Mind Spill

I awoke about 2:30 this morning. I got up for a while, then went back to bed to try to sleep. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour, I drifted off. But I awoke again just before five with an ache in my upper back, just below my neck. It’s reminiscent of the pain I had a few years ago, when I learned I have bone spurs and stenosis of some vertebrae; that causes nerves to be snagged or pinched, resulting in pain in my back, shoulders, and right arm. Fortunately, I feel no pain in my shoulders and arm. I may have spoken too soon; my shoulders are beginning to ache, too. This pain may be completely unrelated to my earlier bout. In fact, I suspect it may be caused by stress. This is not a good time to have physical maladies, in that my wife is returning home today from the rehab center. She needs me to be in top form so I can help her convalesce. The answer is: Chill. Relax. Unflinch.

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Against my better judgment, I watched last night’s presidential debate. While it did not replicate the chaos of the first one (of which I watched only a few minutes before turning off the television as an act of self-preservation), it was a pointless exercise. People have made up their minds by now. Either they remain locked in blind allegiance to an incompetent con artist and liar or they reject him and opt to take their chances with the other guy. That’s not a particularly glowing endorsement, but at least the other guy recognizes the need to give credence to advice from people with expertise in many, many disciplines (rather than claim absolute, “perfect” knowledge of areas utterly out of his depth). I hope against hope for a landslide victory for the other guy.

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There was a time not so long ago that I would have said I would jump at the chance to move to a Scandinavian country. Lately, though, after watching several political and crime dramas set in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland, I have begun to question that concept. If the dramas present realistic experiences that take place in those countries, those places are not as “pure” as I’ve wanted to believe. The series I’ve watched have shown violent drug culture, murders, political backstabbing, and various other forms of human deviance. Maybe, though, television and film from those countries is like our own: exaggerated portrayals of relatively rare occurrences. Moving to Scandinavia would involve language problems, too. That’s a downside. But, then, is there anyplace in the world today I could consider a true haven? With COVID-19 spreading like wildfire, is it possible to find safety and serenity anywhere? I am afraid not. So, the question becomes: where is the least treacherous place, the place where serenity might visit on occasion? I am still looking.

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Speaking of Scandinavian dramas, I was several episodes into the series Deadwind (a Finnish crime drama) when Netflix went wonky. When I try to watch Deadwind, the system freezes.  This has been going on for several days. After a few tries, I gave up and switched to something else. My first switch, last Monday, landed me on a film I recommend highly: The Trial of the Chicago 7. It brought back the emotions I felt during the 1968 demonstrations and subsequent police rage. Before Deadwind and The Trial of the Chicago 7, I watched Borderliner (also known as Grenseland), categorized as a Nordic noir crime drama. I enjoyed it very much, too. I recommend it. Before that, I tried to watch Schitt’s Creek; I managed to watch four episodes of the first season. I wanted to like it, because it has received such glowing critical reviews. But I could not; I found it slapstick silly; a waste of time. I might return to it one day, but for now I’ll stick to stuff that I find more appealing.

I also watched the pilot for the series Ratched.  I think I will enjoy it, but I will have to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not there at the moment.

As I think of all the Nordic dramas I want to watch, I wonder whether I will be able to do it. My wife’s return home will certainly change my routines; I may have to devote considerable time to her, as opposed to whiling away hours watching television. We’ll see, we will.

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I have not had breakfast yet and I think I might forego it this morning. I am not hungry in the least. I know what I’ll  have for lunch; tuna salad. When I got up this morning, I made tuna salad even before I made a cup of coffee. I hope my wife will be hungry for lunch when she gets home and I know she enjoys a simple tuna salad. Dinner tonight is up in the air. While I’m willing to cook, I think my time this afternoon will be better spent getting used to the wheelchair, hospital bed, Hoyer lift, etc. And talking with my wife. My wife’s sister will be here and I think she is willing to pick up dinner for us from El Jimador; my wife loves Mexican food and I am certain she has had none for the last three months, so I hope either  Ranchero Jalisco or chile verde will please her taste buds. But she gets to choose, not me.

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The Democratic Club of Hot Springs Village is having a shindig today, including free brats and beer. I had planned on attending, but will miss it. It’s really rather heart-warming to see a fairly large contingent of progressives in Hot Springs Village. We’re far outnumbered by conservatives and their mutant brethren, Tea Partiers. But that does not dissuade us from announcing that we are proud liberals. While I do not necessarily buy into all aspects of the Democratic Party platform, my philosophies tend to mirror those that launch Democratic positions. So, it’s as close as I come to having an organization that represents my point of view.

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I’ve been writing here, off and on, for too long. Time to face the day.

 

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Coping Caregiver

Finally, I found a caregiver agency that could commit to having someone here when my wife comes home. They will stay until around 8 pm and will return the next two days for twelve hour shifts. I hope, during that time, I can learn what I need to know so I can do most of the caregiving myself. I simply cannot afford ongoing care without doing something drastic like selling my house; and the proceeds from the sale would be gone in a year at the rate things are going.

In a short while, I will take the wheelchair I borrowed from the Village Loan Closet to Good Sam so my wife can be discharged in that chair. That way, she won’t have to undergo a chair-to-chair transfer when she gets home. The caregiver agency representative I met yesterday said I should arrange a nightgown for my wife that buttons down the full length of the back. I made a trip to Walmart this morning, where I learned they do not carry such a thing. I was advised, too, to get a special kind of sling for use with a Hoyer lift; no luck on that front yet, either.

To make things just a touch more difficult, I have been unable to get my wife on the phone since yesterday morning. I called her early yesterday; she picked up but did not continue the conversation. I then saw her briefly at the wound center, but our interaction was brief and superficial. Since then, she has not called me and she has not answered my calls. I am afraid she may be in the midst of another bout of deep depression. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

Many people have admonished me to avoid burnout by taking respites from my caregiver duties from time to time. The caregiving has not even started and I already feel the mental wear and tear and the sense of physical strain. The answer to that is to deliberately “chill.” That’s the answer.

Yesterday, two people from my church delivered a twin bed to my house, along with some birthday goodies. I cannot say enough good things about those two women; they epitomize goodwill and compassion. And they are among a legion of other people who have offered help in a stressful time. Their generosity their insistence that I call whenever I need assistance are what will enable me to cope with the challenges of being a caregiver.

It’s time for me to go deliver the wheelchair. I hope the medical supply company does not call while I am in the midst of that task. If so, I’ll cope.

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Strength

The first thing I did this morning after getting up, even before making coffee, was to put sheets in the washer. Yesterday, I stripped our bed and, with some much-needed help from the guy who painted my deck (and his wife), disassembled the four-poster bed. The deflated mattress and box springs are leaning against the wall and the components of the heavy wooden frame are in the garage, sitting where the Camry normally sits. The Camry is in the driveway. When the sheets are clean and dry, I will fold them and put them away. In the bedroom, in place of the disassembled queen bed, we’ll have a twin bed for me, lent by a friend, and a hospital bed for my wife, provided by the local Health Mart.

Only after I made coffee and checked my email this morning and discovered a Jacquie Lawson ecard did it register with me that today is my birthday. I’m sure it would have occurred to me at some point, even without the card, but I was oblivious to the fact until I saw the card in my inbox. I suppose birthdays become less occasions to celebrate, as we age; instead, they become reminders of our mortality. At twenty, thirty, even forty, we can imagine being twice our age. The possibility disappears about forty; maybe forty-five.

My wife has an appointment with the wound clinic in Hot Springs this morning, so I will drive into town and will wait until the end of her appointment to learn the doctor’s assessment; will she finally be able to put weight on the front of her foot? If so, that may accelerate the process of recovering her strength. If not, her strength will continue to ebb, requiring that much more effort and time to rebuild it. Either way, her experience will be different after she comes home. She will have less access to therapy to help rebuild her strength, courtesy of Medicare’s idiotic rules. I am confident many of Medicare’s rules and regulations were created by people who have never experienced, nor known anyone who has experienced, the challenges brought on by age. The Medicare system (indeed, the entire health care system in this country) should be taken over by people over sixty-five years of age. The wisdom of experience should inform policies and procedures that impact people; not the arrogance of youthful inexperience.

My neighbors and friends, the ones who sent the Jacquie Lawson card, had planned to have me over for a birthday dinner tonight, but I cancelled because my mind is racing and I am afraid I would seem distracted and unappreciative. I would be distracted; I would be appreciative, but unable to show it. It’s best that I cancelled. I would have appeared an ungrateful guest.

Yesterday, I thought I had secured assistance in the form of two “helpers” from a senior services company to help with my wife’s return home. But, after I was ready to hand over a “retainer” check and authorize ACH withdrawals from my checking account, I was informed the price I was given was half the amount I would actually have to pay. The actual price was impossible, so I began looking again. I have spoken to five or six companies, all but one of which said they did not have sufficient staffing to be able to help. I have an appointment today with another company; if it cannot provide one or two people to assist me, I am not sure what I will do. I can ask people from my church, but that might be asking too much…spending hours and hours in my house, helping my wife into and out of bed and into and out of a wheelchair.  I promised myself, and my wife, I would not put her in a nursing home. One way or another, I will keep that promise.

Even before her return home, I am feeling the pressure of caring for her. The reality of helping her recover her strength, if it is recoverable, is settling over me like a blanket. Or a shroud. I am not certain I have the wherewithal to do what I promised I would do. My physical strength has declined over the years and I have done little to counterbalance that decay. I suppose now, though it’s late, is the time to rebuild that strength. I better have some protein for breakfast if I hope to build my strength.

 

 

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Coming Home

I received a surprise phone call yesterday morning. Good Sam is discharging my wife on Friday because her progress does not meet Medicare standards for improvement, they say. Medicare will not continue to pay, so she is coming home. While I planned for that, the timing surprised me. I am scrambling to prepare for her and trying to figure out just how I will care for her. Fortunately, several people have stepped forward to offer support and assistance. At this stage, though, I don’t quite know what assistance I (and she) will need. This morning, I’ll disassemble our four-poster bed so we can put a rented hospital bed and a twin bed in the master bedroom. Sometime between now and Friday, a hospital bed, a Hoyer lift, and various other “stuff” will be delivered (I hope). In between, I need to go shopping for things she’ll need.

I hope her return home will set in motion the recovery of her happiness. Being locked away in an isolated medical setting with no visitors for three months is, I think, akin to torture. I wish I had brought her home from the hospital instead of relying on Good Sam to help her; in my view, Good Sam did just the opposite. Now it’s my chance to make things right.

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Escapist

I’ve been binging on Deadwind, described by Forbes as “Nordic noir,” for the last few evenings. Like so many other Scandinavian films and television series I’ve watched during the past few years, it is—to me—absolutely gripping. I cannot quite put my finger on why I find these Scandinavian crime dramas so much more appealing than the domestic versions; probably has something to do with the fact that they seem more realistic, as if I’m actually engaged in the action, rather than simply following it. So, although the plot is nothing new (murder, duh), it is executed quite well.  The first season of Deadwind has twelve episodes; the second, only 8. At the rate I’m going, I suspect I’ll wrap it up within the next few days. Then, I’ll move on to something else; more than likely, another ScandiDrama.

But maybe not. I’m interested in another noir series, this one (Hinterland) a Welsh noir series originally titled Y Gwyll (Welsh for “The Dusk”).  It, too, is a police drama. I love the IMDB description: A noir crime drama set in Aberystwyth, Wales, where troubled DCI Tom Mathias solves murders while searching for redemption. Something about that simple description appeals to me. The series’ languages are Welsh and English; I suspect I’ll rely on subtitles for both, given my ears’ not-infrequent difficulty with accents.

Though most of the films and series I’ve watched lately have been at least modestly stimulating, intellectually, if I am honest about them I have to admit they all are simply escapist. I watch them and allow myself to get absorbed by them so my mind is freed from worry for a while. The reason I know they are purely escapist is this: after watching an entire series, I cannot recall much about it. It’s as if my mind was on autopilot during my viewing. I enjoy the hell out of them, but I have to coax details about them from my memory (if I want to remember them). I suppose this could be a symptom of an underlying physical or mental problem, but I don’t think so. I think it’s evidence that I’m escaping into the television screen. I used to escape by getting into my car and taking long, aimless daytrips. Not these days. These days I read subtitles and vicariously experience foreign countries and their all-too-familiar problems with crime triggered by greed, jealousy, fear, and other caustic emotions.

While trying to attach a title to this short post, I learned I had already entitled two posts, “Escape,” and had included the word “escape” in two more titles. The psychoanalyst in me believes there is meaning in the repetitive return to the term. The psychoanalyst in me sees evidence that I have a history of psychological imprisonment; a sense of being caged or chained to situations from which I feel a need to flee. Fortunately, I am ill-equipped to be a psychoanalyst; my license to practice would be revoked before I started. So I’ll have to be satisfied that my proclivity toward using “escape” is simply coincidental. And this post shall be entitled, “Escapist.”

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Is the Afternoon Shot?

Something is awry when, at just a bit after two in the afternoon, one feels a sudden desire for a shot of good whiskey. The onset of such a craving should wait until after dinner; that’s the natural time for it. But my thirst for something to slap me in the face with its aroma and sting on the tongue refuses to pay attention to the clock. No matter, though; I do not possess good whiskey at the moment. The closest I come is Seagram’s Seven Crown, blended American whiskey best suited for mixed drinks, not for downing from a shot glass. Would that I still had some Maker’s Mark or some Jack Daniels black label. Oh, well. Or, I could go for a very nice añejo tequila, instead. I am equipped for that; indeed, I have good tequila, lime, and salt, the ideal triumvirate. But, still, it’s not even 2:30 p.m.

The question arises in my mind, of course; why do I feel like a stiff drink at this unwholesome hour? It is a rarity, indeed, which is a good thing. A frequent longing for afternoon whiskey or tequila could be problematic.

I blame my youngest brother for this sudden urge to indulge myself. He wrote an email earlier today expressing a desire to try a sidecar, a mixed drink he has never had. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one, either. Though I’d like to try one, I am not ready for one today. But the thought of brandy turned my mind to other good stuff; I’m sure that’s how bourbon found its way into my brain. From there, it was just a matter of time before my mind turned to shots of good liquor, zeroing in on good whiskey and then substituting tequila for whiskey. If I lived in a civilized state, I could go buy some good whiskey today; I live in Arkansas, though, a state that prohibits the sale of liquor on Sunday because…fanaticism, AKA religion on steroids.

It’s now 2:43 p.m. and I have successfully avoided shots of anything, so I may be out of the woods. Or I may slip into the kitchen and pretend I am sitting at a waterside bar on Lake Chapala, washing my cares away. Time will tell.

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Comfort

Thus far, I have resisted the temptation to turn on the heat, opting instead to cope with the moderate discomfort of too cool temperatures by wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt in the house. This morning, the indoors temperature is 66 degrees, a couple of degrees cooler than yesterday, despite the fact that the outdoors temperature is considerably warmer than yesterday. I suspect houses retain heat for quite a while, regardless of cooling outside temperatures, but over time the retained heat escapes. That’s my explanation, anyway, for the cooler inside air in the face of warmer outside air. If today were to be sunny, I suspect the indoors temperature would rise considerably, and quickly; but the forecast is for clouds. So, my question to myself: should I turn on the heat, or should I continue to cope? At the moment, my answer is that I will continue to cope. No point in wasting energy when I can be reasonably comfortable in lounging attire. Of course, when I take a shower, my attitude may change; I will wish for a bathroom heater for a while, I imagine.

A few degrees one way or the other should not command so much of my attention. Before the age of HVAC systems, people dealt with the vagaries of weather without pushing buttons or turning dials. Their options in relatively recent times might have included decisions about opening or closing windows or vents, turning fans on or off, putting a log on the fire (or not), and adding or discarding layers of clothes. I think it pays to remember that modern conveniences are not necessities. Overreliance on conveniences tends to rob us of our ability to deal creatively with our environment. And that reliance tends to involve using vast amounts of nonrenewable energy. I wonder how much energy might be saved if every household in the USA took a one-week sabbatical from using energy sources with which we have become so comfortable and on which we rely: no driving, no electricity, no HVAC systems…okay, I’ll allow refrigeration for food…and so forth? Unfortunately, we will never know with certainty because most of us would be unwilling to put up with the inconvenience. Unless forced to by natural disaster or some other such calamity.

But IF we were to go for a week without using power, what would it reveal about us? That we are soft, demanding whiners? That we have the capacity to understand that convenience and necessity are different? That we can adjust to trying circumstances with grace? That we are not suited for an earlier era of self-reliance or collective support? Who knows? I don’t. I would be interested to find out, though. I have been through lengthy periods without electricity, though it has been many years ago. I coped, then. Would I cope just as well today?

When the air conditioner is in use, we set the thermostat to 78 degrees. We set it at 68 degrees when we turn on the heat. So today’s 66 degrees is only two degrees cooler than “normal.” I should recall, though, that even at 68 degrees we often wear layers or comfortable lounging clothes around the house. And we occasionally turn up the thermostat a degree or two for a short while for the sake of comfort. And we sometimes rely on the fireplace for radiant heat. Obviously the ability to control the temperature in one’s home simply by adjusting a thermostat is a luxury. We should contemplate that more often than we do. We should recognize how incredibly fortunate we are to live in a time and place that such luxuries exist for us.

I think my decision to keep my hands off the thermostat, in spite of wishing I felt warmer, is responsible for this post. I’ve forced myself to acknowledge my reliance on modern technology for comfort. Perhaps I rely on modern technology to define what constitutes a comfortable temperature; would comfort be defined differently if I did not have access to the thermostat? I don’t know. But it’s worth thinking about.

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Edging Into the Day, Wearing Shoes

The southeastern sky is a remarkable vision this morning. Purple and pink and grey and deep blue peek through spaces between leaves and branches as yet unlit by the morning sun. Where the sky is not partially hidden by the forest, white and violet and grey compete for prominence.  The absence of clouds to soak up and refract the light lets the sunlight dissolve the darkness without interruption.

It is quite cool this morning—37 degrees outside and 67 degrees inside, according to my thermometer. I have yet to turn on the heat, knowing it would fill only a temporary need. Today’s forecast high of 70 degrees and clear skies will allow the windows in the house to amplify the sun’s heat, making artificial warmth unnecessary.

My first task of the day, aside from the regular routine of showering, shaving, and coffee, will be to join a group of church members and friends as we collectively clean a roadway of trash and litter.  That should take no more than an hour or so, given the number of us working separately and the relatively short length of roadway we have been assigned to clean. Next, I will travel to the Garland County Fairgrounds, where a hazardous household waste collection event will take place. After almost seven years in our house, I am finally getting rid of all the gallon and quart buckets (many almost full) of paint the former owner of the house left here: seventeen gallons and 7 quarts. I have more that I should take, but I have no more room in the trunk. I can take the remainder the next time such an event is held.

After I take care of that task, I will do some odds and ends around the house, make shopping lists for groceries, hardware, and related needs, and have lunch. Sometime after lunch, I will go visit my wife. She has been moved to  a room with a window facing the parking lot, just off a sidewalk. I can go stand at the window and we can talk on the phone while physically seeing one another. It’s not the same as being in the same room, but it has to do for now. Her sister and I went to see her yesterday; she seemed to be in good spirits; we talked for almost an hour. Then, last night around 9:30 I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from her; we talked for almost half an hour.

A couple of nights ago, after another very pleasant afternoon visit that last about 45 minutes, I got a call telling me her blood pressure was extremely low and that her nurses were going to give her intravenous fluids and they had been directed to stop several medications that can cause blood pressure to drop. I called her immediately and she said they had already started the IV. Of course I worried about it all night. The next morning, her blood pressure had rallied to low normal levels.  I find myself constantly on edge about her state of health, wondering whether she is getting sufficient fluids, proper nutrition, adequate therapy and stretching exercises, etc. I have to be available whenever she might need me, though I don’t know just why that would be, given that she is under the care of medical and healthcare professionals.

On edge. Edging into the day. Always tense, as if the day could spring an unwelcome surprise on me at any moment. Coffee probably doesn’t help much in that regard, but it tastes wonderful and holding a warm mug in my hand feels right. I suppose I could try caffeine-free hot tea for awhile (that’s what my wife drinks); I like it quite a lot, but I still prefer coffee. But sometimes, when I deviate from the norm and have a cup of hot tea, I feel a sense of comfort that coffee does not give me. I wonder why that is?  Hot tea and an orange-cranberry scone might do the trick for me this morning. The hot tea is easily accessible; the orange-cranberry scone, not so much. I used to buy orange-cranberry scones at a Starbucks in Dallas when I took my long morning walks. I bought one for myself and one for my wife, which I took back home to her. She likes them, too, but I think she might prefer blueberry scones. Why I’m reminiscing about scones is a mystery to me. So many things are mysterious. Shoes, for instance. Why do humans were shoes? Why did we not evolve like the rest of the animal kingdom, our feet protected by thick skin or protective pads or whatever? I wonder when the first shoes, or shoe-prototypes, were worn? Where were the people who wore them and what caused them to make them? We’ll never know, so the best we can do is to speculate. That’s a worthy thing to do on a moderately lazy Saturday morning: speculate about the first shoe-wearers.

It’s almost time for me to head to church, where we’ll gather, be given our assigned routes, and equipped with gloves and bags and vests and “pickers” to grab refuse from the roadside. One more sip of coffee should finish the cup. Then, I will step in the day, wearing comfortable (more or less) shoes.

 

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Searing Focus

You wake up one morning, still a little sleepy but ready to tackle the day before you. After a cup of coffee, you choose the clothes you will wear. You get dressed and prepare to leave the house on your first errand of the day, a trip to the hardware store to buy a replacement for a worn exterior door knob. The knob works, but you want a lockset with a lever instead of a knob. Just before you get to the door into the garage, you decide to take one last look at the worn knob; not because you need to, but because you have an odd feeling about it. You suddenly feel guilty about planning to discard the knob for a lever. Ach! You brush away the feeling, go to your car, and make the trip to the hardware store.

The door hardware aisle is densely packed with options of all kind. You study all the options long and hard and select a brushed nickel set with levers on both sides; no round knobs. But when you set your choice of lockset on the counter, an image of the old worn doorknob pops up in your head.

[EDIT: POSTED UNINTENTIONALLY. I WILL COMPLETE THIS POST ONE DAY.]

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Imagining a Life Without

Materialism creeps into our lives without our knowledge or consent. We see something interesting or hear about an item that appeals to a longing we think is within us. Or we watch an advertisement designed to trigger that longing, even though the longing may be a product of marketing minds whose job it is to create desire where none existed before. However, it happens, we acquire material things. Occasionally, we recognize the pointlessness of accumulation for the sake of accumulation, but only rarely do we react by taking control of our tendency toward instant—or only modestly delayed—gratification.

I cannot begin to recall all the conversations I have had with people who recognized, when they prepared for a household move, the enormous burden of over-accumulation. They were shocked at the sheer volume of “stuff” they had collected. Often, they vowed to discard all the excess, keeping only the necessities, and to never again allow materialism to control their lives. Many of them have expressed thoughts similar to these: “I realized that accumulating material goods had no appreciable impact on my happiness. In fact, when I discovered that I had collected enormous amounts of what amounted to useless garbage, I was stunned. I vow to never again permit myself to buy for the sake of short-term gratification.” Or words to that effect.  Most of those words, though, were hollow. As mine have been.

Recently, I have played with the idea of imagining a life without all the individual pieces of clutter in my life. I try to imagine how different my life might be if an item around the house were to simply disappear. Thus far, I have decided my life would be impacted to almost no extent if all the knickknacks on display on shelves were gone; the empty shelf would look slightly different. My clothes closet would be roomier if most of the clothes I seldom or never wear were to escape. The drawers in the kitchen would have fewer items in them if the kitchen tools I never use were to disappear. Of course, it’s easy to imagine life without the items that don’t really matter. But what of the ones that do?

I regularly glance at clocks throughout the house. When I imagine a life without them, I cannot foresee any insurmountable obstacles. And if the cordless phones in rooms around the house were to disappear, I would get by without undue hardship. I have discovered, in thought at least, that I could live comfortably without staplers, pots and pans of multiple sizes and shapes, most of the chairs in the house, all the tables (provided I could sit at the counter), and dozens upon dozens of other things.

I could live without the gadgets I have allowed to enter my life: the Echo Dot that serves as home to Alexa, whose weather forecasts and jokes both are unreliable; the electric kitchen timer that allows me to ignore time until reminded; the remotes for two televisions (and the two televisions); the ceiling fans; etc., etc, Of course, some of these items, and many more, seem to add convenience to my life, but they also rob me of presence. I do not seem to pay close attention to the really important things around me because my attention is diverted or made unnecessary by “things.”

This recent imaging life without is not new. For as far back as I can remember, I have occasional bouts of dissatisfaction with myself for what I consider superficiality. I regularly rediscover I either am too attached to material things or insufficiently appreciative of the material things that really matter. I have aspired to minimalism since I was in college; I have not yet succeeded. I’ve had fantasies of living in a single room cabin, far from civilization, outfitted with a bed, a single-burner stove, a plate, a knife, a fork, a skillet, a coffee pot, and a refrigerator (the cabin has electric power; my imagination is not prepared for full-on asceticism). In my cabin, I would write a manifesto for life on planet Earth. Yeah.

Of course these thoughts of excessive materialism lead to, or are accompanied by, questions of whether the same superficiality exists with regard to people. Do I take people for granted, failing to give sufficient dedicated thought to how important they are to me? Though I recognize their importance, I doubt I often allow myself (or require myself) to dedicate more than a few moments to allow my appreciation for them to fill me; to let it seep into every pore and to wash over me.  I think love requires that sort of dedicated attention. It requires a recognition that another person’s existence is key to your own and that without it you would be like an amputee forced to rebuild a life with a vital piece missing.

As usual, my mind wandered away from the road I was on. Minimalism. That’s what has been on my mind. I think life without the debris of materialistic urges might constitute a more pure existence. Without the detritus, I think we might experience more serenity, unencumbered by meaningless possessions. Maybe. But will I ever experience it? I doubt it. I still have too much “stuff,” even in my mind as I imagine life without it.

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Diversionary Mythology

An brief excursion into Greek and Roman mythology this morning veered sharply into an interest in linguistic treatment of grammatical structures across languages. I have always abhorred explorations into the formalities of grammatical structures, perhaps because I found the explanations too complex and dry to be of any interest. Or, perhaps, I simply do not have sufficient intellectual firepower to understand them. In spite of my tendency to steer clear of grammar, when I encountered discussions of grammatical structure across languages (during an exploration of Greek god mythology), I was intrigued. (As for English grammar, I know what conforms to the “rules” of the language and what does not, I just cannot explain why.)

I doubt my interest this morning in the accusative case, the genitive, the dative, the vocative, etc. will be long-lasting. But I found it interesting to be exposed to concepts that illustrate, at least to some extent, the ways in which various languages are structured in similar ways or, at least, can be compared and contrasted.  My interest in linguistics is neither new nor encyclopedic. My oldest brother pursued graduate study in linguistics before ultimately stopping the process at ABD (all but dissertation). Partly because of my admiration for him, I explored the possibility of going for an undergraduate degree in linguistics, but got sidetracked by other interests. But my interest in linguistics never waned (nor did it ever blossom into a full-blown diversion). For some reason, I remember learning, in a linguistics class, about the term ‘glottal stop.’ My recollection relies more on the experience of duplicating the instructor’s pronunciation of the word bottle, as spoken in some versions of regional London English. In place of the sound of the “t,” there is a brief pause (which is produced by closing the space between the vocal folds).

At any rate, I found myself wandering through grammatical structures and down linguistic pathways unrelated to Greek mythology. I spent a good hour reading about the evolution of grammatical elements of spoken languages. I learned about (maybe re-learned?) the ways in which certain sounds of spoken language (like the glottal stop) are symbolized in written form (symbolized in the International Phonetic Alphabet as ⟨ʔ⟩). And I discovered that the language used to define certain terms is almost unintelligible without serious investigative research, like this from Wikipedia‘s definition of fusional languages:

Fusional languages or inflected languages are a type of synthetic language, distinguished from agglutinative languages by their tendency to use a single inflectional morpheme to denote multiple grammatical, syntactic, or semantic features.

I need this kind of diversion at the moment. Something that will both take my mind off the fact that the world is collapsing around us and that will briefly deepen my shallow intellectual store of useless knowledge. I still need to return to Greek and Roman mythology, though, inasmuch as I was unsuccessful at learning much today. I cannot keep writing this, for now, because I have other obligations. Or other inquisitions. That’s it, I should re-read Jorge Luis Borges’ Other Inquisitions. I remember being enamored of the essays contained in the book, but it has been so long ago that I recall almost nothing else. I hope I still have a copy; I’m afraid I may have gotten rid of it, though, in the massive book purge before our move to Hot Springs Village.  Perhaps I should try something new; some more modern. But no, not until I re-acquaint myself with the brilliance of Borges.

Enough. I have obligations to fulfill this morning. And I haven’t even showered and shaved yet. Ach. So much to do.

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The Artemis Accords

A 1967 treaty holds “that the moon and other celestial bodies are exempt from national claims of ownership,” according to an article on Aljazeera.com. That tidbit was included in an article about the Artemis Accords, an eight-nation international pact regarding moon exploration. The pact was signed in connection with the planned return of people to the moon and eventual moon-surface settlement and a space station in international orbit. The nations that signed the accord are: the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Luxemborg? Interesting that a country with a population of less that 700,000 is part of the pact. I guess size does not matter, provided funding is available.

I have mixed feelings about space exploration. On the one hand, it is perhaps one of the most exciting, ambitious, and challenging opportunities ever presented to humankind. And, of course, many of the technological advances in the past fifty years have emerged from work done to advance humankind’s expeditions to understand the universe beyond the boundaries of Earth. I support and admire those facets of space exploration. But the expenditures of billions upon billions of dollars by governments around the world in pursuit of objectives that, in reality, are unknown or unclear, bothers me. When those monies could have been spent on urgent terrestrial issues like clean water, clean air, renewable energy, the elimination of poverty and hunger, dismantling political machinery designed primarily to wage war, etc., etc., etc., I think the amounts spent are an embarrassment to the inhabitants of this planet.

But, again, space exploration has give us GPS, artificial limbs, scratch-resistant lenses, LASIK surgery, wireless headsets, freeze-dried foods, CAT scans, LEDs, the computer mouse, and many, many more advantages of modern life. Would they have been invented in the absence of space exploration? Maybe. Would they have been available at this time in history with NASA and friends probing the universe? Probably not.

President Bush initiated the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2004, opting to end the program in 2010; the program actually retired in 2011. The decision was made, in part, due to the fact that the space vehicles were aging and becoming more and more difficult and expensive to maintain.  And discussions were taking place about replacing the Space Shuttle program with another space exploration venture, the Constellation Program. That program operated from 2005 to 2009, when President Obama cancelled it due to evidence that the costs associated with it would be dramatically higher than originally forecast. The Constellation Program’s objective of returning the U.S. to the moon by 2020 was thus abandoned.

We have to look back at the funds devoted to the “original” space program with an assessment of how those funds might otherwise have been spent, if not on space exploration. Would it have been used to eradicate poverty? Would it have been used to advance renewable energy? Would it have been used to put an end to war? Most emphatically—probably—not. So what is the point of contemplating a the history of actions not taken and money not spent? What is the point of hypothetical arguments that cannot be won because support for the arguments does not exist in the form of proof? I don’t know. Perhaps the point is that, going forward, it would make good sense to establish developmental priorities for humankind and, once established, evaluate the pros and cons of investments in light of the extent to which investments support or do not support priorities. And, if a lower-level priority is chosen for investment (not just money, but time, energy, human capital, etc.), powerful arguments would be required to deviate from established priorities.

It sounds so simple. It is not. That sort of thing is not simple even in a household, because decisions must be made on the basis of guesses about the likelihood of events. The decision to buy a house is based on assumptions about the ongoing availability f income sufficient to cover the mortgage or maintaining it in the future. The same is true for decisions about buying a car or a refrigerator. Assumptions about the availability of gasoline and electricity and such basics may seem simple and “given.” But hurricanes and tornadoes and novel coronaviruses can intervene to interrupt certainty.

My musings on the subject of space exploration have done nothing to cement my opinions. I’m still of two (or more) minds on the matter. On the one hand, I would gladly join a mission to the moon. On the other, I would complain bitterly that my money is being directed toward something frivolous, in comparison to ending hunger or war or pollution or assuring the future of a clean water supply.

This morning, I would be satisfied to have listened in on the conversations that led to the Artemis Accords. I wonder what is really included in the accords? I suppose I could find out if I searched hard enough. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

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Face the Rest of the Day

My new primary care doctor spent an hour and fifteen minutes with me yesterday, the longest “in-office” visit I can recall. Surgeons have spent more time with me, but I’ve been unaware of their presence as they sliced into my flesh and removed pieces of me so the remainder might survive. Yesterday, though, the doctor actually spoke with me and asked me a lot of questions. He scheduled me for a return visit in a month, as well, when he will burn off some skin blemishes on my hands and excise a particularly bothersome growth on my right hand. He explored my state of mind, as well, recommending some tactics to improve it. I am grateful for his time, but I am afraid his words and even his time have not yet spurred me to emerge from this cloud of harsh, hot, suffocating dust. But I must give it time. I haven’t even begun the new regimen of consuming an ever-increasing assortment of pharmaceutical wizardry in pill form.  And I have not inquired, yet, of Walgreen’s as to whether I can get injected with doses of Shingrix two months apart.

I wonder how my body might react if I simply stopped taking all the damn pills that have been prescribed for me? Atorvastatin, metoprolol, gabapentin, tamsulosin, losartan…and on and on. Would I wither? Would I crash and burn? Would I weaken gradually until my muscles and bones could no longer hold me erect? Would my heart simply stop beating? I do not plan to find out by experience, though I think it would be fascinating to know. One day, science and medicine may be capable of duplicating patients (but eliminating sentience from the copies, thereby eliminating some of the concerns about the morality of human experiments) and testing the effects of drugs and the lack thereof and so forth. How would I react to seeing an exact replica of me react to having drug treatments withheld? Would it have bothered me, for example, to have watched my doppelgänger’s body respond to untreated lung cancer? I will never know the answer to my hypothetical query, but thinking about the question arouses my innate interest in the philosophies that give rise to morals and their foes.

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I tried to speak to my wife yesterday to no avail. Her phone was either switched off or the battery was in need of charging. And the room telephone in the facility where she temporarily resides was not answered; either it was out of reach or she chose not to answer it when I called. She does not seem to understand how much it bothers me to have the only tether of communication shut off. But, then, I cannot possibly understand how the experience of being confined to a single room for the better part of three months, with no visitors, is impacting her perspectives and her perception of the world. I want nothing more than to embrace her and protect her from the world.  Yet she may not want that at all; she may prefer the more reliable retreat into herself. My attempts to communicate frequently may be precisely what she does not need and, in fact, those attempts could be annoying to her in ways I cannot understand.  It’s maddening to me to realize that it is possible I am largely to blame for her withdrawal.

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Mornings no longer appeal to me. The quiet hours before sunrise no longer provide respite from the chaos of daily life. I’m losing my interest in watching sunrise unfold into a thousand muted shades of pink and orange and violet and blue, ultimately cascading into brilliant oranges and pinks. That majesty, recently so awe-inspiring that it almost brought tears, is now simply a matter-of-fact process. Sunrise and its companion, sunset, do not  hold the power over me they once did. It’s as if a sheet of grey gauze, intended to filter out color and light, has been placed over my eyes.

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Last night, I went to bed very early, around 9:30. I did not fall asleep right away and I woke up several times during the night. My SleepNumber app claims I was in bed for seven hours and fifty-nine minutes; six hours and fifty-seven minutes of which were “restful,” the app claims.  I do not believe the app. For one thing, being in bed for almost eight hours is radically out of the ordinary for me; I do not like to be in bed that long. For another, I recall getting up to pee at least four times; the app claims I was up only twice. The app claims my heart rate was forty-eight, considerably lower than the normal fifty-eight. And it claims my “sleep” was restless for only an hour or so. I have grown suspicious that the app is making stuff up. Alexa, perhaps, is communicating with it, recommending it tell me lies (in retaliation for my unreasonable hounding of and cursing at Alexa for her intrusive flaws). I simply must stop believing the app. Just stop looking at what it claims to report.

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WordPress continues to refuse to display comments. Later today, I will contact my web host (that also provides me with WordPress) to ask for assistance. If that does not work, I will contact a consultant who knows WordPress far better than I in an attempt to get help. I rarely get comments, so the problem is not especially troubling, but when those few people who leave comments see that the comments they left are not displayed, I suspect it is upsetting to them. I know it is upsetting to me. Is this just another example of how I am allowing technology to manipulate my emotions? Am I permitting software glitches to control centers in my brain that regulate my heart-rate? Am I allowing the human-machine interface to cause my serotonin levels to plummet, thereby sparking anger and, ultimately, rage? I think those are possibilities. I must attempt to gain control again; it’s my brain, after all, isn’t it? Or is it? Has technology already snatched my self-control from me, swallowing it and releasing it into the internet as the technological equivalent of marijuana? That’s a question of interest: might it be possible for software and hardware to be influenced by mood-altering interference? Is that what hackers are doing, in fact? So many questions, so few answers.

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I must be back at the medical clinic in less than an hour to have more lab work done: hemoglobin A1C, vitamin B12 level, and vitamin D25 hydroxy. So, I’d better finish my coffee, take a quick shower, and eat something. And, then, face the rest of the day.

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Thank You for Your Patients

WordPress is being utterly uncooperative. Yesterday, with no warning and no discernable reason, it refused to show comments left on blog posts; not just new comments on new posts, but all comments on all posts. I can see that one or four or three comments were left, but those comments do not show up on the posts. I can read the comments if I log into my account, but they do not show up on the public area of my site. I’ve been wrestling with that problem since yesterday, to no avail. Then, today, as I was attempting to backup the site with a new plug-in, WordPress (or the plugin) put me in a perpetual loop, refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of my Dropbox account. My patience is growing thin; it is now a fragile membrane a single cell thick. A stranger’s errant thought or glance from two miles away may be enough to rupture that microscopically thin film, releasing a torrent of pent-up rage in me that could incinerate Western civilization and severely damage the rest.

The proper reaction to the anger growing inside me is to make breakfast, shave, shower, and ready myself for my doctor’s appointment; my annual physical with a new physician (because the physician who previously served as my primary care doctor abandoned me and the rest of his patients in the Village, as I’ve mentioned before). All right, I will attempt to corral my burning fury with a quick bite to eat. I’m afraid, though, I might toast bread with the fire in my eyes, alone. Perhaps I should stick with water, which will turn to steam as I swallow it. Enough. I need patience right away. And the doctor needs patients to be calm, more or less.

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The Complex Shape of Water

Already, today is emerging as one of those days that challenge my on-again, off-again insistence the universe is essentially random. As I poured fresh water from a container into my coffee maker’s reservoir, I was surprised by the beauty of the shape of the stream of water. A blue light hidden in the bowels of the reservoir accentuated the stream of water as it flowed, but even without the blue cast, the constantly changing shape of that water would have been exquisite. It offered me a splendid example of the methodical connections between components of the universe.

I realize, of course, how silly the preceding paragraph may sound. The reason for its seeming absurdity rests with my inability to articulate the emotions I felt as I watched the water flow from the glass into the reservoir. It occurs to me that, if we let ourselves experience the awe of being, we cannot help but think the universe is not random; not in the least. I am not suggesting it is governed by a God, but that every aspect of existence is intricately connected to every other facet. That labyrinthine web of interconnectedness, I think, evolved over billions of years and continues evolving today. There is no randomness. There is, though, an inexplicably complex orderliness. It is inexplicable simply because its order is so exceptionally complex as to appear chaotic.

That leads me to the idea of balance. In a universe so remarkably complicated, chaos and randomness would erupt in the absence of a natural tendency toward balance. I think the universe seeks balance. I say “seeks” not in the sense of intent but in the sense of natural affinity; the way water on planet Earth, thanks to gravity, seeks to flow downward.  The concepts of good and bad, happy and sad, night and day, light and darkness, heat and cold, etc., are expressions of balance. Each pairing is enormously complex in its own right—and in some cases the “pairing” is virtually impossible to understand or even to see. Taken collectively, though, opposites represent the universe seeking balance.

Language may be a consequence of humans’ need to understand—or attempt to understand—the universe and to experience it in a way that maximizes balance. I wonder whether human emotions followed or preceded language? If we consider a baby’s cries and laughs, we might assert emotion came first. But if we consider compassion and love and hatred, we might say language must have come first, serving as a tool to shape and mold emotion. Perhaps emotions and language are among the intricate pairings that bring balance to that tiny piece of the universe that resides inside our brains.  As I imagine the inexpressible beauty of brilliant orange and pink and grey and white streaks of sky during sunrises and sunsets against massive banks of puffy clouds, I search for the balance that counters them.

Aching sadness and sharp emotional pain as fierce and penetrating as lightning bolts contravene joy. Balance. One moment, we rejoice in the overwhelming beauty of love and Nature; the next we mourn, in grief over the agony of seeing someone in pain.  Balance is not necessarily the lovely sense of harmony the term brings to mind; rather, it can be a sharp rebuke for neglecting to recognize the natural pairing of ecstasy and pain.

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That did not go where I expected it to go. My cheeks are wet as I contemplate the beauty of the shape of flowing water (I wish the film had not usurped my term) and the awful pain of clinical depression (the latter something I have never experienced).  I wonder whether balance is responsible for the tears, or whether the world simply is becoming too much.  Perhaps it’s the guilt I cannot help but feel when I allow myself respite that is unavailable to my wife. Last night, I had dinner with some couples from the now-defunct “world tour of wines group.” I was unable to talk to my wife. I wonder whether I might have been able to reach her had I stayed home and called the nurse’s station. I will try later this morning.

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During my Internet wanderings this morning, I came across an article concerning a new film about the 1995 slaughter at Srebrenica. The film, entitled Quo Vadis, Aida? premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month. I hope the film eventually finds its way to a screen near me, whether Netflix or otherwise.  Our visit last year to Bosnia-Herzegovina introduced me to quite a lot about the horrendous 1992-1995 war that included genocide. The woman who made the film (Jasmila Zbanic) is quoted in the Associated Press article as saying: “When I watch films and find patriotic things about war, I cannot identify with that. I hoped people will identify with Aida, the film’s main protagonist, because wars are banal and evil and there is nothing good in them.”  [Emphasis mine.]

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The dissolution of national territorial borders should be a global priority. Erase borders entirely. Allow everyone free access to everywhere on Earth. Of course, the preparation for that eventuality will require a guaranteed minimum income for everyone, everywhere. Existing governments will have to eliminate their parochial claims to “their” money and be willing to share or, rather, relinquish their resources to a central pool which would then distribute them as needed for maximum benefit to the largest number of people. I’m not talking here about a country or a region becoming “communist.” I’m talking about citizens of Earth being treated equally by all other citizens and by whatever global government might be permitted by the people to administer the functions of government. It’s the biggest idea that will never be implemented because it will never be given even a shred of serious consideration. Idealism should be valued more highly and given more opportunity to correct the flaws and blemishes of humankind.

 

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