhood. The possibility exists that the non-purchaser of my Camry will drop by later in the day to return the car’s maintenance and repair records. If so, I will invite her in for wine, as she seems to be an intriguing person who shares some interests with me. If not, I am not sure what I will do. But since I have wine and televisions and books and Spotify in the house, I have a pretty good idea.

Tonight, too. Anyone want to come over?

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Doggone

My hope for bringing Rosie, the five and a half year-old Chihuahua mix, into my home has been dashed. Here’s the essence of an email message I received when I got home from an interesting day yesterday: Your adoption application has been approved. We were asked to help place her in a home after her owner passed away, but her owner’s family found a home for her already.

I’ve been approved, but Rosie won’t be coming to live with me. Such is life. I’ll keep my eyes open for a Rosie doppelgänger or other suitable dog that wants a companion like me and vice versa.

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I scrambled yesterday to take a friend to an earlier-than-expected medical procedure (full anesthesia, so he requires a driver), only to learn on arrival at the clinic that the appointment was not actually scheduled for two more days. Calendars sometimes confuse me, too; I have arrived for appointments hours late, have missed them altogether, and have shown up a day or two early. My friend did not need to compensate me for the mix-up, but he did, anyway, buying me breakfast at a little diner-style place near the racetrack. Over breakfast, I learned that we share similar tastes in television series and film. He mentioned several series that I have added to my watch list and I mentioned several Scandinavian films and series he found interesting. He has seen some of the Scandinavian films I have enjoyed, including one of my favorites, Occupied. He also is a fan of Fauda. I suggested he consider Borderliner, Borderland, Dicte, and a few more. He suggested we might want to consider attempting to organize sharing session groups in our church, in which people could offer suggestions about films and series and provide a brief synopsis. I like the idea! Depending on how coherent he is when he comes out of the procedure tomorrow, we may further discuss the concept.

From breakfast, we went by my house (because, though I had taken my trash bags to the garage, I had forgotten to take them to the street), then to his house, where he showed me the view from his deck. His place is located on a golf course with a beautiful, large water feature visible from several large glass doors and windows. The walls of his house are adorned with the artwork of his partner, a very nice woman who also is a member of my church.

We then took advantage of the fact that we both had unexpected free time by going to the church to install an additional memorial plaque listing all the church members who have died in the recent past. My wife’s name was among those engraved on the new granite plaque.

I left my car at his house so we could take his shiny black sports car for a spin. After our work at the church was done, he offered to let me drive the car, a six-speed Honda S2000, back to his house. With the top down, it was great fun driving down a pine-tree-lined winding road with little traffic. Except for the fact that I had a hell of a time getting in and out of the car, due to its configuration (and mine), it was an enormously thrilling activity. On the way to the church, he showed me what the car could do when it hits 5600 RPM; when it reached that point, it felt like a jet-engine propelled the car forward, pinning me to the seat. If I drove the car with any frequency, it’s probable I would be ticketed regularly. What a blast to ride in that low-to-the-ground powerhouse!

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Speaking of Scandinavian television series, as I was, here’s a description of a one-season (from 2018) Danish series (Warrior) I began to watch last night:

A war veteran plagued by guilt over his final mission teams up with his best friend’s widow to infiltrate a dangerous Copenhagen biker gang.

The main character is played by Dar Salim, a Danish actor (who was born in Baghdad, Iraq) who has played in several Scandinavian (and other) series I’ve watched during the last couple of years, including two of my favorites, Dicte and Borgen. He’s a prolific actor, but I’ve not seen him in many other of his series and films. I was surprised to learn he was in Game of Thrones, but I’ve not watched that series, so have no personal knowledge of it. With a single episode of Warrior under my belt, I cannot yet say whether I like it. Unfortunately, I’m leaning toward thinking the series did not need to be made.

I bounce between partially-watched films and series, which contributes to my frequent confusion over their plots. Regardless of how interesting they may be, I sometimes temporarily tire of the pace or the story line, so I move on to something else for a bit. When I return, though, I’ve watched two or three snippets of other entertainment; I contribute to my own confusion. It doesn’t help that I frequently abandon the television all together, opting instead to read or write or listen to music. As a consequence of my intellectual and emotional dances, I get lost and confused. I don’t think it’s old age that does that to me; it has happened my entire life, a symptom, perhaps, of undiagnosed ADHD.

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My interstate beer buddies and good friends—one of whom just sent me a superb sampling of IPAs from Maine and Massachusetts—contacted me yesterday with a suggestion that we arrange another video-conference between the three of us in the near future. After a bit of calendar coordination, we settled on a date and time. Odds are great that beer will be one of the subjects of discussion. I miss sitting with the two of them at the now-defunct Addison (TX) Flying Saucer, drinking and discussing beer and talking about life and politics and our respective wives and our futures. All three of us have moved away from D/FW, leaving the “Metroplex” to wallow in its own unrestrained greed.

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This blog has turned into a diary or a journal or a repository of the stories of the daily dullness of my life. I never intended that to happen. It was supposed to be a repository of cutting edge fiction vignettes, personal intellectual explorations, and a collection of essays (and their brethren) that would eventually reveal the way my mind works. I may soon archive everything I’ve posted on this blog and start over with another blog that fits the original vision. I might seed the new one with content from this one that fits the intended framework; I could have a fairly sizeable blog just by doing that. At least the new version probably would be considerably more consistent and cohesive. We shall see. Maybe I’ll do it, maybe I won’t. Time is the only thing that will tell, because intentions often lie.

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Some evenings are so damn hard. Part of the difficulty is the simple fact that I must accept the fact that my wife is gone forever. But part of the difficulty is that I continue to refuse to accept it; I cannot accept that she is gone, though I know she is. Much of the difficulty is purely selfish. Every day and every night, I feel an intense need to share little things with someone close to me. Telephone calls and texts are inadequate. Videos are better, but they, too, seem insufficiently intimate. It’s not that I want a “pal” to be able to talk to. I want a close companion. I want someone in the same house with me. I am sure a dog can serve as a companion in some ways, but dogs can’t engage in meaningful conversation. I can talk to friends, but eventually they insist on leaving; going back to their houses and/or their spouses. I haven’t asked any of them to stay the night so we could talk into the wee hours, but I suspect if I did I could accurately predict their reactions. Maybe I imagine things; maybe my self-disparaging attitudes are speaking to me through a mysterious ventriloquist controlled by my own subconscious. Hmm. This is getting strange.

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This morning, I will join some other guys in the church parking lot for our weekly gathering, then will return home to spend more time sorting through paperwork. Filing taxes is an unpleasant thought on my mind, but I think it’s better to just tackle the beast now than to put it off until the last possible moment. Maybe it’s best that I did not get Rosie, in that after I get some of this paperwork out of the way I will do some day trips (or overnight trips) probably unsuited to (or difficult with) dog ownership.

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I’m not planning to commit suicide, but if I were I would not mention it to Alexa. Ask her a question about suicide and she will suggest calling a national hotline and will even supply the toll-free phone number to call. I haven’t checked to see what she might say in response to questions about drug or sex addiction, alcohol abuse, or chest pain. It occurs to me that Alexa could collect all the questions she is asked about physical or emotional distress and dilemmas and produce an oral “column” called Ask Alexa, using the questions she is asked and the responses she gives as content.

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No breakfast yet this morning. I may not have breakfast. I may stick with coffee and water. And if I can do that, I should be able to do the same for lunch. And dinner. Stick to that routine long enough and I’ll lose a lot of weight, fast. Yes, fast. Fasting is the solution. It was right there in front of me all along.

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Is It Patience or Patients?

A chilling news item was posted twelve hours ago on the BBC.com website. The article indicates that thirteen of twenty-five people traveling in a Ford SUV were killed near Imperial, California when the vehicle pulled directly into the path of a Peterbilt truck loaded with gravel. The SUV’s legal capacity was eight or nine. The article attributes a statement made by a spokesman for the Border Patrol as follows: the people in the SUV “could be farmworkers involved in harvesting winter greens in the mainly agricultural area.” Regardless of whether one thinks overburdening an SUV with so many passengers is negligent, the fact that thirteen people died is horrendous. I surmise (though I may be wrong) that the passengers had few options; many or most or perhaps all of them had no other means of transportation. If they were migrant workers, probably they earned very low wages for backbreaking work. They were scraping by. But maybe not; maybe they simply chose to cram into an SUV instead of driving their late-model SUVs and sedans to work in the field. Maybe their work in the fields was simply a hobby, a way to connect with other wealthy people who needlessly take away jobs from people who really need the money. Yeah. Maybe they deserved what they got. The most bothersome aspect of the attitude that they stole jobs and got what they deserved is that many people actually believe such idiocy.

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Another, more uplifting, video piece on BBC.com explains why we cannot go faster than the speed of light. One of my favorite sentences from the video says “As a kid, I sorta thought of StarTrek as being like a documentary about the future.” According to the animated video (and according to physicists the world over), it would take an infinite amount of energy to go as fast as, or faster than, the speed of light. And if one were already going that fast, it would take an infinite amount of energy to slow down. These concepts are beyond my capacity to fully understand, but I think I may attempt to disprove Einstein’s theory of relativity in my next incarnation. Except that I do not believe I will have another incarnation, so that becomes a dilemma for which there is no solution. A solution can be, among other things, either an answer to a problem, the process by which one reaches the answer, or a homogeneous molecular mixture of two or more substances. The challenges and thrills of language can be almost orgasmic! I sometimes wonder whether language arose out of the innate need to communicate about sudden waves of keen physical excitement or emotions. Not really; I’ve never wondered that at all. I’m just making things up with my fingers.

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If I did not have to meet a schedule today, I think I’d spend the morning watching BBC.com videos on subjects related to physics and science. Consider the following titles available right now:

  • Does Our Universe Have a Twin?
  • Is Our Perception of Time Wrong?
  • The Flaw in Every Recipe Book
  • How Your Toaster Explains the Universe
  • Probing the Universe’s Dark Energy
  • Our Window into the Universe
  • Is Our Future Set in Stone?
  • The Other Dimensions that Could Exist
  • What is the Smallest Particle?
  • Einstein’s Big Idea Made Simple
  • What Happens Inside a Black Hole?
  • What is the Universe Expanding Into?
  • Why the Sky is Dark at Night
  • Can We Trust What Science Tells Us?

Granted, several of these are extremely simplistic, presenting information most of us already know (or think we do). But they tend to resurrect interests that we might have lost. Or, at least, they trigger curiosity that helps retrieve the awe we felt, as children, when we looked into the sky and wondered what was “out there” or what part we play in the overarching scheme of existence. Too often, I allow myself to overlook the awe I still feel when I look at close-up images of insects and see the intricate patterns woven into their bodies. And I don’t take the time to think deeply enough about what might be hidden from our view on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. And I fail to give in to the sense of overwhelming wonder at the ability of ants to communicate in the midst of chaos on the ant hill. It’s not science so much that enthralls me as all of existence. Our life spans should be thousands of years long, not just decades; we could absorb so much if we just had the time and took it seriously.

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No word yet on my application to adopt Rosie the Chihuahua mix. I’m patient this morning (believe it or not), though. Whatever happens, happens, when it happens.

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If life were fair and just, my sculpted bronze well-muscled body would not be changed by the unlimited consumption of highly caloric foods. Exercise would be irrelevant, though with a body like mine it would be easy and enjoyable. Excellent health would be my lifelong destiny, no matter my habits, the risks I take, or the environment in which I live. My brain would quickly and complete absorb all information and knowledge passing through it. My unfulfilled desire this morning for two or three jalapeño-sausage kolaches would not trigger feelings of guilt; not even if my desire were fulfilled would I feel guilt. But, alas, life is fickle and harsh and demanding.

It’s nearing 7:00 and I have obligations to meet this morning, so I’ll end my regular morning diatribe and go to battle with the enemies of sloth.

 

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Little Luxuries

I Care a Lot was not on my list of films to watch. Netflix simply stuck it in my face as I was beginning the process of sorting through entertainment options available on the platform. Too lazy to make my own decision, I accepted the suggestion and began watching the film. The antiheroine is a monstrous witch who cons the court into appointing her guardian for well-off elders. She places them in friendly (to her) nursing homes and keeps them locked inside while she siphons their assets into her own accounts. I’ll leave it there, in the event someone reading this wants to view I Care a Lot. I still have about 20 minutes left to view. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open last night. It was not necessarily the movie; I just needed sleep. Many elements of the film are intended to be comedic. The subject of the plot, though, is a hot button for me. As I watched it last night, I found myself wanting desperately to bludgeon the main character and leave her limp, dying body in the nursing home administrator’s office. Cheery thought to wake up to on a Tuesday morning, eh?

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Yesterday, after my appointment with my oncologist (all’s well), I picked up a check in payment for the sale of my wounded Camry. As I cleared out the console, glove compartment, and trunk, it occurred to me that I have no place to put some of the crap I had stored in those places. Not only do I have no place to put it, I have to reason to keep it. So, I will spend some time today sorting it into piles; keep and toss. I’d bet the toss pile will be considerably larger. The buyer, the garage that accidentally damaged the driver’s side door, is in the midst of repairing the car. A new door will be installed and painted. Who knows what else will be done to the car? They plan on selling it, they say. I have to make sure that, today, I cancel my insurance on the car and that I notify the State that I’ve sold it.

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After taking care of the car business, I followed up by telephone on a letter I mailed more than a month ago to a financial institution, requesting that a joint account be changed into my name. The call led to yet another form to complete and mail. This process may take years to complete, at the rate it’s going. And, then, I went to the bank to accomplish the same objective and to order new checks and deposit slips (though I can make deposits with my phone); a much simpler process. Later, still, I completed an online application to become Rosie’s human; Rosie, the five and a half year old Chihuahua mix. And I submitted another online request for a telephone appointment this Friday. And I left a message with a guy at the Garland County Library in preparation for borrowing a telescope.

It’s turning into a busy week. I have multiple odds and ends on my calendar for the rest of this week. For some reason, I am not finding them especially burdensome, unlike in weeks past. Recently, I felt that a full calendar was maddening and oppressive. I am feeling “chill” about things at the moment.

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Why is it, I wonder, that news organizations tend to give prominence to negative news stories? For example, why does the kidnapping of 279 Nigerian schoolgirls seem to get more coverage than their release? Or is my sense that the kidnapping got more coverage than the release overblown? In both cases, though, the underlying story is one involving fear, crime, treachery, and intense danger. Those negatives seem much more likely to get reported than softer, happier, uplifting events. I suppose news organizations, as much as they try to report “just the news,” respond to public demand. We clamor for more chilling, adrenalin-pumping, heart-pounding stories. On occasion, we love the good feelings we get from reading a positive piece, but it’s the grittier stuff we seem to crave the most. Is it possible to train ourselves to respond more favorably and more vocally and more excitedly to “good” news? The bottom line, I suppose, is that we tend to define “news” in a negative context. It’s more newsworthy to report an explosion at a chemical plant than it is to report its milestone of twenty years without a single safety infraction. I have no answers. Only questions.

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I am jealous. Jealous of people who have a claim on the time of other people with whom I would like to spend more time. I’ve explored the meaning of the word. The definition that most closely fits is “feeling resentment against someone because of that person’s rivalry, success, or advantages.” That’s it. I resent people who rival me for the time and affection of others. But, no, it’s not resentment; it’s envy. I’m not the jealous husband. I am jealous of the husband. I envy the husband. And the friends. And the fortunate pets that can nap comfortably with their heads in the laps of the objects of my affection. I realize, of course, how utterly creepy this must seem. If I were a more skilled and patient writer, it would come across as more benign and beneficent. Affection is a dangerous word. Its meaning and its synonyms range from care and closeness to love and passion. That’s the problem with some words. They can be interpreted, legitimately, to mean much more or much less than might have been intended.

As I think on this somewhat strange topic (which wouldn’t be so weird if I were better at this), I remember a song by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer from my high school days: Lucky Man. The message, essentially, is that envy can dismiss elements of a life of which we would not be envious. The “lucky man” in the song had all the trappings of success until “no money could save him.” I place myself in the position of the “lucky man,” the man who had everything. At the same time, the object of my envy remains in the same position. Suddenly, in my case, the world seemed to snap; no money could save me from a random universe. But friends and affection can. Yet I seem to long for higher dosages. Maybe it’s like an addiction to heroin; more and more and more is required  to satisfy my need for the drug. (Is that the way heroin works?)

Why is it that a man who claims to be so solitary—so introverted, so attuned to aloneness—want or need more and more individual, personal engagement? I was sure I had all I ever needed, with my wife. Without her, though, I sometimes feel utterly adrift and detached and in need of an anchor.  Okay. Enough of this B.S. My sister-in-law is on her way over for our regular morning coffee. If it weren’t for that routine, I think I might be even more adrift.

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Another grocery order is in the offing, and so soon after my most recent one. I did not bother to look closely at what I need. And there is more. So, another order online. Or I may get aggressive and go inside Kroger, where I can find things I miss so very much. Like Zatarain’s Creole Mustard and Minute Maid frozen lemon juice concentrate and Mediterranean oregano leaves And Kroger brand diet tonic water. And various other little luxuries.

 

 

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Dissembler

My Sunday evening continued, even after I wrote about finishing Hinterland and my experiences over the past few days. Despite feeling tired and ready for sleep, I opted to stay up, thinking I would begin watching Hillbilly Ellegy and finish it Monday. I finished watching it just before 11:20 Sunday night. I enjoyed it immensely, despite its tendency to drag tears from my unwilling eyes. That’s life. I’ve intended, for quite some time, to read the memoir upon which the film is based. I think watching the movie has provided the impetus to get my hands on the book.

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I misspoke (miswrote?) in my last post. The most enjoyable experiences of the last several days did not contribute in any way to my sense of strangulation by kudzu. Those experiences saved me from that unpleasant fate. They provided comfort when I needed it most; they chopped away at the vine, freeing me to breathe fresh air. And, of course, I was wrong about relaxing rather than writing this morning; writing IS relaxing to me, at least most of the time. So here I am again, writing about whatever pops into my head.

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My list of things to do includes making an appointment with an ophthalmologist (or, at least, an optometrist) to update my prescription for eyeglasses. Once I get the prescription, I’m going to invest heavily in coddling my vision. First, I’ll get new glasses with frames that will accommodate magnetic snap-on sunglasses. Then, I’ll get a pair of reading glasses and a pair of computer glasses. Even though my “normal” glasses will include an invisible band of the lens for reading, a lens dedicated to reading is the only way I will be totally content as a reader. And the computer glasses will enable me to avoid kinks in my neck from trying to see the computer screen clearly. First world problems, to be sure, but this is a luxury I feel is a “necessary” luxury.

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Eventually, our brains quench the fires of the unattainable. Over time, intense desire dissipates into a clutching fog that clings to us forever but finally loosens its powerful grip. At some point, we can move on, damaged but not destroyed.

But in the midst of that fierce longing, we feel certain it will never release us. We don’t believe there will be an end to hungering for that which will never be within our grasp.  Futile craving can lead to madness if we cannot tolerate the wait or do not believe waiting will ease the pain of impossibility.

So, that’s how I will frame the position of a character I one day will write about. He will be secretly in love with a married woman who senses his desire but who, he decides, does not feel the same way about him. He dares not reveal his feelings to her, and the impossibility of having a relationship with her tortures him. But, suddenly, the woman’s husband leaves her for another woman. And then, almost as suddenly (and before the character gathers sufficient courage to approach her), the woman enters into a relationship with another man.

This sounds a little too much like soap opera stuff to me. It needs massive rethinking and, very probably, disposal. That’s what happens to many of my plots. They go nowhere because they start from nothing and end in the same place. Maybe that’s why I’m writing so much stream-of-consciousness non-fiction.

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A friend called my attention to a CNN piece about international soups. I found the piece online and copied the article. Among the soups are bouillabaisse (synonymous with Marseilles, the article says), chorba frik (a North African soup popular after sunset during Ramadan), chupe de camarones (Peru), gazpacho (Spain), moqueca de camarão (Brazil), yayla çorbasi (Turkey), among others. I am fascinated by international cuisine, so I will make it another of my missions to seek out recipes and ingredients for many of these soups. The CNN article seems to have emerged from a book entitled Soup: A Global History, by Janet Clarkson. I’ll have to look for it.

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Enough of this for now. Three more hours until my appointment with my oncologist. In the interim, I have to shave, shower, and otherwise make myself presentable to the world outside my window.  And I wasn’t going to write this morning. I am a dissembler, apparently.

 

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Socially Deviant

During the past several days, my budding social life (such as it is) blossomed into a garden. Dinner on Wednesday, followed by wine and hors d’oeuvres on Thursday, followed by two delightful hours with a good friend on Friday, culminating with another dinner on Saturday.  In between times and after, I had lunch with a new acquaintance and coffee and games of Words with Friends and Mexican Train with my sister-in-law, and a sprinkling of other social interactions. While I should perhaps consider the whirlwind of activity the equivalent of dancing in a field of fresh clover, even the most enjoyable elements began to collectively feel a bit like  kudzu vines attempting to strangle me. Each of the experiences were enjoyable, but rare and pleasant experiences are meant to provide the punctuation, not the full-diagrammed sentence structure of a paragraph. Or a novel. So, this evening has been a nice respite. I finished the series, Hinterland, before 8:00 p.m. so I could take a break and write/journal a bit. Whether these words find their way onto my blog remains to be seen. They may, instead, join thousands of others I keep locked away for my own eyes, though my private collection is shrinking in comparative size. Lately, I’ve tended to share damn near everything except for the most intimate things that would embarrass me or embarrass the people on my mind or subject me to potential arrest and imprisonment.

I don’t recall who, but someone, told me within the last few days that I am gregarious. I think it may have been the neighbor who does not know me well (though, in all fairness, most neighbors don’t). Whoever it was doesn’t recognize artificial extroversion practiced by deeply introverted people. I learned the practice during my first actual “executive” job (the one that first introduced me to dictating equipment and provided me with secretarial support). Unless I aggressively injected myself into conversations and, especially, discussions at meetings, I would have failed at my job. I had an aversion to failure, so I cringed and jumped in, learning from my actually gregarious boss. It was an incredibly stressful situation, but I was able to go home after work and decompress in solitude with my equally (or more) introverted wife. Since then, I’ve been able to withdraw into much greater comfort; I can simply observe and jump in only when I think I have something to say that matters. Which is, as I think I’ve said recently, rare. I do not miss most aspects of association management, the career I fell into entirely by accident. If I had it to do over again, I think I would attempt to escape into something that had a greater likelihood of making a positive difference in the world. Like trash collection or urban planning or rural water supply systems or cartography or auto oil change. Or almost anything else.

Now that the available seasons of Hinterland are behind me, I have a thousand other options. But my list of “must see” is too large, so I avoid looking at it; too many options can paralyze me. That’s when I think seriously about stained glass and sword-swallowing and jumping out of moving automobiles. Not really. I never seriously consider sword-swallowing.  But thinking about professions, I remember this adaptation of a silly meme from Facebook:

The photos were taken during my efforts to grow my hair. I succeeded, by the way. These photos were during the shorter period, before my hair grew down past the middle of my back; before I was able to have it pulled back into a pony tail and before, at the every end, my wife agreed to have my sister-in-law do a French braid. Those were the days when my hair regularly blew into my mouth, causing me to develop an intense dislike of long hair on my head.

I’m writing Sunday night because I think I’ll feel a bit lazy tomorrow morning and will want to kick back and relax with my coffee, rather than write. I’ll shave, take a leisurely shower, and then dress when I feel like it; as long as I can get downtown before 10:00 for an appointment with my oncologist. After that, I’ll go pick up the check in payment for buying the old Camry and then come home and relax some more. Maybe I’ll be able to convince myself to go through a mass of papers that I desperately need to sort and file and otherwise act on. Maybe by then I will have received a reply to an email I sent to a friend this evening, making inquiry about life in general. We’ll see. We will, indeed.

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Bullets

Considering the number of times I mention BBC.com in my posts, one might think I have stock in BBC. I don’t, but perhaps I should. Just this morning, I read a piece about Yaupon and learned that it is North America’s only known native caffeinated plant. I learned, too, that it once was a popular plant used to brew tea by almost all indigenous tribes. And it’s readily available throughout the southeastern United States. Where else but BBC.com is one apt to read about such a common native plant in a context that includes sentences like this:

At the Spanish outpost of Saint Augustine in northern Florida, yaupon was consumed to such an extent that in his 1615 chronicles of New World medicinal plants, botanist Francisco Ximenez noted that, “Any day that a Spaniard does not drink it, he feels he is going to die.”

Exactly! For that experience, and so many others, I nominate BBC.com for some unknown prize that will recognize the extent of its deeply interesting journalism and the fascinating ideas that spring from it.

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Last night, among the topics of conversation after dinner was a discussion of nudity. My neighbors, at least the female component of the couple, commented about the nude beaches in Germany (from whence her husband came). This was in response to something I said, questioning the prudishness of Americans and pointing to Americans’ almost pathological fear of the human form. She responded that the nude beaches in Germany displayed unappealing nudity; taut young bodies with sculpted shapes and rippling muscles are one thing, she suggested, while elderly pot bellies and flabby arms and drooping boobs are quite another. Clearly, we have different perspectives. I implied, but did not say it outright, that I advocate teaching kids, from an early age, that nudity is no more unpleasant or unappealing or embarrassing or wrong than full-dressed people going to work every day. I guess nudity is right up there with BBC.com in terms of the number of times I mention it and the potential for its use as an educational tool. I think the single most appealing aspect of common public nudity would be the potential erasure of body-shaming. People should not be embarrassed of their own bodies. Of course, I readily admit to being embarrassed by mine and it’s unlikely I will lead the charge for public nudity. I would follow a charismatic leader, though.

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The neighbors I hosted for dinner last night (the ones with whom I discussed nudity) enjoyed the eggplant parmesan I bought from Dolce Vita, as did I. We had good conversation, a nice dinner, and plenty of laughs. They sensed I was tired, though, so they insisted on leaving before they would normally have gone home. I suppose my attempts to dissuade them from leaving were silly, given that they were right and I probably looked and sounded like I was ready for them to leave. Long before they left, I had developed a splitting headache and a very sore throat. I noticed a slight cough, beginning around 7:30 p.m., that got progressively worse. After my neighbors left, I felt like I might have had a fever, but the thermometer disagreed, measuring my temperature at 97.6°F. In these days of COVID-19, I was a bit concerned, though the symptoms were not entirely in line with COVID.

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There was no way I would be able to sleep with the headache, I decided, so instead I did a search on animal adoption sites, looking for a potential companion dog. I found Rosie, an adult Chihuahua mix, who looks like she might enjoy being in my company and vice versa. On a whim, I sent an inquiry. I got a response around 11:20, inviting me to complete an application. By that time, though, I was about ready to try to get to sleep. During my search of animal adoption sites, my headache improved and then returned with a vengeance. I decided to try to get some sleep. I was able to fall asleep fairly quickly, but I woke several times with a very dry mouth and a sense that I had just emerged from a troubling dream about which I had (and still have) absolutely no recollection.

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My headache, not nearly as severe as it was last night, remains (or has returned). My neck and shoulders remain stiff and achy. I would pay handsomely for a neck and shoulder rub, though I would prefer caring caresses given freely. Caress is probably not the right term; strong hands and significant pressure would be far more comforting at this very moment, I think. But I probably wouldn’t refuse caring caresses, either. A massage from my forehead all the way around to the back of my head might help, too. I’ve tried it myself, using only the fingers on my left hand, to press hard enough on my forehead so that the pain might be relieved; it helped, but it’s not quite accomplishing the alleviation of pain I had hoped for. The pain is not bad, though. Coffee, alone, may take care of it.

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Passion. When does it fade into the background in our lives? At what point do our passions develop protective crusts that hide them from others and from ourselves? I wonder about these subjects and all such matters involving emotion. Emotions evolve over time, I suppose. They tend to become less brittle or, depending on one’s perspective, more flexible. Their hold over us weakens; or, at least, I think passion’s hold over us weakens. Passions tend to lose much of their intensity as we age, though that’s not a universal statement of fact. The urgency of youthful romantic passions mellows in old age, although I think it can be triggered again. We become used to the familiar; the familiar can lose its ability to stir passions. But I think an injection of freshness and novelty and just simple difference can stir them. That’s true not just of relationships between people, but relationships involving activities; a person can become passionate about skydiving or creating stained glass objects or making pottery or caring for abandoned or abused animals. New activities can fill a void, inflaming passions in the process. But that doesn’t happen to all people when their passions flag. Some people just wither, emotionally. That is a dangerous transition, I think. I am afraid withered emotions can suck out one’s energy and leave an empty shell. Passion is a good thing. But it can be overwhelming, I suppose, to be in the presence of someone who is passionate, regardless of the object of their passions, whether the object is automobiles, jumping out of airplanes, tending to stray dogs, or entering into passionate personal relationships.

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I hear sounds all the time. Unusual sounds, like a background noise of millions of crickets. It’s not overwhelming; I can hear everything else, but even in silence, I hear those damn background noises. I say it’s not overwhelming. Sometimes it is. I can imagine, one day, reacting to those constant annoying sounds by detonating a nuclear device in each of my ears, just to make the sounds stop. That might be overkill, but I’m pretty sure it would work.

I’m suddenly so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. I have to stop. Maybe a short nap. Enough of these bullet point snippets. I need to sleep and dream an entire novel.

 

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Control and Time and Circumstance

I control an incredibly small section of a tiny slice of an almost impossibly minuscule fragment of a microscopic piece of the universe. My control is equivalent to the power over the gravitational pull of the sun possessed by a one-hundred billionth segment of an organism barely visible through the most powerful electron microscope. But that power is absolute, within tightly defined infinitesimal parameters. In other words, the power I possess is insufficient to cause a tiny, almost imperceptible, movement of the hair on a gnat’s back by a micro-fraction of a Planck Length.

But I behave as if my power were as expansive as the sky; as boundless as the edges of the most distant galaxies. Because I know no better. None of us do. So we claim powers we do not have because…power. Power, we seem to believe, equates to redemptive capacity. We have the power to redeem even the most irredeemable among us. Which, of course, is absolute nonsense. Some of us are too stupid to warrant wasting the air we breathe. Some of us are too dull to be allowed to continue consuming water than could go to a more deserving cause, like quenching the thirst of a long-dead cactus, shriveled on the surface of a desert so hot no human being could ever hope to live there. But we continue to allow breathing and consumption of water. Because. Just because.

And with that, I welcome everyone to the ninth Saturday of the two thousand twenty-first year. Our artificial measure of time based on events that took place long after the formation of the planet on which we live, not on a sequence that began with that formation. No matter, it would all be artificial. I like the definition adopted by an online dictionary:

“the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.”

An arcane explanation of a concept impossible to grasp except in the most elementary terms. “Time” for us Earthlings is an abbreviation for a sequence that relies on the relationship between the movement of the Earth and the Sun.

In fact, though, time is not so mysterious. It is what allows us to understand our experiences. Without time to serve as a guidepost, we would be lost. Even though we don’t fully understand time, we are in love with it, even in instances we want it to stop. As in situations such as the one I will mention briefly in a moment.

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I had a delightful afternoon yesterday, the sort of experience I wish I could have every day. It was full of the kinds of casual interactions with a friend that weave a relationship made from threads of friendship and love. My friend came to my house and we sat and talked the entire time she was here. I haven’t laughed so much and so freely in a long time. I haven’t felt so utterly at ease for so long it is impossible for me to remember the last time. Those few hours made me feel relaxed and comfortable with myself and the world around me. But now the absence of that sense of deep comfort has dissipated; I will have to wait until the next time to feel so comfortable with and close to someone.

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Tonight, I’ll have neighbors over for dinner that I will buy at La Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant nearby. I’ve already arranged for three orders of eggplant parmesan, along with side salads. In a short while, I’ll go to the liquor store to buy a large bottle of their “go-to” wine. These people are neighbors who have invited me over many times for dinner. They did it again, but I suggested it was my turn to treat them; fortunately, they were happy to accept. There’s really not much I need to do in preparation, other than straighten up a bit and pick up the dinners. As much as I enjoy cooking, lately I’ve not felt much like getting into it. Maybe my attitude will change as I start to see evidence of Spring.

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Yesterday, I arranged to go. on Monday, to retrieve the contents of the 2002 Camry and pick up a check in payment for its purchase. I’ll sign the title over to the new owner, go deposit the check, and mark that task off my to-do list. I went to the garage late yesterday morning, where I was to meet the former potential buyer of the car to discuss the matter with the business owner. He was not there, but it all got resolved later. Inasmuch as it was around lunchtime, the former potential buyer of the Camry mentioned that she was in the mood for barbecue at Clampit’s. I invited myself to join her. We sat and talked over lunch for an hour or so. She is interesting and energetic and very intelligent. It was a nice opportunity to relax and learn some intriguing facts about a person I did not know much about.

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Despite my social calendar of late, I am not a “social butterfly.” It just happens I’ve been much more social in the past few days than ever before. As much as I enjoy these interactions, I find they tire me out, especially with people with whom I am not extremely close. Which is, of course, most people. Yesterday afternoon was the exception.

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I got up very late this morning. Though I awoke around 5, I went back to bed and slept until almost 7. When I got up, I was slow to get going. By the time I had made my first cup of coffee, my sister-in-law called to suggest we have coffee after she had breakfast and got dressed. She came over and we chatted for a while, then played several games of Words with Friends. It’s now about 11, five hours after I dragged myself out of bed. I have yet to shower and shave. That’s my next “chore.” Then, it’s off to Cork & Bottle for the wine. Even though time is a mysterious thing, I can feel it passing, so I better get to work.

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Longing for the Welsh Seaside

I awoke in front of the television some time ago, just before 3:30, a full glass of wine sitting on the table beside me. I turned off the television, wondering how much of the series, Hinterland, I missed. And I thought of the clothes I had put in the dryer “a few minutes ago.” I took the glass of wine into the kitchen, poured it down the sink, rinsed the glass, and put it in the dishwasher. I then took the dry but wrinkled shirts out of the dryer and put them back in the washer. In all probability, there is a setting on the clothes washer for “rinse and spin only for items left in the dryer,” but I could not find it, so I picked the minimum setting I could find, hoping to gently wash the shirts so I can once again dry them. This time, I will listen intently for the buzzer and will hang them up immediately.

I did not watch much of Hinterland last night, pausing the program when the now-former-prospective-buyer of my Camry called around 8:30. She told me she spent the day in Little Rock, getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination in her newly-eligible arm. And she bought a car, a 2014 Lexis sedan. We were on the phone for just shy of an hour. She plans to meet me in a few hours at the mechanic’s garage, where my car awaits; there, I will request a check from the garage in payment for the old Camry. I’ll take the car’s title with me, along with a bag to collect my belongings from the glove compartment and trunk. I do hope this goes smoothly. I have no interest in wading through a lawsuit to collect payment.

After my hour-long conversation with her, I sat down to continue watching Hinterland. That lasted all of ten minutes, I think. My promises to myself that I would not allow myself to fall asleep in the recliner in front of the television, thereby doing unnecessary damage to my back, have been broken too many times. It’s time to get serious about the matter. I will relocate my television viewing spot to the mid-century modern sofa in the living room, where I must sit upright with my feet on the floor. It’s harder to go to sleep there; certainly harder to stay asleep.

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“The relationship between Christianity and sex has never been simple.” Thus begins a BBC introduction to a very short video about “what you find when you remove the fig leaf.” The video and accompanying text reveal that a fig leaf was affixed to a Roman statue to cover the genitalia originally in full view on the form. I was surprised to learn that the fig leaf was an addition to cover “that which should not be seen” on such statues. The one revealed in the video was one at Crawford’s Art Gallery in Cork, Republic of Ireland. The full documentary, Shock of the Nude, is available on BBC Select. Unfortunately, I do not get BBC Select, as far as I know. The concept of hiding nudity from innocent eyes has always seemed quaint and prudish to me, to use a phrase from the video short. Nudity on statues is not in the least titillating, in my opinion.  Hiding original nudity on statues is silly in the extreme, though. Again, my opinion.

I love BBC‘s practice of developing very short videos for its website to introduce website visitors to more in-depth explorations of various topics, whether videos or articles. The people behind the videos are excellent marketers; and they know how to pique interest in topics that otherwise might go unnoticed.

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Shortly after I wandered into the kitchen this morning, glass of wine in hand, I saw a flash of lightning to the south. Seconds later, a rumble of thunder shook the house, causing some of the pots and pans on the pot rack in the kitchen to vibrate and move enough to gently clang in response. The online weather forecast calls for thunderstorms this morning, turning to showers that will end before midday. We can expect a high of 55°F today, dropping to 46°F tonight. The next couple of days will be rainy and cool, if the prognosticators’ prognostications can be trusted. I am ready for some moderately warm, clear days with no obligations clogging my calendar. A two-hour or three-hour drive north would do me good, I think. It would help me clear my head and gently re-introduce me to the practice of taking day-trips. But I rarely took day-trips alone, so it might be emotionally jarring, too. Just thinking about it is having that effect on me. I will redirect my thoughts elsewhere.

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The latter part of yesterday’s church board meeting conflicted with another obligation, so I withdrew from the meeting early. Something happened in my absence that apparently caused a stir, but I don’t know precisely what it was. My involvement in the church board has largely seemed to be one of observation versus active participation. I listen to the conversations, but rarely have anything of substance to add, so I remain silent. On one hand, that’s just my style; I don’t feel any need to contribute unless I have something relevant to add. On the other, my style may make me appear disconnected and/or disinterested. Or just not especially bright. I suspect I decided, during all the years I managed associations and worked with their boards, that “active participation” often meant board members talked for the sake of trying to appear valuable to the group, even when their contributions were meaningless drivel. So I may have learned to keep silent unless the conversation went in a direction I found damaging to or inadequate for the issue at hand. But silence can be interpreted as ignorance. At this stage of my life, though, I’m beginning to realize I don’t, and shouldn’t, care. But not really.

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On my way back home from my blood-letting the other day, I listened to a radio interview involving two lesbian women who once operated lesbian bars (before the pandemic). One of them now operates a lesbian online “bar.” Though I haven’t given much thought (maybe none at all) to lesbian bars, my immediate reaction to the conversation was something along the lines of “what’s the point of a bar strictly for lesbians?” I further thought lesbians should feel comfortable in any bars, not just lesbian bars. The more I listened, though, the more I learned. The women said “lesbian bars” are not necessarily exclusive to lesbians. Male gays also are welcomed in many such places, they said. The one comment that stuck with me most, though, was that lesbian bars are “safe,” in that people of the same gender can be comfortable knowing they can approach others in the knowledge they, too, are gay. It never occurred to me that gays, whether male or female, would be in danger (either emotionally or physically) if they were to “hit on” someone in a straight or non-exclusive bar. While they might be rejected in a lesbian bar, they would be much less likely to be attacked. That’s what I took away from the radio interview. But it wasn’t just the relative safety of the places the two women emphasized. It was giving patrons a sense of camaraderie. Something else that occurred to me was that straight people probably would not be welcomed, at least not with open arms, because they would cause confusion; their presence would make the place no longer “safe” for gays. So it’s not a matter of pure discrimination; it’s a matter of maintaining a reliable atmosphere. Not that I have had any plans to go into a lesbian or gay bar in the past, but now I certainly won’t, simply out of respect for their maintenance of the atmosphere of safety. I also learned that the number of lesbian bars is in sharp decline and had been even before the pandemic; I think I missed the cause of the decline, but now I’m curious. It’s interesting how much one can learn just by listening.

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Before my phone conversation with the former potential purchaser of the Camry, a scene in Hinterland struck a chord with me. In the scene, a person was walking along a concrete pier, I think, on a desolate stretch of oceanside beach. Seeing that scene made me long to be in such a place. I used to love walking along the beach on Padre Island in Texas, but only in the winter. In the winter, when cold winds blew, the beaches were desolate. Other times of year, especially summer, they were clogged with people. I feel certain that’s even more true today than in my youth.

The beach on television, though, is a present-day location that’s probably just as secluded as I would like. The series was filmed in and around Aberystwyth, Wales, according to Wikipedia. Much of the filming was done in rural areas near the town. I think I would love the area, though I might have a hard time communicating with people there, even those who speak English with Welsh accents. The people who speak Welsh would be even harder for me to understand.

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Late yesterday afternoon, I visited my neighbors, Ted and Sharon. We sat and drank wine and talked about subjects ranging from the view out their back windows to airplane turbulence to wi-fi signals to COVID-19 vaccinations to ways we would be philanthropic if we won the lottery. They are extremely nice people who generally keep to themselves but who have been very outgoing in all of my interactions with them. Before I left, we agreed (which we have done before) that we should get together once a week for wine and conversation. I look forward to that.

Almost immediately upon entering their house, Ted gave me an old but very high quality adjustable camera tripod. He said he bought it for $5 at a garage sale; he said he had no use for it but he couldn’t pass it up at that price! I should have offered to pay him for it, but I didn’t; I was stunned, I think, that he greeted me with the offer of the tripod as a gift almost the moment I walked in the door. When I got home, I dredged out my rarely-used Lumix camera to see if it would work with the tripod. It does, just as Ted assured me it would.

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I’m having biscuits for breakfast. Big, fluffy, highly-caloric, fresh from a tube and baked in the oven biscuits. I smell them calling my name.

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Due Diligence

The prospective buyer of my 2002 Camry was doing her due diligence yesterday afternoon. She asked me whether she could take the car to a mechanic to have it checked out. I agreed. But something went awry. I wasn’t there, but apparently the mechanic left the gear in “reverse” (or it somehow slipped into reverse) with the door open. The door ran into an object unwilling to be pushed aside. Bent metal tells the rest of the story. The mechanic’s shop has offered to have the damage repaired and/or buy the car. The prospective buyer does not want me to sell to the mechanic, but she still wants to have another mechanic, a friend, check it out before committing to buy it. I’m mulling it over, attempting to decide what I should do. It was just an unfortunate accident; it could have happened to anyone. No one should be penalized for a simple accident. But, in this case, especially not me. Yet I don’t want to protect my financial interests at someone else’s expense. This should not be a particularly difficult issue; so why is it so troublesome?

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More about yesterday. As I am wont to do, I was very early getting to the place where I was scheduled for my CT scan yesterday; closer to 7:30 than to my scheduled 8:00 a.m. appointment. After checking in, I was told my lab results were not yet in; the staff would call at 8:00 to check on them. Before that time arrived, though, I got the bad news: either the blood had not been shipped to Florida or the results of the lab work had not made it to Florida (I’m not sure which…The American Oncology Network is headquartered there, I know). But the staff would check to see if my oncologist’s office, where the blood-letting took place the day before, to see if they still had some of my precious red fluid. If so, I was told, they could send it to the hospital for lab work and I would be able to have my CT scan…just a bit late. As in one or two hours late. “You can leave and come back, if you like,” I was told. Where would I go, I wondered to myself. I decided to stay. Finally, my blood work results came back; results that could have halted plans for the CT scan were not found, so it went ahead. I had an 11:00 a.m. online meeting scheduled. I had already explained my situation to the leader, saying I might not make it. Fortunately, though, I missed only a few minutes. I joined the meeting in progress without any hiccups.

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News about my online grocery order came by email a little less than half an hour before I was to pick it up. Four items were out of stock and five items were substituted for ones I had ordered but which were unavailable. When I got to the store, I was surprised to see a line of cars waiting to pull into the limited number of online-order-pickup parking spaces. I waited for a touch more than an hour before my order was placed in the back of my car. My patience must be improving. I waited the entire hour without getting upset with the universe. I simply acknowledged to myself that the grocery store was inundated with demand after a long period during which everyone was snowed and iced in. I used the time to look lovingly at a grey and tan pit bull puppy in the car next to me. It wanted out of the car, but its human prevented that. Occasionally, the puppy erupted into the most wonderful wolf-like howl.

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Day before yesterday, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that COVID-19 vaccinations would be made available to people over 65 (it had been available to people over 70). Being barely eligible, in my relative youth, I inquired about where I might be able to schedule my injection. I tried, to no avail, several places that had been suggested to me; they were already full. Finally, though, a friend called to tell me of a place in Little Rock where she had been able to schedule her vaccination. Immediately, I went online to check. Bingo! I got an appointment at 4:06 p.m. on the same day in early- mid-March as my friend. We’ll drive together to get the shot on that day.

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Last night, a writer acquaintance (and fierce Republican, I might add) and his wife treated me to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. I have not seen or spoken to them in at least a year, I think, except recently by phone. They had invited me to come by their house beforehand for a drink before dinner. I entered their house wearing my mask, but they were not wearing masks. I succumbed to my discomfort and ill-ease and removed mine. I hope that and the visit to the Italian restaurant were not mistakes. He has had his COVID-19 shots (his 85th birthday is approaching), but his considerably younger wife had not. Not that having the vaccination reduces transmissibility. We did not even touch on politics or on religion (though I was asked about my church). It was a pleasant dinner and the food was good. I was home by 8:00 p.m. I think I left my to-go container of leftovers on the table at the restaurant, though. Or else I will someday stumble upon a container of rotted, malodorous food in some inexplicable place in my house.

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I read this morning that China is celebrating the official end of extreme poverty. That’s certainly something to celebrate. But I have my doubts.

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There are so many things on my mind this morning I could write all day. But I won’t. Time to pause and breathe.

 

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Shorter Than Strange

With enormous thanks to JoAnn, who yesterday met me in a hospital parking lot to notarize a document, my to-do list became a tad shorter. Afterward, I did another couple of errands and, by the time I got home to make a copy of the document for my records, it was too late for the day’s mail pick-up, so I’ll drop it in the mail today. At the rate of progress I am making, I will complete my financial transactions checklist by my ninety-fifth birthday, when finally I will file my 2020 tax return. The world will be significantly different by then. The problem of global warming will have been solved and COVID-19 will be a distant memory. People born after the pandemic will be celebrating their 28th birthdays. Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies will have superseded old-style currencies in every corner of the globe. All but the most determined churches will have acknowledged the superior religious value of Spirituol, a once-a-week pill offering feelings of fulfillment, charity, completion, and other forms of mental and spiritual richness. Plastics, once a blight filling the planet’s oceans, will be a memory, thanks to human-guided mutations of bacteria that voraciously consume all forms of plastics. However, as the reserve of plastics declined, the bacteria mutated many times over, developing a hunger for coastlines. The resulting shrinkage of coasts will be among the most serious problems of the day. Hmmm. I think my reserve of mind-altering substances must be shrinking, as well, inasmuch as this little dance down the pathway toward madness appears to be winding down.

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I had to make a point of getting up especially early this morning, because my pre-CT scan instructions are to avoid anything by mouth for the two hours leading up to my 8:00 a.m. scan. Food is easy to bypass at this hour. Liquid is not. While I sometimes (but rarely) forego coffee, in those instances at I require, at a minimum, water. This morning, I’ll have had some of each by the time my cell phone alarm warns me to stop. And at 6:15, my alarm will encourage me to shower and shave. I’ve been doing that daily for the last few days. As much as I resist, I feel much better after acquiescing to my arguments in favor of expending the energy to do it.

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A woman came by yesterday afternoon to drive the Camry. Fortunately, I was able to jump-start it before she arrived (I told her over the phone it may have a dead battery). She seems to like it, but she wants a mechanic friend who lives in the Village but works in Little Rock to check it out. She asked whether I would allow her to drive it to Little Rock to have him check it out during daylight hours, if it becomes necessary. I agreed, but I am having second thoughts. I have only basic liability coverage on the car (it’s 19 years old). She made clear she is a hard bargainer. I told her I am somewhat flexible. I did not tell her I am not an easy mark, though. We’ll see. I’m in no particular rush, but I’d like it out of the driveway. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take it to McCann’s Auto Mart.

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It’s about time for my shave and shower. Perhaps I’ll write something later. Perhaps not.

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Stubble

Apparently, lab work is required before my routine CT scans, which take place before my regular visits with my oncologist. I guess I vaguely recall that to be the case. But when I got a call to schedule my CT scan, lab work was not scheduled. Yesterday, I got a call to get the lab work done; today. Because the CT scan is tomorrow. And my visit with the oncologist is early next week. My plans for today thereby are interrupted and otherwise made irrelevant. But I still need to get some paperwork notarized, so perhaps I can do that while I’m out and about. Although I cannot get a Medallion Signature Guarantee stamp, which is required for one of the processes I’m trying to complete; because my bank stopped providing them. And because other banks and financial institutions provide them only for clients who have been customers for at least six months. It’s the little things that can cause otherwise normal people to snap, causing them to do bad things like setting off nuclear devices in crowded sports stadiums.

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I’ve actually never contemplated setting off nuclear devices in crowded sports stadiums. Not really. I mean, I’ve fabricated such ideas to make a point, but I’ve never given them any serious thought. Few of us have. Which is a good thing. Not that many of us have access to nuclear devices. But people have done equally sinister and horrible deeds. Like bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, or killings dozens of people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I could go on and name dozens, if not hundreds, of equally horrible incidents of mass murder. I can never hope to understand what goes through a person’s mind that allows them to do such horrific things. I would think that a thought of just one decent, innocent person dying as a result of such an act would dissuade a potential perpetrator from carrying out such an act. Apparently, though, either those thoughts do not enter the heads of the monsters who inflict the carnage or the thoughts do not have the effects I assume they would. Whatever good deed those beasts may have done is for naught; they make their marks with the blood of the innocent. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.

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The cupboards are beginning to look bare. I went shopping yesterday, online, and I continued this morning. I removed a few items from my order and added some to take their place. I will pick up the order (or at least some of it…I am told store shelves are bare) tomorrow afternoon. Online grocery shopping is convenient, but it is equally dangerous. I find it extremely easy to “click” on items I do not necessarily need but discover I want as I peruse the lists of products in front of me on the screen. The marketers and web designers who determine what and how to display products are brilliant in that they know the psychology of buying. If I search for “zucchini,” the screens they design show me zucchini, but also a host of “related” items that look extremely interesting. And I can “click” on those items so easily. I wrote about the documentary, Social Dilemma, recently; online grocery shopping perfectly illustrates the technology and psychology shown in the film.

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I’ve run out of steam. I have no interest in writing anything more at the moment. I should shower and shave to get ready for my trip to town to get lab work. I do not want to . I wonder if the technicians would notice my stubble and my day-old odor?

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Explorations

The rare recollections from my youth—mostly a lengthy period about which memories seem to be deeply hidden—sometimes occur with absolutely no “trigger.” That is, I cannot determine why I suddenly remember an incident or an emotional experience from my childhood. Such is the case with this morning’s memory of a secret desire to have my tonsils removed. Many of my classmates at Montclair Elementary were having their tonsils removed, generating compassion and gifts of ice cream, and keeping the children out of school for a few days. I wanted the sympathy and ice cream those kids were getting. Alas, my tonsils did not warrant removal. They were not subject to frequent tonsillitis, thus surgery was unnecessary. Though I think my desire to undergo a tonsillectomy was short-lived, it seared itself in my brain with sufficient depth to be dredge up many decades later. Tonsillectomies are not as common today as they once were, so I doubt many children these days long for the benefits of their removal.

Braces, on the other hand, could have done me some good. The diastema between my two front teeth, wide enough to get a glimpse of my tonsils through my closed-mouth smile, could have been closed. Braces, in those days, were expensive (are they still?). And my parents struggled to support six children. As the youngest, I was subject to the wisdom of five child-rearing experiences. Apparently, they had concluded that expenditures on braces did not supersede purchasing food for the family. I don’t think I ever asked for braces, because they looked painful and caused wearers to slur their words as if they were drunk.  Forty years later, a dentist suggested to me that she could give me a smile of which I would be proud if I would permit her to add bonding material, color-blended to match my teeth, to each of my front two teeth. I demurred on the basis that I thought the outcome would make my teeth look abnormally wide and artificial. These days, I vacillate between wishing my diastema would magically disappear and accepting the assurances from other people that it’s barely even noticeable. Sometimes, people lie out of charity.

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When the sun rises this morning, most of the snow on my driveway will have melted. Much of the snow on and around the Camry, though, will remain because the house shades the spot where it sits. Even if all the snow is gone, though, my street will remain icy because tall pine trees shade long stretches of the road. I know this from experience. After the last significant snow storm, the melting snow refroze during the night, creating areas of black ice. I made the mistake of driving down the hill toward a main road. When I reached the bottom, the main road was impassable, so I turned around. Even after multiple attempts, I could not get up the hill. The car slid sideways and backwards. Fortunately, I was able to maneuver it into a driveway, where I left it. I walked home, taking great care to avoid slipping and falling. Much later, I returned with a shovel and a box of Kosher salt. I walked the equivalent of a city block, breaking ice with the shovel in one hand and pouring salt in the wounds with the other. That enabled me to drive to an area where I could then get good traction and get back home. I’d rather not have that experience again.

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I’ve not ventured out of my house, except for attempting to shovel snow with a round-nosed shovel, for more than a week. Surprisingly, I am not going stir-crazy, though a drive to the grocery store would be a welcome respite from wandering around the house, putting off things that must be done. I could have been sorting paperwork I’ll need to file tax returns. Instead, I’ve blogged and read and watched television and cooked and washed clothes and paced and paced some more. My moods have spiraled upward and downward with surprising speed almost every day. I’ve felt elated when I’ve allowed myself to pretend something magical was beginning, only to nose-dive into a funk when reality sets in. In those ways, my experience probably is not much different from others who are experiencing the same thing. I am extremely fortunate to have reliable electricity (and, therefore, heat) and water. That’s not been the case for so very many people in Texas during this monstrous winter storm. So I have nothing legitimate to complain about.

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I explored, this morning, a place/concept/ideal/dream called Arcosanti, about seventy miles north of Phoenix, Arizona. I think I learned of it sometime before, as it seems quite familiar to me, but I cannot be sure. The idea was hatched by Italian architect Paolo Soleri in 1970. It was created/is being created as an experimental utopian town intended to combine architecture with ecology (arcology is the term Soleri used to integrate the two). So many large-scale architectural initiatives are designed to incorporate experiences for large populations that it is clear to me that architecture and sociology sprout from the same seed. In fact, the term for branch of architecture that explores new ways of living in community should merge the words architecture with sociology (perhaps there already is a term for that?). I have always sensed that the more expansive and grander explorative forms of architecture are as much social science as engineering endeavors.

While I might have chosen a more hospitable place than a water-starved, oven-hot place like Arizona to create my dream community, Arizona seems to lure architects with grand plans. I still haven’t been to Taliesin West, but I want to go. I’d like to go to Arcosanti, as well.

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Yesterday, I found the skeleton of a story I started writing about twenty years ago. It was science fiction, a genre I’ve not explored much in my own writing. The story deals with a massive earthquake, a medical manufacturing plant that makes artificial blood and blood plasma, and a foreign plot to “sink” the U.S.

In this distant future, blood banks have long been outmoded and unnecessary, thanks to technologies that create perfect duplicates of every type of human blood. The plant central to the story is one of only three such plants and is by far the largest in terms of size and capacity.

A massive earthquake in the central U.S. causes catastrophic damage, huge numbers of injuries, and a great deal of death from the Canadian border to the Gulf coast. The demand for blood, of course, is enormous and the subject manufacturing plant, located in southeastern Georgia, immediately is called on to deliver to its capacity and beyond. But just as the surge in its production begins to leave the plant, critical sections of the plant are leveled by explosions.

The investigation into the explosions quickly determine that sabotage was responsible. Further explorations link the plant explosions to what several highly-respected seismologists say was an earthquake created through human intervention. Brazil, which by that time has absorbed Venezuela and the other countries to its north, is the likely culprit.

That’s as far as the story goes. It’s too involved and has too many holes in the plot to warrant fixing it (actually, a lot of it hasn’t been written…only concept notes exist for much of it). Even though I don’t write much science fiction, I like writing it when I do. It allows my mind to be completely free of the limitations of facts, although I always seem to get bogged down with wanting my “facts” to be conceivable.  Another story is much more recent; less science fiction than political action thriller with some questionable science thrown in. It has to do with a cadre of elderly Japanese military men and their adherents who manage to steal nuclear materials and weapon-making capabilities from various nuclear powers, intending to blackmail the U.S. into issuing an apology for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—”either apologize or we will initiate our own Manhattan Project.” I did a significant amount of research on that one, even driving to Manhattan, Kansas and learning about its nuclear reactor on campus. It was fun until I lost interest for some reason.

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I’ve been going back and forth between the kitchen and my desk, writing for a bit and trying to decide what to do for breakfast. I’m tired of writing, so I’ll go back to the kitchen now. I think I’ve made my decision: warmed-over leftovers of yesterday’s okra and tomatoes. Yesterday’s lunch becomes today’s breakfast.

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Raw Beauty

SORRY. I intended to save this, not to post it. It was to be a draft I might have posted later today. But by hitting the wrong button, I ruined it.  Please ignore.

The words of experience and pain and compassion that spill from the lips and fingers of people with whom I have even a tenuous connection can take my breath away. An experience yesterday triggered this reminder and recognition that unbridled honesty, while perhaps brutal, can be stunning in its raw beauty.

 

 

 

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