A Happier Place

Gourmand: 1) person who is fond of good eating, often indiscriminatingly and to excess (dictionary.com); 2) a person who enjoys eating and drinking in large amounts (collinsdictionary.com); 3) one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking (merriam-webster.com).

I plead guilty on all counts.

The difference between a gourmand and a gourmet is that a gourmet is a connoisseur, an epicure, a refined and highly discriminating sampler of fine food, often paired with a side of pretention. Another difference, I think, is that a gourmand isn’t obsessed with food, though he may sometimes seem like he is; he just enjoys the hell out of it. A gourmet, on the other hand, in my view, is obsessive. He (or she) flaunts his discriminating palate as if it were a piece of fine jewelry he created from diamonds and gold he ripped from the earth with his own hands. Is my chauvinism showing?

All this is a prelude to my desire to express my desire to eat devilled kidney. I would prefer for it to be served to me at breakfast and for the kidney to have belonged to a lamb, but in a pinch I would accept a mid-afternoon snack crafted from organ meat previously owned by an adult sheep. Actually, I would be willing not to have it served to me but created by me and snatched off a freshly-plated  tray intended for dinner guests.

This afternoon diversion began early this morning as I read about and plotted to create and eat a certain Korean street food, Korean Breakfast Toast. The path between that earlier exploration and my temporary fixation on devilled lamb kidney is long and convoluted. I won’t go into it here for fear of never reaching the end of this post. Suffice it to say I wandered through a number of rabbit warrens, setting free dozens, if not hundreds, of bunnies in the process. The fact of the matter is this: I ended (at least for now) the process by reading about devilled kidneys and their popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. I suspect, but am not sure, that their popularity has diminished during the first part of the 21st century, courtesy of a reduction in gustatory boldness and audacity.

Why is it that many people (dare I say most people?) seem unwilling to risk exposing unfamiliar flavors to their taste buds? Why are certain textures unappealing or even repelling? Does it not make sense that, if people in other cultures can tolerate and even enjoy “strange” foods, that we, too, can at least tolerate them? No? It’s “no” only if one subscribes to the erroneous belief that different “races” have different physical traits. Which is, in my obviously biased view, patently absurd. Such an idea is ugly and appalling and should be corrected by forced exposure to some of the “offending” culture’s more problematic differences. Here, I’m thinking of things like requiring a person to slay, skin, and cook a guinea pig; assuming, of course, this person found the idea objectionable. Peruvians eat guinnea pigs; cuyos is the word used by some indigenous people.

I think I’m veering off course again, though.

My intent, when I began this post, was to lament the fact that I find it so hard to identify other people who are willing to try unusual (to us) foods. I’m not looking for people who are obsessive about it; only for people who have a spirit of adventure and who are willing to try new things. Those people seem to be few and far between. We know a few. And we love them. But there should be more. Many more.

The world needs more gourmands. It would be a happier place.

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Sesquipedalian

Sesquipedalian; 1) given to using long words; 2) containing many syllables.

I first encountered the word nine years ago on Facebook. Really. The word was included in a post on the Smith College Facebook page. Ah! That explains it. I did not know the word, so I looked it up. Of course, I did not recall the meaning of the word when I encountered it again today. That happens a lot. I come across words with which I am unfamiliar. I make a point of looking them up and then using them in some form or fashion; my hope is that by using them, I will remember them. Typically, it doesn’t work that way. I may remember the word and its definition for a week or a month, but not much longer. Except in those instances in which the word triggers some sort of physical reaction. Of course, I don’t recall words I learned in connection with a triggered physical reaction. But one day I will. And when I do I will attempt to commit them to memory. But, probably, I will fail. That’s just the way it is.

I try not to brag about my sesquipedalian vocabulary, which is easy to avoid inasmuch as I tend to use relatively short words and I am not much of an admirer of sesquipedalian language. I would never, for example, use supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in a sentence, whether I knew how to spell it correctly or not (although, as I understand it, it’s not really a word). But there are legitimate uses to which a sesquipedalian vocabularly can be put. In medicine, for example, each component of absurdly long words can convey important information. Naturally, I cannot think of any good examples or, for that matter, any poor examples.

This morning, I’m trying to use language as a crutch, a cane to prop up my mood and keep it from stumbling into the abyss. That’s where it was last night, even into the wee hours of the morning. Even as the dim light of day attempted to peek through the monstrously humid air this morning.

The air is drenched in fog or haze; a heated mist that turns everything grey and blurs the trees nearby. The trees farther away are abstract forms, almost hidden by nearly opaque vapor. This morning, as I attempt to delve into words to describe the slate air and dullness outside my window, memories of last night’s depression remain clear. That’s odd; clear memories of darkness, while the fuzzy air surrounding my house obscures the clarity of nature.

Last night, the smoke from gasoline fires and the aroma of cooked meat filled my nostrils; not literally, but the odors seemed real as I imagined setting the world aflame. Strangely, I did not feel the heat of the inferno. I smelled it, but the flames did not consume me, even as I walked through them. How is it that I think I smelled heat? Heat doesn’t have an aroma, does it? Heat, combined with other materials, results in odors, but the heat alone is neutral, I would think. Is it possible to smell the sun? I suppose it may be. The sun is super-heated hydrogen and helium and a few trace elements. But it’s those elements I might smell, not the temperature of the sun.

See? I’m using language to steer me away from doleful, cheerless despondency. That’s a bit redundant, I know, but I’m doing it to make a point. Words can serve as transportation out of a funk. Eye candy, too, can serve as a route out of dispiritedness; allow a pulchritudinous woman to cross my path and my mood tends to brighten. Although, I have to admit, that sesquipedalian word sounds descriptive of something one might find stopping up a toilet.

I’m tired of the funk. So, I shall beat it unmercifully with a platinum shovel until it bleeds into a brilliant rainbow of euphoria. There, in that multi-colored dazzle, I’ll see a woman who lives a life devoted chiefly to the pursuit of pleasure (that is, according to Merriam-Webster, a playgirl). And in that fantasyland, I’ll go by a new name: Pleasure. I’m so damn clever I can hardly stand it.

 

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Shame

I don’t know when I last felt so utterly hopeless. Tonight, I feel like I can do nothing to salvage the world. I can do nothing to prevent humanity’s slide into chaotic oblivion, punctuated by race wars and class wars and economic combat. We live in what would be described in history books, if they could be written, as the end times of decency. The only hope I can hold in my heart is an experience absolutely anathema to my beliefs: that is that every member of the Republican Party and all its adherents will be doused in gasoline and set afire. That would give me hope. But it would leave me with an enormous number of people who should have perished in the blaze. I would be left with artificially compassionate people who, the deeper I might dig, would be revealed as bereft of decency as the ones we’ve just incinerated. Eventually, if the cleansing continued, no one would be left. Not even me. We’re all just as guilty as the next one. Our guilt is, quite simply, clothed in different garments. We are bad to the core. We deserve to be eradicated like stinging insects. All of us. Every one of us. Even the good ones. The “good ones” have their faults, too. I’m a cynic. I’m not one to forgive, not tonight. I don’t know how to define sin, but I think we’re all guilty of it; the worst kind, the kind of sin that makes it impossible to achieve even a shred of forgiveness.

If I could vaporize the world in which we live, I would do it tonight. I would eliminate the ugliness that grows like mold on the edges of the human soul. I would torch the misery we inflict on people who don’t deserve it. I would inflict ruin upon this ugly blemish we have visited upon the planet.

I’m not explaining my mood. And I shall not explain it. It need no explanation other than this: I belong to the human race and for that I am eternally sorry and ashamed.

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The Effects of Attention Deficit Bureaucracy on Linguistic Inquiry

This morning, for breakfast, we had toasted thin bagels topped with cream cheese, purple onion, capers, and smoked salmon. I had mine open-faced;  as in an open-faced sandwich. While I was eating my breakfast, I wondered aloud where the term “open-faced” came from. And I wondered why we don’t call sandwiches between two pieces of bread “closed-faced.” At least I don’t. My wife didn’t know, either. So, after breakfast, I began the exploration.

The first bit of information I came upon surprised me. According to the Merriam-Webster “time-traveler” online resource, the first recorded use in print of the term “open-faced,” with the meaning corresponding to its use with “sandwich,” occurred in 1917. In that same year, dozens and dozens of other words and terms enjoyed their print debut, according to Merriam-Webster. Those words include:

  • coldcock
  • extrovert
  • eyewear
  • macular degeneration
  • slinky

The “time-traveler” stipulates that each word or term first appeared in print associated with a specific definition. So, it’s certainly possible the words appeared earlier, but with different meanings.

The explanation of the etymology of “open-faced” was bare and insufficient, in my opinion, so I kept looking. According to the Collins Dictionary, the first usage appeared in 1787. However, Collins’s presentation suggests the term’s usage might have been in connection with a meaning unrelated to sandwiches. Interestingly, Collins says the term is used rarely; it is in the lower 50% of commonly-used words in the Collins Dictionary.

Still, I had no explanation of why “open-faced” would be used in connection with sandwiches and, moreover, why sandwiches whose contents were between two pieces of bread are not called “closed-face.” The search continued. And I discovered that the term “closed-face sandwich” is both used by and defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA defines a closed faced sandwich as (according to the Michigan state paper noted below):

Product must contain at least 35 percent cooked meat and no more than 50 percent bread. Sandwiches are not amendable [sic] to inspection. … Typical “closed-faced” sandwiches consisting of two slices of bread or the top and bottom sections of a sliced bun that enclose meat or poultry, are not amendable [sic] to the federal meat and poultry inspection laws. Therefore, they are not required to be inspected nor bear the marks of inspection when distributed in interstate commerce.

According to a Michigan State Universtiy College of Agriculture and Natural Resources paper written by Laura McCready, quoting a December 11, 2007 St. Petersburg Times article written by Bill Adair,

“New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton highlighted the difference of closed face sandwiches versus open-faced sandwiches during a speech, “A ham and cheese sandwich on one slice of bread is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which inspects manufacturers daily. But a ham and cheese sandwich on two slices of bread is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration, which inspects manufacturers about once every five years.”

Still, no explanation of why the terms are used. “Faced?” Sandwiches have faces? And what kind of bureaucratic madness leads to assignment for regulation of sandwiches to different agencies based purely on the presence or absence of a single slice of bread?!!

My interest in linguistic aberrations is waning, replaced by a burning desire to write an angry rant about the absurdities of governmental regulations. Of course, my insistence that my rant be factual rather than purely emotional would require me to verify that the regulations referenced by then-Senator Clinton were, indeed, as she said and, further, that they remain in effect. I’m not in the mood for research into a government that presently is in the process of being disassembled by an egotistical narcissist who should be, I fervently believe, physically removed from office and chained to a ten-thousand pound anchor that subsequently is dropped into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and, after two hours, retrieved and put away. But I digress.

Consider the state of the English language if it were regulated by the U.S. Congress, subject to the approval or disapproval of a barely coherent ape in an orange jumpsuit. We all would be speaking in single syllable sentences no more than six words long; the definitions of the words would depend on whether the speaker and the audience were Democrat, Republican, Independent, or intelligent.

Not that it truly matters, but according to the Merriam-Webster time-traveler, a year before “open-faced” was first used in print to describe sandwiches, the term “snake oil” and the words “sociopathic” and “sanitorium”  were first used in print. I can’t help but think there’s more than coincidence at play here. Whenever I think of the weapon of mass ignorance occupying the White House, I receive signals from the universe that tell me, in not-so-cryptic language, that “attention must be paid.”

All of this from a simple question about descriptive language applied to food. Just imagine what might happen if I invested a great deal of time investigating serious questions about differences in intellectual dimensions of women versus men or Ethiopians versus Chileans. The end result could be an eighty-thousand word essay on the relationship between the Bible and modern-day video games.

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State of Flux

You know who I was, not who I am. I am in a state of flux, a man engaged in constant mutation from one form to another. Every breath I take in leaves a different person’s mouth. The change takes place quietly and without show, but snapshots of my psyche taken days apart could reveal stunning adjustments to my thought processes. On one day, I may be the picture of serenity, a calm and contented fixture in a stable and placid environment. But the next, the fury and fire inside me can consume planets—if the inferno doesn’t engulf me in an inextinguishable conflagration first.

If the energy storms that take place inside me were plotted on an oscillograph, the image would frighten even a seasoned psychic reader. The medium would see heat-driven tornadoes of molten rock incinerating entire galaxies. And then in the lull that followed, ice sheets a thousand frigid lives deep would preserve the seeds of the future, buried in the ashes of time.

The view looking in from outside does not reveal the changes; at least not so vividly. That external scene shows a man in the soft throes of fermentation, stooped a bit as he battles the inevitable decay that comes with age. As the years go by, the image changes in more obvious ways. Thinning, greying hair. A growing midsection, fueled by too much food and drink and too little exercise. Skin growing dry and soft. Sagging, empty sacks of skin that muscles once filled.

So, a contradiction exists between the exterior deterioration and the internal cyclic, saw-toothed, emotional whirlwind. It is in spite of and because of that contradiction that I am unknowable in the present. I can be accurately described only in the past; the present is far too turbulent for either words or understanding to capture. And the person I will become in the future is describable only to the extent that I will bear no resemblance to either the present or the past person I am or was.

Though I speak as if “you” were the one who finds it impossible to know who I am at this moment, that inability extends to me, as well. And the “I” of whom I speak probably describes you, too. We all are in transition from who we were to who we will be. We are never who we are for long enough to know ourselves in the present. Your internal oscillograph may not be as chaotic as mine, but I suspect the zenith and nadir of its cycles do not approximate a flat line, either.

If time would slow down for long enough, we might be able to examine the waves of the plotted lines in sufficient depth and detail to know who we really are; in the big picture, I mean. We might be able to adequately understand the emotional swings, from high to low and back, so we might better control them. But, then again, we might not.

Even in my periods of tranquility, passions of every kind course through me like whitewater rapids. Love, hate, lust, anger, rage, ardor. Those emotions power my life just as surely as food and water.  In various ways, they define who I am, even in those moments of calm and placidity. They shape the route my energy flows, too, when fury guides me across a terrain pockmarked with deep pits of anger.  I picture all these emotions as viscous fluids, each one a different color, spinning in different directions inside a massive vessel. The fluids never mix with one another, but they intersect in thin rivulets as they spin, creating illusions that they have merged into new colors. But when the spinning slows, the thin rivulets join with their uniquely colored flows and congeal into thick rivers.

Reading what I have written frightens me a bit; I can imagine a psychologist recommending institutionalization for a person with my thought patterns. But it would be a short stay, wouldn’t it? I mean, I will no longer be who I am in less than a moment’s time. So my deviance is a thing of the past, never the present.

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Learning from the Canadians

The concept seems solid:

“If you think about the composition of meat, it’s actually five things,” Ethan Brown says: “Amino acids, lipids, trace minerals, vitamins and water. All of that is available to us outside the animal. What animals do is take a tremendous amount of plant material and a lot of water and use their digestive system to convert that to muscle that we then harvest as meat. What we’re doing is starting with the same inputs—plants and water—and using heating, cooling and pressure to produce meat directly from plants. If we’re capable of pulling those amino acids, lipids, trace minerals and vitamins directly from plants, we should be able to successfully transition the human race from using animals to harvest meat.”

I mean, if we convert the raw materials of iron, chromium, nickel, manganese, copper, and carbon to stainless steel, we ought to be able to convert plant materials to meat. And we do. “We” meaning companies like Beyond Meat, of which Ethan Brown is founder, and Impossible Foods and probably dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies that are or will jump on the non-animal “meat” bandwagon.

I extracted Brown’s quote at the top of this post from an article in Maclean’s, Canada’s national affairs and news magazine. Much of the other information I obtained on the topic of meat substitutes came from the same article, so what I am writing here may be unique to Canada…but probably not.

The market for non-animal “meat” products is growing exponentially. And the beef and dairy industries in Canada are taking notice and responding defensively, as typically happens. Rather than confronting disruptive change with acknowledgement and appreciation, business reacts in fear, which in turn generates attacks against the threat. In Canada, the Quebec Cattle Producers Federation launched a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, arguing that Beyond’s products should not include the word “meat.” “Meat” is defined, they say, as “carcass derived from an animal.” That’s a pretty weak argument, I think, inasmuch as the company suggests in its product names that its products are “beyond” that animal-based product.

The concept of converting naturally-occurring plant products into edible food that looks and tastes like meat fascinates me. While it’s intriguing, though, I am innately skeptical that the process of making those conversions is as gloriously good for the planet as some claim. How much energy/water/product is used in the process and how does it compare to naturally-occurring meat? And how much energy is actually saved (if any) by producing and transporting artificial meat compared to locally-raised grass-fed beef? Lots of questions. The questions notwithstanding, the topic intrigues me no end. And, having grilled and eaten a Beyond burger at home, I can attest to the fact that the substitute is damn near the real thing (though my wife disagrees with me).

I look forward to learning more as time goes by and as the “fake meat” industry grows. And, by the way, I also look forward to trying lab-grown meat that, unlike the substitutes, is the real deal, just not from a live animal. For now, though, I understand it’s out of my price range, at hundreds to thousands of dollars per pound.

***

I read something else in Maclean’s that grabbed my attention. Shannon Proudfoot, an Ottawa-based writer for the magazine, wrote a piece that appeared last October (2018). In it, she revealed the most “thunderous epiphanies” about truly mundane aspects of life that people shared with her. These epiphanies were embarrassing “aha!” moments when people realized they had misunderstood facets of life that made them feel stupid. But we’ve all been there. Some of my favorites:

  • Shannon finally realized that her mother, when she opened egg cartons in the grocery store and rolled each egg, was not counting eggs but was, instead, checking to ensure none were broken;
  • A guy “thought Arson was a guy.” The news would say “Arson is suspected.” And I was like, ‘Another one?!? They gotta catch this guy!’
  • A woman didn’t realize that Dr. Spock and Mr. Spock weren’t the same person until she was a grown woman. She was always baffled how a fictional Vulcan became the expert on raising real human babies;
  • Another woman thought the Wheel of Fortune host’s name was Patsy Jack until she was 19. Her roommate at the time informed her it’s actually Pat Sajak after she yelled at the TV screen “Yeah Patsy Jack!”
  • A man thought artichoke hearts were from an animal that he pictured as being similar to an armadillo. He thought it was disgusting that people would buy jars filled with animal parts.
  • Another man said, “I thought money laundering was physically washing the money and hanging it to dry to get cocaine residue off of it. A whole room of people silently stared at me after I announced this.”

I have my own such idiotic epiphany, though it was not so much an epiphany as a temporary failure of thought and logic. I was in a junior high school class when the teacher asked me to identify which word from a list was not real; which one was gibberish. I’m not sure what all the words were, but I think they may have included forearm, forehead, forenose, foreleg, and forefinger; the one I picked was “forehead,” because there’s no such thing as a forehead, right? Wrong. I realized soon after I made my pronouncement that I was mistaken. The rest of the class erupted in laughter and I turned beet-red at my faux pas.

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Hope

We went to another World Tour of Wine dinner last night. The wines and menu were, so they said, Chilean. I can vouch for the wines, inasmuch as I saw the labels on the bottles and tasted their contents. I am not certain about the menu, but I suspect it was based at least loosely on Chilean fare.

Last night’s dinner was the first, we were told, that was not a sell-out. The crowd seemed a little sparse, though I imagine there were at least sixty or eighty in attendance. It’s possible that attendance is declining because we’ve begun revisiting countries’ wines. Chile was among the first countries whose wines we tasted; that earlier dinner is what prompted our group to start our own wine-specific gathering at one another’s homes, doing a blind-tasting of Malbec wines. We agreed last night to have another gathering early next month at the house of a couple who live close to us. Despite our decision last night to do that again, I have the sense that there’s not as much enthusiasm about these gatherings as there once was. And I’m not quite sure why that is.

There was quite a bit of enthusiasm last night when someone suggested the group should organize a trip on a California wine train. The idea appeals to me, but I suspect such trips are crowded. My ideal, of course, would involve a multi-day trip in a private train car, visits to multiple wineries (with tastings), and overnight stays at luxurious properties. The cost for such a dream excursion would be out of this world, I imagine. But one can dream, can’t one?

Two people who used to participate in our group, a brother and sister, have stopped because of his pulmonary illness. Coincidentally, I received an email from him this morning, responding to mine, suggesting that we might be able to get together sometime soon for happy hour at his sister’s house, where he’s been staying since his latest hospital visit. Apparently, from what I’ve been told, he is more than a little depressed because he is tethered to oxygen tanks and doesn’t have much energy to get up and about. I can only imagine what that must be like; I hope I can help boost his morale a bit when we visit.

Most of the members of our wine group have known each other for many years; in fact, that’s true of all the members except for Janine and me. We are the newcomers, the outsiders, the interlopers. We’re not treated that way, but I don’t feel truly part of the group because I don’t know the other members nearly as well as they know one another. I suppose it takes time, a lot of time, to feel truly engaged in such a tight-knit group. I’m much more relaxed with the group than I once was, but I can’t be completely comfortable with any of them in a one-on-one basis. That’s true of most people; I mean that’s the way I feel with most people. I can relax and open up in a group setting, but it takes me quite a long time to really relax. Maybe “quite a long time” actually means forever. I can’t even completely open up with myself, and I’ve known the person with whom I share mind and body for many year; still, I have secrets I won’t even share with me. It sounds like gibberish, but it’s not; not really.

***

I have an appointment with my primary care doctor’s nurse this morning. The objective of the appointment is to get a referral to an ENT doctor to see if that doctor can identify the cause(s) of my excessive phlegm/mucus and resulting cough; not only the cause, but the cure, I hope. My primary care doctor is on vacation. His prescription of a diuretic and potassium seemed to help for a few days, but then the symptoms came back with a vengeance.  My wife insists I do something about the cough; she says she wouldn’t let me get on an airplane with a cough like that. I think she was speaking as if she were the pilot or flight attendant. And she’s probably right. Even though I don’t think I have anything contagious, my cough probably would frighten an entire plane-load of passengers, who would fear exposure to the bubonic plague or something equally (or more) scary. We shall see what we shall see. I sure want this cough to disappear.

Aside from the cough, I have a pretty severe pain in my upper vertebrae. Today is the third day of it and I’m ready for it to end. I’ve skipped going to the gym since the pain started because I don’t want to exacerbate it.

This business of illness, pain, coughing, etc., etc. is interfering with my ability to enjoy daily living. This is not what I was planning for this July, nor for the remaining years of my life. Something’s gotta give. My hope is that all the nastiness will disappear into a quickly-fading memory. Let’s hope.

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Philosophy Degenerates into Dark Madness

Reality depends on one’s perspective. Summer runs from June through August for me. But for someone in Australia, summer starts is December through February. Both are real, but my reality’s context is sharply different from an Australian’s.

The physical differences between those two realities are easy to understand because the context in which those realities exist is easy to measure. The same cannot always be said for other realities. For instance, the viewpoints (the realities) of progressives and conservatives seem to be worlds apart, yet the contexts within which those viewpoints exist may seem to be identical. But, like the seasons in the northern versus southern hemisphere, their contexts are radically different. Unlike the contexts of the seasons, though, the contexts of one’s sociopolitical stance appear to be identical. Only by digging deeper is it possible to understand that contexts shift when seen through lenses formed by different surfaces of a prism. I could go on, attempting to explain how progressives and conservatives see the same world through different lenses, but I won’t. That’s been done enough by a sufficient number of people; suffice it to say psychology and socialization effectively “bend light” to produce different visions of the world. Instead, I’ll dwell on other contextual matters that color reality.

Let’s assume two people live on a long, narrow lake that is situated so that one end is east and the other end is west. The person who lives on the west end of the lake never takes his kayak out into the water because, he says, the sun’s glare blinds him.  The person on the east side of the lake takes his kayak out at first light and paddles halfway across the length of the lake, turning around just about the time the glare becomes tolerable as he heads back east.

We might assume the person who lives on the east end of the lake is simply more energetic and more inclined to enjoy the outdoors. But if we consider the matter more closely, we might come to realize that, if the person who lives on the western shore were to attempt to head east when the glare becomes tolerable, he might be able to paddle only a short distance before he would have to turn around, or else paddle home in darkness.

We might not consider, in our assessment of the situation, that the person who lives on the west end of the lake struggles with senesthesia, which causes him to taste the color of the waning light as he paddles homeward. To him, the dim grey and pink sky tastes like licorice, to which he is allergic. If he were to be paddling toward home and taste licorice, he might have dangerous reaction, causing him to puff up like a water balloon. The weight of the water balloon could cause his kayak to tip and capsize. The man can’t swim, especially when puffed up like a water balloon, so he would drown. And then how would we feel?

On the other hand, there’s a certain spirituality about melding with one’s environment in the way our water-logged drowning victim merged with his lake. For as written and content-edited in the Zen version of Genesis 3:19: “for water thou art, and unto water shalt thou return.” Robert Heinlein knew the future of water when he declared it sacred in Stranger in a Strange Land. Whether his Martian reverence for water was a prediction of the scarcity of water on earth I may never know, but I’ll always believe it was so.

Actually, the substitution of “water” for “dust” in the above Biblical misquote may be inextricably linked to Heinlein’s depiction of a future in which dust and water are, in effect, both real and symbolic antonyms. I think I’ll write my dissertation on the manner in which the relationship between dust and water provides the canvas upon which both the Bible and Stranger in a Strange Land were written.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this diatribe of madness, reality depends on one’s perspective. And in almost every case, reality is a reflection of the context within which experience plays out. Deep, deep, deep. As deep as the ocean is wet.

 

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Happier Thoughts

People in Western culture, I think (and I’m not alone), don’t really believe they’re going to die one day. They comprehend it on an intellectual level, but the end of existence is not a reality with which we can engage on an emotional level. We’ve seen other people die, but that’s other people. Not us. Or, at least, not us in a way that we can truly understand. There’s always tomorrow, the future. Even though we may accept that our lives might end before we reach, say, one hundred years, that final moment is always sometime in the future. And as we approach that point, we extend it even more; it becomes a little more distant, a little less immediate.

I read an article this morning about the “existential slap,” that moment when a person is faced with the immediacy of his or her death; that instant at which one’s impending death becomes real. The article squares with what I’ve thought for some time now; that the acceptance of the fact that we’re really going to die isn’t a state of mind we reach, even though we claim otherwise, until we have no other choice than to acknowledge it. Even then, we may not accept it.

I have no way of knowing this, of course. It’s just a sense that one’s own death seems always to be an as-yet-unwritten fiction that may well never be written. But, of course, ultimately it always is; and it becomes not fiction but fact.

This is morbid stuff that doesn’t appeal to me this morning. So, why am I writing it? It’s what’s on my mind. But now, I’ll go to the gym and attempt to build my stamina and think happier thoughts.

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My Father was a Carnivorous Xylopolist: A Rambling Recollection

Yes, my father was a xylopolist. I did not know that until just a short while ago. Somehow, some way, I stumbled across the word online. I didn’t recognize it, so I looked it up. It wasn’t in the free online Merriam-Webster dictionary, nor on dictionary.com. But I found it in plenty of other places. And the definitions consistently corresponded with my father’s occupation, at least his last one. He was, indeed, a xylopolist. That is, a person who sells lumber. Depending on which definition one accepts, the term describes a person who sells fine timber, fine lumber, or who simply is a lumber merchant. They all describe my father.  Though he didn’t specialize in fine hardwoods, he sold his share of fine hardwood lumber. And he sold the highest quality redwood and cedar, lumber that today would be impossible to find and even more difficult to pay for. Of course, he sold plenty of yellow pine and larch and fir. He didn’t have the benefit of global communication and global research that today feeds us information about our endangered forests. And he spoke often about forest product management; the timber companies, he believed, were harvesting only timber that would be replaced by the companies’ timber farming practices. And it’s possible that was the case. But our appetite for lumber has outstripped our ability to replenish the supply of wood. That’s easy to see when you go to a lumberyard to find good lumber, heart wood with few if any knots. It’s just not there. Instead, warped, cupped boards filled with knots are in ample supply. I suppose there’s still high quality lumber to be found, but it is directed toward outlets that supply high-end architectural suppliers who serve businesses and individuals with limitless cash. The one-percenters, as it were.

The same people who can afford high-end lumber can afford prime steaks and the very best vegetables and the finest seafoods. You know, the stuff that is picked over by chefs from fine dining restaurants before it goes to high-end grocery stores. The leftovers go to mass market supermarkets and the dregs, then, go to those scarce markets that supply impoverished food deserts.

My mind seems always to bend and twist even the simplest subjects into the stuff of skeptical debates and cynical assessments of man’s inhumanity to mankind. I suppose it’s natural. Or, if one is a one-percenter, it’s the inevitable angry outpouring of the resentful common man. But let’s change the subject, shall we?

My father enjoyed steak and bacon and pork chops. He was an omnivore, not a carnivore. But he was carnivorous; he was an eater of flesh, as am I. I’m becoming less so in recent years, but I still enjoy a bloody steak. My father liked his meat cooked more “done” than do I, though truth be told, I can’t remember specifically how he liked his steaks. I think he liked them medium to medium-well, but that’s really a guess, based on faulty memory. After all, it’s been almost 35 years since he died; my memory of how he liked his food cooked has faded almost entirely. But I know he liked meat. He was especially fond of bacon. I remember (albeit vaguely) that he arose very early in the morning when I was a kid and he cooked a lot of bacon. He cooked it the way I liked it; cooked through, but still a bit limp. At least I think that’s how he cooked it. I’ve never much liked crispy bacon; it seems overcooked, almost burned, when it’s too crispy. I think I inherited the bacon appreciation gene from my father. And, the bacon-texture appreciation gene, too.

I may have inherited other traits from my father. Like a predisposition to lung cancer. My father died of lung cancer when he was 81 years old, after years of coping with a terrible cough. My cough, of late, reminds me of his; convulsive fits of coughing whose purpose seems designed to rid the bronchial tubes of mucus coatings.

Aside from these few attributes, and a few more I may one day write about, I am unlike my father. Our personalities, I think, grew from different roots. Although I sometimes think we’re more alike than I will admit. I wouldn’t begin to know how to write a character in a novel who would resemble my father. I don’t think I ever knew him well enough to write a character that even resembled him superficially, much less emotionally. My recollections of him are built, in no small part, on second-hand recollections of others. I suspect the same is true of my memories of my mother, though they are more vivid than my recollections of my father. This focus on early and not-so-early memories is, again, a reminder than I have only vague memories of much of my life into early adulthood. And, for that matter, from early adulthood to the present. It’s as if my life blurs as I live through it. The pages of my book of personal history are covered in thick layers of dust. When I brush the dust from the pages, the ink of the underlying letters smears and become almost illegible.

Recollections (or the lack thereof) of my early life almost always drift into melancholy. I’ve had enough melancholy for the day, so I’ll stop writing now.

 

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Traverse City and Such

Some friends are spending a couple of weeks in Michigan on a house-sitting assignment. They are taking advantage of their time their to visit Saugatuck, Traverse City, and a flock of other cities and towns on and around Lake Michigan. I’ve been to Saugatuck, Holland, South Haven, and a sprinkling of towns on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, but not to Traverse City. Traverse City sits at the lowest end of Grand Traverse Bay, a large body of water that is, I suppose, part of Lake Michigan but protected from some of the larger lake’s winter fierceness.

A Facebook friend I’ve never met in person lives there. From her posts, as well as other bits and pieces of information I’ve learned about Traverse City, I think I’d like to summer there. From what I’ve seen of Michigan (which is a fair amount, in that we wandered the state a good bit while we lived in Chicago for a few years), there’s a lot to like. Ann Arbor, though not on the water, is another place I think I might appreciate. As a college town, there’s a lot to see and do. And it has, I think, a progressive (politically) environment. Years ago, during a grand two-week tour around the lakes, when we visited Mackinac Island, I fell in love with upper Michigan. Simply by driving through virgin forests, I was convinced I would like to buy land there. My wife was not so easily swayed, so we didn’t. But I still think it would be nice to have a place “up north” to go to escape the suffocating heat of Arkansas or Texas or Mississippi or Tennessee or …

One of the attractions of places far removed from where I am is the distinct difference in culture. It’s not so much that I don’t like this culture or that one, but that I really enjoy experiencing different ones with different perspectives on the world in which we live.

As I wait for the appointed hour to leave for church this morning, I think “I don’t want to go to church—I want to go to Michigan or Ohio or Pennsylvania.” There was a time when I could act on a whim like that. Old age and doctor appointments and church commitments and the constraints of wanting and needing to satisfy one’s marriage partner makes spur of the moment escapes virtually impossible. The constraint used to be work: my clients and their requirements. Now, the constraints are the simple realities and complexities of life. Some days, I would like to be utterly free of commitments and obligations. I’d like to be able to just act on whims without regard to anything or anyone else. That’s selfish, I know, but the freedom to act, without external constraints, is incredibly appealing.  It’s probably not the romantic experience I imagine, though. With freedom comes loneliness and isolation and the realization that constraints encircle us. We’re wrapped in invisible cables that preclude real freedom, no matter that we might think we’re free.

I’m just daydreaming with my fingers here. Happiness is elusive and, perhaps, impossible. Or, it may be achievable but with a definition rooted in reality instead of fantasy. Enough of this. I’m off to church to hear ruminations about things that make me think.

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Conversation with Myself

The U.S. Department of Agriculture first printed its “Special Report on Diseases of the Horse” in 1890. It was reprinted in 1896 and later revised and reprinted in 1903, 1908, 1911, and finally in 1916. The 1916 edition, and possibly the earlier ones, included this sentence: “In the mare the thickening of the walls of the bladder may be felt by introducing one finger through the urethra.”

I came upon this information while trying to find a sentence in which the word “bladder” is used to describe something like the rubber bag inside a football. Though I found a very few examples, none of them satisfied me. I was looking for an alternative to “balloon,” because I had used “balloon” in something I wrote last July 5 (in 2018, that is) to describe my head; empty, save for air, and lacking in creative ideas. It occurred to me that I could describe my brain as a hollow bladder instead of an empty balloon, hence the search for usage of “bladder” in a sentence. I wanted to be certain I wasn’t manufacturing definitions to suit my mood; I needed visual reassurance that my intended usage was proper. Instead, I found that my brain is similar to a vessel intended to contain horse urine.  But, as I suggested earlier, my vessel is empty and as far as I know has never contained horse urine. Perhaps my choice of “bladder” was unfortunate. Maybe I should have stayed with “balloon.”

The point I planned to make was that a year has passed since I wrote about the absence of ideas in my head and little has changed with respect to its contents. My head remains empty, vacant, uninhabited by creative thought. One might think that, on the day following Independence Day, my head would be filled with reflections on freedom or self-determination. But, no, such thoughts only create questions about whether freedom and self-determination truly exist or whether we delude ourselves into believing in ideals that have no basis in reality. So I choose vacancy, instead. Vacancy is preferable to clutter drenched in doubt, ambiguity, and skepticism.

Ideas twist and circle around themselves, meeting in the middle and moving along to recreate themselves again. Think of the symbol for infinity, the lemniscate (also called the lemniscate of Bernoulli). I once knew the word and, I believe, used it for some obscure reason but I don’t recall why or when and I can’t find a record of using it, at least not on this blog. That’s neither here nor there, though. My point is that ideas refresh themselves in a never-ending loop. Bladder or balloon; they’re the same thing with just a slight twist. There’s no appreciable difference between my brain and the urinary sac of a mare, if you believe the words of the “Special Report on Diseases of the Horse.

Infinity, by the way, is not a number, according to something I read online. Yet the same scholarly explanation asserts the lemniscate symbol represents an infinitely large number. Later, it goes on to say, “Infinity is not a number. It does not represent a specific number, but an infinitely large quantity.” Methinks mathematicians may not be especially good with language. Of course, it could be that I am neither good with language nor capable of understanding mathematical logic.

Lest I leave lemniscate inadequately explained, let me incorporate a formal definition: “In geometry, the lemniscate of Bernoulli is a plane curve defined from two given points F₁ and F₂, known as foci, at distance 2a from each other as the locus of points P so that PF₁·PF₂ = a².

Maybe my head isn’t empty. Maybe, instead, it is filled with shattered fragments of information I never fully understood, even when they were part of a whole. Perhaps the creativity I crave is there, but shredded with pieces missing. That might explain my affinity for infinity and why I want the use of the word “bladder” to matter.

If I let it, this conversation with myself could balloon into something infinitely large and impossibly complex.

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Language Crimes

Go ahead, call me a Grammar Nazi. But, actually, t’s not grammar. It’s vocabulary. Here’s a heading for a story I read recently on CNN.com:

“Man breaks in to rob a Florida Wendy’s but stops to make himself dinner first.”

The heading, as well as some of the story’s content, just set me off. The guy did not “rob” Wendy’s. He burglarized it in the wee hours of the morning, when no one else was there. Robbery is defined in law as: “the felonious taking of the property of another from his or her person or in his or her immediate presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation.” Breaking into a fast-food joint after hours, when no one is present, is not robbery; it is burglary. It might be vandalism. But it is NOT robbery. Journalists who call such an act “robbery” should be summarily fired and their credentials snatched from them and publicly burned, along with their reputations.

Less than two weeks ago, a woman in Hot Springs Village posted an alert about a “robbery” that took place after hours at a local business. The “robber” was the only person present during his break-in and subsequent efforts to purloin goods from the business. Despite the woman’s lack (I assume) of a journalist’s credentials, my immediate response to her post was to want her ejected from the Village for commission of a language crime. I believe she should have been arrested and imprisoned for a period of no fewer than two months, during which she should be subjected to an intensive lexical intervention.

Despite my sensitivity to monstrous misuses of the English language, I realize I commit such blunders myself. But I do not believe my infractions are as serious as those that cause me such consternation. And my offenses tend to be typographical blunders, rather than ignorance of proper usage. Ignorance of the law of language is not an excuse.

I can’t say why some of these breaches cause me such distress. They do, though. They really set me off. I have little to no compassion for people who break certain rules out of illiteracy or its cousins. Assuming illiteracy has cousins.

My sensitivity to language misuse runs counter to my understanding that language is in a constant state of flux. Definitions evolve, spellings change, usage adjusts to changes in population, etc. I know these things. So my requirement that a certain set of rigid rules be followed is somewhat hypocritical. On the one hand, I defend the flexibility of language; on the other, I am intransigent in my insistence that my rules be followed. I laugh at myself, sometimes.

I make a mockery of linguistic integrity. I wonder if the sentence I just wrote has ever been written before? Well, if one assumes Mother Google knows everything, the sentence is unique to me. Finally, I’ve written something new! I make a mockery of linguistic integrity. I hereby chronicle my accomplishment. If I see those words in print again, in the same order, I will expect to be credited with the manner in which they were ordered.

Actually, I think it’s a crime to attempt to harness language for one’s personal benefit. That being said, novelists and poets could be considered criminals. If one assumes they exploit words for personal gain, that is. If their use of words is for the greater good of humankind, on the other hand, they may be benefactors. It’s all a matter of motive, isn’t it? The same might be said of an assassin. If the killer takes a certain politician’s life out of personal acrimony, the actor is a murderer. If he acts out of patriotic regard for his fellow countrymen, eliminating the politician’s treacherous march toward dictatorship, he may be called a hero. Yet is it the assassin’s motives that matter in this case, or is it the public’s perception of the consequences of the act?

***

I went to the gym this morning for the first time in approximately forever. My intent is to begin rebuilding my stamina and, then, rebuilding my strength. I spent only fifteen minutes on the treadmill, achieving only three-quarters of a mile at a speed of 3.2 miles per hour. I set the machine’s incline to one percent for about half the time and one-half of one percent for the remainder. By the time I’d spent fifteen minutes on the machine, I was beginning to sweat profusely. After I got home, I started coughing. And coughing. And coughing. I have a long way to go before returning to my “old self” in terms of stamina and endurance.

***

In honor of all the people trapped and caged at our southern border, I opted not to make a traditional American breakfast this morning. Instead, I made migas (Spanish for crumbs), a popular dish in the Mexican community in Texas. It’s a simple dish of scrambled eggs, fried strips of corn tortillas, cheese, jalapeños, onions, and crumbled bacon. I made a salsa to go with it; roasted tomatillos, onions, garlic, cilantro, and serranos, mixed at medium speed in a blender. Nice meal, if I say so myself.

 

 

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An Unhappy Place in My Head

Yesterday, I finally began the slow, arduous task of painting the deck. Even though I haven’t yet found someone to complete the replacement of deck boards, I decided paint needed to go on the scraped and sanded boards.

Only one coat has gone on part of the deck, so the appearance may improve with a second (and possibly a third) coat. I hope so. The one coat I put on yesterday gives the planks a uniform color, but the cracks and warped boards show through the paint.

I still have plenty of surface preparation to do. But I want to paint the areas that are ready for painting to prevent the sun from doing any more damage to the bare wood. So, I did some touch-up sanding yesterday and began painting. Today, if the weather cooperates, I’ll finish the surface preparation on the area I started painting, finish applying the first coat to that area, and apply a second coat to the section I painted yesterday. Then, on to the next section. I suspect the job will require at least ten days; that’s because I can’t do very much at a time before needing to stop and rest.

Temperatures yesterday while I was painting reached the upper eighties. There was a time when such heat didn’t bother me, but that time has passed. I had to stop working and come inside several times, just to rehydrate and cool off. The painting part of this project will take far longer than I anticipated, simply because I don’t have the stamina to plow through the job. If I hadn’t already spent close to $2000 on the project so far, I think I would start from scratch with a decking company and have them remove all the old decking and replace the entire thing. I got a bid of $11,000 to do that a couple of years ago; I suspect a competent decking company would charge twenty percent more.

I don’t know if it’s my age, my sedentary lifestyle, my battle with lung cancer, or a combination; whatever it is, I just can’t do the work I once was able to do. There’s so much that needs to be done around the house and yard, but I don’t have the strength or energy to do it. And I can’t even find reliable, competent people to pay to do it for me. I have visions of dozens of projects that, if ever completed, will make our home a more appealing, more attractive, and more comfortable place to live. But those visions seem, this morning, to be more hallucinations than dreams. I’m not in a happy place at the moment.

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Strangely Canadian

“Canada is the largest exporter and the second largest producer of mustard seed in the world, accounting for 75-80 per cent of all mustard exports worldwide, according to the Canadian Special Crops Association.”

So says HUFFPOST Canada. I have no reason to doubt it, though I find it odd that the information was presented as a slide in a slideshow purportedly about the Most “Canadian” Words and Phrases; the word for the slide was, of course, mustard. I’m relatively sure mustard is not a uniquely Canadian, nor is it used in unique ways by Canadians. But I am not certain. Relatively sure leaves room for doubt, whereas certainty does not.

I find myself drawn to articles and stories about Canada because, deep within the bowels of my soul, I believe I am Canadian. I would not be surprised one day to learn I was snatched, as an infant, from a Canadian birthing centre and spirited away to Mercy Hospital in Brownsville, Texas, where I was switched with a tiny Texan. That little Texas boy now lives in coastal Nova Scotia, where he is retired from a distinguished career teaching linguistics at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He also was a professor of sociology and social anthropology. Lucky bastard! He was rumoured to have been engaged in a torrid affair with a current faculty member, Taghrid Abou Hassan, before his retirement. But she denies ever having met the man; I believe her. Some say he started the rumour; he does have an overactive imagination, after all, one that causes some to say he lives in a dream world. His name? Oh, he’s really nobody. You don’t need to know his name. Oh, what the hell, his name is Calypso Kneeblood. Or it may be James Kneeblood. Or maybe it’s Preston Kneeblood. Yeah, that’s it. Preston Kneeblood! His friends and students called him PK. More about PK in another post, perhaps.

Anyway, back to the Most “Canadian” Words and Phrases. Many of them are not linguistic tags that would tend to identify the user as Canadian, so I’ll ignore them. I’ll focus on the words I find interesting for one reason or another.  Like these:

    • Hydro: This word refers to electricity, presumably electricity generated from hydroelectric generators.
    • Deke: A word, rooted in hockey, referring to a player “faking” a move. According to HUFFPOST Canada, it also can mean “to detour,” as in, “I’m going to deke into the store after work to buy beer.”
    • Two-Four: A 24-beer case.
    • Toque: A close-fitting knitted hat, often with a tassel or pom-pom on the crown, generally worn in the winter.
    • Gitch: men’s briefs, used mainly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
    • Gut-foundered: Craving food.

I won’t be able to pass for Canadian until I master these words, along with many others, and until I become much more familiar with dozens and dozens of unique Canadian customs. If not for the fact that Canada’s mustard crops are largely, perhaps exclusively, grown in the prairies (think Saskatchewan), I might become a mustard farmer when I master the culture and move to Canada. Alas, I do not wish to live in Saskatoon or its environs (though, to be fair, I’ve never been to the city, so I shouldn’t knock it).

Canada is not all maple syrup and mustard seed. That is, the country has its share of right-wing nutcases, fascist pigs, and nasty politics. But if the good, peaceful, progressive people of Canada politely demand the country maintain its sense of decency and civility, all will be well. I’m counting on it. I have the sense that I will return to my real birthplace before too many more years pass and I’d like it to be the kind, gentle, forgiving place it was in the early 1950s.

When I finally take that giant step toward what must surely be called destiny (that is, when I move to Canada), I think I’ll start in the eastern part of the country. Perhaps Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland. Then, in a dozen or a hundred or a thousand years, I’ll slowly make my way across Quebec and Ontario and points west. Eventually, I may find myself in Victoria, BC. Or, I might reach the Pacific coast and then begin a leisurely circle, heading north for a while and then east. I might find myself in a community called Déline, Northwest Territories. There, I would learn a painful lesson about the Dené people, whose men died of cancer, in large numbers, after being exposed to radioactive materials. I would learn, too, how the Canadian government supplied uranium from the area to the United States, which in turn used the material in the manufacture of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even happy stories sometimes have ugly undersides.

I don’t think I’m alone in knowing very little about the geography of Canada, nor about its culture and history. That’s an embarrassment I believe I share with the vast majority of people who grew up in the United States. We know very little about other countries, even our close neighbors to the north and south. We’re indoctrinated, from grade school on, to believe the United States is the center of the universe and that our country is “the best.” Questioning the veracity of those claims subjects one to ridicule, at best, or accusations that one is traitorous. I used to think such parochial “education” was an accidental byproduct of a system designed to instill a sense of pride in the place we call home. Today, I believe we were, and are, subjected to intentional jingoist training meant to serve those in power. Knowledge of our neighboring countries’ geographies and cultures serves no useful purpose to our country’s commandant-class. Such knowledge could, in fact, endanger their positions of power and privilege; so, we are spoon-fed a diet of hyper-patriotism that purposely excludes much detail about the rest of the world.

How is it, I wonder, that genuine patriotism and pride has gone so badly off the rails? That question has too many answers that require too deep a dive into our nation’s psyche for me to even begin to answer here. So let me return to my future Canadian citizenship.

Inasmuch as I was, by birth, a Canadian (remember, I was snatched away as a child and left in a hospital in a Texas border town), I think my affinity to my home country has its roots in my genes. Canadians, as you are no doubt aware, are genetically unique; their (our) genes predispose us to our well-known Canadian traits. It’s no accident that Canadians, as a class, are known to be polite, kind, and of above-average intelligence; it’s in our genes. Oddly, that is true whether the Canadians in question are Aboriginal Canadians or, as I call them, late-comers. Apparently, our genetic makeup arises, in part, from the soil. Whether First Nations, Inuit, newly-born Quebecois, or Banffite Albertan, soil-borne Canadian genes permeate our gene pool.

I suspect that, when I move to Canada, my genetic Canadianism will be activated. I’ll be more receptive to information about Canada’s history, geography, and lifestyle. And the information will stick; growing up in the U.S., I (along with most of my fellow countrymen) was coated in some sort of hyper-slippery knowledge-repellent that causes “foreign” information to slide off my brain cells. It’s like WD-40 but even more lubricous. Anyhow, when I return to the country of my birth, I’ll begin the process of absorbing one thousand years’ worth of knowledge. My transformation won’t take long; I suspect I’ll be fully Canadianized by my third year of permanent residency. Part of that process, of course, will be my inevitable introduction to that Texan who took my place: Preston Kneeblood.

It’s coincidental, I suppose, that Kneeblood has lived his entire lifetime with a yearning to “return” to Texas. But, given his deeply progressive political views, he has always known he would not fit in. Still, he imagines he could enjoy a life of peace there if he could just live in isolation, perhaps in a desolate area of west Texas, far from cities. And he’d have to be miles and miles and miles away from the nearest oilfield; he could not abide the stench and noise of drilling rigs and the men who work on them.

But this post isn’t about PK, is it? No, it is not. But it is about to come to an end. I feel confident, though, that more will come about my life as a returning Canadian.

It’s just after 5:30 and I’ve been up for two hours. This is madness. I should be asleep in bed. Instead, I’m hallucinating about things Canadian. Perhaps if I play a French-language audio CD while I sleep, I’ll be fluent in Canadian French by the time I awake.  Hah! I doubt I’ll go back to bed at this hour. That, too, would be madness. I’ll just drink my coffee and wonder what’s up with this world we live in.

Posted in Absurdist Fantasy | 3 Comments

Opinionated About Men and Women

Why is it that women, in general, are more interesting than men, in general? Why is it that women tend to be unafraid of being silly and emotional, whereas men tend to avoid being silly for fear of looking silly? Men hide their insecurities behind façades of bravado. Women admit their insecurities and, in fact, celebrate them more than occasionally. Again, I’m speaking in generalities, not in absolutes. But generalities tend largely to be descriptive of reality.

The genesis of these thoughts and this rant was a conversation I heard on Saturday afternoon at a reception following a celebration of life memorial service for a church member who died recently. A woman sitting at my table mentioned that she and a group of her women friends had organized an obituary-writing party. They gathered at a group member’s home, sat in comfortable chairs, and broke out bottles of wine. Then, they commenced to writing one another’s obituaries. Though I didn’t hear full details, I gathered that their objectives were to write fun, funny, memorable obituaries that described the personalities of their friends—peculiarities, warts, glitches, and all. The obituaries, as I understood it, were to celebrate the lives of the people about whom they were written. The real lives, not the after-the-fact, cosmetically altered lives.

As I thought about this obituary-writing party, I considered how different an all-male event of this type might be. The men, to start, would not partake of wine. Instead, the drink of choice would be Scotch or bourbon or beer. A few of them would abstain and, instead, would drink coffee. And the men, I supposed, would recall their friends’ pratfalls, golf blunders, and hunting accidents. On the more serious side, they would attribute to their friends attributes such as bravery, gallantry, grit, determination, and protectorship of the family. If they allowed themselves to be even remotely maudlin, they might recall a loving spouse, loving father, and steadfast friend; they likely would go no farther, no deeper. Allowing one’s emotions to go on display endangers one’s masculinity.

The women, on the other hand, might recall characteristics that revealed a carefree, light-hearted person who embraced life and lived it to the fullest. They might remember a gentle person who got the most joy from helping her friends in their times of need. They might recall a fun-loving person who thrived on laughter and whimsy. Stories would abound about uninhibited and delightfully inappropriate peals of laughter in somber environments. Recollections of tender moments, interspersed with memories of fierce determination, would describe not the consummate woman but a real human being whose life touched everyone around her.

Perhaps I’m drawing too great a distinction between men and women, but I think it’s necessary to accentuate the differences between them to understand why I find women more interesting. Their conversations seem broader in scope and they delve deeper into matters that…matter. That is not to say I do not find conversations with men interesting. Yet for some reason that I can’t quite pin down, I’m more comfortable engaging in conversation with women. I don’t feel the need to be as careful of what I say, lest I be silently but obviously judged as insufficiently masculine. I suppose part of the disconnect is that I have almost no interest in the go-to conversation for men—sports. “How ’bout them Cowboys?” My disinterest generally results in my exclusion from the conversation; which is, I’ll admit, better than being included.

Insecurities. Sometimes they can be endearing. But sometimes they can be debilitating. It all depends on context. Use those sentence fragments as a conversation-starter with a woman and then do the same with a man. I’ll take odds that the woman will find the subject fascinating and will readily engage in conversation. The man, though, will awkwardly attempt to change the subject to a topic that is safer; that is, one that doesn’t risk emotional revelation.

I think it’s obvious that I am opinionated about the dimensions of maleness-femaleness. If I allow myself to think more deeply about the matter and force myself to look at the issue rationally, I have to admit I tend to focus on relatively minor things that bother me. “Bother me” doesn’t quite describe the sense I feel; it’s more like “make me realize I do not fully understand the situation.” A lack of understanding, though, doesn’t always keep me from having an unwavering opinion. That’s what opinionated is all about.

 

 

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Ćevapčići

Last night’s dinner consisted of ćevapčići (pronounced, as best as I can determine, “chevopcheche”), sliced purple onion, and sliced tomatoes. I made the ćevapčići from a pound of 80/20 ground beef, one-third of a cup of lukewarm water, and a package of ćevapčići mix. The ćevapčići  mix was probably well past its “use by” date, inasmuch as we bought it more than a year ago at a Serbian-owned auto shop/car wash/convenience store on the west side of Hot Springs. Its age, though, did not detract from the flavor. I learned from the director of pari mutuel betting for Oak Lawn Racetrack in Hot Springs that the business sells Balkan foodstuff. I met the Oak Lawn woman through a fellow writer, who suggested he and I write about her history; she was born in the former Yugoslavia and immigrated to the U.S. when she was about eight years old. She’s fifty-three or fifty-four now. But she is not what this post is about. It’s about ćevapčići.

When my wife and I visited the business a year (or more) ago, we were intrigued by the packaged foods and we bought several things. Only recently did we realize we had let them sit in the pantry, unused and unappreciated. So we decided to take action. Hence last night’s dinner. I admit that I was prompted to take action by the fact that the package of ćevapčići mix was made in Croatia, a place we’ll be visiting (me for the second time, my wife for the first) within the next few months. Anyway…

I made ćevapčići sticks, using beef. I cooked them on top of the stove, in a skillet. I would have preferred to have grilled them, but for many reasons I won’t get into here, I couldn’t. Dammit! Dammit to hell! Ach! Well, that’s history now.

I cooked the “sticks” as best I could, then we ate them. I was expecting fast food quality. I got seriously tasty quality, not at all reminiscent of fast food. Damn, it was tasty!

The fact that I used a packaged mix was bothersome, to me. So, next time, I’ll prepare the spices myself. Assuming I can find them and can combine them in appropriate fashion.

Ethnic foods impress me. I find the accomplishments of other cultures to be both inspiring and fascinating. And impressive in the extreme. That’s why I attempt to emulate them. At least that’s part of it. There must be something else. I suspect the fact that other cultures are not so damn arrogant and self-important has a little something to do with it.

I try to love everyone and everything. I fail miserably. But I think my endeavor is an admirable goal. I hope you succeed where I have failed.

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A Northern Thai Birthday Celebration

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, so we went out to dinner last night in celebration. She had mentioned to me after we had lunch at the place, kBird, a couple of months ago that she would like to return for a special dinner to celebrate her birthday. She had noticed a hand-written announcement of a weekly Khantoke (a northern Thai special dinner). Normally, kBird is open only for lunch, when they serve Thai food from central and southern Thailand, the stuff most Americans expect when eating at Thai restaurants. But these once-a-week Khantoke events depart from American “tradition” to explore foods that most of us never experience. According to one of the staff who spoke to us last night, kBird is the only restaurant in the USA that serves this style of northern Thai food.

I should describe kBird. It is a tiny spot, located inside an old, yellow house in a residential neighborhood a little bit north of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. I would guess the place could comfortably seat about fourteen to eighteen people, but at last night’s dinner, there were twelve of us and it would have been crowded with a few more. Much of the food prep work is done across the counter from the dining area. The cooking is done in what I assume is a kitchen right off the dining/prep area. The staff  last night consisted of four people, including a guy who I assume is either the owner or the lead among a group of owners.

At any rate, experience it we did. The cost for the dinner was $49 per person, taxes included (slightly higher if paying by credit card), plus tip. The place is BYOB (we didn’t, but the other two tables, one of six people and another of four, did). We were the only solo couple in the place. I think it would have been even more fun had we had another couple or two join us.  We could have accommodated two other people at our table, but it would have been extremely tight when they brought the food, which is served family-style.

For the price, we were treated to a 12-item menu, plus dessert, that included the following:

    • steamed sticky rice (picked up with one’s fingers and rolled into balls for dipping in sauces)
    • phak soht & nung (fresh and steamed Thai vegetables)
    • nam prik ong (chile-based sauce made with dried chiles, ground pork and tomatoes) ;
    • a meat plate that included:
      • pork rinds,
      • fried chicken with makwaen (I have no idea what makwaen is),
      • sai oud (an intriguing Thai pork sausage, typically eaten fermented but uncooked; ours, though, was cooked “to temperature” to comply with FDA regulations or some such requirement),
      • nam prik noom (roasted chile dip for the meats), and
      • haem (fermented pork);
    • yam makheva yao (smoked eggplant salad);
    • gaeng hanglae (Burmese-style pork curry with ginger and peanuts);
    • kanom jeen nam ngiew (pork & blood cube curry with red Cotton tree stamens);
    • aep bplaa duuk (catfish with herbs, steamed in banana leaves), and
    • a sweet rice-based dessert with sliced mangoes.

I could not get very good photos, so I’m not posting them. Suffice it to say there was a LOT of food on the table. It was all delivered to our tables before we began eating.

We learned from our host that northern Thailand is considerably cooler than the central and southern parts of the long, narrow country (more than 1,000 miles from south to north). The northern part of the country is more arid, too, so coconut palms do not grow there. As such, coconut milk (which is ubiquitous as an ingredient in many Thai foods with which I am familiar) is not found in Lanna Thai (northern Thai) food.

The meal provided more food than we could eat. We tried, but could not finish all the dishes. Most of it, I think, is not really suitable as “leftovers,” but one of the sauces, in particular, seemed like it might work, so my wife put it in a to-go container to take home. We’ll see, today, whether it weathered the trip home.

All in all, I’d say the evening was a delightful way to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We both left full and happy with the meal and the experience.

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Debatable

I wonder how quickly the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls will shrink to a manageable number? As in, fewer than five. And, then, just two or three. With one standout among them.

I watched most of the first two Democratic debates. My top picks so far are: Julián Castro, Corey Booker, and Elizabeth Warren from the first night’s debates and Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris from the second night. If I had to pick one candidate today from among those I consider the top five, I would pick Pete Buttigieg, though the remainder of my “top five” group all have potential. I’ve grown less and less confident that Elizabeth Warren could garner enough support to beat 45. And what about Biden and Sanders? Both of them came across as relics during debate night number two. As much as I like Bernie, I think he lets ideology rule over practicality. And I think Biden is a nice guy, but he’s just not nice enough to counter his deficits.

Even though Buttigieg is among the lesser-known candidates (though his stock has soared since the beginning of this year), he is the one whose policy positions most appeal to me. His ideas seem based on deep thought and a thorough understanding of the country’s place in history in this dark shadow of the American dream. He’s obviously extremely intelligent and rational. He’s young and energetic and seems to me far less enamored of holding onto ideas simply because they are Democratic than the other candidates.

I hope the field of Democratic candidates thins very, very quickly so that there’s time to build a huge outpouring of support for a set of solid ideological underpinnings that should (will?) turn the mood of the country around. I think the candidates who said we are in a battle for the soul of America are right. If we lose the battle next year, the war is over and the country will be on an irreversible downward spiral.

 

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Chiggers Are Evil

After the fact, I berate myself for having failed to soak my feet, ankles, and legs with Deep Woods Off. I curse the laziness responsible for the absence of insect repellent around my belt line. And I express displeasure at the bankrupt ineffectiveness of lotions sold as treatments for the creatures’ bites. The creatures to which I am referring, of course, are the larvae of “trombiculid mites,” otherwise known as chiggers. Until I moved to Arkansas, just over five years ago, I had never (to my knowledge and recollection) been bitten by the savage beasts. But since my arrival, I have encountered the monsters every summer. Scars, courtesy of scratching the itches their bites cause, remain today from those first awful bites around my feet and my belt line.

At last count, I had nine (or was it eleven?) chigger bites. Mostly around my feet, but a few on my lower legs and my inner thighs. I spend very little time walking through or around tall grasses. In fact, I avoid exposure to places where chiggers are said to thrive. Yet I somehow manage to attract the beasts. They dine on my flesh and cause awful itching thereafter.

From what I’ve read, chiggers are EVERYWHERE. But I’ve never encountered them until I moved to Arkansas. Hence my displeasure with this state. Not only is Arkansas a decidedly conservative state (conservative, in this context, being a synonym for willfully stupid), it is a breeding ground for aggressive chiggers. Chiggers are too small to see, but apparently have enormous teeth that rip into flesh like demonic chain saws. And, apparently, their saliva contains an ingredient that is, in effect, an aggressive antonym of calamine lotion. That is, chigger slobber causes itching an order of magnitude more distressing than abdominal surgery without amnesia.

It’s probably a good thing that I do not have ready access to a handgun, lest I injure myself  (or worse) while discharging it in an effort to shoot to kill the little red bastards. I’ve done enough damage simply by scraping the flesh down to bone while scratching the itches caused by chigger bites.  If I thought I could assassinate the monsters by smashing them with a hammer, I am sure I’d have massive bruises all over my feet and legs. I wonder whether the pain associated with dousing my legs in gasoline and striking a match would be more or less intense than the discomfort of chigger bites? I may well find out.

I am not happy with the chigger population in and around my home. I want to evict them but I don’t know how. Henceforth, I think I’ll fill a very deep tub with Deep Woods Off and will, before I leave the house, step into the tub. I will stoop down until the liquid covers every inch of me, up to my neck. Only then will I feel comfortable walking out the door. But I’ll carry a flame-thrower with me, incinerating everything in front of me to be sure I don’t risk another bite.

Yeah, that’s it.

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Indistinguishable Facts and Fictions

The horizon, what little I can see of it against the black outline of tree trunks and leaves, is salmon pink. Or coral. Oh, I don’t know; the color is hard to describe and hard to look away from. It’s gorgeous. Above the salmon pink band, the color fades to tan then, as my eyes move higher, to blue. I think the signs point to a clear sky when the sun peaks above the edge of the earth.

It’s too early for me to be thinking about having lunch in Bangkok, but that’s one of the things on my mind at the moment. I read an article on NPR’s website shortly after I woke up, around 4:30, about Raan Jay Fai, a seven-table street food restaurant in Bangkok. The article primed me for lunch; I’ll have to wait until 2 p.m. (local Bangkok time) to eat; even then, I may not get in. The line for available non-reserved seating starts early. Two young women from Austin, Texas stood in line beginning at 7:30 a.m. to get in the day they enjoyed (that is, raved about) the food.

I don’t have any plans to go to Bangkok, but I would love to eat Bangkok street food. I do have plans to go to Croatia, though, so I started checking online for places in Dubrovnik we might want to visit while on our own time. As expected, I found dozens of places that sound intriguing, but several of those are described as “fine dining” establishments, which I do not plan to visit. I found plenty of others, though, that sound appealing. For example, Ala Mizerija sounds like my kind of place. It’s not the sort of place one expects to find a full meal; instead, I think I’d be happy with the anchovies bruschetta, some “small fried fish,” and a glass of house white wine. Or red. Whichever they bring to the table. If I can’t go there, I’ll be happy with Dingdong Korean Restaurant. Or, I suspect, anyplace else.

Speaking of restaurants, I’ve come up with another pop-up restaurant concept. I call my imaginary place Impromptu. Its physical location will be wherever I happen to be when the freshest, highest-quality ingredients and the appropriate cooking tools and equipment are available to me. I’ll send an email alert to people who have signed up to be notified of Impromptu’s availability, notifying them of the general time-frame for the meal and the geographic area they will have to go if they opt to have lunch (or dinner). Once I get commitments in response, I’ll send the address and the specific serving time. The menu will depend on the available ingredients. Guests will not choose from a menu; rather, they will be served the menu I create. Not a great scene for picky eaters. But adventurous eaters will be in for a treat.

The locations for Impromptu are apt to be existing restaurants that close on Sundays and Mondays (like many around here do) or in venues that have large commercial kitchens, like some churches here do. (I’m thinking, specifically, of the Christ of the Hills United Methodist Church; I’ve been in that kitchen and I know it would work.) I suspect other churches have the facilities I’d need. And Coronado Center, too, has a kitchen, but I have not seen it. It seems wasteful to me for venues to go unused so much of the time (churches, especially). I think pop-up restaurants would be a great way to take advantage of their down-time. Not only for food service, either. Live performance space. Musical shows. Pop-up Third Places that provide comfortable, welcoming places to simply sit and enjoy coffee and tea and read the newspaper or work on jigsaw puzzles. I think I’ve gone off on a tangent, haven’t I?

Impromptu is not my first imaginary restaurant. No, I think the first one is The French Kangaroo, which is the name I’ve since given to our kitchen, wherever we happen to live.  And Cobra is what I call my idea for a multi-ethnic restaurant whose menu changes day-to-day, offering spicy dishes from around the world. There may be others. Some of my fictional characters, too, own restaurants, taverns, bars, and what have you. For example, Calypso Kneeblood is the proprietor of Fourth Estate Tavern in Struggles, Arkansas. And another character, Willem Svart, does not necessarily own (but might) yet frequents a place called Scrawl, which serves a mix of Scandinavian and South African cuisine in an environment designed to be a third place. Scrawl is a little like the Beehive gastropub in Hot Springs Village, but Scrawl is far edgier and has a more extensive menu that, if I were to write more about it, would change frequently. Scrawl might meld into Impromptu, if I were writing about it. Which, I guess, I am.

A French woman who now lives in the San Diego area, a woman I know only through the ether (Facebook and her blog, etc.), writes fiction that incorporates fine cuisine. Or, perhaps, it’s that she writes recipes for dishes I consider fine cuisine, then incorporates them into her fiction. No matter. My point is that others indulge their passion for food and fiction in ways that may not mirror my behavior but, at least, demonstrate that I’m not alone. She and I encourage one another and, I think, appreciate one another’s writing. I know I appreciate hers.

My fictional restaurants would not become part of a hyper-successful restaurant empire. They might be, at it were, a “flash in the pan” that flares and then dies out in an instant, only to be reborn in another form in another place. Like Calypso Kneeblood and his brothers or cousins or whatever relations they are to one another. Kneeblood’s brother, James, once opened a bar in old East Dallas. He called it The Third Place, an utterly unoriginal name for an utterly unoriginal place. James is the guy who had five oddly-named daughters by several different wives. His daughters were Phaelaysho, Rumour, Mexican, Inebria, and Lugubria. James disappeared from my fiction some time ago. I suspect one day he will be found in a jail cell in New Orleans, serving a two-year sentence for extensive destruction of private property. When he’s finally released, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he opens a bar and grill in a dying town in west Texas. If the places were bigger, Struggles, Arkansas and this as-yet-unnamed town in west Texas might be called sister cities. But “city” is far too grandiose a term for those places.

***

Returning now to reality, my cough seems to be improving since my doctor prescribed a diuretic and potassium. He thinks the cough could be the result of fluid retention, which might include fluid in and about my lungs. I hope the pills do the trick, though I’m not sure whether they are “fixing” the problem or simply eliminating the symptoms for the short term.

I visited another doctor yesterday (as I wrote about briefly yesterday afternoon). He spent about 45 seconds with me, after spending about 45 seconds reviewing my chart. He didn’t need to spend more time. He sent me on my way, suggesting I do not need to return. That’s good.

I’m tired of doctors, though I’m glad they’re available. Now, if I could just reach the point of not needing them, all would be right with the world.  But perhaps I need a different kind of doctor, like a psychiatrist. That’s a story too long to tell after having written so much fluff for so long.

If the sky cooperates, I may be able to sand a bit on my deck today and, if the stars align, begin painting. Hallelujah! But I’m not going to count my chickens just yet, lest I discover sticky, dried yolks all over the deck.

What do you get when you combine flavor with whimsy? Flimsy. I don’t know, it just came out. I could not help it. It’s as bad as it gets.

 

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Brittle Memories

It hasn’t been long since I finished my chemo and radiation treatments, but apparently I’ve tried to erase the experiences from memory. I say that because I returned to my radiologist’s office for a follow-up this afternoon and all the sensations I felt on a daily basis rushed back to fill that empty space from which I tried to eliminate them.

On one hand, I hate this place; it feels clinical and sterile and hopeless. On the other, my time here undergoing treatments may well have extended my life by months or years. So I appreciate this cold, hard place. But I still don’t like it.

My radiologist told me I don’t need to return unless I have specific issues I want to discuss with him…as long as my surgeon and oncologist continue to follow me.

I was surprised by my reaction. It was different from my response while being treated. I guess the whole of the cancer experience was more emotionally onerous than I thought.

 

 

 

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Doing Cartwheels in the Sky

Daydreams—call them fantasies if you like—keep a person fresh. Those reveries paint pictures in our minds of an environment in which we exercise control of the world around us. They allow us to be bold, daring, adventuresome; without fear of the consequences we might face in the “real world.” But daydreams are the real world. They simply hide from everyone but the dreamer. Yet they lack the danger that’s present in the real world. Yet they have the potential of making us believe the potential dangers are surmountable. And so they can push us to do or say things we ought not do or say. And therein lies the peril of “harmless” self-induced hallucination. When we begin to merge the real with the imagined, when we blend experience with delusion, that’s when our worlds begin to fall apart.

Now, it sounds like I’m describing a mental breakdown, a psychotic break. But I’m not. I’m describing a wishful state in which the desires and armors that surround us in our fantasies interfere with our ability to suppress our emotions and avoid emotional collisions.

In fact, I’m pretending to understand and present a state of emotional pairing about which I know almost nothing. But I’m writing as if I understand this pairing, if it exists, as deeply as one possibly can. Why would I do this? The reasons are too numerous and too complex for me to explain in the time I have given myself to write this bogus diatribe. Suffice it to say I am imitating the style of charlatans and other swindlers and fakes who present themselves as highly knowledgeable of a subject, with the objective of conning and convincing others to believe them; to come around to their bigoted, jaundiced point of view.

Daydreams can be useful outlets of emotions. For example, when thinking about the charlatans whose style I said I was imitating, I might imagine hacking them to death with a blunt axe. Imagining the act might satisfy my lust for revenge against someone who cheats and cons others. Without that emotional outlet, I might make it my mission to find a blunt axe and put it to use. On the other hand, as I suggested above, my imagination might trigger the very act by convincing me that I would not face consequences for my action. Again, I am making this up as I go. I don’t have a clue what I’m writing about. I’m just writing.

Back to my original point. Daydreams keep a person fresh. Whether true or not, I believe it to be a fact. We create experience by daydreaming/fantasizing/hallucinating/imagining. Daydreaming bends our minds just enough to flex them, but not so much as to break them. Well, usually not so much as to break them. Charles Manson may be the exception that proves the rule. Or maybe not. I know virtually nothing of Charles Manson’s mental state, though I surmise that he was as crazy as they come. I had forgotten (assuming I ever knew) that he died in prison in 2017 at the age of 83. Manson was not fresh, in my opinion. He was stale and rotten; his brain was a container filled with putrid, fetid, rancid ideas gone bad.

Somehow, my original point has been lost or derailed. I think derailed is a better term. My point now resembles a damaged locomotive, switched to the wrong track and pushed to its maximum speed as it approaches a section of vandalized track, the rails bent and deformed, with pieces missing. When the heavy engine reaches the broken track, it lurches to the right and comes off the rails, ripping through dense forest, splintering huge trees and setting the woodlands ablaze. I don’t think my original point has the capacity to inflict such damage, actually. So maybe the simile was a bit overblown. More than a bit, actually.

While I’m writing, I might as well mention that my deck remains unfinished. And it will until the weather cooperates. The weather must be suitable for more sanding and, following that, painting. Also, I need to get some more pieces of lumber, but that can wait. I do wish I knew a dependable handyman who could and would come help when the time is right. Wish in one hand, spit in the other, and see which one fills up fastest.  I daydream about the deck being finished and the wood railing being replaced with horizontal wire railing. See? I did manage to get daydreams back into this flight of fancy. This flight of fancy is much like the flight of a large soaring bird, high on LSD and cocaine, doing cartwheels in the sky. I swear I remember that “doing cartwheels in the sky” were among the lyrics to a song I heard in the 1960s or 1970s, but Mother Google will neither confirm nor deny it. Enough of this. I need to go sit on the deck and imagine it complete and serving as a setting for an evening gathering over drinks and hors d’ouvres.

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The Child Who Is Not Embraced by the Village…

I have seen this proverb before but, for some reason, the depth of its meaning did not reach me until I saw it yesterday. Yesterday, its truth became so obvious to me that I slapped my forehead with the palm of my hand and wondered how I could have overlooked the wisdom contained in those words. “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” We wonder why mistreated and ignored young people engage in self-destructive behavior and perform acts that degrade even further the environments into which they were born and left to make do on their own. We wonder. Well, the Ethiopian proverb gives us the answer.

The words go beyond ignored or mocked or mistreated youth. People in the workplace, in the family, around the neighborhood. Everywhere we have the opportunity to engage and accept people. We also have the opportunity to isolate and ignore or reject them. When we choose the latter, we risk becoming the trigger for unpleasant or event violent responses born of rejection.

As I contemplate this proverb, I think of the migrant children being held along the Mexican border in conditions that resemble concentration camps. U.S. officials responsible for their detention and the conditions under which they are held should consider this Ethiopian adage because, one day, those children may well “burn down the village to feel its warmth.” What village? The village that began life in 1776, of course.

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Jeremiad

As I skim materials I’ve written in months and years past, I realize my collected works could well be called Jeremiad. That is,  “a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint.” Also, “a cautionary or angry harangue.” Those definitions come from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. In fact, I’ve been known, right here on this blog, to refer to various of my writings as diatribes, screed, and philippics.

Given that I use this blog as an outlet with which to express my thoughts and opinions, it’s safe to assume that my world-view isn’t particularly effervescent. In some ways, I’d like to change that. But in others, I think changing my world-view would be tantamount to replacing the person who lives in my skin. Both objectives could be persuasively argued, I think. Staying true to oneself is an admirable position to take, on the one hand, but self-improvement has its value, as well. And “staying true to oneself” requires knowing what is true of oneself, a state of being I’ve frequently noted does not apply to me; that is, I don’t who I am, at my core. That’s a topic for another time, though. Or, rather, other times.

It’s relatively rare that I write cheerful, uplifting, or otherwise counter-depressive. I suppose that’s natural, given my innately morose disposition. But am I really innately morose? I think not, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Try as I sometimes do, I cannot snuff out the eternal optimism that grows like kudzu inside my head. Yet, wrapped around that optimistic kudzu, cynicism in the form of aggressive English ivy fights for control.

I make light of my bleakness but it’s not really suited to facetiousness. Despite the fact that my somber writing may mirror who I am, it shouldn’t. Humans are meant to enjoy the world we inhabit, not to wallow in despondency. But writing that struggles to escape that sense of dispiritedness and desolation is actually, I’d argue, a good sign. It demonstrates that one continues to fight and refuses to give in to the gloom and melancholia that breeds within.

During the entirety of 2014, I wrote my Thoughts for the Day every single day of the year. Many of them were affirmations. A few were especially dull and depressing. But more were positive than negative. And I guess that’s true of my posts, in general. A mixed bag. Yet for some reason I tend to gravitate toward the ones that suggest dejection. Maybe they represent better writing. Or maybe they suggest a need for salve. And that might be the thing that draws me to them. I think I will continue to reflect on all this. I’ve been doing it for years and I see no compelling reason to stop now.

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