Straining

I hear it often: “If a person doesn’t love himself, first, he can’t love others.” Frequently, that sentiment is followed by “And if he can’t love himself, no one else can love him, either.” If that’s true, a person who can’t love himself is sentenced to a truly cold and hopeless existence. It condemns him to either find a way to love the unlovable or to accept emotional isolation; being shunned by the only people who could possibly reach him. There’s no way out for him, because it’s not really a choice. It is a penalty.

Why might a person be unable to love himself? There are hundreds of reasons. Recollections of past thoughts or actions. Recognition of attitudes or behaviors that fly in the face of accepted social mores. Belief in his inability to be the kind of person others would be willing or able to love. Regret about actions taken, or not taken, that would have proven his decency or his humanity. The list is as endless as the shades of human thought and behavior; it goes on and on and on.

Whatever the reason for a person’s self-loathing, if that’s what it is, the inability to love oneself is far easier to tolerate and to accept than the belief that others might find him unlovable. That is the soul-crushing aspect of a person’s failure to find self-love within; he is told his inability to love himself is just cause for others to feel the same about him. So, not only is his loathing of the person he lives with every moment of his life his fault, so is the fact that others can’t love him, either. It’s all on his shoulders. The only way out is to, somehow, find a way to love himself. That’s not even remotely possibly without help.

I know this. I’ve written, or at least thought, my way through these characters. Every facet of their personalities. They will not, cannot, change without some form of intervention. Usually a painful, embarrassing, chaotic intervention. And those interventions often fail to achieve the desired outcomes. They drive him deeper into a dark hole where he buries himself under more and more condemnatory accusations that he is unworthy of love.

The more unworthy he feels, the more unworthy he appears. His defenses against the pain of being unworthy of love become offenses against those who would love him, but for his behavior. The only way to break the cycle is for someone who matters to him to lie to him; make him believe he is worthy, even though he might not be. That’s the kind of intervention that might work, but often fails. But to get to that point, someone who has suffered the agony of dealing with him and his inability to love himself must be willing to wade through even more suffering and risk even more. That person is the hero in the story, if he or she succeeds; he or she becomes the savior. But if the outcome is failure, no one emerges victorious. Everyone is further damaged. The attempt at salvation becomes a tragedy of the human spirit; love is burned in effigy and its ashes are smeared in the rubble of humanity.

These are the kinds of thoughts that can make for a depressing day. But that’s just what emerged this morning, so they are what I’ve written about. I’ve been thinking about people I write about and how they sometimes suffer. I think understanding them helps me write more convincingly about them. Experiencing what they experience, though, is sometimes too hard. So I have to lay it out as an abstraction and attribute it to two-dimensional characters. That makes it easier to peel away, as if they were sheets of paper or layers of an onion.

This morning, I will go to Jackson House to help prepare and serve meals to people who are hungry. I am going alone, as my wife has said she is not interested in going. Maybe I’m doing it in an attempt to make up for my own failings. I’d like to think I’m doing it because I feel compassion for the people I will help feed, but I’m afraid that’s only a fraction of my motivation. I’m afraid my motives are more selfish than selfless. I’m afraid it’s  like praying, in the hope the light of my good deeds will dim the spotlight on my faults.

Last night, I met with volunteers who will participate with me in organizing and orchestrating the church services auction in April. Though I agreed to participate, I wouldn’t call my decision to do so a voluntary act; I allowed my own guilt at considering refusal to push me toward doing it. I did it two years ago. I have little interest in doing it again. But I guess no one else offered and so I am the default fallback. And, rather than balk, I readily acquiesced to the gentle inquiry as to whether I would do it again.

There, again, is a difficult situation. I don’t want to do it, but if I refused, I would feel like I am being selfish. Yet by accepting I feel I am an easy mark who can’t say “no.” No matter which way I go, I feel it’s a no-win situation for me. I just want to withdraw from everything and everyone. Just uncoil and unwind and remove the tensile strain of being pulled in directions my mind and body do not want to go. But it’s not external forces. I’m not being pulled. I’m pushing myself. I’m allowing myself to be cajoled and coaxed, not shoved and dragged. It’s not “them,” it’s me. I am the one doing it to myself. Willingly, but against my will; it doesn’t have to make sense to be true.

I don’t feel like showering or shaving this morning. I may do neither. I can fake looking presentable before going to Jackson House. I hope. But if I don’t succeed at faking it, so be it. At the moment, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just go feed the hungry and be done with it.

Posted in Love, Self-Loathing | 4 Comments

The Bad Poet

The bad poet mangles words and scorches meanings,
bludgeoning beauty until it resembles a bloated
corpse left in the desert sun for an entire season.

The bad poet ruins ideas, polluting them with bias as
thick as an atmosphere of hatred and as baseless
as claims air is unhealthy unless you can see it.

The bad poet forces syllables into unhealthy relationships
with Roman numerals and mathematical formulas,
recording the sordid fornication on magnetic media.

The bad poet tears words into deformed letters—bent
and broken and devoid of meaning—and reforms those
fragments into lies and broken promises.

The bad poet treats language like an object of derision,
mocking its inconsistencies and berating phrases as if
they deserved vowel resection without amnesia.

The bad poet crosses the threshold between language
and life, spreading disease and distemper with every
step, and infecting the mundane with the monstrous.

The bad poet breaks guitar strings and plays the
violin with a bow fashioned from a rusted cross-cut saw
dipped in tree sap and smeared with thick tar.

The bad poet gives haircuts with pinking shears and
shaves with Mussolini-era safety razors stored in
in a jar filled with equal parts of urine and salt water.

The bad poet howls with laughter at funerals and weddings,
toasting the main attraction with absinthe and coca-cola while
hawking nude photos of the Pope in compromising positions.

The bad poet grins at the sentencing judge and threatens
her with language that would cause starving artists to
welcome anorexia and creative amnesia into their lives.

The bad poet cloaks herself in a juror’s robes and
sentences his audience to immortality, locked in an
echo chamber where only the poet speaks.

The bad poet tears beauty from the sky and
tramples it under muddy feet in sodden graveyards
filled with beautiful ideas made profane in his presence.

How do we deal with the bad poet, this broken piece
of the universe whose words shatter our souls
and bring tears of pain and rage to our eyes?

How do we cope with his pervasive distrust of everything
human and her broken heart and their cries for mercy,
hidden beneath layers of aggression and fear?

The bad poet is only as bad as the darkest night of
the darkest soul, but he is as ubiquitous as the view
in every reflection in every mirror.

The only cure for the bad poet is compassion and
understanding—an open mind and an open heart—
and patience as deep as the deepest black sky.

Posted in Poetry, Writing | Leave a comment

Habitually Strange

More than half of the month of January sped past without my knowledge or consent. Okay, I knew it was in the process of slinking along, but I am stunned to look back at the speed with which the last eighteen days have flown by. If the rest of the year proceeds as quickly, I might have to force myself not to blink so I won’t miss it. My words suggest this matter of time speeding by is simple silliness. It’s not.

Somehow, I’ve allowed myself the useless indulgence of watching the world go by, rather than actively participating in its motion. Too much of my days are spent sitting in front of my computer or otherwise taking affirmative action to stay out of the fray of daily life. I am not insisting on participating in the process of living. Instead, I’ve been letting life simply happen to me. It’s not entirely about physical motion; it’s about mental engagement, as well.

Habits. Routines. Somewhere in the litter of synonyms for “habit” is the word, “weakness.” That’s what a bad habit is; a weakness that becomes a pattern of behavior. Smoking is a weakness. When I finally realized how much that weakness had damaged my physical health, I was able to quit. And only after I quit for quite some time did I realize how offensive that habit was to virtually everyone around me; the weakness made me stink and gave my skin an almost imperceptible coating that carried with it an awful stench. The same thing is true of other bad habits. The habit of avoiding physical activity, too, tends to leave one’s body more likely to exude odors like musty socks and moist, unwashed nether regions. If I want to smell fresher and look healthier, I need to give up my bad habits. All right, I may be making some of this up, but it’s for my own good. The smoking thing is true.

Back to the matter of time and its flight. I doubt if there’s much I can do to slow the passage of time. But I can improve the sensation of its passage and I can enhance the appeal of recalling what occurred while it was zipping by. Those improvements and enhancements cannot take place simply by changing one’s mindset and one’s habits. They require making physical changes…location, movement, standing versus sitting, walking, picking up the telephone instead of relying exclusively on the keyboard…those sorts of things.

Which reminds me of an odd preference of mine. I am not fond of talking on the telephone, at least with most people. With a very few people, I’m fine with long conversations by telephone. But with most people, no. I’d prefer to communicate in person or via email or text. I can’t put my finger on why that is; but it’s an extremely strong preference. So much so that I get cranky when forced by circumstance to speak to some people by phone. That’s probably a habit, a bad one. Some habits are simply quirks, like this bad one involving a dislike of telephone communication. I don’t think it has much to do with the person on the other end of the phone, either; it’s some sort of strange psychological trigger inside my head. Odd that this matter arises while writing about habits. It is a habit, I suppose. A negative one.

Time to shower and shave and head off to church. Sundays used to be so much more relaxing, before church took a claim to part of the day. I’m seriously going to have to explore the habit of going to church; it’s not that it’s a bad habit, but it’s a demanding one that may not be as valuable as I might have thought. Enough writing for this morning. Off to be active.

 

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Swellage and Shrinkage

Arguments can be made, pro and con, about whether it’s best to get to know someone before or after you know their political persuasion. I understand and agree with both of them. On the one hand, I’d rather know early on that a person is a witless fool whose thought processes reveal stupidity and bias I cannot stomach. On the other, I’d rather know early on that a person’s personality and her core decency is sufficient for me to challenge my own most deeply held biases. It’s a toss-up. Lately, though, my emotion and my biases tend to be in greater control than my intellect. Only after the fact, after I’ve labeled someone a morally corrupt hypocrite unworthy of anything but my contempt, do I question whether my judgment is defensible. Usually, I conclude it is and it isn’t. That’s a big help. Given the ambiguity of my judgments, I wonder whether the process of making them is of any value at all. Lately, I’ve been reaching the conclusion that there’s virtually no value there. But then I change my mind through several cycles of yes and no and yes again until I simply don’t know what I think. And then, in my confusion, I attempt to leave the matter for another time. Wasted mental energy. Energy that could be stored or spent on something more fruitful.

***

How often does the average person think about the impact voluntary standards have on their lives? It’s probably an infrequent occurrence. But I have thought about voluntary standards ever since my first job in association management. I was responsible for managing support for volunteers who developed and published standards relating to corrosion. For example, I worked on standard tests to determine the suitability of metals in various corrosive environments. There were many more. As part of my role, I learned about processes involved in the development and approval of voluntary standards. I attended educational programs offered by ASTM International (then known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), CESSE (the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives) and others. I learned that voluntary standards were responsible for: the sizes of nuts and bolts used in everyday products; the sizes of and stored power in batteries; the sizes of bed frames and mattresses; window and door frame measurements; etc., etc., etc.

Voluntary industry standards are responsible for the capacity of glasses and coffee cups, the sizes of liquor bottles and soft drink containers, tire sizes; almost everything we purchase has been touched by voluntary standards. Most standards, in my estimation, were developed not out of the goodness of manufacturers’ hearts but because the standards led to greater efficiency, more profits, and more widespread usage of their products. The convenience we experience as a result of standards is, I think, more of a byproduct of standardization than an intentional outcome.

So, there you have it. My thoughts on voluntary standards this Saturday morning.

***

This morning, I noticed an online photograph. It was an elderly Black woman, holding a rifle. There was a dog sitting at her feet, staring at the camera. The photo was said to have been taken sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. The accompanying text told the fascinating story of the woman, who was said to be the first Black employee of the United States Postal Service. But there was no mention of the little black and white dog. We don’t know its name, its age, or anything else about it. Considering how important pets are to many people, it’s surprising to me we don’t have more history about them, on an individual, pet-by-pet basis. We allow them into our lives and rely on them for comfort, companionship, and emotional support, yet in my view we don’t memorialize them properly.

The little black and white dog in the photo probably had a name. It probably had unique habits that differentiated it from other dogs, assuming there were other dogs in its small world. What was the context of that little dog? Who fed it? What did it eat? How old was it when it died? How did it die? Who mourned that little black and white dog? So many questions, but no record (to my knowledge) that would answer any of them. And that’s true not just of the little dog in the photo, the dog who lived in the latter half of the 19th century. It’s true of millions of dogs who’ve lived and died since. It’s a shame we don’t know more about them.

***

Have I mentioned before that shirts should have large, roomy pockets on their upper sleeves? Shirts also should have pouches on both sides, toward the front. And pants should all be made from stretch material that accommodates dramatic swelling and shrinking associated with gluttony and starvation. What this universe needs is a cadre of fashion designers committed to comfort and practicality. Humanity would be the better for it.

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Empty Can

Instead of the routine follow-up with the oncologist yesterday, the visit turned into something a little different. After listening to my breathing—more like wheezing—she said she was concerned about that and my persistent cough. She prescribed an intense course of prednisone, coupled with a seven-day course of antibiotics. Then, she scheduled a return visit to see her in two weeks and sent me over for a chest x-ray. After I return to see her in two weeks, she said she will schedule a PET scan. I remember that scan from before my surgery; it was used as a precursor to the biopsy that confirmed my lung cancer. The PET scan assigned a number to the “brightness” of the tumor in my lung; the greater the brightness, the higher the likelihood the growth was malignant.

So, yesterday’s visit brought back unpleasant memories. But the planned PET scan doesn’t necessarily mean she is concerned about the return of cancer. Here’s what I found about the purpose of a PET scan (I knew this once, a year or so ago, but had forgotten…how quickly we forget):

“A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. This scan can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests.”

I was surprised by her comments yesterday and was not thinking fast on my feet. So I didn’t ask her questions I should have asked. It bothers me when I’m caught off guard and don’t think to inquire why the hell these tests are being scheduled. Oh, well. There’s not a damn thing I can do about what’s going on in my body, other than take the drugs and undergo the treatments prescribed for me, so I’d better just not let it worry me. It is what it is. But, uckfay, anyway.


After yesterday’s immersion in the medical/industrial state, we went out for lunch. My wife suggested we go to Rocky’s Corner, across from Oaklawn Racetrack. Though I’ve lived in Hot Springs Village for almost six years, I had never eaten there; my wife has. We each opted for a sandwich, the “Upper Cut,” a combination of Italian sausage and Italian beef. I ordered extra hot peppers, not knowing that the sandwich came with the equivalent of a pound of chopped peppers (a slight exaggeration). I was impressed with the place and the food. Enough that I would happily return for lunch today if I could convince me wife. It was excellent! To top off our lunch, we ordered last night’s dinner, a large supreme pizza to go. Dinner was good, but lunch was superb. Next time we get pizza, we’ll get the Chicago style, instead of the thin crust (thin crust wasn’t quite what we expected). All in all, yesterday’s meals constituted a glutton’s delight.


My impatience warrants “chill pills.” I’ve been writing blog posts (on another blog) for about seven months and have had almost no success in generating readership and comments. Unlike this blog, which I expect to be ignored and overlooked and otherwise neglected, I write the other blog with the specific intent of posts being read and generating responses. To date, it has been a spectacular failure. I suppose I should place blame squarely where it belongs—with the writer—but I seem to be unable to help being extremely frustrated with the intended audience. I’ve tried cajoling, coaxing, and asking nicely. I’ve attempted to inject guilt into the equation. Nothing. I know I am largely to blame; if I wrote posts of interests to the audience, they would read what I write. If I encouraged, in the right way, dialogue, they would comment. But whatever I’m doing I am doing wrong. And that frustrates me. I’m frustrated with myself and angry with the audience. Hence the need for chill pills. I think I’m going to give up the other blog; that’s probably the easiest way to erase the disappointment I feel with both the writer and the readers. Yep, that’s it. I’m done. Hell, that was easy!


I invested far too much time last night in watching several episodes of a fourth rate television series entitled “American Odyssey.” It’s a military action drama set mostly in Mali, with plenty of simultaneous action taking place “back home” in the U.S.  If asked to categorize the genre, I would have to say it’s military/industrial schlock, tainted with over-the-top greed and unbelievable storyline. But, as I said, I invested a lot of time in it last night; four or five episodes, I think. The series was rightfully cancelled after a single series, but that means there are thirteen episodes in total. After watching so much, I feel compelled to finish what I started. Although it might be easier on me to just read the episode summaries and be done with it. Maybe I’ll try that and see if I can recapture my sense of decency and honor; those seem to have spilled with the blood of unnecessary characters in the show.


My wife plans to go into Hot Springs today to do errands, go shopping, and otherwise engage in behaviors during which I would not be welcomed nor would I enjoy. So, I shall find other things to do, probably right here in the Village. Maybe right here at home. Wash clothes. Vacuum the floors. Twiddle my thumbs. I’m tired of writing. I need a break from it and from the thought that accompanies it. Maybe I’ll take advantage of the time available to me today and will examine my life. No, that would require too much thought. I need to go find a chill pill. None of this lengthy post matters. I invest too much mental energy in stuff that should just roll off my back. Why can’t I just relax? Vegetate? Be smooth? Why, indeed. I’m feeling a little like an empty can. What’s the point of the metal tube when,  after using the can opener to remove the top, there’s nothing inside?

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Small Talk About Things That Matter

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

***

Season two of Happy Valley is history. I gather the decision was reached  in 2016 that no further episodes would be produced. That’s a shame. The sixth and final episode of the second and final season was an emotional powerhouse. It drained me completely. And it left deep and provocative thoughts pressing heavily on my mind when it ended. I wanted badly to do something to lessen the pain of the main character as the episode ended; of course I know this is manufactured stuff. Of  course I know it’s not factual. But, still. It was so horribly believable and so painfully real and so devastatingly heartbreaking.

***

Yesterday’s almost monstrously warm temperatures won’t return today. At least that’s what the weather forecasters say. Today’s high is expected to reach only the mid-40s, twenty degrees or more cooler than yesterday. I will wear layers today. I will be warm when I venture out into the uncomfortably chilly day.

***

I discovered yesterday that a two to three minute eulogy is extremely short. I’ll have to pare down the eulogy I wrote before I deliver it on Sunday. It now stands at longer than the time allotted for it. It’s hard when there’s more to say than time to say it. Brevity is the soul of wit. Sometimes, I am witless. I will carve away words that don’t add meaning and value. I may slice it down to considerably less than the limit; sometimes, the fewer words said, the more reverential the message.

***

Today, I return to the oncologist. Every time I go back, even when there are no test results to review, I’m nervous. I guess that’s because…duh…I’m going to see the oncologist. After seeing the oncologist, we’ll go out to lunch. Or maybe I’ll go alone, depending on whether my wife goes with me. She was up again today when I got up at 5; had been for a long while. She went back to bed when I got up for the day. Depending on many things unknown or unexpected, perhaps we’ll embark on an unplanned road trip, if we’re feeling half-way decent and fully adventurous. I’d like to go to Mississippi or Louisiana. Neither state is likely to actually become a destination for today; lingering colds, lack of planning (oh, how I hate to have to plan spur-of-the-moment trips; it seems so utterly oxymoronic), and a variety of other intrusions are apt to interfere with my fantasies. Oh, well.

***

A minor character in Happy Valley, John Wadsworth (played by Kevin Doyle), exemplified the decent man whose mistakes reveal fundamental character flaws suggesting he is not really a decent man, after all. He’s the “average Joe” who pretends to be a good man but who, beneath the veneer of respectability and decency, is rotten. At his core, he is selfish and self-indulgent; he blames others for his own unforgivable deeds. Yet he remains vulnerable and he retains the viewer’s sympathies even as his brokenness is revealed. I admire the writing (and the acting) that paint such a complex  character with so few strokes. He’s not constantly in front of the camera, but he is constantly part of the story. Brilliant writing. John Wadsworth exemplifies the “good guy who does bad things” who I want to write, but with some fundamental differences. Wadsworth is not really a good guy. But he’s not really a bad guy, either. He is caught up in a web of his own making, but one from which he desperately wants to escape. Yet he’s not good; he would be willing to snare innocents in order to protect himself. Bastard. My good guy would not do that; his decency would not permit it. But my guy would slaughter an entire family if he thought they deserved to die for their bad deeds. I know this guy I want to write about. I’ll have to explore his thought processes in more depth.

***

I tire of my trauma. My mental trauma. It’s an ongoing, unnecessary, self-inflicted immersion in a vat of hot water and acid that is neither healing nor necessary. WTF, then? Who knows? I ought to be able to examine emotional drivers by now, considering all the time I’ve spend exploring characters about whom I write. Yet I can only speculate. Maybe I should see a therapist; at least that would add fodder I might be able to use in my fiction. Or my fact.

***

Posted in Stream of Consciousness | 2 Comments

Thinking Through Spider Webs

Finally, I seem to be returning to my “normal” waking habits. Today, I was up around 5. Lately, I’ve awakened at wildly different times, almost all considerably later than has been my typical pattern for years. I’ll attribute the deviance to my monstrous cold. Perhaps I’m finally shaking it. The early rising this morning comes on the heels of a later-than-normal night last night. I hope I’m back to my old routine, though I’d really rather awaken closer to 4 each morning. Those few hours of total seclusion constitute my decompression time.

***

Once again, I’ve become addicted to a “foreign language” television crime drama. Well, not really. It’s a British crime drama. But the accents and my television’s subpar sound quality conspire to muffle dialogue. So, I’ve turned to subtitles. On an English-language crime drama. Actually, since turning on subtitles, an already riveting program has become even better. The program? Happy Valley, originally released on BBC in the UK and subsequently released by Netflix (which is how I’m able to watch it). I’ve watched all of season one and about half of season two. Only two seasons were produced (in 2014 and 2016). The series is not high art, but it’s well-done television (in my view). The fact that I have only three more episodes to watch is depressing. I should get a television-equipped treadmill so I could get more than entertainment value from watching lengthy television series. What I need is a television that will not work unless I am walking at a speed of at least two miles per hour…maybe three. I would become a night-walker. I think a story might emerge from that thought.

***

I am even more of an introvert than I have always believed myself to be. I enjoy being with and around people, but my enjoyment has rather strict time limits and short duration. When those limits approach, I either must get away and be alone with my thoughts or I turn cranky, surly, and generally unpleasant to be with, to live with, and just to be, in general. How is it, I wonder, that it has taken me so damn long to figure that out? It’s not like the pattern has ever been hidden beneath a layered puzzle; it’s right out there in the open for the world, including me, to see. But I’ve just now finally been able to understand it. I need time to think, without intrusion. That’s what my morning isolation is all about, I think. Odd, though. It’s as if I’m engaged in conversation with myself, which I can tolerate and in fact often enjoy; during that time, though, conversation with anyone else would be unwelcome. It’s not that I’m unpleasant or unfriendly early in the morning if I don’t have my time in isolation; but if I’m deprived of that time for a long period, I do become edgy and unhappy. How have I not noticed before now?

This new revelation has me thinking about other people and what they might need. What do extroverts need? Do they need interaction with other people around the clock? Do they feel out of sorts if they can’t spend time in conversation on an ongoing basis? I’ll have to ask some extreme extroverts I know. But the timing has to be right.

An artifact of introversion is the tendency to keep things bottled up. Perhaps it’s simply the lack of someone “outside” to talk to. Or maybe it’s that introverts consider some matters personal, even when talking about those matters may be vital to one’s mental well-being. Introversion and isolation go hand-in-hand. Sometimes, the isolation gets out of hand, to the point that the bottle holding those personal matters explodes, leaving a shattered psyche that must be pieced together from shreds of fragile glass. If only the cap had been loosened or removed, the explosion could have been avoided.

***

I can’t see the point of writing these thoughts over and over and over again, almost every morning. It’s as if I believe writing my thoughts down repeatedly will somehow change them. But maybe writing is an alternative to alcohol; it deadens pain, or at least diverts one’s attention from it. Better to write every morning than to suck on a bottle of vodka at daybreak. Maybe that’s not necessary, though; the wine from the night before may still be in the system. Maybe. Maybe that’s the point of writing the same things, using different words. An author I know once advised us (me and others in the workshop she led) to be brutally honest in our writing. “Write through the pain,” she said. Don’t worry about who might be hurt, she advised, because you’re writing for yourself. As I think back on that, it’s an incredibly selfish attitude. It offers justification for shifting pain from oneself to others. That’s inexcusable, especially if others are innocent bystanders who simply cannot get out of the line of fire before the bullets start flying. Yet I understand what the author was advising us to do. And it makes sense. But only to a point. And only after a very real assessment of damage, both direct and corollary, and the relative good that might come out of the damage. Abstractions. These all are abstractions. You cannot think in practical ways about real consequences when you’re dealing with abstruse abstractions.

***

I may cut my hair, or my throat, today. I’m not sure which one is needed more. I’ll probably go for the one that’s not particularly painful and costs less. $15, including tip.

These early morning diatribes allow me to blow off steam and to ratchet down the tensions that build during the course of every day. That’s what they are good for. Sometimes fiction is what I need to write, sometimes I need to write stream-of-consciousness drivel. Sometimes it’s poetry. I guess it all serves a purpose of one kind or another. Even though it sometimes seems that I’m thinking my way through masses of spider webs, I suppose it’s worth doing.

 

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And Then Where Would I Be?

Since I wrote yesterday’s public blog post, an absurdist unfinished fantasy, I’ve written five more pieces. Most of those drafts, if not all, will never see the light of day on this blog. They may find their way into longer stories or elements of expansive essays or components of deeper contemplation.  But they probably won’t end up here. That’s the fate of much of my writing; it springs into being, only to be shoved into files that tend to be forgotten. And that’s only appropriate. Given the volume of my written words, the vast majority is likely to be unusable swill; it’s just a statistical statement as close to fact as statistics can get. Why some of my swill slips around the gates and onto the blog is a question for which I have no answer. It just happens, like a dog slips through a door, though it’s opened for only a split second.

That’s how my writing strikes me sometimes. It’s an adventurous dog with an urge to explore beyond its boundaries, pulling at its leash and, occasionally, breaking free and sprinting down the street. It’s not sure what it is looking for; maybe temporary freedom, maybe the chance to see what the real world is like. The world outside that smells so new and fresh and exotic. I may write a story one day in which my writing takes on the persona of a six-month-old boxer puppy. Or maybe an elderly mixed-breed. They would see the world through different eyes; their different experiences would color their perceptions of what their lives mean. Perhaps a series of stories, telling the same tale through different dogs’ eyes: a boxer puppy, an aging mixed-breed, a middle-aged chihuahua, a bulldog unchained to an age descriptor.

One’s age, whether one happens to be human or dog, is too often used by others to categorize. Young means inexperienced and energetic and willing to take absurd risks. Old means lethargic and risk-averse and drenched in the wisdom of experience. Middle-aged is a period of questioning and uncertainty. I can say from experience, though, that the challenges of middle age last into old age; maybe beyond. In reality, though, our tendency to judge and categorize on the basis of age arises from intellectual flaws. We make assumptions that, if we gave serious thought to them, we would not make. Our assessments of actual people (and pets) follow generalized abstractions that simply don’t apply, in practice, to individuals. We know this. But we continue to judge and assess and categorize anyway. Because we’re lazy, I suppose. Or we’re heartless bastards who don’t care what is real; it’s what our biases tell us that matters, by God! Who knows? I certainly don’t.

My mind this morning should not be drifting haphazardly along in a stream of consciousness, smashing into both sides of the channel and spilling chunks of the banks into the stream. Instead, I should focus on writing a eulogy for a friend’s remembrance. I was asked to deliver the eulogy during next Sunday’s service, which is dedicated to the memories of those members of the congregation who died during the past year. Ach, I will do it. But not yet. Not until I am ready. And then it will flow. I am confident of that. Who am I to second-guess myself as to what should occupy my mind this morning? An interloper. My other personality needs to leave this one alone. Or vice versa.

Back to my five drafts. I have assigned titles to them, which are: Disciplined Ascetic, Gin with a Miscellany Chaser, Breakfast Book, Incoherent Music by Another Name, and Shrapnel. Shrapnel is the only piece of pure fiction, though Incoherent contains a rather long set of song lyrics that one would either consider fiction or evidence of insanity. My mind sometimes works faster than my fingers (it should always work faster than my fingers, but it’s a bit slow), so I don’t capture everything I think about. That’s either good or bad, depending on perspective.

Our plans for later this week, a visit with friends in Fort Smith and a trek to Crystal Bridges for a dose of culture have been put on hold. The female component of our friends came down with a cold, making it inadvisable for us to visit and her to spread her germs in public places. It’s been over a year since we’ve seen them, I think, so it’s well past time. We’ll figure it out, eventually. Hell, we could meet for lunch once a week halfway between our homes. Maybe I’ll suggest it when she’s better. I’d like much more frequent visits. We’ll see what we’ll see.

I still have an appointment with my oncologist on Thursday morning. I expect her to say there’s nothing new to report. Maybe she’ll schedule another CT scan or an MRI (I’m willing to try an MRI again; my back/neck may be in a more tolerable mood). I suspect so; that’s really the only tool they have to determine whether there’s anything “there” that merits more invasive exploration. I do look forward to finally getting the word that I am “cancer free.” Until I’ve been “free of evidence of cancer” for five years, they won’t say I’m “cancer free.” Another four years to go, assuming all goes well.

Most people would choose to keep private the kind of stuff I put on my blog. I don’t. I don’t know why I don’t. I do have plenty of “journal” entries that I keep private and that will never be viewed by another human being. Those entries must be painful or embarrassing or damaging or…something. I’ve got to stop here. I could go on until the Internet runs out of space to store my words. And then where would I be?

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Biological Hallucinations in the Coming Century

Whether dragons were real or not, is it possible we might be able to create them? I think it would be great fun to build a dragon manufacturing facility. The dragons would be crafted from one hundred percent biological components. No plastic, no metal, no ceramic sheathing; nothing lacking a living cellular structure. I want no part of creating artificial dragons; it’s the real thing or nothing. That is not to say I insist on replicating creatures that may (or may not) once have wandered the Earth. I require only that the beasts emerge from biological structures. Cells and the like. Hell, even if the cells are plant-based. I just want biology involved from the get-go. Because I am a purist.

My interest in bio-mechanical beasts is non-existent. Carnivorovegan creatures, though, I can deal with. Yes, I realize it’s not a word and that, furthermore, it wouldn’t make sense even if it were. If that’s a problem for the reader, so be it. I may adopt carnivorovegan as a descriptive term for flesh-eating creatures arising from a crop including vegan “parents.” I use the term parents somewhat loosely, inasmuch as a creature may have as many as several thousand components, each coming from a different biological source. For example, eyes derived from root-eating rodents, livers from koalas, tongues from horses, stomachs from cows, and so forth. And, of course, vegetable-based elements: skin from potatoes, reproductive systems from tomatoes, bones from California redwoods, lips from vegetarian fish, and so on. Not stitched together, by the way, but grown in laboratory media and “bio-melded” in facilities as clean and as meticulously organized as operating-rooms. It’s clearer in my head than in my fingers, hence the difficulty you may be having in understanding what I am attempting to describe. Bear with me; you will understand it fully before you reach your 248th birthday, I promise.

I wonder, is there a word for plants that get their sustenance not from soil but, instead, by digesting other plants? A vegetarian cannibal, as it were. Vegetable has already been used, but we know the English language tends to use words without regard to previous copyright or trademark protection. But how about words in other languages? Might there be a seed-bank equivalent to linguistic lineage? If not, there should be. Every known word from every known language recorded on magnetic media and stored in mountainside ice-caves. Temperatures in the caves must be maintained at zero degrees Celsius; once temperatures reach 100 degrees, the words vaporize, never to be written, spoken, or read again.

Flesh-eating dragons formed from plants and animals whose sustenance came entirely from plants. That’s it. A bizarre carnivorovegan hybrid that reproduces through pollen fertilization, leading to seed pods that form on the dragon’s scales.

Seed pods drop to the ground and burrow into the soil. The seeds inside the pod are fed by a fleshy substance surrounding the seed; the pods act much like a womb, protecting and feeding the embryonic dragon. When the tiny beast is sufficiently mature, it cracks open the seed pod (which looks much like an egg and, when it breaks, acts like one) and emerges into the air. The baby dragons immediately take to the sky, searching for their parents (male and female dragons participate in this process, but it’s too involved to describe at this moment). As it happens, the parents also are searching for their offspring. Once they connect, they form family units that stay together for between six weeks and four hundred years, depending on the baby dragons’ speed of development. Needless to say, it’s a long story.

The truly interesting part of this process is the fact that the original parents were manufactured, as described. Yet all subsequent dragons evolve and reproduce like animal-plant hybrids, as described above. The process was described in painstaking detail in notebooks maintained by Charles Darwin. Unfortunately, those notebooks were destroyed during the Gemenids meteor shower in December 1862. He had published On the Origin of Species just a few years earlier and was preparing to publish the seminal When Dragons Return: A How-To Guide when his notes burned in a celestial conflagration the likes of which no one had seen before nor has anyone seen sense.  Darwin was crushed by the loss of his dragon notebooks and was in no mood to try to reproduce them. Consequently, we have had to feel our way in the dark in pursuing this deeply intriguing subject; we could not depend on Darwin, nor on his notebooks. Because, as I said, they were burned in a meteoric inferno of epic proportion. That situation, by the way, should serve as a lesson to us all: notebooks about dragon development and reproduction should be kept in subterranean vaults, safe from raining meteors. Of course, care should be taken to ensure that the vaults are not subject to flooding, infestation by animals, mold, and other potentially destructive hazards.

Dragon milk contains capscaicin concentrations equivalent to between 100,000 and 500,000 Scoville Units. That is to say, it is hotter than Hades by a factor of about 1000. The capscaicin is the reason dragons often are pictured with flames erupting from their mouths. It’s actually not the capscaicin that causes the flames; it’s the combination of capscaicin fumes with methane in the presence of a spark. One of the oddities of dragon physiology is that they do not fart in the traditional way that animals do. Instead, their belches accomplish what our farts do; they expel enormous volumes of methane created during the digestive process. When combined with capscaicin, dragon belches can be literally explosive. The first “human-created” fire came about when a cave-dwelling human threw a flint rock at a dragon that was poking its head in the cave the human occupied. The flint rock struck another rock, causing a spark and, BAM! Flames like you’ve never seen. The cave dweller, anticipating the discovery of fire, had accumulated about six cords of firewood, fuel to provide heat during the coming winter. It went up in smoke in thirty seconds. By the way, that was before the more recent redevelopment of dragons. Just in case you were confused.  At any rate, dragons have been assumed to breathe fire since that very day. And perhaps they do.

If I could share with you my conversations with dragons over the years, I would. I think you would find them (the conversations) interesting and you would find them (the dragons) tender-hearted and deeply intelligent. Copernicus learned almost all he knew from a dragon named Stetson Myers. Stetson took a liking to Copernicus from the moment they debated heliocentrism. Ah, but you didn’t come here to read about Nicolaus’ interaction with Stetson Myers. So, I’d better stop writing. Otherwise, you might be subjected to more information than you want to fill your head.

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Mediterranean Course Correction

I inquired of Google this morning: “What is the Mediterranean lifestyle?” The first answer I found—and the one I intend on adapting as my own—was this, from a blog entitled, The Mediterranean Dish in a post labeled Live the Mediterranean lifestyle. That lifestyle comprises the following:

  • Follow the Mediterranean Diet (more on that in a moment)
  • Be with Family & Share with Loved Ones
  • Move Naturally
  • Laugh Often
  • Live (More) Simply

In my opinion, the components of the lifestyle most impactful on one’s health would be the diet and the admonition to “move naturally.” The diet is nothing new and, in fact, probably shouldn’t be labeled a diet in the sense of weight-loss. It suggests a simple dietary regimen that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, and herbs and spices. That base is supplemented by occasionally enjoying fish and seafood, less frequent (daily to weekly) diversions into poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt. Much less frequently, meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.)  and sweets are enjoyed; the “special occasion” foods. All of the dietary intake is washed down with plenty of water and moderate consumption of wine. Importantly, there are no food restrictions in the Mediterranean “diet.” It relies on common sense and moderation. The dietary regime, though, is not complete without the foundation involved in “moving naturally;” that is, being physically active.

I think the social aspects of the lifestyle, i.e., being with and sharing with loved ones and laughing often must contribute quite a lot to the lifestyle. And living simply, too. I am ready to adopt the Mediterranean lifestyle. One missing element, though, is this: the Mediterranean. More and more frequently, my mind wanders to the coastlines of Italy and Greece and Egypt and Turkey and Libya—all places I have never actually visited. But I imagine life in and around the Mediterranean. I dream of ready access to fresh seafood. I imagine myself strolling through olive orchards, filling woven baskets with fresh olives that I will deliver to olive processors in return for batches of processed olives. By the way, the olives we eat have undergone at least one of several rather time-consuming processes to leach away their bitterness; “natural” is not a term I would apply to table olives. And I wonder why olives are so expensive; well, there you go. But continuing on with my dreams, I conjure images of taking long, leisurely walks along the Mediterranean, watching and listening to the sea birds and “writing” poetry aloud, guided by the muses in the sand and warm salt water.

How long would it take, I wonder, to learn to speak Greek or Italian? I’m afraid I do not have time to live the Mediterranean lifestyle to its fullest. I am not interested in being a tourist. I’d rather be a resident, someone who adapts to intense summer heat without air conditioning and who relishes and takes great pride in a minimalist lifestyle. But that’s probably not who I am. I grew up in an intensely selfish culture, spending sixty-six years absorbing and perfecting an attitude of self-centeredness, greed, and gluttony. We, as a culture, take pride in accumulating things we don’t need in the light of global paucity and poverty, as a means of demonstrating to the world how utterly devoid of decency we can be. “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” This is not the kind of mood with which I’d wanted to start the day. Perhaps I can change it?

How does the adage go? “I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself.” Is that it? Not long ago, I read something about changing oneself for the better. It went something like this:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Be as genuine and authentic to yourself as possible.
  • Adopt empathy as one of your most powerful traits.
  • Be generous whenever possible.
  • Improve or change the things closest to you that need to be changed and over which you have some control.

This post demonstrates the difficulty of getting out of the “I want” mindset. I’ve spent time and energy “wanting” what I don’t have, without shedding the things I have I don’t need or want. Ach! And, then, I turn on myself, whip and cudgel in hand, and beat myself mercilessly for being who I am instead of who I think I want to be. This is not a new scenario. It is an ongoing pattern that seems designed to illustrate and highlight failures. Is it possible I’m a very slow learner? The evidence suggests there’s something to that idea.

That last suggestion about changing oneself for the better keeps chirping at me: Improve or change the things closest to you that need to be changed and over which you have some control. Hello? What’s closer to me than my thoughts? Who controls them? I think I may be picking up on something here. This could be a “thing.” I might have something to work with. Rebuild John. From the ground up. Or from the mind down. Or just little pieces, one at a time, until the new model is like the old one, only dramatically better.

The idea has been planted. It needs nourishment. And action. And more than myself. So, I should share this seed with loved ones so they, too, can help it grow and can do the same. I do not think I am capable of writing a self-help book, but I may be able to write an autobiography one day.

Posted in Change, Compassion, Doing Without, Empathy, Generosity, Philosophy, Ruminations, Self-discipline, Selfishness | Leave a comment

Somber Sourness on a Saturday

Last night’s brilliant light shows and rolling thunderclaps seem to have disappeared into a silent, dreary, cold, wet morning. I can tell by the shuddering of the few remaining leaves on the trees outside my window that there’s a breeze, but it’s not strong enough to shake even the slightest limbs and twigs. The weather app on my computer screen claims the wind is blowing from the east at one mile per hour; not the fierce gales I heard howling much of the night.

After I have my coffee, I’ll shower and shave and get dressed so I can head out to a meeting at the church. I have begun loathing meetings again, the way I did virtually my entire career in association management. I do not want to grow to detest retirement the way I detested my professional life. That would be ruinous in many ways. So I shall avoid it like the plague. I want to continue to treasure retirement as I have done thus far.

Asserting one’s dedication to enjoying life does not necessarily make enjoyment appear out of thin air. It’s hard to say what constitutes joy when the act of opening one’s eyes seems sheer drudgery. I cannot force a smile this morning, at least not thus far. I haven’t looked in the mirror yet, but I suspect a chance visual encounter with myself would not go well. Even the thought of food does nothing to cheer me; in fact, the thought of food is an unpleasant one. That rarely happens. Coffee has, so far, been all right, but the very idea of food is enough to cause me to wince; I can feel the sneer on my face when food enters my thoughts.

Last night, I watched a documentary, American Factory. It presented the story of a shuttered factory in Dayton, Ohio that was reopened by a Chinese auto glass manufacturer. The promise of rebirth went awry when American and Chinese cultures clashed. The message I took from the film was that American workers compare unfavorably with Chinese workers in terms of steely commitment, willingness to work hard, and dedication to “perfection.” But I also so that Chinese workers compare unfavorably with American workers in terms of commitment to family over employer and commitment to enjoying life rather than simply wading through it. Americans in the film did seem somewhat lazy in comparison to their Chinese counterparts. But Chinese seemed timid and subservient compared to their American counterparts. Interesting cultural dichotomies. But greed on both sides of the world was apparent. When I finished watching the film, I was ready to try another culture on for size; neither Chinese nor American seemed particularly alluring.

This entire writing experience is not going well so far. I think it’s time to stop. Perhaps a shower and some time away from the house will rectify things. We shall see.

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As If I Were Weather

This morning is another of those days reminiscent of late nineteenth century London, as described in stories about serial killers going about their business under cover of pea-soup fog. When the air is this opaque, I do not know whether we’re surrounded by thick fog or, because of the altitude of this place, whether we’re the targets of clouds with drowning on their agendas. I suppose it doesn’t matter whether it’s fog or clouds. Thick, wet coatings wash every surface exposed to the hazy vapor. Tree limbs bend under the weight of humid air.

As I look out the window, the opacity of the air diminishes. I can see across the street now. A few minutes ago I could not be sure the trees that were standing there yesterday remained. I wonder if the fog or the cloud sensed that I was writing about it and decided to move along, lest a police officer come calling to investigate an attempted drowning. That could be it.

I came across a book (I’ve not read it; only read about it) entitled London Fog: The Biography, by Christine Corton. I think I want to at least skim the book. For some reason, the title reminds me of another book I skimmed long, long ago entitled (I think), The Autobiography of Jesus. With a title like that, you’d think I would remember it; but I remember only the title, and I’m not sure I got that right. It might be Christ instead of Jesus. Not that it matters. I like book titles that surprise me. A biography of fog surprises me. I can imagine appreciating a book entitled, How Tornadoes Choose Their Victims.  Yes, I think anything that anthropomorphizes natural phenomena has a certain odd appeal.

Lately, I find that nonfiction has more appeal to me than fiction; at least in reading. I’m still intrigued by writing fiction, though I enjoy writing nonfiction. And perhaps it’s obvious that I enjoy marrying the two genres into webs of deceitful entertainment, if indeed my writing is even a little entertaining. Deceit is too strong a word; fantasy fails to capture the threads of reality I weave into my stories; there may be no word for it because there is no call for it. Who knows?

I write about odd topics or off-kilter approaches to common topics because no one seems to want to engage in conversation with me about them. So, I write. I haven’t decided whether it’s the topics that people find off-putting or it’s me. I just sometimes enjoy blue-sky chatter about nonsensical stuff. My wife sometimes indulges me by conversing about nonsense; we’re both on the same page at the same time and we find it fun. I more than my wife. And I far more frequently than my wife.

My thought processes and my writing all drift in the same direction. They attempt to explore who’s thinking these thoughts and who’s writing these words.  The silliness I incorporate into a good bit of my writing is, I think, an effort to lighten up an otherwise deeply solemn search to determine whether there’s value buried beneath layer after layer after layer of veneer. A year or so ago I questioned whether “if I strip away the soft flesh of a life of ease, would there be a worthy skeleton beneath?” A question, I fear, that will remain forever unanswered.

Maybe my superficial explorations of a thousand topics is simply an effort to determine whether I have anything of value to add to the “body of knowledge” on any subject. Throw something at the wall and see if it sticks, is the idea. Maybe that’s it. Maybe fog is the right topic. Or maybe anthropomorphosis. Or dragons or philanthropy or imperialism or witchcraft or poetry or modesty or kindness or vulnerability or…  Almost five years ago, I wrote another post, entitled “Old Men Who Turn to Writing.” The concluding paragraph of that piece included this (edited for clarity):

Old men who turn to writing want to find a part of themselves that’s buried under the mulch of a lifetime of experience. They spend time routing around those parts of their minds unexposed to the elements, looking for something worthy for the world to see. They are looking for ways to know who they are so other (people) might understand (the writer) when (others) read what (the writer) leaves behind. And (the old men) are looking for ways to apologize for mistakes they’ve made, for the people they once were.

As for me, I wasn’t an old man when I “turned to writing.” It has been a life-long interest. It became a passion several years before I retired. I wonder whether passion is the right word. I don’t know that I have any passions. Superficiality is too much a part of me to allow any passions to slip in.

I’m a little like the fog this morning. A moment ago, I looked out the window and it had again become so thick I could not see the street or the trees on the other side. Along came a breeze and the fog lifted enough to allow me to see those trees clearly. And, just now, it descended again, blocking my view completely. That’s me. Thick then thin then thick then thin then thick again. Deep, shallow, deep, shallow. Here I sit in the comfort of my home, comparing myself to expressions of weather. Only moderately arrogant. Now I’m thinking of the fog/cloud as a cocoon, wrapping me in a shawl of anonymity and protection. It’s not trying to smother me. I know that much.

My fingers are tired of all this “me, me, me.” Time to explore the real world and leave my inner world to wither for a while.

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Dragons and Coffee and the Abstraction of Hope

I’m on the road route trail footpath to recovery. For some reason, getting over this cold is a much slower process than I expected. Perhaps it’s because my respiratory system was compromised when I had lung cancer and/or the surgery to address it. Or, maybe, it’s a function of age. Or, possibly, the strain of virus or whatever it is that “got me” is more aggressive than I’ve encountered in the past. Obviously, I don’t know why it’s taking more time than I thought it might; but I have ideas. Ideas: the building blocks of both bad fiction and literature for the ages. I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead. I’m improving, albeit slowly. I hope to remain on that footpath until I reach the pinnacle of health. Soon.

***

The sky this morning could have been snatched out of a cinematographer’s toolkit. Dark grey clouds, punctuated by darker celestial blots, form the backdrop for dark, almost black, outlines of barren hardwoods and huge evergreens. Those trees block the sky behind them. The forest floor is dark, barely visible. A cinematographer could use these images in scenes designed to instill fear in the audience and hopelessness in the characters in the woods. When coupled with the right music, the scene outside my window could fit right in to a Stephen King movie. But, even as I write this, the sky is brightening. It’s no longer the scary, dark emptiness; it’s just raw gloom. Ah, what a happy start to a Thursday in the Village!

***

For some reason, I think I’m tiring of my old standby San Francisco Bay French Roast Coffee. I don’t even know what kind of beans are used in the stuff. I used to be more particular about coffee, insisting on a specific type of bean. I wonder whether I ever really knew one bean from another or whether, more likely, I was an uninformed coffee snob.  I might still recognize Ethiopian yirgacheffe beans (both appearance and flavor), but maybe not. I remember thinking (or being led to believe) Mocha-Java was a “supreme” coffee blend. I also remember thinking (or being led to believe) Hawaiian Kona was among the world’s finest coffees. That’s just a tiny sample of the types of beans/blends I once revered, not to mention the variations in flavor arising from different roasts (light to dark).

I remember being surprised to learn that the darker the roast, the less caffeine. Apparently, the higher roast temperatures to get the dark roasts “burns off” or otherwise removes much of the caffeine. So, the espresso I enjoy so much (but so rarely of late) is brewed from very dark roast beans having the very least caffeine. Who knew? I did, once. I still do, I guess, though I don’t remember details.  I think it would be fun to return to my practices of exploring coffee beans, roasts, and methods of preparation. Well, it might be fun to actually acquire knowledge instead of pretending to possess knowledge I never had.  I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that I don’t really care whether my taste preferences correspond to generally-accepted measures of quality; if I like beans deemed inferior by the experts, so be it. If I enjoy drinking coffee the coffee professionals consider undrinkable, then I should be able to use that to negotiate lower prices for my favored beans. This line of thought reminds me that my wife and I, in blind taste tests of Argentinian Malbec wines, favored the cheaper ones, while others in our tasting groups gravitated toward the more expensive wines. Rather than feeling embarrassed at our uneducated palates, we rejoiced at our good fortune at being able to afford more of the wines we enjoyed. I prefer that sense of good fortune over a sense of superiority. Yes, I’ve again veered sharply away from my chief subject and, instead, have entered another conversation. It’s a little like, during a conversation about which cuts of beef one prefers, wandering into a dissertation on the best ways to avoid bones in a salmon fillet.

I have a secret. I believe, without evidence of any kind, that dragons once roamed the Earth. Not (necessarily) the fire-breathing kind. Just your average dragon; big, fleshy beasts with wings like those of a bat (but orders of magnitude larger), huge claws, prehensile tails, and scales like hard polished leather. I have as much reason to believe in dragons as I have to believe in Santa Claus. But my belief in Santa Claus evaporated before I reached double digits in age. My belief in dragons never completely disappeared. I don’t believe dragons continue to roam the Earth, but I think they once did. They were here during the time of dinosaurs, but they survived the cataclysmic events that eradicated those creatures. Dragons lived on for many, many, many years, succumbing only toward the end of the Middle Ages from diseases passed on to them from careless humans. It is a shame they are gone. I believe they would have made good pets, with proper care and training (on both sides of the relationship). There were a few dragons that survived the Middle Ages. Puff, for instance, may well have lived by the sea in a land called Hanalei, where he frolicked in the autumn mist. In actual fact, Puff was an agéd dragon by the time the Peter, Paul, and Mary song hit the charts in the early 1960s. Puff was the last of the dragons, I’m afraid. When he died, a school of killer whales dragged his enormous carcass to the North Pole by where they deposited it under a huge ice shelf. Puff’s preserved corpse has remained there all these years. One day, an enterprising biologist will secure a few cells from Puff’s body and will use them to clone the monstrous beast. Once again, dragons will roam the Earth. I only wish I could witness the return of the creatures.

***

Morality is a human construct. It is no more a “truth” than chocolate milk is a “truth.” It is a byproduct of human intervention. That having been said, and the way I said it, one might assume I find morality an offensive concept. I do not. I think morality is the glue that binds us all together. When that glue begins to degrade, so does humanity. The fact that morality takes many shapes and, in some cases, manifests in competing and conflicting ways between and among cultures and individuals within those cultures, is humanity’s greatest challenge. Solve that challenge and make the world better for humanity, the creatures with which we share the Earth, and the Earth itself.

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Doing Alone

When friends’ shoulders aren’t there for the crying,
when love is a wall made of stone,
when life seems a prelude to dying,
when you’re lonely and weeping alone.

That’s when you create your own salvation,
you craft it from sweat and from sand.
You burst out of the bitter stagnation
and build a new life, build it by hand.

The fire in the furnace inside you
is stoked with the pain of the past.
You stare into the face looking at you
from that mirror behind broken glass.

And you scream at the monsters and demons
calling them out for the fight.
You board the ships of the seamen
and sail from the harbor at night.

You chase them with hatred and laughter,
you seek them with snarls and love.
You call them before and then after
and watch them below and above.

[This unfinished poem will almost certainly be scrapped before it is either finished or replaced because, well, it is crap. But at least it challenges my rhythmic poemmaking equipment.]

 

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Through the Mist

I feel slightly more human this morning than I’ve felt the last few days. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, though. Feeling human means something different for me than it once did. No longer is it a matter of pride or gratitude or [I shudder to think] a sense of superiority. Today, it’s more a matter of simply acknowledging biology; and recognizing that biology delivers reality, not flaws.

It was not a flaw in human physiology that allowed me to catch a cold (or whatever has beleaguered me with discomfort these past few days). No flaws in the genetic patterns of viruses generated an attack on my immune system, causing respiratory distress and discomfort. Biology simply exists, in all its forms and all its responses to the environments through which it wades. Cancer, tuberculosis, the common cold, the flu—endless lists of diseases and maladies—are merely biological adjustments to circumstance. They are not flaws. They are manifestations of biology in all its wondrous and terrible forms. That is not to say we ought to simply accept them as they come. Of course not. But if we curse them as if they were scourges inflicted on us by some mysterious evil force, we waste energy better used to combat them. A long, convoluted explanation exists in my head to support my argument, but I’m not sufficiently clear-headed to express it at the moment, so I’ll leave it for now. But I’m sufficiently alert to shift gears to a different, yet related, topic.

Humans teach one another what to believe. Religion and science have, for the most part, either been complementary to one another or at least tolerant of one another for much of human history. But there have been periods during which they have been deeply at odds. And always (well, that’s a long time…) there have been fundamental disagreements on some core philosophies. Regardless of agreement or disagreement, religion and science have been perpetuated through teaching. The foundation of teaching is belief in the subjects being taught. The foundation of learning is confidence in the teacher and the degree to which his or her world view is believable. And that relies, in large part (though not entirely), on personality. A charismatic preacher might have more success in shaping a child’s world view than would a crotchety old physicist who is not particularly enamored with children. In my view, that’s a shame. Because I believe physics and the physicist are far more credible than the charismatic preacher. But someone else, someone who was shaped by an earlier version of the charismatic preacher, might assert the preacher is more credible. That maddens me. But I understand it. I just don’t like it. Because I believe in biology and in science and in the revelations of the scientific disciplines; disciplines that can quickly and radically change their world view based on evidence. Unlike religion, where change moves at the pace of thick, ice-cold molasses flowing down a hill during a frigid winter storm. Am I biased? Moderately. Well, perhaps somewhat more than that.

Why is this on my mind and what does it have to do with my cold? It’s because I imagine some people I know saying “I’ll pray for you to get over this cold” if they knew I felt ill. And others would say “Have you seen a doctor? Are you drinking plenty of fluids? Getting plenty of vitamin C?”  Religion versus science, the latest version.

If I had supernatural powers, one of the things I might do is remove from all human minds the belief in supernatural powers. They can keep other aspects of religion, but let’s eliminate the belief in all-powerful faeries and gods and such that control us and the world in which we live, okay? Let’s seek explanations in science and, especially, biology. Let’s explore the biological basis for our religious beliefs. Let’s rally around one another—all cultures the world over—and explore the world in which we live, all from the same perspective. We can keep or eliminate, at our individual discretion, spirituality and its brethren (personally, I think spirituality is another name for compassion or empathy, which argues for keeping it). But let’s rely exclusively on information we can test. And let’s be ready to turn on a dime if the data says we should.

I’m saying nothing new; I’ve said it all before and others have said it better. But I’ve never said it on a Tuesday in early January 2020, which makes this a first for me. I pray for a quick and complete recovery from this cold or bubonic plague or flu or tuberculosis or rabies or bipolar disorder or whatever it is that’s screwing with my sleep patterns and producing gallons and gallons of snot. I implore Zeus/Jupiter and Apollo and Aphrodite and Poseidon/Neptune and all the others to rid me of this horrid affliction so that I may go forth in the world and make my mark (much like a dog peeing on a tree).

Seriously, this illness is getting in the way of things that matter, so I’m ready to boot it out of my life. I need biology to be my friend in this. I need more daytime cold/flu syrup to muck with my biological response to this biological attack. I wish my wife would awaken and go to Walgreen’s on my behalf to buy more of the stuff; I’ve swallowed the last 15 mL and need more.  And orange juice. I need fresh orange juice. Perhaps I should go where I can pick fresh oranges. Or, perhaps, I should go back to bed and try to sleep a bit more. That might be a welcome biological response to the ongoing aches in my muscles.

Today is a little better than yesterday. At least my fingers are more willing to be manipulated to strike the keyboard with greater frequency. And my mind is spilling more stuff onto the screen in front of me. Progress. I think I feel progress, albeit not as much as I’d like. Onward, though, through the mist.

 

Posted in Health, Philosophy, Religion | 2 Comments

More of the Same

My cold is no better. It’s probably about the same. Could be worse, but it’s hard to tell. I went to bed early last night, hitting the pillow before 9, but it was hard to get to sleep. Eventually, I did, though I awoke several times between 9 and 1, coughing and sputtering and exhibiting symptoms of the plague or malaria or something equally unpleasant.

Finally, after my umpteenth pee break at 1, I went to sleep with only temporary interruptions until 2:15, when I got out of bed to avoid waking my wife with my loud, convulsive cough. Blowing my nose seemed to help briefly; each time I expelled a gallon or two of phlegm, I felt better for a short while. But that improvement was short-lived. After checking my email and responding to a couple of messages, I decided to try to rest in my recliner. I never went back to sleep, but the temporary lack of convulsive coughing was a welcome respite.

I was awake, listening to Alexa’s idea of “spa” music (barely audible, as I turned the volume way, way down), when my wife got up at 5. Her sleeping habits changed radically a couple of months ago. Whereas she used to get up around 7:30, she has started getting up much earlier, even though she goes to bed at her usual time. She has no idea why; nor do I. It worries me a bit, but she expresses a bit of annoyance when I suggest she ought to mention her change in sleeping habits to her doctor.

Five o’clock was the magic time for me; I could take another dose of liquid daytime cold and flu medicine (I could have done it earlier, but was relaxing in my recliner). So, I did. It seems to have triggered another set of coughing fits, complete with a throat full of phlegm. I am sure whoever is reading this is thrilled to learn of my phlegm production (maybe that’s why my readership is in the single digits).

I’m giving thought to trying to get some more sleep. Now that my wife is out of bed and my noisemaking won’t wake her or keep her awake, it may be worth a try.

It’s periods of illness and discomfort that emphasize how marvelous the periods of health actually are. We (I) should remember that. And act accordingly, trying to get in and stay in better physical condition.

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Illness. Painful Sickness.

I am sick this morning. It began a few days ago. Last night, my illness mushroomed into a full-blown cold (if that’s what it is). A flood of mucous filled my sinus cavities and has attempted to escape through my nose and throat. My throat hurts; it feels raw and angry, as if rough sandpaper had been rubbed against the inside of the back of my mouth overnight. My ears ache. My head throbs and aches. I have a hard time breathing. Last night and this morning, as I tried to sleep, I heard whistling in my nose and throat with every breath. When I try to speak, I make croaking sounds, as if my vocal chords have been paralyzed and rubbed raw with kerosene-soaked rags. I hate to feel the way I feel.

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Making Music

If I could start recording my voice at any given moment simply by pressing a single, easily accessible button, I might have recorded dozens, if not hundreds, of songs by now. Only the lyrics, of course, with no musical accompaniment and only sung to imperfect tunes in need of professional attention.

I tend to make up lyrics “on the fly” while I’m alone in the car, belting them out as if my voice were worthy of being heard. Unlike my poetry, which usually is free-form narrative paying no attention to rhyme, my songs have structure and rhyme. Some of them seem, to me, pretty good. Unfortunately, though, because the single, easily accessible button is not available, my music disappears into the vapor. Try as I might, neither the words nor the nascent tunes stick with me. By the time the opportunity arrives to write down the lyrics or record the song, the empty air of the universe has consumed them. They are gone, released into the atmosphere.

Sometimes, weeks or months later, I hear those same songs, upgraded professionally by musicians who hire sound engineers to mix lyrics with instrumentals and background vocals. My songs, the ones I created on the fly in my car, flew through the vapor and landed in someone else’s brain. I’m at once angry and proud. I should feel only gratitude, but my ego trips me up on occasion. There’s nothing I can do about it after the fact, so I just let it slide. What else could I do?

I’m actually a  much better lyricist than I am a spoken-word poet, I think. My spoken word poetry is sometimes too complex to be understood in one reading; those poems require intellectual effort, whereas my song lyrics require only ears and an interest in being entertained. Well, my lyrics more often than not do carry messages—sometimes powerful, emotion-laden messages capable of drawing tears out of dry eyes—but they are not hard to follow. Their stories are clear and unambiguous, though the language I use can be intentionally ambiguous; but in a humorous way, usually.

This post is my best effort at painting myself in a good mood today. The reality is different. But I won’t go into that for the moment. I’ll just stop writing for public consumption and, instead, turn to writing my private thoughts in my private journal.

Posted in Music, Poetry, Writing | 2 Comments

I Think I’m Losing the Battle for My Soul

I don’t pretend to be an expert in geopolitical intrigue. And I don’t want to be. But I wish the United States government had listened to me after 9/11 and had decided not to invade Iraq under false pretenses. And I wish the military had not listened to a draft-evading narcissist yesterday when ordered to assassinate the leader of Iran’s elite military special operations. I find it interesting (and deeply disturbing) that the cheetoh-in-chief dismissed virtually everything the intelligence community told him about Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, yet he was so sure of the intelligence he received about Qasem Soleimani’s involvement in previous killings of Americans and plans to kill more that the chief-electorally-installed-egotist ordered the Iranian’s assassination.

Does the morally bankrupt imbecile who inexplicably is the most powerful human being (using the term loosely) in the world not understand that state-sponsored assassination may tend to generate in-kind responses? Or does he truly believe he was installed by God to his undeservedly powerful position and, therefore, is not subject to retaliation by mere mortals?

I was not a fan of Qasem Soleimani. I could not even have told you who he was before the news media informed me of his assassination. His death diminishes me only to the extent that John Donne suggested in his famous poem, For Whom the Bell Tolls. That extent, though, is considerable.

Will humankind ever truly appreciate that murder, whether called assassination or the wages of war, is an affront to the concept of humanity? The current occupant of the White House surely will never understand a concept so abstract. I loathe the man with every fiber of my being. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

Posted in Anger | 2 Comments

Mind-Jaunts on the Second Day of the Two Thousand Twentieth Year

Every day is an anomaly. A mistake. An error awaiting correction. An aberration requiring repair and embarrassed explanation. A deviant eccentricity causing constant adjustments to the concept of normal.

There is no normal. Normal is a fantasy based in delusion. Normal is a reverie clothed in a fabric woven from rainbows, daydreams, clouds, and fine dust from a long-extinct volcano. Normal is a weird hallucination, a pretense toward typical, which exists only in minds twisted to believe in the ordinary. Ordinary is a state that cannot occur when life is so utterly unpredictable, as it always is.

At any moment, it is possible I may decide to radically change my life, and then act on that decision. I may become a vegetable farmer whose “farm” consists of a horse-drawn cart filled with soil in which I plant my crops. I might coax the horse that pulls my cart to take me to the Mississippi delta, where I could siphon water from the Gathering of Waters to quench the thirst of the cucumbers and squash and tomatoes and okra that reside in my cart. There, I could decide to make vegetarian tamales, hawking them as cures to the moral and intellectual maladies of the twenty-first century.

I could break into the homes of wealthy descendants of plantation owners, hoping to avoid armed guards whose only jobs are to keep wealth out of the hands of the undeserving poor. I might decide to become a modern-day Robin Hood, fashioning my persona after my own interpretations of Greek gods that never existed, but should have.  I might leave gifts of tamales for those pillars of wealth and enemies of charity, confusing them with concepts of philanthropy unfamiliar to them. But in return for those gifts, I would take food and clothing and deeds to properties they never intended to share with anyone but the progeny they considered the rightful heirs to their modern-day thrones.

Ah, it’s all magical thinking, I know, but that’s what makes daydreams and fantasies and wishful pondering so appealing. In our dreams, we can have absolute control over matters beyond even modest influence in the real world. Our fantasies can set us apart from the grinding realities of finding enough food and water to make it through another day. Fantasy. I wonder if the roots of fantasy are, indeed, hinged to a deep desire to exercise control over the uncontrollable? I believe they are. We dream because reality is too coarse and harsh and painful without something to ease the anguish.

I like the idea of slicing through the tether that binds me to a place. One one hand, there’s comfort in the familiar, the dependable, the reliably constant. But there’s stagnation attached to that invisible rope, too. Arms and legs and brain get stiff; they calcify and begin to look and feel like barnacles attached to ancient fishing piers. They ache to be free, almost an impossibility; the attachments are primitive and permanent, curable only through amputation or amnesia.

Decisions have consequences, many of them unintended, unanticipated, unpleasant, and unhappy. Yet they can have happy repercussions, as well. When we make decisions, we weigh the pros and cons of our options and select the one we think best. But it’s rarely the best decision; it’s only different from the others we might have made.

A decision to become an itinerant vegetable farmer is no better nor worse than a decision to procrastinate about making a life-altering decision. Yet procrastination can be life-altering, as well. Consequences, or the lack thereof, are stitched together in a quilt that looks and feels like it was woven from apologies and fear. That’s what drives us, sometimes. Fear. And regret. And attempts to repair the damage done by decisions; or the failure to make them.

If I had all the time in the world and no responsibilities to fulfill, I might make an avocation out of learning all there is to know about the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Apollo, Cronus, Zeus, Hades, Heracles, Morpheus, Eros, Glaucus, Triton, Pan, Uranus. Gad, there are so many! I admire the ancient minds that created those magical powers in magical forms. I could spend time creating my own stable of gods. I could conjure my own religion and seek followers who would buy into understand the concept. No, I really don’t want to delude even the extremely gullible. I find that offensive in the extreme. People should not manipulate others in such crass ways, the way modern-day evangelical preachers convince their adherents to believe utter nonsense (and to give them money in return for being duped).

Oh, hell, now I’ve gone and done it. I broke the magical spell that was propelling my early-morning fantasies. I’ve let anger with con-men interrupt my reverie.

Wow, I think this is one of the longer pieces of semi-incoherent stream-of-consciousness drivel I’ve written since starting my break from the blog. I could have just adapted one of the shorter pieces I wrote during my hiatus; but, no, I had to launch into a mind-bender. Maybe I needed that. Maybe I just wanted it.

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Beginning Anew

My temporary break from posting to my blog ends with this post. Between December 18, my last post, and this one, I’ve written twenty “drafts” that could have become posts had I chosen to make them public. And they might still see the light of day one of these day. Regardless, I’m glad I took a breather.

Today, as I considered posting again, I looked back to see what I posted last year on New Year’s Day. The two posts I published that day represented distinctly different positions on the spectrum between despair and confidence. In one of the posts I acknowledged that my diagnosis of lung cancer could, conceivably, have been a death sentence. When I wrote it, I felt alone and unable to identify anyone with whom I could talk about my prospects and my feelings without either encountering an artificial “you’ve got this” attitude or unending tears.

The other post on the same day was not a lot more hopeful to start, but it evolved into a hope that I, and the rest of the world, would change. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” I wrote, quoting an aphorism I believe represents the most hopeful attitude I could have at the time.

At this moment, I’m leaning more toward the hopeful than the desperate. That’s a good thing.  And as I begin this year, I contemplate being more active, more practically inquisitive (versus impractically inquisitive), and more engaged with the future than with the past. We’ll see how things work out as the year evolves.

To anyone who encounters this post, whether a regular visitor or here for the first time, I hope your 2020 exceeds your most joyous expectations.

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My Final Post for A While

This may be my last public post for a while. That doesn’t mean I won’t write, only that I won’t necessarily share what I’ve written. Considering the extremely low traffic to my blog and the almost non-existent feedback I receive (what I get I truly appreciate, but it’s really very, very slim), the effort I expend in making my posts more readable just isn’t worth the energy, to me. I’d rather devote what little stamina I have to more volume than to more “perfection.” Plus, of course, I might want to invest time and energy to making my posts more appealing to a broader audience, an audience that might give me more feedback. Chicken and egg stuff, you know.

Lest my few loyal readers think otherwise, I’m not complaining about your lack of feedback. I just think my time might be better spent creating new content than repairing what I write. And I’ll always have something to share, when the time is right.

That having been said, let me go on to the post that will stand alone for a while.

I miss pieces of my life that seem recent until I start to measure their distance from the present. Twenty-seven years. Eighteen years. Thirty years. Forty years. Twenty-one years. Those distant moments were close, once. Those fresh experiences aren’t fresh any more, though they feel fresh and new and invigorating. How is it that time can get away from us? How can we stumble across many years without realizing it? How can we waste time by failing to remember those moments? Time is in short supply; I can say that with absolute certainty. We don’t have much of it; we never realize how little is available for us to spend in matters of absolute frivolity and impossible meaninglessness.

One piece of my life I miss involves someone who once was my friend but who disappeared from my life. I won’t go into any more detail than that; it’s not necessary. But that vacancy remains open and empty, as if something had just been excised from a place in my heart. There are more than one, of course. People disappear from our lives all the time. But some of them leave traces, outlines, comfortable resting places that are no longer pleasant in their absence.

I wrote just the other day (was it yesterday or the day before?) about loneliness. It’s still with me. It occurs to me that pieces of me went with my friends, the ones who disappeared. I wonder whether they ever think of me? One of my favorite pieces of music is a song by the Moody Blues entitled “Your Wildest Dreams.” The verse that always grabs me is this one:

I wonder if you think about me
Once upon a time
In your wildest dreams

The important stuff of the day, like the impeachment of Donald Trump, doesn’t resonate with me at the moment. More important to me are the connections, both lost and current, that keep me grounded to a world that matters.

I hope I am thinner and in better physical condition by the next time I post here. That may be a while. I don’t plan on “easing up” on my food intake nor do I plan to focus on exercise until after the first of the year. And I won’t starve myself, nor will I push myself to the limits, when my regimen of better health begins. But I will engage, sometime before long. And maybe my more attractive physical appearance, when all that’s done, will generate more interest in what I write. I don’t plan to become famous, but I wish what I write mattered more than it does. Both fiction and rants like this one. And poetry. I’m really a bad poet, I fear. But I’ll keep writing. I will write until I can write no more. But I won’t necessarily share it as if what I write matters. I’d rather not delude myself in that way.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Trampling Cultures in the Name of Temporary Pecuniary Joy

I read an article this morning about the impending demolition of the last remaining structures in what once was Dallas’ “Little Mexico” neighborhood, an area its residents called “La Colonia.” At its peak, 15,000 people lived in the area. The neighborhood was full of restaurants, grocery stores, bars, shoe repair shops, and myriad other businesses run by and that catered to the Mexican-American residents and the others who gravitated there. During the last several years, wealthy developers have snatched up houses and shops, usually demolishing them shortly thereafter, replacing them with glass and steel skyscrapers. The land beneath the old houses became extremely valuable as more and more expensive buildings were built. The character of most of the neighborhood changed quickly, though pockets of the old community remained. Those pockets struggled to retain the look and feel of the old neighborhood, but the efforts were destined to fail. Money swept the residents aside, forcing them to disperse into the wider community; the close-knit Mexican-American community spread into a gossamer-thin veil that has almost dissolved into…what? Memories and pride; things that cannot be buried under money and abject greed.

The glass and steel condominiums and parking garages for flashy cars and the ritzy shops that sell overpriced goods in homage to greed and gluttony have no entrenched identities. They are temporary compartments where misplaced pride and meaningless wealth are stored. They will disappear in time, too. But, unlike La Colonia, they will have no foundation upon which rich cultural memories can be built.

When cultural touchstones are ground into glass, it’s not just the abused culture that suffers. It’s all of us who can no longer see and feel and taste the deep connections members of that culture once had. We have our memories of such places, but they, too, will disappear in time. Our faded memories serve no useful purpose to those who follow us, for those memories will become vapor before they can inhabit the minds of the future.

Mexicans. Italians. Jews. Germans. Czechs. Indigenous peoples. Japanese. Chinese. We claim that we are a nation of immigrants. But only for a while. Only as long as it takes us to erase cultural identities and replace them with a homogeneous, spice-less, bland, superficial crust of doughy, wet flour.

How is it that the only satisfaction we seem to value is the pride built on variations on a theme of genocide? We all should have meaningful stories to tell about our heritage. We can’t, though, when the only heritage to which we cling is built on vanquishing those who might challenge our superiority.

Somehow, some way, I will turn this morose reflection on the shame of American civilization into something of value. That’s my job for today.

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Witchcraft

I awoke to witchcraft this morning.

I witnessed the effects of heat traveling through wires protruding from wounds in the wall. The heat caused water to boil and chickens’ eggs to congeal and harden in response. Heat from another source, a black box with glowing red eyes, attempted to melt a metal pan, instead searing its cargo—slabs carved from the carcass of a dead pig—and rendering the animal’s fat into frizzling pools of popping, sputtering liquid.

As I gazed out the back window, I saw strips of water, crystallized by cold air into shapes crafted by Frank Lloyd Wright, clinging to the surface of the wood deck as if the boards were ice’s saviors and patron saints. I envisioned the expanse of wooden strips as a massive shrine, a temple built in dedication to wiccan worship.

Warm air poured from slits in the floor, filling the house with comfort that’s out of place when the weather is as cold and brash as a murderer’s scowl. Roasted beans, ripped from bushes in South America, exuded an odor at once offensive and alluring, as if a high temperature had transformed the beans into pellets imbued with aromas of skunk spray and the sweet smell of Aphrodite in heat.

Magic swirled around me, a whirlwind of wizardry that permeated my soul and transported me to a time far, far in the future that never was and can never be. Light, spilling from glass orbs on posts and inverted teardrops, filled the room and washed away the invisibility adhering to my eyes.

Suddenly, the sun hissed and a blinding light pierced the veil of grey clouds that enshrouded the house witchcraft inhabited. Witchcraft fled, but it hides among the molecules of bright, fresh air; it will return, bringing with it wonders too impossible to accept, too fabulous to believe, too intense to ignore.

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Hush

I am a dormant volcano. A raging inferno
whose fuel, spent in spectacular displays
of fire and molten rock, has disappeared
into the center of the Earth.

I may be, in fact, an extinct volcano, one
with no recorded eruption in written history.
My source of magma may be gone, sealed
off from the power of heat and pressure
so that an eruption is no longer a possibility.

But I may not be a volcano at all. Just a pimple
on the surface of the Earth, a silent, harmless
replica that mimics a grim snarl asserting
power over the landscape.

No, occasional explosive outbursts, though
no longer as frequent as they once were,
offer evidence that the danger has not passed.

Those periodic eruptions suggest I still am
an active volcano, just not as fierce
and as fiery as I once was.

I would rather be dormant or extinct.
I would rather know the heat and pressure
have, finally, escaped into the atmosphere,
leaving me serene and harmless.

I would rather be the site where extreme
patience exists in harmony with dying
memories of detonations more
violent than the sun is bright.

Power sometimes is silent and still.
Explosive bursts of fury can pale in
comparison to the tranquilizing
intensity of absolute calm.

That’s what I’m after. I want to leave
the disruptive nature of fierce motion
to atrophy, replacing it with quiet calm;
a hush so powerful that
sound withers in its presence.

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