Nostalgia

I’m nostalgic for a future that will never be.

~ Rommel Wood, producer, Ask Me Another ~

Rommel Wood’s comment about what he’ll miss about the radio game show he produced echoes some of my emotions about the show, though I was not not even remotely as close to it as he. I learned this morning, while perusing the NPR website, that Ask Me Another, one of those odd weekend NPR game shows I liked to listen to on weekends while driving, is ending. I feel like I’ve let a good friend down by not being there when I should have been. I listened to the show only occasionally. I never put it on my calendar, never made a point of listening to every episode. I missed most of the 1,700 games Ophira Eisenberg hosted during the show’s nine years on the air. But I enjoyed every one I heard. Even though the show sometimes was utterly silly, it often made me smile or laugh out loud. Listening to Ophira’s banter with the ‘house musician,’ Jonathan Coulton, I thought “these are people I would enjoy spending time with.” And, of course, I did spend time with them. We just never met, nor did we ever communicate with one another. I just drank in their camaraderie and their unshakably good moods. Their laughter often made my weekends more fun. Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi lyrics are so true: “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

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I do not have clothes suited to the place I live. That is, a place where the population is largely elderly and the volume of the newspaper’s obituaries sometimes edges out timely stories that have more lasting timelines. I have no “funeral clothes.” I’ve not owned a suit since I moved here, seven and one-half years ago. Even my more muted sports jackets—the one or two left—that could be paired with dark slacks to mimic “funeral clothes” are no longer available to me. Apparently, they shrank while hanging in the closet, along with those dark slacks. And my dress shirts, the ones that could be worn with ties, no longer button around the neck. It’s the same damn problem; the air in the closet causes shrinkage. If I were to attend a funeral, I would have to rent or buy something. I doubt rentals are available for anything but tuxedos (probably inappropriate for funerals), so I’d have to buy a suit. And it would need considerable alterations, as my suits always do. Clothes have never been designed to fit my body. Or my body has never been sculpted to it inside off-the-rack clothes. I’m a bespoke man; I require clothes produced exclusively for the shape of my body. All of which argues for casual funerals or, better still, no funerals at all but, instead, casual celebrations of life. Even better, people who warrant my attention, appreciation, love, and respect should not be permitted to die. Problem solved.

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After church today, I may work at organizing the garage. Or I may decide to treat today as a vacation day or a holiday or a time dedicated to relaxation. Not just another do-nothing day, but a day of enforced leisure; several hours dedicated to extremely casual recreation. We’ll see. On the one hand, I want to get the garage situated so that a car (preferably two) will fit. On the other, I am getting enormously tired of having my days dictated by an ever-delayed since of obligation to “get things done.” Yeah, yeah, I need to get things done. But it will ever be so; so, maybe the time is right to say “screw it, I’ll do whatever I feel like doing, instead.” Not that the attitude is new, of course. But the dedication to it is not extremely common. We’ll see. We always do.

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I shipped three packages to three friends yesterday. Each package contains cans of two different beers, the same in each package, that will provide conversational fuel for a Thursday evening video chat. My friends and I have done this a few times before and have agreed we want to continue doing it once a month or so. The cost of this little exercise is rather high, but worth the expense. Each of us is obliged to host the video chat and provide the beer, on a rotating basis. So, once every four months each of us buys the beer, ships it, and hosts the call. The cost for beer varies dramatically (I’m buying two six-packs so I can assemble packages of two different beers each of the four of us; about $19). And shipping runs somewhere around $40. Plus boxes and bubble wrap and such. About $70 for me for each hosting period. It’s probably cheaper than golf, though I don’t know what golf costs. The investment in casual conversation over beer for four guys located in four states (Arkansas, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Iowa) is an investment in friendship and in ourselves. The fact that shipping beer is, as far as I know, immoral and against the laws of man and Nature is no deterrent. Rules sometimes are meant to be broken. When the other guys host, I get to taste some extraordinary beers. When I host, they get to taste some good beers and some not-so-good. We try to distribute the output of different craft breweries with each gathering. So, the secret is out. The other guys have access to an app that enables them to purchase beers from all over the country. Arkansas, with its antiquated liquor laws (i.e., its religious zealotry disguised as civilization) won’t allow me to participate in the app. Given what I know about Texas of late, I’d be willing to bet the same it true there. I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

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I realized while trying to decide what to write next that I no longer enjoy writing this blog the way I once did. It has become an obligation instead of an outlet. Instead of letting my philosophical musings flow through my fingers, I’ve been working to produce “content.” That’s not why I write; I write to think and to wonder and to imagine and to hope and to express emotions I can’t full express otherwise. But that has taken a back seat in the recent and not-so-recent past. So I have to think about what I’m doing here. I may decide to close this down (not really…just stop adding content). Maybe this sensation will pass. But if it doesn’t, I’ll find another outlet. I won’t kill the blog, I just may not write in it so religiously. I’m tired of being unable to do more than whine about the challenges of life. I need a break from myself, I think. Or I may just ignore everything I just wrote and keep spilling shit into the internet.

 

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A Life or Death Struggle with Dragons

Reveal too much and you expose the fact that you’re a bore. Reveal too little and you fail to spur even a shred of excitement in others about yourself. Yet the amount to reveal that’s “just right” is incalculable; it’s simply a wild guess. And the possibility exists, of course, that there is no “just right.” It’s entirely possible that others’ interest in you is an accident, pure and simple; that curiosity easily can be replaced by other sensations like thirst or exhaustion or craving for an Italian sausage. So, in that context, is underexposure any worse than invisibility? Is overexposure any more damaging than a misinterpreted smile?

My point is this: In the end, it doesn’t matter what you say or what you don’t say. It doesn’t matter what you express or what you hold close. It doesn’t matter what you reveal or what you hide. Any interest sparked by any piece of it will disappear in the mist of time. Or it will succumb to more interesting alternatives. None of what we cling to matters.  At least not to anyone but ourselves. We wish it were not so, because we’re “not like that.” But we are. Or if we’re not, almost everyone else is.

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Real engagement is possible only between two people at a time. Any more than two and it becomes a competition for attention. Limited to two, though, conversations can become intensely personal, if we let it happen naturally. But even limited conversations can be intensely superficial, as if one or more of the participants are unwilling to take the risk of revealing themselves, for fear of exposing weakness or fragile emotions. We are afraid. Afraid to be ourselves, lest that persona be embarrassing or ostracized or something else equally likely to trigger reactions in others that will cause us pain.

The problem with conversations, in general, is that one participant may be deeply interested in a “serious” topic, while the other’s interest may focus, at that moment, on what to make for dinner. A connection between the two can be made, but it will be a connection rife with psychosis; leading, for example, to an absurd unspoken question: “Can broccoli feel its life slip away while it cooks in the steamer?”  Yes, it’s absurd, but it’s about as deep as some conversations get, even those intended to mine intimate thoughts between people.

Conversations with strangers can be more informative than conversations with close friends, because strangers are more likely to listen more intently. That may seem intuitively backward, but it’s not. Strangers know they must pay close attention because the normal cues of inflection, tone of voice, volume, accompanying facial expressions, etc. are foreign. Naturally, then, they are more keenly attuned to what is being communicated. When friends engage in conversation, they tend to anticipate what will be said as much as (or more than) they actually listen to learn what will be said. Friends assume a great deal about one another. That’s why friendships sometimes dissolve; it’s nothing sinister, it’s just a matter of unfortunate, but natural, decay.

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Jokes or witticisms can be troubling. They can suggest truths we do not want to hear or they can expose attitudes we’d rather not witness. Even when their message is unintentional, it can be loud and precise. A joke intended as a friendly jab can deliver a punch in the gut—so hard that one’s internal organs are bruised or ruptured or dissolved into masses of nerve-endings that can deliver to the brain only messages of pain. The same is true, of course, of innocent comments. Under a therapist’s “psychological microscope,” they may not be innocent at all but, rather,  sharpened claws itching to draw blood; to shred tissue and bone.

So we either tiptoe about, fearing we will offend through our accidental (or not) revelations, or we stumble through the China shop, wearing a blindfold and combat boots. In either case, the fight or flight response grows in intensity, with flight seeming easier and more appealing than interactions that could draw blood. And so we flee, looking to find new places and new people to conceal the past. As if history can be erased. History cannot be erased, even when we write the textbooks and burn the historical novels. History remains, serving as the foundation for whatever we build today or tomorrow.

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Despite the topics I’ve mused about this morning, my intent it to transform this day into one in which I can revel and enjoy. I will not allow reality to intervene in my pursuit of serenity. Even artificial serenity, purchased in the form of barely legal drugs and wildly legal liquids, is better than no serenity at all.

And now a couple of quotations about serenity, in the hope one or both of them will trigger an avalanche of the stuff:
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What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

~ Henri Matisse ~

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Decide that wherever you are, is the best place there is. Once you start comparing, there’s no end to it.

~ Sodo Yokoyama ~

What I think I’ve done this morning is this: I’ve tried to tear serenity from the chest of a dragon. The end of the day has the answer to whether I have been successful. I must wait, patiently, to learn whether I am at peace or must engage in a life or death struggle, again, with dragons.

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A String of Unspectacular Moments

Once again, my plans were slightly derailed yesterday. Instead of getting two CT scans, I waited patiently to be called back for the procedures, only to be told the machinery malfunctioned. The scans are now scheduled for a week later. And the following week, when I had hoped to set forth on a road trip, installation of a mini-split will split the week in two, taking my dreamed-of week-long highway excursion off the table. It’s not as if I had to cancel a vacation to the Amalfi Coast, but these little intrusions into my desired get-aways are beginning to grate on my nerves just a touch. And the interruptions in my short-term plans automatically intervene in my longer-term intentions. Such is life, though. It’s best to roll with the punches, I suppose, than to engage in losing fights.

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One of my brothers, hospitalized for breathing difficulties, learned that he needs a procedure that his “in-network” hospital does not have the expertise to perform. His  Medicare Advantage plan is, like many Medicare Advantage plans, extremely restrictive when it comes to many such procedures. He is in the midst of efforts to convince his carrier to cover the procedure; not a simple or easy process. My advice is, and always has been, to avoid Medicare Advantage plans if financially possible for precisely this reason. They are much cheaper than traditional Medicare, but when important needs arise, they often reveal that their low prices are paid for by inadequate coverage. Once again, a single payer system that covers everyone equally is what we should demand of our corrupt politicians. And then we should send them packing, preferably to the bowels of prisons from which they can never emerge again.

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With luck, I’ll visit Costco next Monday, after I drop off my car at the collision repair center and after Enterprise drops off my rental car at the same place. I have not yet been to the sole Arkansas Costco; I am looking forward to resurrecting my memories of why I liked Costco (back in Dallas) so much. I must remember to take an ice chest filled with frozen blue ice, just in case I come across frozen goodies (e.g., sea scallops) I cannot live without. While there, I hope to find a pair (or two) of eyeglass frames (with accompanying magnetic sunglasses) I can order. I will, of course, take my eyeglasses prescription along with me in anticipation of celebrating the availability of what I’m after. I hope nothing derails these plans.

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I can pardon everybody’s mistakes except my own.

~ Marcus Porcius Cato ~

That quotation is an unfortunate reality. I can easily forgive others’ mistakes, but mine seem so much larger and more unforgivable, so I do not even try to excuse them. Simply put, they shouldn’t have been made in the first place. I recognize, of course, that I can’t expect perfection in myself, but I desire it, nonetheless. I think the reason my mistakes are so troublesome is that, in hindsight, I always see that I should have seen them coming and, therefore, should have avoided them. Yes, of course, I know that thinking is evidence of madness. So there you go; I am mad.

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Today is Friday, the culmination of days of work for many and the commencement of days of frivolity for many more. For me, it is just another day; an unspectacular moment in a string of unspectacular moments.

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Mentally Flossing the Morning

My friend, Deanna, left a comment on yesterday’s post that triggered recollections of many, many of my previous posts. Those posts reflect a theme I’ve lived with for my entire life, I think. And I suspect it’s a theme woven into the fabric of the lives of everyone who lives, or has lived, on the planet. At least most of us. Her comment sparked, most immediately, memory of a post I wrote in February last year. That post began with a search for the definition of the word, “brim.” The dictionary defined the word as “the upper edge of anything hollow.” For some reason, I was enamored of that definition. As I said in my post, reading it caused me to forget why I had looked up the word. And it caused my thoughts to wonder elsewhere, as these excerpts from that February post reveal:

I looked up brim for a reason, but once I got there and saw the words, the upper edge of anything hollow, I forgot my purpose. Not just my purpose in looking up the word, either. My purpose. My. Purpose. Why I am here. My reason for being. Ma raison d’être. No, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t forget. I’ve never known. None of us have. We make up stories, we create elaborate explanations for our existence. We pretend to know why we, of all creatures on Earth, are imbued with such advanced intellect and knowledge and skills and…all the rest. But we just don’t know. And we never will. We should be okay with that, but we’re not. At least most of us don’t seem to be okay with that imponderable question.

We’re seekers, though, searchers for answers that, we realize with some degree of certainty, do not exist. In that sense, we’re not especially smart. But we put a different spin on it. We say, instead, we are insatiably curious. That sounds more appealing, doesn’t it? More appealing than admitting we’re as crazy as a cat lady on the seventh Monday of February.

I’m like a broken record. I cannot seem to get past that place in my brain where a particular tune repeats over and over again. The needle just can’t skip to the next groove, allowing the song to play out to completion. For my entire life, I’ve pondered those imponderables. I feel an aching need to know why I’m here before I’m gone. But, like all the rest of us, of course, I won’t know.  Well, all the rest of us except those for whom “faith” and “belief” substitute for “knowledge” and “understanding.”

Maybe that’s why the idea of becoming an ascetic monk has always been oddly magnetic for me. Perhaps I should replace “ascetic” with “atheist.” I’m not especially attached to the idea of a life in which the worldly pleasures are withheld or avoided. So, perhaps, a lavish lifestyle undertaken in an isolated monastic environment dedicated to seeking answers to the unanswerable is the life for me. Not “farm livin,” as I’ve always dreamt. Obviously, I’ve slipped from serious to silly here. But I am serious about my lifelong ache to know more about who I am and why I am here. I fully understand it’s an ache that will never be resolved, but that does not stop me from wondering about it every day of my life.

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My IC and I visited a collision repair shop in Benton yesterday. If all goes according to plan, I’ll take my car there next week and exchange it for a rental car for an as-yet-unknown period of time while the Subaru’s scratched and scraped driver’s side is repaired and made to look like new. After we left the place, we stopped for a very early dinner at a little place called Taqueria Azteca, about two blocks from the collision repair place. I had been there once or twice before with my late wife and we liked it (it’s not the best taqueria I’ve ever visited, by a long shot, but it’s good enough to merit repeat visits, in my book). I deeply appreciate my IC’s willingness to go into such places, places that some people would call “dives.” The food is good, the staff is friendly and accommodating, and the place is clean, if not new and sparkling. It looks old and worn, as I’m sure it is, but it’s a well-cared-for worn. And like almost every Mexican food place I’ve ever visited, its “Mexican rice” does not compare to the stuff I make at home, the recipe for which I adapted from my mother’s recipe, which she adapted from recipes common along the border between Texas and Tamaulipas. I may well visit Taqueria Azteca again next week when I drop my car off for tender loving care that will revive its beauty and newness.

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Speaking of my IC, she will abandon me for lunch today in favor of a friend from church who I believe shares my birthday. I think this woman and I share not just the month and day, but the year, of birth. I’ve met only a couple of other people who share my birth day and month; no one else who shares all three temporal elements. For that reason, I have to believe this woman and I have a special connection, despite the fact that we know one another only very casually. (I think we’ve had all of a dozen brief conversations since we’ve known one another, including one that lasted a few hours while she and I and one other person drove to and from a church event at a Heifer International farm.) A “special connection?” Well, not really. Only a birthday. I’ve probably thought about starting (and maybe even initiated) conversations with her, based solely on our shared birthdays. But that seems likely to be viewed as a creepy come-on. That’s the problem with my tendency to be more attracted to friendships with women than with me. Overtures with women, I think, tend to be seen as sexual come-ons as opposed to genuine interest in friendship. It takes time and effort to get past the understandable caution. And, from my perspective, that investment of time often is not worth the effort because the hoped-for “chemistry” turns out to be missing. Interestingly, overtures of friendship with men similarly have obstacles and take time; and they, too, frequently amount to time wasted.

As I read what I’ve written above, it may seem to the casual (or even more intimate) reader that I am more than a little arrogant. I hope that’s not the case. I just want to avoid spending my time (and others’ time) on relationships that have little chance of successfully taking hold. Yet, without the investment of time, one cannot know whether the investment would pay off. I am arguing against myself here, but I’m not sure who’s winning the debate.

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My IC and I are friends with a couple with whom our attachment seems to be growing closer by the day. Every time we spend time with them, my IC and I remark to one another how much we enjoy their company and how much we learn from them just by being in their presence. For whatever reason, though, it’s awkward for me to express my appreciation vocally. I think the reason is that my vocal appreciation would provoke a visible and vocal emotional reaction in me. Despite telling myself it’s okay to be overtly emotional, I can’t seem to get over my embarrassment at my tendency to shed tears at things as moving as television commercials. Maybe next time we have them over, I’ll be able to get past the awkwardness and say out loud how much they mean to me. They both read my blog (the only couple I know with certainty who do), so maybe they’ll steel themselves to my emotional outburst before the visit.

As I consider this issue, it occurs to me that I should express my appreciation and my love to each of my friends. I try to do that, but I think too often I just assume my friends know. It’s time I become a bit more assertive in my emotional awkwardness.

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After a couple of CT scans this morning and a church board meeting this afternoon, the day will belong to me. What I do with it remains to be seen.  I cannot have anything to drink or eat until after my CT scans (I had half a cup of coffee before the 6:00 a.m. deadline for allowing consumption of food and beverage). That restriction, of course, has caused an insatiable hunger and thirst to well up in me. I could drink a gallon of coffee and eat a pound of cinnamon rolls (or eggs or bacon or cereal or pancakes or waffles or corned beef hash or…). Going without food for a few hours or a few months would not hurt, actually. But I do love food. With all my heart and soul. It doesn’t always love me, but usually the feeling is mutual.

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Okay. I’ll stop. I’m just filling time with my fingers at this point. I should probably shower and shave before my CT scan. Whether I do also remains to be seen.

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A Fine Line

Before I memorialize the unpleasantness of yesterday, I’ll wax philosophical about the future. The future does not simply happen. It arises from what came before it. The future emerges from what we did yesterday, what we do today, and the actions in pursuit of the future. Even if our actions in the past were anathema to what we’d like to see in the future, our behaviors today can rectify, at least in part, the path we take toward tomorrow.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

~ Malcolm X ~

Admittedly, the future we wish for may be unachievable, given the preceding preparation which was necessary—but which we failed to make—to achieve it. But that failed opportunity should trigger changes in our dreams that are, in fact, achievable in the time we have left to achieve them. And changes in our dreams necessarily require changes in our efforts to achieve them; and real, dedicated, intense actions on our part.

None of this is to say that “you can accomplish anything,” because that aphorism is utter nonsense, based on a simplistic view of an incredibly complex world. But realistic planning, disciplined actions, and a willingness to change both one’s efforts and one’s objectives can dramatically increase the likelihood of a future laced with successful accomplishments and the benefits they provide to us. Every step one takes—or fails to take—has a measurable impact on the future. That fact bears serious consideration and close attention. And a passionate allegiance to reaching goals that matter.

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

~ Simone de Beauvoir ~

With all the words I’ve thus far written in mind it is important—vitally important—that the future we seek is truly the future we desire with every ounce of our being. We must be certain we are thoroughly devoted to that future, lest we find ourselves having accomplished a goal that serves a future we really did not want or value. For example, one might identify the desire to own a mansion on a huge estate as a desired future and, thanks to his actions taken along the way, he may achieve that dream. But, once there, he may discover that a mansion on a huge estate does not deliver the happiness he was after. Instead, he may realize that it wasn’t a mansion and an estate he was after, it was a modest home of his own on a few acres of rich, fertile soil, close to friends and family. Hence the admonition: “Be careful what you wish for.” Know what you really want before striving to achieve it. Even late in life, it’s not too late to alter what makes one happy.

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Yesterday started out as a moderately acceptable day. But it descended, quickly, onto a path toward the bowels of Hell. Ach, I exaggerate. Not by much, though. My gut, which had bothered me a tad overnight, switched into high gear, making an earnest effort to make me quite uncomfortable. After posting to my blog, I sat in a recliner and fell into a troubled and broken sleep; awake for a while, asleep for a while; and stuck in the middle for long stretches in which I was neither completely conscious nor truly napping. My IC sent me a text message from bed, which I did not hear, asking me to take the dog out for its morning poop/walk. When I did not respond, she got up and took the grateful beast out herself. I remained semi-unconscious, with a troubled gut, until after she returned. Aside from a scheduled telephone conversation with an accountant regarding my tax filing, I slept most of the rest of the morning and, indeed, most of the rest of the day. I felt almost human for an hour or so at a time, punctuated by longer periods when I felt like I should have been taken in for an autopsy. I never completely recovered yesterday, but I improved enough that, when my IC offered to make dinner for me, I gratefully accepted. I ate penne pasta with commercial pasta sauce, followed by two bananas, spaced an hour or two apart. Aside from a cup of coffee and some glasses of water, that was the only food I had all day.

Needless to say—besides the conversation with the accountant—I got nothing accomplished yesterday. No visit to the collision/body shop repair people. No visit to the post office. Zip. However, I did exchange some interesting email and text messages with friends, so all was not lost. Friends are becoming more and more vital to my mental well-being, I think. Today, I hope to rectify my torpid thoughts and behaviors. I can’t quite determine yet whether my gut and my fatigue, both of completely unknown etiology, have completely disappeared, but if they have I will take some actions today that will improve my state of mind and help erase some things off my to-do list.

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I am thinking of friends this morning. Travelers, artists, exposition managers, pottery-makers, poets, people still working, people happily retired. Since I retired at 58, nearly ten years ago, I have come to the conclusion that an even earlier retirement would have been nice; I should have made it happen. But I know I cannot change the past.

I can admonish my friends who have not yet retired, though, to think carefully about what they want in retirement (not what others [or society in general] expect you to want, but what YOU really want). And think whether it’s possible to achieve that dream earlier than you thought possible. A little more frugality today and a little less grandiose the dreams of the future could merge into a reality that accomplishes retirement sooner than you have thought.

For my friends who have retired, I offer some of the same unsolicited advice: do what you want, not what others expect you to want. If what you really want is to sit on the shore drinking margaritas from noon until nightfall, pursue that (knowing that your future might be shortened a tad by your behavior). As for me, I’ve been advised for  years that I really should go on a cruise. After hearing what’s involved on a cruise, I would have absolutely no interest unless I could find one that quite different from those described to me (I have found once such cruise, thanks to my IC).

My point is this: listen to your innermost thoughts and pay them heed. Don’t put it off any longer than you must. You can never know when life as you know it is completely derailed, utterly demolishing your plans. Your years of retirement may be cut far shorter than you hoped or you may find yourself or your partner requiring care that’s both mentally straining and financially exhausting. There’s a fine line between following your dreams and waiting too long to start the voyage. That, my friends, is a line only you can identify for yourself. I hope you find it before it finds you.

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Avocations

Once upon a time, when I was younger, better-looking, and smarter, I spent three semesters (give or take) learning to make questionably attractive or utilitarian “objets d’art” from clay and to throw pottery. “Learning” is a misnomer, as is “art.”  “Dabbling” more realistically describes what I did. I can think of no appropriate term (that can be used in polite company) to describe what I made. Regardless of the fact that I was not by any stretch of the imagination a serious “artist,” I enjoyed playing in the mud and I still miss it. I’ve considered outfitting a spot in my crawl space as a “studio,” but I think the time and expense of doing that would be impossible for me to justify. I could go back to taking courses at the college, but I do not want to spent time around people who are far more serious about their art than I. My intent would not be to enter into competitions or to sell my creations; it would be only a means of occupying my time in a way that I find enjoyable. But I do not necessarily need to do that by playing in the mud. I need a different, more readily doable hobby.

Hobby. I dislike that word. It seems dismissive, as if one’s involvement in it is wasteful and unproductive. While that may well be true, I would prefer not to advertise the fact that I am being an intentionally and willfully unproductive slug. So, instead of having a hobby, I need an avocation. I write, which also is an avocation, but I want something else; something that will exercise a different part of my brain and my body. Something creative, but that does not require inordinate amounts of time to learn. I may have mentioned this before: making objects out of glass. Stained glass may be the term for it, but I may not need stained glass; “art glass” may be a better descriptor. However, I will admit to being enamored of abstract stained glass (and non-abstract, if not overtly religious in nature) in church windows. Still, I will need space. Well, I have space, but it is (and has always been) filled with stuff I do not need nor, probably, will ever use. But if I can get the room emptied, cleaned up, and fixed up just a bit, it might be an ideal studio for my new avocation. Just to be clear, though, this will not happen in a matter of weeks; maybe not even a matter of months. It could take years. It may never happen. But I’m thinking about it. That must count for something.

Under pressure, people admit to murder, setting fire to the village church or robbing a bank, but never to being bores.

~ Elsa Maxwell ~

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I spent too much time indoors yesterday. I had ample opportunity to go out and about, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent most of the day inside, as if I were insulating myself from the world. I did get out long enough to give the car a cursory wash and to  buy gas (the tank was almost empty). And I went with my IC for a ride to the recycling center and to drop off some donations (including an artificial Christmas tree). But the majority of the day I stayed inside, away from the fresh air and sunshine. I made contact with the outside world, via telephone; I spoke to an insurance adjuster who explained what his company would do to repaired my car after his company’s policyholder scraped up the side of my vehicle. After a few other feeble attempts to deal with the world outside my window, I gave up and stuck to what was comfortable here in the house. Some days are better suited to hermit-like behaviors. Yesterday was one of them. Today may be radically different. Or radically the same. Time, alone, will tell.

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When I hear about mass murders or watch television programs rife with gratuitous violence, I recoil in emotional protest to behaviors that seem so utterly inhuman. How, I ask myself, could human beings overcome their natural aversions to harming one another to such an extent that people could do such hideous things? But how could they not? While I think we are innately averse to plunging knives into the chests of people we view as threatening or launching rocket-propelled grenades into caravans of cars carrying politicians, I think I can understand how our minds might allow us to overcome the aversion. There comes a tipping point beyond which inhuman behaviors become natural responses to a monstrous world that inflicts random pain. I do not for a moment justify these behaviors; but I can fathom how they might occur as part of the “natural order.” People simply snap; they respond to a dangerously bizarre world with hideous behaviors that, in their minds, serve as self-protection or to mete out justice where traditional justice has failed. It is madness, of course, yet it is understandable—but not forgivable—madness.

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Measure yourself by your best moments, not by your worst. We are too prone to judge ourselves by our moments of despondency and depression.

~ Robert A. Johnson ~

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Into the Deepness

Yesterday, I dozed—off and on—instead of accomplishing much of value. While I had plenty of sleep the night before, I felt mentally exhausted. Mental exhaustion sometimes is inexplicable to me; I have no idea what brings it on. Perhaps the ruminations that gave way to my blog post yesterday give rise to mental fatigue. Maybe, with enough unproductive contemplation, the brain simply runs out of steam and insists on rest.

Last night, I got six solid hours of sleep. But, when I awoke just before four this morning, I felt like I was midway between terribly tired and “wired.” Rather than try to go back to sleep, which I think I easily could have done, I got up and promptly started thinking about yesterday’s exhaustion. And hoping it fails to catch hold again today. Then, again, maybe a day or two of experiencing utter laziness, time spent in an utterly do-nothing mood, might be just the fuel I need to get back to full speed again.

Yet it may not be mental exhaustion that I’m experiencing. It may be stress, manifesting in ways with which I’m unfamiliar or simply haven’t recognized. I learned yesterday that the brother closest in age to me was delivered to the ER yesterday by my niece; my brother had been experiencing severe difficulty breathing. Later in the day, I learned that he was admitted and had been on oxygen for much of the day; but aside from some of the actions taken by medical professionals, I know nothing of his condition. That kind of information can cause stress. And stress can manifest itself in fatigue or tiredness…or any number of other ways. I’m just thinking with my fingers here. I know nothing; I’m just speculating about cause and effect without any substantive information to go on. I would call my brother, except that I know from another brother that my hospitalized sibling has been trying to sleep (after days of not getting much sleep), only to be wakened by people drawing blood, taking blood pressure, and otherwise intruding on opportunities for peaceful relaxation.

+++

I spent a little time yesterday crafting a meal plan for the week. Whether I stick to it remains to be seen. But at least I know I’ll have the ingredients I’ll need; between seven and eight this morning, I will pick up the online grocery order I placed yesterday. Assuming I do not run out of energy or inclination before it’s time to make dinner, tonight’s meal will include salmon, green beans, and a green salad. If I had been thinking, I would have bought miso (assuming it’s available from the store where I placed my order) and a few more limes. Oven-baked salmon with a lime-miso dressing  is wonderful. Maybe I have some miso hidden deep in the bowels of my refrigerator. If so, I’ll follow this recipe, more or less:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 tbsp. miso paste
  • 18 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil

Later in the week, after another trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients I failed to order, I’ll make a grand and glorious Greek salad for dinner. Greek salads—flavored with calamata olives and feta cheese and lemon juice and herbs and spices and a host of salad veggies—are among the simple pleasures in life. For some reason, Greek salads seem to call out for nice, simple wines. I would go with a sauvignon blanc, but a quick Google search suggests Assyrtiko, a wine with which I am completely unfamiliar (but Google verifies my selection of sauvignon blanc, I’m happy to say). However, the wine may be more than a tad out of my usual price range; a quick scan of prices online suggests $25+ per bottle, which is a price range I reserve for extremely special occasions. Being frugal is what has allowed me to do things like retire seven years earlier than “normal” retirement age. Yet, still, I enjoy little luxuries; just not on a frequent basis. The infrequency of those luxuries helps keep them in the realm of “special.” I think I’m drifting into philosophies that successfully merge pleasure-seeking with economic reality. Long ago, I determined that they are philosophies worth making my own, which I have done.

+++

A little later this morning, I will attempt to contact the insurance carrier for the guy whose truck did a bit of ugliness to my parked vehicle. I hope to get that squared away very soon, so I can take my car in to have body work done to repair the damage. At the same time, I want to visit the new Costco in Little Rock, where I will refrain from spending all of my money on things I want but do not need. Just some of my money on things I want but do not need. And, while I’m there, I hope I can place an order for new eye glasses, frames and all.

But before my trip to Little Rock, I have a phone appointment with a tax advisor about—what else?—taxes. When I finally file my 2020 tax returns, both Federal and State, I will celebrate by doing a little jig and opening a celebratory bottle of sparkling wine. First, of course, I must buy the sparkling wine.

After these near-term to-do list items are complete, I have other stuff on my agenda, including a pair of CT scans to (we wish for but do not hold out much hope for) determine the cause of my constant nasal congestion, cough, etc., etc., etc. Then, a visit with an ENT doctor to follow up on the CT scan results. Then, a bit later in October, a second-stage phase of the sleep study I started some time ago; this time, fitting me with a CPAP machine to see if that might improve my sleep (assuming I can stomach being encapsulated in a plastic hood over my mouth and nose). But in between these things, my IC and I plan another road trip, as I mentioned a day or two ago. Whether we go to Las Cruces, New Mexico or Fayetteville, Arkansas or other places as yet undetermined remains to be seen. I still want to go to Schenectady, New York and Dayton, Ohio, and Berkeley, California, and Halifax, Nova Scotia and a thousand other places. But medical appointments and weather concerns and a million other troublesome obstacles keep getting in my way. Life is too short to let insignificant challenges spoil adventure.

+++

Being in a relationship is both freeing and confining. It is freeing in that the parts of oneself that can be revealed only in the presence of a suitable personality are released, creating a sense of joy and appreciation and wonder. It is confining, on the other hand, in that decisions that once were solely the province of oneself must now be strained through the wants and needs and desires and availability of another person.

Last night—during what seemed like interminable commercials while attempting to watch Homeland on Hulu—it occurred to me that I am no longer free to just decide on the spur of the moment to drive to Halifax. And that constriction bothered me. But it occurred to me, as well, that I had that freedom for five months and did nothing with it; I did not even venture outside a fifty-mile radius around the Village. So, is it the reality of personal freedom or only its potential that is most attractive? Why, when I was actually free to do what I wished, did I stay firmly ensconced in my castle; yet now that I have a partner with whom I feel obligated to share decision-making, I feel limited in my ability to act on a whim?

Do other people explore their own psyches as deeply as I seem to try to explore mine? Do others feel drawn to know why they behave the way they do or why they think what they think? Is the intensity of my interest in knowing what drives my passions aberrant? Maybe I should return to visit a counselor, in an attempt to understand me. Because I know I can’t do it by myself. I have tried and failed for far too long to think I will ever be able to figure it out on my own. But what if I knew? Then what? What would it change about me? Would knowing more about myself make me more appealing? More tolerable? More interesting? Would the absence of that mystery make life a little too dull? Too predictable?

The thing is, too, all these mysteries about myself are amplified in number and scope in the people around me. I know so very little about what’s in their minds. Superficial conversations reveal almost nothing about people. Only through exploration—deep, intensive, no-holds-barred exploration—can we know enough about one another to know whether we belong on the same planet. We can think we know enough, but when we realize how little we actually know, it can be stunning in its superficiality. Of course, that’s true of ourselves, too.

My IC and I, fortunately, reveal a lot about ourselves to one another. But even that does not get to the core of each of us; it’s the same with others. I’m sure of it. Someone—I don’t recall who, even if I ever knew it—once said we would not care what others think of us if only we knew how little they actually thought about us. And I’m sure that’s true. People I might think or assume or hope would think positively about me may never think of me at all. I wonder how many—or how few—women have been romantically attracted to me during the course of my life. Does anyone else ever think such thoughts? I have had a few conversations about that question over the years and, invariably, the response has been something like this: “No. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is who you actually had a romantic relationship with, not who thought about it.”  And my unspoken reply: “You just don’t get it. And I can’t explain it to you in a way that you would.” I’m right about that. I can’t explain my interest in knowing the answer; only that knowing the answer might help me better understand myself.  Hmm. Another of the million questions that will forever clog my brain.

+++

Where do all the ideas in one’s head go when one dies? Does the energy that creates and stores those ideas simply dissipate, causing the ideas to dissolve into disconnected elements that only physicists might be able to explain? Do they remain complete thoughts in the atmosphere that, through random chance, slip into the brains of other people, becoming their thoughts instead of the originator’s ideas? I don’t expect an answer, of course. I’m just rambling incoherently, asking the universe questions it is unwilling to answer.

I’ve run out of juice. I need more coffee before it’s time for me to go fetch my groceries in an hour or so. Between now and then I’ll keep thinking. But those thoughts will not find their way here. They will be lost once I’ve let them spill into the universe without a keyboard to catch them.

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Positive Territory

I watch online news video as people morph into the emotional equivalent of dried leather; tough, hard, inflexible, uncaring, bitter, cold-blooded, and callously inhumane. These people occupy philosophical space on the far ends of both sides of neutral—and every inch in between. Their political affiliation is irrelevant; they are dispassionately certain of their heartless positions that “the other side” is dangerous and should be eliminated by any means necessary. Any. Means. Necessary. And, while witnessing these transformations before my eyes on the video screen is frightening and repulsive, an even more upsetting scene takes place when I see the metamorphosis occur, with lightning speed, in my mirror. I imitate that repugnant conversion from decent to abhorrent. I feel the supple malleability of my own ideas and opinions—perspectives shaped by exposure to facts— harden into intractable judgments.

When I am sharply judgmental of any other person, it’s because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge.

~ Gabor Maté ~

The facts do not change. My willingness to change with them ceases. Like the monsters I view on the television and computer screen, I allow my opinions to harden into immutable beliefs without the benefit of exposure to facts. And I find that reality both horrible and unstoppable. I hate that people make up their minds without the benefit of information that supports their positions; I especially hate that I can be, and too often am, one of them. Even when I recognize myself in videos and in the mirror, I loathe the fact that I seem unwilling to stop taking hardened positions without the benefit of logic or compassion or even accepting simple facts.

But there’s a silver lining to this recognition and to the embarrassed realization that I have become what I abhor. We can change only that which we know needs adjusting. We can modify only those behaviors and attitudes we recognize need to be changed. So, the fact that I am conscious that I am transforming into dried leather may be enough to prompt me to try to reverse the process. That, I suspect, is long and unpleasant. But, at least it is preferable to becoming the monster I hate. We’ll see.

I thought my critical thinking and my willingness to listen to and evaluate “other” positions was enough to keep me open-minded and unbiased. Not so. Without constant reminders to be impartial and tolerant and willing to truly hear every side to an issue, one can become complacent of one’s rectitude. That’s what I’ve allowed to happen. I have stopped listening to and trying to truly understand positions that differ from mine. That’s a bad habit and one that is not easy to break. But break it I shall. One way or another.

+++

It is easy to be too easy on a person. It is just as easy to be too hard on a person. It is hard to identify that desirable sweet spot, that optimal place at which appreciation for trying is offset by just the right amount of disappointment in failure. Once identified, though, it is just as hard to act accordingly. My tendency, when viewing the statements or actions of another person, is to be too judgmental; too hard on a person. My tendency, when it’s me I’m assessing, is to be a little too easy on myself. I give myself the benefit of the doubt far more often than I should. But when I decide I’ve done enough of that, I tend to go overboard, just like I do when assessing others. There’s not enough appreciation for trying in either case. Yet another change I need to make in the pursuit of, not perfection but, adequacy.

When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.

~ Earl Nightingale ~

+++

If what I have written thus far this morning does not make it clear enough, I am in a pensive mood. I am in the mood to examine myself and my motives, without judgment by myself or by others, just to better understand why I am who I am. And, of course, I always wonder who I am, deep at my core. I doubt I’ll ever understand who I would be in the absence of nearly seven decades of external influences that modify my thoughts and behaviors; but I wish I could understand that person. I wish I could know who I would have been without all the modifiers so I could know whether I would like that person or not. And, of course, that wish transfers to everyone I know. If I knew them better, would I have as much admiration for them as I do? Or would I allow my unpleasant self to judge them negatively, even with the realization that their imperfections might have arisen from experiences over which they had no control? It’s a complicated web. Way too complicated to think I will ever find a way through it. It’s like the massive spider web outside my front door, by the garage; big and unwieldy and almost impossible to see until it wraps itself in my hair and face.

+++

Sometime today, I will make meal plans for this week and I will arrange to get groceries to let me execute the plans. That will give me a sense of accomplishment I might not get from anything else I do today. I need something to bring me into positive territory.

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Learning to Go with the Flow

My to-do list has grown since we left for Fayetteville, Arkansas last Monday, our intermediate stop between Hot Springs Village, Arkansas and Fairfield, Iowa. Perhaps the most pressing of the items on the list came as the result of a big F-250 (or was it a 350?) pickup swiping the side of my car. Almost the entire driver’s side of my car was scraped up, including big swaths of side molding that were ripped from the car. The largest piece of molding, though, remains on the car; what’s left of it bent outward in an attempt to grab and dirtify passers-by. When the car is traveling at 75 miles per hour or so, the force of the wind pins it back against the left rear door panel and beyond, but it springs back like a flailing arm when I stop. Today, I’ll open the email links sent to me by the offending driver’s insurance company and will send them photos of the damage. It doesn’t look terribly bad (just hideously ugly), but I suspect it will be extremely expensive to repair. I’ll probably take the car to the Subaru dealer in Little Rock for the repair. They will (I hope and expect) provide me with a Subaru rental while my car is in the shop. We’ll see.

Other items not on my to-do list when I left but that have since been added include getting a CT scan of my neck and skull (sinus area) in preparation for a referral to an ENT doctor. The referral is part of the continuing saga of attempting to figure our and correct the medical issue that causes me to have an never-ending need to clear my throat and attempt to clear my clogged sinuses (which, together, cause me to have a horrible cough that prevents me from sleeping like I should). Another, related, item, is a follow-up sleep study component, during which I will be forced to sleep with a CPAP machine nailed or otherwise affixed to my head. Again, it’s about helping me sleep better. I’m not sure why, but I tend to get extremely tired after driving for only an hour or two (or sitting in a chair or walking a high wire or whatever). Yesterday, I awoke in time to swerve away from the center line of the highway; had I not awoken, I probably would not be writing this, nor would my IC be sleeping soundly in a room on the other side of the house.

The to-do list is full of other things that I’d rather not think about this morning. Suffice it to say these things interfere with my desire to be utterly carefree and instantly available, on a moment’s notice, to get in the car, randomly pick a direction, and drive in that direction for eight to ten hours. Soon enough, I hope. Next trip may be to New Mexico or a return visit to Fayetteville or, if I can convince myself and my IC, a drive to somewhere we’re not exploring for the purpose of long-term housing.

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All of this “must do” stuff is getting to me, both psychologically and physically. My words cannot do justice to the state of exhaustion that embraces and pervades me the way water fills every ocean and every river and stream and lake and pond. In order for me to explain how the universe has captured me and holds me under a constant stream of liquid torment, I have to resort to attribution-plagiarism, the practice of quoting poetry written by others to express how I feel. Dammit.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this,  for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.
—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

~ William Wordsworth ~

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If I were more intelligent and had the ability to overcome my own frenetic reaction to a chaotic universe, I would simply do what happy people do every day: just go with the flow. It sounds so easy, but it’s so impossibly hard; allowing the world around me to set my course and periodically correct my direction, rather than attempting to do those things for myself. But those attempts are fruitless efforts to take control over things outside my ability to govern. I do not administer the interactions between facts and fantasy any more than dogs control the seasons or giraffes establish the color palettes used in painting realistic representations of the summer sunset in the winter sky. Go with the flow. It seems so simple and logical, as if the process of being guided by an imaginary sailor’s control of the sails on his imaginary vessel were easy. Would that I believed in ancient Greek gods. Would that Zeus and Poseidon and Athena would impart to me their knowledge and wisdom and supernatural powers. I would use them wisely. I would wrap my arms around travelers and would guide them to secret safe harbors free from the pandemonium of life in a hard, uncaring environment run by politicians and greed-merchants.

A verdant island, flush with food and drink, opportunities for play, and never-ending supplies of whatever suits our whimsy, would be our home. All would be right with the world. I would walk barefoot and naked in the sand, rinsing off the salt water and sand under a perpetually flowing waterfall near the front door to my comfortable abode. Early in the morning, I would walk ten miles around the beach, gathering conchs and picking strawberries from the nearby dunes and bananas from trees that lined the waterside. Conch fritters would serve as lunch, too, along with freshly-caught fish. Dinner would vary between sauteed, vegetables and hearty soups filled with the bounty of the island.

Did I go slightly off-track? Excuse me. I must leave now and make more coffee and consider breakfast options. What does one do when one returns from days away, with no plans for meals? If I lived on my imaginary island, the problem would not exist. But here, I must find a toaster and bread and other edibles. They sound so overwhelmingly blah.

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Home Again

We drove today from Columbia, Missouri to Hot Springs Village, stopping for lunch in Branson. Missouri. It was my first trip to Branson and if I am lucky I will not need to stop there again. Though the visit was short and cursory, I saw nothing that would cause me to want to return. Just not mu cup of tea.

We plan another trip soon, either to Las Cruces, New Mexico (and possibly other spots in that state) or back to Fayetteville, Arkansas. In spite of its size and density (and the fact that it’s crawling with students, including football players (and their obscenely overpaid coaches) and woo pig worshippers), the place has some appeal. But so does Port Townsend. Washington, though PT is not nearly as affordable. I would need an extremely wealthy and fabulously generous sugar mama to make my dream come true. My IC, despite her many fine qualities, is missing that one so crucial to the Port Townsend good life: incomprehensible wealth. I suppose we could live there without immeasureable wealth, but the good life and abject poverty do not fit well together.

Once again, thanks to my worthless little piece of bad plasma (or whatever), I am one-finger typing this post. That, my friends, is an abomination to my sense of decency, kindness, and justice.

All right. I will stop. I have so much more to say, but your eyes should be shielded from the worst of it.

 

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Winding Down Early

As intriguing as Fairfield, Iowa is, our experience there offered evidence that even fields of wild flowers can be degraded by noxious weeds. Confederate flags hanging in windows, Trump flags spilling out of yards littered with trash, and clear lines of demarcation between rich and poor demonstrated that utopia remains just an idea, not a reality. So, for now, Fairfield is off the table. It wasn’t the prospect of winter weather that took it off the table. It was the reality that humankind has yet to evolve into a state of human decency. Thus the quest for a more perfect place continues. During the course of these last several days, distinct differences between my IC and me in how “the perfect place” might manifest itself have become apparent, too. I can envision how a smaller house on a bigger piece of land might be right, in the proper setting. Not so my IC, I think. More than that, though, both of us see how “perfection” is more illusion than fact. I want so much for there to be a place where everything is just right. It doesn’t exist. That is true in large part because friends and places do not pair up in the real world. In an ideal world, friends would be part of the search; they would move to the perfect place when we found it. But the perfect place is different for each of us. So we have to decide that point at which place and people are in the best achievable balance.

Today, we will wander toward the place that’s now home, the place where friends await.

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I may have more to write later, but I’m still doing in on my phone, with one finger, so I must stop for now. Continue reading

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Eventually

I will post again, eventually. After my mind clears and I come to grips with the scrapes on the side of my car and I understand how a cool little town can be home to gods and devils, angels and demons, Ethiopian restaurants and McDonald’s. For now, we’re off in an as yet undecided direction. Probably not another night in Fairfield. But where? Who knows? Time will tell.

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Another Day

Oh, I must have been tired when I posted yesterday. At least twice I referred to Fairview instead of Fairfield. And now that I am using my phone to post, instead of my horrid little uncooperative laptop computer, the errors may multiply. Yesterday’s errors could be attributed to my tiredness and creeping senility; today’s can be blamed on one-fingered typing, which exacerbates my creeping senility. Fortunately, I slept pretty well last night, in spite of being absolutely unable to breathe through my nose. I woke myself repeatedly by closing my mouth, which replicated the sensation of having my air supply cut off, as if someone clamped shut the hose to my breathing apparatus.

Today, we will make our way to Fairfield. We will explore the area around Central Park, including restaurants with an international flair and little shops and other such commercial establishments. And we’ll look at houses, at least from the outside, that looked attractive on Zillow. But we won’t leave the Des Moines airport area until the heavy fog advisory lifts. I hope we can talk to a real estake agent or two, as well, just to talk about the attractions of this area. We’ll see.

As for where we will stay tonight. God only knows. Maybe we will learn today why every motel within driving distance of Fairfield was booked last night. (As I mentioned, I misposted “Fairview,” which is another Iowa community not far from Cedar Rapids.) We may have to drive to Minnesota or Michigan or Illinois or Quebec this afternoon to avoid the intense overcrowding of motel rooms. Perhaps we could impose on Deanna or on Janet and Mike, asking them if we might sleep on the floor of their self-powered houses on wheels. Yesterday’s experience, being unable to find a place to stay, resurrected my interest in exploring an old RoadTrek or Winnebago or Drunken Dutchman or whatever. Of course last-minute set-ups in a Walmart parking lot is not especially appealing, either.

I read with grateful appreciation the comments on yesterday’s post comments left by two blog follower friends…thank you Debbie and Becky. It’s nice to know we’re missed as we wallow in nearly-homeless self-pity among the barren cornfields near the Des Moines airport. Seriously, it is nice to stay connected outside the superficial  boundaries of Facetank and such.

I’ve already showered, but it’s time to shave and dress for a complimentary motel breakfast. I doubt this morning’s meal will compare to yesterday’s smoked salmon frittata at First Watch. But it will do, whatever it is.

Here’s to a grand morning to all! News that Gavin Newsom survived (in a landslide) his recall election cheered me up this morning! Good day!

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Deviations on a Theme Bent and Mangled by the Two of Us

The plan was to arrive early Monday afternoon in Fayetteville, after a leisurely drive from Hot Springs Village. A very rough, almost sleepless Sunday night, though, argued against both an early Monday departure and a straight-through drive to Fayetteville. So, we took it easy. And we figured we would still get to Fayetteville relatively early in the day. But by the time we got to the turnoff to visit a few Arkansas wineries (Weidekhr, Post, etc.), I was absolutely exhausted. I told my IC I needed to take a 20-minute cat-nap. So, I pulled off the road at the entrance to an RV park near the entrance to a winery, locked the doors, kept the car running, and closed my eyes. An hour an a half later, I awoke in a confused panic. I thought I was at a stoplight and had fallen asleep while waiting for the light to turn green; as I said, I was in a confused panic. After I got my bearings, though, we decided to drive to the Post winery restaurant (the Weidekhr place was closed) for lunch. It, too, was closed. But we did partake of a wine tasting, each of us sampling six dry wines. A few were quite good; the rest were acceptable. After drinking lunch, we hit the road again, enjoying candy bars as  dessert.

We got to Fayetteville and wandered a bit, taking a look at the UU church there and otherwise slinking around. Then, we went for an early dinner at Doe’s Eat Place, where we shared a monstrous porterhouse and a bottle of Freakshow cabernet sauvignon, make with grapes from Lodi. After dinner, we went back to our motel (an extraordinarily cheesy Best Western), where we had a shot of high-end tequila and went to bed relatively early. I tried to log on to my computer, but the miserable piece of rotted plastic and magnetic dust would not cooperate. So, I did not even blog yesterday. Not a bit. Argh!  Again Monday night, I slept very, very poorly; I tossed and turned all night. If I got three hours sleep, I’d be extremely surprised. I woke feeling a little like I’d been pinned under a Greyhound Bus overnight. I took a shower in a miserable excuse for a bathtub/shower and dried myself while hoping I would not slip on the dangerously ugly and useless floor.

This morning, we had a superb breakfast at First Watch, then hit the road toward Fairfield, Iowa. We had not made a reservation for the night, figuring it would be easy. But a few hours before we would have arrived, we tried to make hotel reservations. Nothing was available in Fairview, nothing in Ottumwa, nothing in Mount Pleasant…nothing! So, after a number of dead ends, we opted to try Des Moines, the state capital and largest city within easy driving distance. We finally scored a room at a Hampton Inn at the Des Moines airport. On the way there, just after crossing the Missouri state line into Iowa, we stopped at the Amish Welcome Center, where my IC spied an Amish family riding in a horse-driven cart. She pointed and said, “Look, Amish!” For reasons that were easier to experience and understand than to explain, that was incredibly funny. We joked back and forth about being in other circumstances, seeing local natives, and pointing to them: “Look, Cajuns!” “Look, Mexicans!” “Look, Texans!”

Dinner on Tuesday was Mexican at a restaurant just a few blocks from the airport motel. And here we are.  There was probably much more. But I’m writing this a capella and, so, I am leaving out what I don’t remember or forgot to ask about.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), we’ll try to see what Fairview looks like. We have no idea where we’ll stay tomorrow night. We may not stick around Fairview as long as we’d planned. Perhaps we’ll zip up to Decorah, maybe even as far as Minnesota and try to catch up with a friend who’s attempting to outrun us before she circles back to Fairview.

This trip has been interesting, if not especially fruitfull, thus far. We left Fayetteville this morning before getting out to see a tiny musical house, but we vowed to return to Fayetteville in the not-too-distant future to take alonger, more indepth look around.

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You’ll Note the Absence of a Title

I wrote the first iteration of this poem, Independent Thought, about two years ago. My flagging memory makes it impossible for me to know exactly what prompted me to write it, but I could hazard one hundred guesses and they would all be wrong and perfectly correct. Everything around me—every experience, every lost opportunity, every hard lesson, every glorious moment of good fortune—becomes a trigger for prose or poetry. When everything in my little sphere of thought is intertwined, I get the urge to revisit what I’ve written and to update it to reflect what I think is my current thinking; but it may just be my current confusion, disguised as thought.

This poem is the personification of bitterness and anger. Despite that undisputable fact, I am not bitter and angry this morning. I am, instead, resigned to the fact that I do not control the world; I know I should have the absolute control that would give me comfort and would improve the lot of humanity. But I don’t and I won’t, so getting over it is urgently important. Getting over it requires humility and an overriding sense of superiority. I’m nothing, except not conflicted.  And, so, here is my thinking of two years ago, recast to reflect my current state of mind.

Independent Thought, Revised and Reconsidered

Their independent thoughts
are mass-produced by
idea merchants whose
currency is artificial
intellectual superiority,
unmarred by exposure
to cerebral depth.

They pat themselves on the
back as they recite popular
mantras fed to them by their tribe of
like-minded merchants,
attacking those with whom
they claim to disagree.
They don’t know why they
disagree; only that they do.
It’s popular behavior
within their tribe.

They claim the mantra as
their own creation, yet they
recite it like the Pledge of Submissive
Docility, degrading
others whose only crime—
unlike their own
intellectual plagiarism—
is independent thought.

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It’s interesting that I think of “them” as having a tribe when that’s precisely what I want. A tribe that embraces one another through the good times and bad. A tribe whose affections are unshakeable and who its members can rely on the others to always have their backs. A family unit similar to, but stronger than, the one that held us all together as children. A permanent, unbreakable unit that is as dependable as the sunrise. A unit unfettered with self-consciousness embarrassment or fear or bravado.

Ach, that’s a fantasy, just like all the rest. Fantasies are a dime a dozen.

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Those Rare Circumstances

No matter how hard a person works or how much effort he puts forth in setting the course for his life, circumstances over which he has no control direct the course of his time on Earth in many ways.

It begins early, with his “choice” of parents or siblings. Whether by birth or by luck of the draw, our early lives are molded by both genetics and the environment in which we develop. It continues with school and his teachers—people over whose selection he has virtually no input. Even the curriculum his education follows generally is not within his, or even his parents’ control; the State or the Church or some other controlling entity makes the choice for him. In connection with that prescribed indoctrination, vast periods of his society’s history may be erased or reimagined. He learns what he is told to learn; he is taught what people who manage his environment decide he should be taught.

All during his maturation, decisions over which he has little or no influence set the direction of his life. And, then, simple chance enters the process. Which students or neighbors become his friends or acquaintances or lifelong enemies. Which girls he dates or, depending on factors within and outside his control, which dates he foregoes because his social development lags behind his peers. And later still, more semi-random circumstances chip away at his options by steering him in directions he may or may not embrace: Higher education. Jobs offered. Jobs refused. Jobs accepted. Marriage or bachelorhood. Participation in social activities or decisions to refrain from them.

A million situations, circumstances, decisions made or foregone, marriages begun or ended…and on and on and on. Though he may make many decisions along the way, he has no way of knowing which ones will be impactful and which will lead to others that could alter the course of his lifetime. He is buffeted by howling winds of change, sometimes thinking he has control when, in fact, his decisions are more like desperate efforts to take charge of a runaway train. That train’s speed and direction can be influenced only so very modestly. He has no say over whether the train runs on steam or electricity or diesel; those crucial decisions were not his to make.

The regret of my life is that I have not said ‘I love you’ often enough.

~ Yoko Ono ~

Our lives would be so radically different if only we had made different choices when presented with those limited opportunities to control our destiny. A different job, a different spouse, a different lover, a different location in which to set down root. We control our own outcomes only to the extent that we influence our own randomness in random ways. If I had never picked up a cigarette, I might never have had lung cancer, which would have altered my life in measurable ways. If I had accepted the job offer with the Department of Agriculture, virtually every aspect of my life very likely would have been different from what has transpired so far. I suspect I would have a different take on religion and a different perspective on laws and regulations affecting agriculture. I would have had a different spouse; I would have lived in different places; I might have had a reliable pension as opposed to relying on my own discipline, or lack thereof, to fund my retirement. A million differences. Enormous differences. Incomprehensible differences. And each difference would have been subject to other differences that might have altered the directions my life might have taken.

Regret is among the most painful emotions. It burrows into one’s psyche in ways that make removing it virtually impossible. It is there to stay. It festers and morphs into bitter anguish; self-directed and well-deserved blame.

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I am not in the proper mood to introduce a speaker at church this morning, but I’ve committed to doing it. And then to facilitate a conversation after the speaker’s presentation. What in the hell was I thinking when I agreed to do these things? I’m not suited to such stuff, especially when I’ve been thinking about the messes I’ve tended to make in my life. It’s these thoughts that propel me to a fantasy in which I suddenly and without any notice or fanfare simply disappear. Just get in my car and go someplace no no would ever think to look for me. A fishing village on the coast of Georgia, perhaps, or a desolate few acres in Wyoming. But they can always track you with your money; so, I’d have to forego my Social Security and my credit cards and simply live off of what’s left of a lifetime of saving too little that cannot be traced. But maybe running away is not the best solution. Maybe just wandering off into an impoverished neighborhood where everyone has been forgotten; no one leaves such places because they provide such absolute anonymity.

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I watched a few episodes of Stateless last night. The one-season series is both riveting and ruinous. Filmed in South Australia, it is bleak and parched and painful. I guess that’s what I was in the mood for. Something that would tear at me and shred my emotions into dry ribbons of pain and regret. Regret. There is it again. It’s so damn common that life doesn’t seem the same when it’s absent.

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Canada by Way of Iowa and My Stomach

I’ve been hungry ever since I awoke, just before 5:00, this morning. Not just a bit peckish, mind you, but ravenously hungry. My hunger is the sort of sensation one might expect after being kidnapped and held without food—in a distant forest, miles from the nearest human outpost—for ten days. The hunger that causes my stomach to snap and growl like a rabid animal this morning is the absolute opposite of satiety. If appetite were a living, breathing being, mine is a beast so frantic and huge and its breath so furiously consumed in flames that you’d swear hunger and dragons arose from the same seed. Of course, you’d be right. The concept of dragons did, indeed, spring from feelings of intense hunger. It’s well-documented in the Modern American Encyclopedia of Emotional Hunger, fifth edition. There, on page 547, the story of hunger begins to be told. Seventeen pages later, on page 564, the story ends in a fiery, explosive howl. Scraps of habanero peppers, jalapeños, limes, and raw meat mix in a furious concoction that charitably can be described as maniacally hot. The pages on both sides of the entry are scorched; tinged brown from the heat of the descriptive text. It presents an awful image, one burned into my retinas as if I had stared at a total solar eclipse for half an hour or more.

So, have I satisfied my hunger yet this morning? No, I have not. I’m afraid nothing can; at least nothing readily available to me in this godforsaken wasteland. If I were where I should be right now—deep in French Quebec—I would be readying myself for a breakfast of a monstrous tourtière. My meal would have been prepared by a native Québécois woman, Juliette Jade Hultquist. This woman, who goes by the name Jade, has an intense and inexplicable interest in me. She longs to prepare food that will satisfy me at my core. A large, freshly-made tourtière will do just that. Though Jade cannot comprehend my passionate desire to spill almost a quarter of a cup of Tabasco sauce on her baked masterpiece, she does not object to it. She simply watches in appreciative silence as I consume the meal she prepared as fuel for my day.

You see what I did, don’t you? I transformed the auxillary verb, would by using “a bare infinitive to form the “anterior future”, indicating a futurity relative to a past time.” But I took it a step further, creating a present-tense reality from a wished-for and predicted future. Yet that’s irrelevant to the story, isn’t it? Of course it is. But that little detour did provide us both with an opportunity to let our over-heated emotions cool just a tad. We needed that, didn’t we?

Back to breakfast and Jade’s desire to satisfy my hunger for a French-Canadian breakfast. At least my version of a French-Canadian breakfast. While French-Canadians probably prefer tourtières for dinner, I suspect they would gladly join me in eating tourtières for breakfast. Those same French-Canadians might willingly eat poutine, too. I would do that again, though poutine probably will never be my first choice for breakfast. My friends Janet and Mike are in Quebec right now, though I doubt they are eating tourtières for breakfast. They should, though. They should. When they reach Nova Scotia, they should be sure to eat donairs, dulse, Nova Scotian oysters, and rappie pie, among other things quintessentially Nova Scotian. And if they happen to pass through Annapolis Royal while on their tour, they should look up my friend Bev. Bev does not eat meat, though, so tourtières are off the table for their shared meal with her.

Writing about food and its myriad mythic powers has done nothing to assuage my hunger. If anything, my passion has grown stronger and more assertive since I left my bed. Alas, I doubt I’ll be able to find tourtières or anything like them around here. I may have to drive to Iowa if I hope to satisfy my heretofore insatiable hunger. Perhaps the one restaurant I most want to try for breakfast in Fairfield, Iowa is the Istanbul Grill. I might try their Turkish Breakfast Plate, consisting of grilled juicy sucuk (Turkish sausage…usually beef or lamb, but in Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan horse meat sometimes is used), tomatoes, cucumbers, green olives, grilled red bell peppers, and feta cheese.

If I do not eat something soon, I doubt I’ll perish from malnutrition. Speaking of malnutrition, it’s entirely possible to suffer from malnutrition in spite of keeping one’s belly full. Especially if one’s belly is full of donuts, bread, sweetened iced tea, potatoes, rice, angel food cake, and fried bananas. I would avoid those dishes to the extent one’s discipline allows it.

I checked to see when McDonald’s opens for breakfast. They have been open for an hour and a half. I could have run down there and bought several breakfast burritos (which probably are unhealthy and most certainly are not “burritos” in the sense that they are authentic…nothing at McDonald’s is authentic, in my book). But I haven’t done that. Instead, I’ve spend my time wasting away and wishing I could have a Canadian breakfast with my friends who are driving an RV toward Nova Scotia. There’s no point in continuing this diatribe in opposition to the absence of tolerable (and, I must say it, alluring) breakfast.

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Today, I will shower. First, I will wrap my left forearm and hand in a waterproof plastic bag. The bag will protect my Mohs-procedure-affected hand from getting wet and soapy, two things I should avoid (plus lifting, bending my hand, and otherwise putting even the slightest stress on the delicate stitches the doctor used to sew me back together after the surgical removal of a significant portion of my left hand (well, it’s more like the size of the fingernail on my little finger).  I will shave, as well. In fact, I will pretend I am a fully-functioning adult male human. And off I go.

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Secrets in the Wind

When we’re too free with information about ourselves, we risk sabotaging what little magnetism our personalities may possess.  We become open books whose pages hold little allure. I equate the experience to the once-common practice of reading the newspaper. That exercise was largely an automatic response to the presence of the morning coffee; when something of pressing interest took place, the newspaper was abandoned in favor of CNN or the local television news.  So it is with revealing our own activities and thoughts. People become so accustomed to learning about them that the routine is just boring. Almost anything else that captures the attention of people who know us becomes more appealing than our random revelations about ourselves. The only solution is silence. Or so it seems.

But memory is an autumn leaf that
murmurs a while in the Autumn wind and
then is heard no more.
     ~~~~~

If you reveal your secrets to the wind,
you should not blame the wind for
revealing them to the trees.

~ Khalil Gibran ~
1883-1931

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Relationships change with the introduction of additional parties to one’s relationships. For example, Person A has two good friends: Person B and Person C. The interactions between Person A and Person B please both parties, as do the interactions between Person A and Person C. And Person B and Person C may have a perfectly satisfactory relationship with one another. But when Person B and Person C engage together with Person A, all the participants may find the interchange somewhat—or completely—unsatisfying. The intimacy of the relationship between Person A and Person B (and all the other combinations) degrades and becomes less fulfilling.

This is not always the case, of course. But it can explain why a person can have multiple sets of friends who, for whatever reason, do not mix well in certain combinations. Forcing the mix can ruin some or all of the relationships because the reason for the strained engagement are not always obvious. Friends can simply seem to drift apart for no reason, all the while the reason (obvious to a disinterested third party, perhaps) is an unwelcome infringement on the type and depth of intimacy in the relationship.  We sabotage ourselves with the most innocuous motivations.

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The splint on my left hand is both restrictive and cumbersome. And the pain beneath the splint is growing stronger with each passing hour. There’s no indication that it will become intolerable; it simply will be bothersome until I can remove the splint and/or until the pain fools me and morphs into something more sinister and dangerous. In the meantime, I’ll just whimper and whine.

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I hear squirrels frolicking on the roof. While some people would find that noise whimsical and somewhat cute, I find it troublesome and intrusive. I’m of a mind to climb onto the roof with a high-powered pellet gun and launch into an attack on the beasts. I’d take a more powerful weapon with me—a Winchester Model 94 125th Anniversary High Grade 30-30 Win Lever-Action Rifle—perhaps, but I do not own even the imaginary pellet gun, so wandering around on the roof with a $2,000 gun is well beyond the scope of reality. But the dream lives on, if only in muted shades of grey; the dream is not sufficiently powerful to merit showing itself in pure, bright, enhanced color. So the squirrels will live on, as was always the case but which now is acknowledged by virtue of the fact that I’ve abandoned my murderous fantasy.

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Mayoral Recall

The mayor of Cedar Rapids, Iowa is a recently-retired lawyer who also is husband to a woman who worked for me many years ago. The now-mayor and his wife, when the two of them lived in Houston, Texas, visited my late wife and me at our home occasionally, where we hosted them for weekend brunches that sometimes included our versions of Orange Julius. The ingredients in our version, my fading memory tells me, included egg whites and orange juice and ice and a bit of alcohol—maybe Amaretto.

My contacts with the now-mayor and his wife have been relatively rare over the years. Every year, I send her birthday greetings (because of the date of her birthday, it’s extremely easy to remember) and, much more rarely, exchange email updates with her. The only time I recall speaking directly with her husband was during a business event in Cedar Rapids sometime between 1990 and 1997. They had me over for dinner at their house one evening. She picked me up at my hotel, took me to their house, and gave me a ride back to my hotel after dinner.

To the best of my recollection, we rarely if ever spoke of politics. It has only been sometime during the last four years that I learned that the now-mayor identifies as Republican; I do not know how my former employee classifies herself. But I suspect both of them, regardless of their political affiliations, would say they are rather moderate in their political viewpoints; I have no real evidence to support that contention, but I feel pretty confident I am right, nonetheless.

My thoughts this morning about my ex-employee and her mayor husband were triggered, I suspect, by my explorations of various towns in Iowa: Fairfield, Decorah, and a few others. There’s nothing prompting my interest, other than ancient curiosity and recent coincidental explorations. And a recent email exchange with my former employee (inquiring into what she might be able to tell me about Fairfield) revealed that her husband is planning to run for a second term; the nonpartisan election is in November.

I have changed—in massive and fundamental ways—since I left the job where I met and hired the now-mayor’s wife. When I left Houston, the two of them remained there. I do not recall when they moved from Houston, returning to their native Iowa to rear their children. During the intervening years, between my departure from Houston and now, I have evolved into a completely different person. I’ve learned to better control my impulses and my anger and I’ve bounced from politically progressive to conservative to more progressive and then further to extremely progressive; I might even consider myself radically progressive now. My personality, aside from its political manifestations, has changed dramatically since those early days of young adulthood, too. I suspect my former employee has changed quite a lot since then, too, as has the now-mayor. But that’s pure conjecture. I know little of them. I know only slightly more of myself. I’d like to think I am a better person now than I was way back then, but how much do we really change—at our core—simply with the passage of time? Do we just learn to stifle and control ourselves more as the years go by, or do we actually mature and improve (or degrade) over time?

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I said it yesterday, but I’ll say it again: Happy Birthday to my brother, whose birthday is today. This morning, I’ll head in to Hot Springs for a Mohs procedure, a process whereby a dermatologist will carve away tissue from an identified squamous cell carcinoma and examine it microscopically. Once the pieces of carved tissue reveal no cancer, the dermatologist will conclude that he has removed all cancerous cells and I will be patched and sent home, hopefully never again to return for further treatment. Nothing is assured, of course, but this skin cancer is not one of the aggressive, dangerous forms. I have nothing to worry about, other than an unpleasant thought process involving the idea of carving away at my flesh. Presumably, a good anesthetic will be used; perhaps I should take tequila and gummies with me…but I’d probably better not.

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Later today, one of the beautiful women I sometimes write about will visit my IC and me, when we’ll talk about writing and where we’ll salivate over a chicken pot pie, courtesy of the visiting beautiful woman (differentiated from the beautiful woman who is one and the same as my IC). In the intervening hours between carvery and poetry, I will continue to organize files, one of my favorite pastimes. Oh, boy.

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Trying to Understand the World

Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Carol! And tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Tom!

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Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.

~ Jodi Picoult ~

I don’t know that I entirely accept Picoult’s statement, taken from her book, My Sister’s Keeper, but I understand it. I understand how disappointment can leave a person feeling lost and alone. It’s as if the world played a ruthless trick—teasing with optimism and hope, only to snatch them away and replace them with pessimism and despair. The cruelest form of bait and switch that takes away the confidence in one’s ability to cope with facts.

Writers of fiction may simply be responding to bitter reality. They replace it, either with more acceptable circumstances or by painting ugly alternatives that make what is seem far more tolerable than what could be.

Suicide is the sharpest, devastatingly intense, and irrevocable response to extreme disappointment. That disappointment with the world—whether external or completely internal—is more severe than most people, thankfully, will ever experience. People respond to excruciating disappointment in radically different ways, ranging from suicide to passionate, almost furious, rebellion against it. I can only barely begin to imagine the depth of disappointment a person must feel to reach the conclusion that suicide is the only acceptable response. The word, “disappointment,” seems utterly inadequate to describe the intensity of the pain; but I think that must be what it is. Disappointment with the world or disappointment with oneself.

To suggest I might even begin to understand the depths of despair that could drive a person to suicide may be considered by some to be the height of arrogance. But I cannot be alone in thinking it; my arrogance is not in thinking it, but in having the gall to share what I think. There are some thoughts that one simply does not share. Unless one happens to be me. That’s one of my multitude of flaws; I express myself, even when what is inside my brain is uncomfortable to the world around me. Maybe that’s the wellspring of disappointment.

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I delivered a packet of tax-related material to an accountant yesterday. Whether it is sufficient remains to be seen; I won’t even have the opportunity to discuss the material with her until two weeks hence. And, then, the conversation will be by telephone, thanks to COVID. Time is running low on the extension I was granted to file my taxes. I hope the accountant can zip through it in short order.

Between now and then, I intend to go through the morass of paper I’ve allowed to pile up during the last fourteen months, filing away what needs to be kept and disposing of what can safely be discarded. I loathe disorder, even though often I am the chief purveyor of chaos in my life. Perhaps that statement is telling: maybe I can take from it the simple truth that I loathe myself for being unable or unwilling to keep my life in order.

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Last night’s binge-fest, during which we watched several additional episodes of How to Get Away with Murder, was thought-provoking. The evolution of the main character’s personality continued to reveal her as both a troubled woman and someone whose bitter personality is easy to understand. At the core of her deeply unlikeable character traits are responses to terrible emotional experiences; ultimately, she hates herself for who she is. Yet who she is arises from what she has experienced. Her behaviors and her attitudes are predictable in light of what she has been through; yet until those behaviors and attitudes change, she can have no hope of overcoming her experiences. It’s like a Catch-22 on steroids. As improbable as the plot has become, the program is absolutely riveting. We’re nearing the end of the sixth and final season (on Netflix); we’re already mourning the passing of the show as we near the final episode.

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I’ll spend the next few years trying to understand the world, a continuation of what I’ve been doing for the past 67 years (almost 68). I don’t think I’m any closer now than I was 60 years ago. I wonder whether Aristotle or Leonardo da Vinci or Dante or the button-maker’s apprentice or anyone else ever succeeded in the quest to understand the world?  Hard to say. I’ve never been able to ask them.

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The Next Level

To those I may have wronged,
I ask forgiveness.
To those I may have helped,
I wish I had done more.
To those I neglected to help,
I ask for understanding.
To those who helped me,
I thank you with all my Heart.

~ Adaptation of a Prayer for Yom Kippur ~

A slightly different version of the quotation above came to my attention early this morning as I skimmed a Facebook message posted by a woman with whom I attended high school about six lifetimes ago. I know only a little about her, but her posts often suggest that she is a fundamentally religious person, although she seems skeptical and sarcastic about certain aspects of religion and life in general. I suppose we’re all a little like that.

I know very little about Judaism, but I know more today than I knew five years ago. Five years ago, I would have reacted to the Jewish religion in the same way I had always reacted to all other religions: with disdain, contempt, scorn. But as sometimes is the case, aging has brought with it a bit more tolerance, a touch more humility, and a tad more open-mindedness. And that has coincided with the recognition that  buried in the muck of organized religion and religious thought, there are kernels of truth. Not divine truth, but fundamental human truth; truth that lives within almost all of us in the form of compassion.

All of the foregoing  leads me to say  this: most religious holidays (even those steeped in metaphysical/divine/doctrinaire nonsense) have at their core some seeds of wisdom. Somewhere in there, hidden beneath all the ritual and assertions of divinity, fundamental principles of human decency are exposed; there, amidst the noise, is a vast expanse of silent peace.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is said to be the holiest day of the year in Judaism. With its central themes of atonement and repentance, the day’s importance addresses core ideas upon which Judaism is based. The day is observed not just by deeply religious Jews but by secular Jews who may not observe other holidays of the faith. According to Wikipedia, for many secular Jews the High Holy Days (of which Yom Kippur is the most holy) are the only times of the year during which they attend synagogue—causing synagogue attendance to soar. That’s irrelevant to my thinking this morning, but interesting, nonetheless. By the way, Yom Kippur this year will begin the evening of September 15 and end the evening of September 16.

Coincidentally, my sister-in-law sent me another quotation, based in religious thought, early this morning. I found it interesting, intriguing, and insightful:

Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

~ Buddha ~

Now that I allow myself to absorb the messages of religion (while still rejecting the supernatural or divine premises upon which so many religions are based), I find more and more concepts that coincide with my notions of truth. And it’s not just a sense that those concepts validate my own; increasingly, those concepts cause me to think more deeply about my own world view. Sometimes, they cause me to make minor—and in some cases, major—adjustments in that perspective.

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And, so, that’s where my head is this morning, as I prepare for day two of my efforts to finally get my 2020 taxes completed and filed.  Yesterday, I got a great deal done. I really need more than two days to finish the process of getting my paperwork all in order; not just tax paperwork, but general financial and related paperwork. The stuff that my IC admonishes me to leave behind in favor of relying entirely on electronic/magnetic versions of bills, etc. I will admit to getting more than a little irritated by constant snarky remarks about receiving and keeping paper copies of bills. One day, I may decide to rely more heavily on companies that promise to keep my records safe and available, but that day is not today, nor will it be a day this year and probably not next. At any rate, it won’t happen until I am satisfied that all my paper records are completely and totally in order and safely catalogued.

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Come hell or high water, I will explore parts of the world outside my sheltered sphere sometime next week. I’d like to experience it in a self-propelled recreational vehicle, but I guess I’ll have to rely on my car. If I could, though, I’d go along for the ride with a couple I know from church; they’re somewhere in Michigan at this point—or maybe in Canada by now—experiencing cooler weather and freedom from the daily miasma of Village politics.  But they are not examining Iowa, which I’m intent on doing, so riding with them would not meet my needs for the moment.

I’ve joked with friends that the female half of the couple wanted to get a smaller RV that she feels comfortable driving so she could, if tight-spaced RV living were to become too constraining, leave her male companion at a gas station along the way as she escaped to total solitude and freedom. No, she is devoted to him, and he to her, so that troublesome fantasy will not come to pass. But if they decide they don’t like their RV, maybe they would let me borrow it for awhile. Hmm. That’s not likely, either. My IC probably would have something to say about that.

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If the world were a just, fair, and comfortable place, I would have a breakfast this morning of steak and eggs or congee and miso soup or pork chops with a side of spicy grits. But the world is not that fair, just, and comfortable place. So, instead, I’ll probably have a bowl of thumb tacks drenched in motor oil and flavored with lye soap flakes. Or cereal. Same thing.

Off to the races. Today, I’ll call an accountant to try to take this thing to the next level.

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And in the End, Good Vibes

Some days, the photographic reminders sent to me by Microsoft and Google—images from this day three or six or ten years ago—are welcome souvenirs of happy experiences. But some days the images bring back memories that tear me apart. They remind me of what I’ve lost, never to find again. I feel mixed emotions when I see those photographs. On one hand, I want the images etched in my brain forever; on the other, I want to smash the computer screen for its cruelty in taunting me about a life I’ll never experience again. It’s not the computer screen, of course. It’s me. It’s my response to a photographic image. It’s an unexpected trigger that I can barely withstand. Suddenly, my plans for the day are ruined, replaced by memories that cause tears to flood down my face. It will pass. But never completely.

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I cannot let photos ruin today’s plans. Today, I must devote my energies to completing long-delayed tax forms. Today, I must find and dredge up 1099s and their brethren. Those forms are convoluted bureaucratic evidence of our society’s worship of and responsibilities for financing war and imprisonment and society restrictions on individual freedoms. And, of course, hurricane and forest fire relief and interstate highways. But getting a reliable picture of how our tax dollars are spent is a little like determining the make and model of cars on a snow-covered highway by examining the tracks their tires make: it’s a long, excruciating, and imprecise undertaking. Here’s a graph showing 2015 figures on discretionary spending; a graph incorporating mandatory spending would present a different picture (with only around 11% of total expenditures going toward military spending, compared to 54% of discretionary spending).

Ah, but I’m getting off-track, as I am wont to do. I need to return to the issue at hand; namely, getting my taxes done. If I don’t, the Federal Government could take possession of my bank accounts, cease payment of my Social Security benefits, terminate my Medicare benefits, and send heavily-armed enforcers whose faces are hidden behind camouflage masks to drag me into the streets to make a bloody, screaming example of me. Well, I may be exaggerating a tad. Suffice it to say failure to file my tax forms, even after paying my taxes, would result in unpleasantness I do not wish to experience. So I better get to it, and soon.

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Yesterday’s power outage in parts of the western section of the Village kept us (and all other members and guests) from attending our church. Instead, we took advantage of the unexpected and unplanned freedom by lolling about; eating lunch out and, in leisurely fashion, filling my IC’s display cases (there’s probably a less commercial-sounding name for them) with glass and crystal and other showy pieces of art disguised as drinkware and such. We thought about inviting a friend over to exhibit laughter-inducing behavior, but that thought came too late in the day to act on. So we were modestly productive, instead. And we visited with another friend, who had lent us a spectacularly good book on Hamilton (the musical), to return his book and chat about his impending plans to relocate to another state.

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We are not alone in desiring change. Change of scenery, change of climate, change of attitude, change of lifestyle. Just change. Last night, my IC called to speak to one of the organizers of a UU church in one potential destination. The organizer’s involvement in creating a new “fellowship” clearly demonstrates the woman’s interest in change. Everyone wants change; but not too much. We want change sufficient to recognize that there’s a difference, but not so much as to upend our lives completely. The trick, of course, is to know where that sweet spot rests. And it’s vital that we recognize the losses that accompany change, if we have any hope of filling in the gaps caused by those losses. In an ideal world, friends would all simultaneously come to the conclusion that change is right for them, too, at the same time. But deeply engrained idealism is reserved for the young and inexperienced; people who have been around the block a few times know that idealism has the ability to either re-create youth or crush the soul. It’s best to be careful around seeking the ideal in any environment, because ideal circumstances can come with long, sharp knives in the hands of highly-practiced meat carvers who have bad attitudes. That is, the ideal seldom is.

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A promise is a promise. I promised myself I would attack taxes today (and tomorrow, if that’s what it takes), and I shall keep that promise. So, no more delays. I’ll wrap up this post, make some more coffee, have a bowl of cereal, and get to work. Please think of me today as you go about your happier-than-mine day. Send good vibes; in anticipation that you will, I am sending them to you.

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Circling Back

Attraction and aversion are two feelings
that keep people within the bondage
of ignorant repetitive behavior…
If people do not crave to be pleased,
they will not be displeased.
What causes mental suffering is not the environment
but the mind itself.

~ Muso Kokushi ~

The wisdom of simple thought is both straightforwardly plain and intricately complex. Wisdom arises from the intersection of deep knowledge and good judgment, both of which emerge from experience transformed into truth. But truth is a fleeting condition that changes with every change in the reality in which we find ourselves.  In other word, truth is contextual. And so, too, are knowledge and judgment and everything that springs from them. We live in an ever-changing universe which requires constant and instantaneous changes to our environment if we have any hope of surviving. But survival is not a synonym for happiness, so there must be something else that drives us toward contentment. Survival, alone, isn’t it. That argues for making survival a secondary objective of living. Maybe contentment should be the primary motive. Yet, following the argument in Kokusi’s assertion, if people do not crave to be content, they will not be discontented. Looking backward a bit, if people do not crave to survive, they will not…what? Survive? Care about survival? Wisdom sometimes requires abandoning mental gymnastics long enough to be carried on a stretcher to the finish line.

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Why? That perpetual question that children ask is maddening. Why, indeed? Do we ever abandon that innate curiosity? Is our thirst for knowing the unknowable ever satisfied? The answer too many of us accept is, “just because.” That’s equivalent to “who knows?” or “it was meant to be.” There are answers to the question. We may not have the patience to learn what they are, but there are answers. We may not have the mental acuity to understand the answers, but that does not negate the fact that answers exist. We might give up on answers that can be measured against reality in favor of relying on the belief in magic, instead (church, anyone?). There are answers; legitimate answers. But we might not recognize them as answers. We might, instead, think they are questions. Why? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton had the answer to why. We seem to have been unable to accept that realization, though. We can replace “action” with other things, realizing the truth that lies therein: For every emotion there is an equal and opposite emotion. For every truth there is an equal and opposite fiction. Or, put another way, For every truth, there is an equal and opposite lie. For every distance, there is an equal and opposite proximity. For every gentleness, there is an equal and opposite roughnessFor every love, there is an equal and opposite hatred. For every compassion, there is an equal and opposite cruelty.

In fact, the answers are clear and indisputable: answers to “why?” are abundant. And factual and truthful but utterly unsatisfactory because they are never complete. There’s always a follow-up; a second part to the question that circles back on the answer like a cougar on its prey.

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Cuttery

Geospatial World reports that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which keeps a record of  satellites orbiting Earth, says there were 6,542 satellites in orbit around our planet. Of those, 3,372 satellites are active and 3,170 are inactive—as of January 1, 2021. SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, Firefly Aerospace, etc. have been busy since that date launching more satellites. In fact, as of June 30, SpaceX had made twenty additional launches this year. The company provides a “ride-share” program in which it propels rockets into space on behalf of customers that want satellites in orbit; the satellites are delivered to orbit by SpaceX, which then returns its rockets to the ground.

I explored Earth-orbiting satellites as a follow-up to a story I read online yesterday that described the unsuccessful launch of a Firefly Aerospace rocket. The launch was  the company’s first attempt to reach Earth orbit with a rocket carrying a commercial payload of satellites.

Space “travel” has been in the news lately because certain multi-billionaires have famously spent enormous sums of money to take what amounts to space tourism excursions. Some people are up in arms about those expensive vacations, arguing that the money would be better spent on humanitarian efforts here on Earth. While I agree that space tourism is wasteful and decadent, I gladly would take the trip if the opportunity presented itself. But more importantly, I think space exploration is vital. We learn so much simply by sending rockets into orbit. Even the unsuccessful launches and the launches carrying egotists and adventurers can give us important data about our planet, space, and the “glue” that keeps the universe from expanding out of control into oblivion. Or something like that.

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If the world wishes to treat me fairly this morning, I will go get a haircut shortly. I plan to arrive at the barber shop just about the time they open so I will be among the first customers. Then, I will come home, pick up my IC, and we will go to Home Plate for a haircutting celebratory breakfast. The remainder of the day will be spent, in bits and pieces, getting things organized. That is, putting things away—things from the merger of two households. This merger continues to drum into me the fact that I own too much “stuff.” Almost everyone does. At least everyone I know in this country built on the premise that “more” is better. This place designed physically and philosophically to follow the mantra “money and things it can buy equate in direct proportion to happiness.” Of course, we know that’s not true. But we continue to behave as if it were. Money and things, especially things attached to sentimental memories, rule our lives. We do not control our lives; we response to monetary and sentimental commands, urging us on to collect more stuff that we believe will give us ultimate and absolute fulfilment. Well, that may be a stretch. But not much.

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Time to dress, pee, and flee. Off to the haircuttery for a change of image and, perhaps, a corresponding change of personality. We shall see. We always do.

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Take a Break

Unexpected consequences. I’m referring to the effects triggered by COVID-19 on the automotive manufacturing supply chain. An article posted yesterday on AP Online reported that GM and Ford have halted some production in response to a worsening chip shortage. Both automakers have temporarily closed factories in response to disruptions in the supply of chips needed to build various automobiles. Disruption of the supplies was caused by COVID-19 closures of primarily Asian factories that supply chip components.

Unintended consequences get to the heart of why you never really understand an adaptive problem until you have solved it. Problems morph and “solutions” often point to deeper problems. In social life, as in nature, we are walking on a trampoline. Every inroad reconfigures the environment we tread on.

~~ Richard Pascale ~

Even before the supply interruption, COVID dealt some blows to production in the form of forced factory closures, productivity declines due to staffing shortages (a result of both sickness and the fear of sickness) and related matters. Will this long-lived catastrophe ever play itself out? And, even if it does, what other unexpected consequences will surprise and startle us and otherwise cause grief and trauma and mounting stress? And what chain reactions will those emotional tolls trigger?

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If I had sufficient money and youth (and its attendant energy), I would use this enormously chaotic economic period to start a business of some kind. I do not know precisely what sort of business I would start, only that it would go against prevailing wisdom as to sure-fire failures. Perhaps a pricey, exotic restaurant steeped in international flavors; struggling for staff and product deliveries. Or maybe a hydroponic tomato farm in New Mexico or Arizona, where water and reliable employees can be extremely hard to come by. Instead, I might opt to operate a radio station devoted to news and entertainment with a focus on evangelical atheism. The point would be to go against the grain; provided, of course, innovative market research revealed an unmet demand for the products/services the business would offer. And provided the unusual aspects of the business could successfully generate newsworthy “buzz.” But who am I kidding? I have neither enough money nor enough lifespan left in my respective accounts to see the new business through to completion. So, instead, I’ll just fantasize about it. And maybe I’ll use an imaginary business or two as fodder for some short fiction.

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Hurricane Ida did a great deal of damage and ruined a lot of lives. But the worst of the storm may not have been its impact on the Gulf Coast. The worst might have been the horrendous flooding that is taking place in the Northeast. As of this morning, media reports say 48 people in five northeastern states died as a result of floodwaters from the dying storm. That is on top of the thirteen deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Ach! What tragedy.

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I woke this morning to the sound of pelicans scooping up fish as the birds glided over the early-morning stillness of a coastal lagoon. It was a dream, of course, but it felt and smelled and sounded absolutely real. I was in a small boat on the shore, alone, just about to launch into the water. It was an idyllic scene until I turned to discover that I was on the edge of a golf course where a tournament was being played. The attention of the crowd of spectators was on me as I slogged through the muddy periphery of the course toward my boat, which had drifted away from me. Apparently, I had interrupted play on a key hole. I was angry and embarrassed until I woke up to discover I was in bed. My embarrassment faded, leaving only anger.

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We got a great deal done yesterday, but there is so very much more to do. Suddenly, this morning, I do not care. I do not care that the house is messy. I do not care that we have so much work to do. I just want to relax for a week or two, though I know I cannot do that. Next week, I have to deal with long-delayed obligations. And I have to have my Mohs procedure done on my little skin cancer. And I have a required doctor’s appointment in preparation for a referral to an ENT doctor. Perhaps the following week we can take a road trip. I feel a need to hit the road and let the world behind us just molder while we’re away.

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Once in a while you need to take a break and visit yourself.

~ Audrey Giorgi ~

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