Socially Deviant

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

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

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

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

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

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Bullets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Control and Time and Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Longing for the Welsh Seaside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Due Diligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Shorter Than Strange

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

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

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

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

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Stubble

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

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

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

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

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Explorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raw Beauty

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

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

 

 

 

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Stumbling Blocks

If, as we all wish we could believe, people are inherently “good,” why do all societies (at least all with which I am familiar) establish law enforcement authorities of one kind or another? Clearly, either deviance is a naturally-occurring phenomenon or societies’ efforts to inculcate in their members the morals and rules of the the society are insufficient and unsuccessful. But if society must resort to training its members to be “good,” then “goodness” must not necessarily be natural. In my view, societies’ rules typically are universally accepted by a limited universe of its members. The others, who do not naturally subscribe or acquiesce to the rules must be taught or bullied to comply. And punishment of some form must follow either repeated incidents or massive failures to follow the rules. So, it seems, we have two universes; one (the majority) that falls in line, the other that deviates from the path. We (the majority) claim laws and the consequences (punishment) for infringement are meant to protect all of society. But is that true? Do we not infringe on the minority by stripping them of their rights to deviance? If we could actually demonstrate potential harm to the majority for each act of infringement, prohibitions and punishment might be defensible as legitimate. But if we cannot demonstrate actual harm, we are punishing deviance only because it is deviant. I could go on about this and I probably will; just not right now. I’ve thought about this dilemma for more than fifty years. With coffee as fuel for the deep thought necessary to find a workable solution, I believe I could find a way to universal compromise in a matter of days. But who wants to go days without sleep? That’s the stumbling block.

Before I leave the subject, I want to argue that both deviance and normalcy in human behavior depend on perspective. But I won’t at least not for the  moment. I’m trying, with some difficulty, to resurrect my thoughts from dusty old sociology classes. While I’m able to wipe the dust away from some of them, I’m having a bit of a challenge comparing my long-buried thoughts to what I would read in newer sociology books and what I would hear from more recently hatched sociology professors. Some of what I might read and hear are simply old ideas clothed in new garments. But I might experience an occasional epiphany. Epiphanies are delightful, except when they shatter long-held convictions. Thinking of new clothes hiding the same, old tired bodies reminds me of the title of a Leonard Cohen album, “New Skin for the Old Ceremony.” And that leads me to a final thought this morning on normalcy and deviance: everything is normal when circumstances require it, just as everything is deviant when normalcy insists.

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My dream last night was very, very long and convoluted. It began as I was driving—far too fast—on a crowded freeway when, as I was about to round a long, sweeping curve, I lost control of the steering. I could not make the curve, instead leaving the freeway onto a side road. The car was still operable, though the steering was very difficult. I wanted to re-enter the freeway, but I was at a point at which it was impossible. Instead, I followed a road that paralleled the freeway as it curved.

The street I was on ended as a cobblestone path in front of an old-fashioned motel, where I asked a man how to get to the freeway, heading north. He said his wife has to take a road that parallels the freeway to work, but she must walk several blocks and then catch a bus. He then turned his attention to some young children who were going in and out of two doors to motel rooms.

It was then I realized the problem with the steering. A small wheel, between two smaller ones, on the end of a metal fork (like a bicycle tire) was missing. I had been driving on just one of the smaller wheels, because the other one was broken. This made sense in the dream, though it is laughable now. Somehow, I managed to find another road I had been looking for and followed it, with very bad steering, for a while. I realized the street was awash in people walking, riding bicycles and scooters, and otherwise taking up every square inch of pavement. I had to just ride along at the same slow speed. The road entered a tunnel in which the walls and ceiling were elaborately decorated with tiles. The tunnel was well-lighted and on both sides of the street were shops of all kinds. The people around me were an incredibly diverse lot; I heard them speaking Spanish and German and all sorts of Arabic languages.

I awoke from the dream while listening to the unintelligible voices all around me and staring in wonder at the beautiful ceiling of the tunnel. The instant I awoke, I wanted to tell my wife about my dream, because she would know the freeway curve where I had to exit. Instead, I am doing a poor job of relating the imaginary experience here on the blog.

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While I was typing, the sky brightened. Unlike the little corner desk where I used to write, this desk hides me from the light. There are no windows from which I can see the sky and the forest floor beneath me. But if I turn my head, I can see the light through the shades. The light reminds me that it’s time to get out of my chair and make breakfast. Today, I will make congee. I will flavor it with ground pork (yet to be thawed) and grated ginger that I now store in the freezer to keep from going bad. It, too, must be thawed; first, I will cut off a finger or two of the stuff and peel that piece. I’ll cook the rice in either vegetable or chicken broth until the rice grains break down so I can crush them into a thick porridge. When it’s done, I’ll ladle some into a bowl and dress it with sliced green onion, soy sauce, and sambal oleek. And, then, I will moan with pleasure as I taste the first spoonful.

It’s 7:00 on the button. Time to do my thing.

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Love and Longing in the Time of Pandemica

I attempted to shovel the snow from my driveway yesterday. That effort is pointless and fruitless if the only shovel one has available is a standard round-point shovel, which is what I attempted to use. Shoveling snow with any degree of productivity requires a light-weight snow shovel, which I do not own. After about twenty minutes, I had moved fourteen inches of dry snow off of an area about five feet by five feet. At that rate, my twenty-two-feet wide and sixty- or eighty- foot long curving, steep driveway would take two heart attacks and several months to clear.  I think I’ll wait until higher temperatures eventually melt the snow. Or perhaps I’ll borrow a snow shovel from a neighbor; yesterday I watched him methodically clear a path from his garage all the way up to the street for his wife’s car. And his driveway is far steeper than mine. I can see my neighbors’ driveway and their house only during the winter months, when the trees are barren. And even with bare trees, I cannot see it all clearly; but I could see enough yesterday to know my neighbor was productive. I, on the other hand, was not. The Camry, sitting in the driveway instead of in the garage where it belongs, remains hidden under fourteen inches of snow. I suspect the battery is long since dead, given that temperatures during the last seven days were below freezing and dipped as low as 2°F. I’ve been stuck inside the house (except for an occasional foray outside to be blinded by snow) since last Sunday. I used to own boots suitable for trudging through the snow. No longer. I used to own outer-wear suitable for walking in frigid temperatures. No longer. It’s a bit late to relocate to Costa Rica, I suppose.

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Thanks to a friend who possesses both curiosity and investigative skills, I learned that I may be in love with the actress who plays a character on the second season of a rather strange Netflix series called “The Sinner.” Or I could be in love with the curious and intelligent detective. It all depends on how much stock I place in the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (she is an INTJ). Well, not “all,” but “some.” Though I’m not giving my full-throated endorsement of the series, I’m intrigued by the character of Vera, played by Carrie Coon. I doubt I’d ever heard of Carrie Coon before, though perhaps I should have. She plays in the series Fargo and in Gone Girl, among many other series and films. At any rate, I watched some interviews with Carrie Coon and was delighted to see that she is articulate, intelligent, and well-educated. I realize, of course, this paragraph will confuse most, if not all, who read it. Don’t worry; it confuses me, as well. What? What’s the back-story? What does the MBTI have to do with acting? Who is the guy writing this stuff? Where did John go?

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I think “temperamental” is a more appealing word, in most cases, than “moody.” In my mind, moody suggests grey gloom and perpetual sullenness, whereas temperamental has greater range. Moody calls forth a sense of depression, while temperamental portrays a manic-depressive experience. But as I think about it, the words belong in different contexts that need different descriptive expressions.

What is it, lately, that causes me to think of everything in relation to its context? Not that there is anything wrong with thinking about context, because context is so important in defining the relative degree of power that events or ideas have to influence our lives. But I wonder why, lately, do I think of everything in terms of its context? I seem to see everything in a framework of cause and effect, with the causes subject to external (or internal, depending on the situation) influences that have the capacity to change everything about the circumstance. Even my thoughts about those convoluted relationships are convoluted.

Why so some people find some words likeable and others not? Moist is one of those words that many people find offensive for some reason. Humid is not so troublesome. And wet is just wet; it does not trigger emotional distaste the way moist does.

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A few years ago, when I was in the midst of one of my weight-loss initiatives, I discovered that I enjoyed sugar-free popsicles. I bought scads of the frozen treats as my alternative to sipping a glass of wine while I sat in front of the television. Sipping wine in front of the television can be habit-forming. So can sucking on sugar-free popsicles. Popsicles are cheaper than drinkable wine, if memory serves me correctly. I wonder, though, whether sugar-free popsicles are readily available during the depths of winter? A quick look online suggests they are, but it seems I cannot get the flavors I prefer without accepting others of which I am not especially fond. I like orange and cherry flavors, but grape is just barely tolerable. I cannot find grape-less packages. If I have to have grape flavoring, I prefer wine. And the whole point of sugar-free popsicles is to eliminate the calories in wine. So, if I want to avoid the calories, I have to accept grape-flavored popsicles as the cost of dietary discipline. Why is the world such a brutal, inflexible place?

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If we chose not to worry about others’ opinions of our actions, would we behave in radically different ways? I suppose what I’m thinking about are inhibitions; how would we behave in the absence of inhibitions? I think it would be interesting if, for just a single day, we would all drop our inhibitions and say and do what we want to but which we don’t because our inhibitions tell us not to. That probably would create everlasting chaos and discord. I wonder about these things, though. Psychological experiments can tell us a great deal about such matters; if we’d only remember them and their lessons.

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It’s almost 7:00 a.m. I’m out of milk and bacon and most “typical” breakfast foods. I’m thinking of thawing a filet of tilapia and cooking it in a greased pan on the stovetop, putting just a dusting of flour and cayenne on the fish before cooking it. Tilapia and radishes may be just the perfect breakfast this morning. Or I may find something else.

 

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Habitual

It’s becoming a habit I need to overcome. I sit on the reclining loveseat, watching the only television series in which I’m particularly interested at the moment. After a while, I decide I need to take a break, so I hit the pause button. As I sit, motionless, I slowly slip into a trance; conscious but consumed with thoughts that gradually erase my consciousness. Sleep, or something like it, replaces my reflective thoughts. I sometimes awaken a few hours later, in the middle of the night. I make my way to bed, my back aching from too much time in the recliner in a position not suited to good back health. Watching television has become a tactic for emptying my head of intrusive thoughts. Television and wine, in combination, temporarily erase concerns. Things like taxes and paying bills and repairing dangerous walkways and fourteen inches of snow blocking my driveway and empty rooms and actions not taken and decisions I wish I could reverse. The pairing of mindless entertainment and alcohol frees me of things that tug at me as if I were a just-roped calf and the world around me a cowboy intent on taking me down and tying my legs together.

My back hurts this morning, though I did not fall asleep in front of the television last night. I think it’s a carryover from a night or two ago. When I stand up from a seated position, pain erupts at the same point on both sides of my back and, a little higher, in the middle. It’s not debilitating pain, but I sense it could get worse if I don’t take some sort of corrective action, though I’m not sure what that might be, except for avoiding the loveseat and falling asleep in front of the television. Or maybe a masseuse who makes home visits.

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Grateful. Some people follow the word with “to” and some follow it with “for.” Some follow it with both, depending on circumstances and context. Recently, I participated in a conversation about prayer. It seems the difference between “believers” and “nonbelievers” can be identified by which of those two prepositions are used in conjunction with “grateful” in prayer. Believers tend to be grateful to some being or entity or nameless power; nonbelievers tend to be grateful for some experience or emotion, without regard to its source. But the latter part of that statement is not true. For example, a nonbeliever might be grateful to farmers for providing the food for a meal.

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One of these days, maybe I’ll move the monstrously-heavy wooden bed frame and solid wood headboard and posts, etc., back into the master bedroom. I’ll reassemble the bed and reclaim the master bedroom for my sleeping quarters. But I don’t know how I’ll react to sleeping in that bed again. It may be hard to do, emotionally. My wife owned that bed before we met. We replaced mattresses and box springs several times over the course of 40-plus years, but the big hardwood bed was our steadfast companion the entire time we knew one another. It doesn’t seem right that it should survive our time together. But my feelings are most definitely mixed. I do not know whether I could part with it, yet I do not know whether having it in the house will forever prevent an open wound from healing. Some circumstances force one to decide from unacceptable options.

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Who the hell am I fooling with my silliness and sarcasm and deflection? I’m not sure whether I’m trying to convince myself that “this, too, shall pass” or I’m attempting to convince everyone else that I’m fine so they will leave me alone. As much as I appreciate loving care, I don’t deserve it. So, when it is given so freely, it’s almost like punishment, a reminder that I’m allowing people to feel like I warrant their time and attention, when I think otherwise. On the one hand, I need—or at least want—closeness and care and an arm around my shoulder, but on the other it seems so self-serving and empty to even hope for it, much less strive for it.

This morning, despite a thousand other thing racing through my mind, the majority of my thoughts are on my wife. I cannot rid myself of the feelings of guilt that, if only she had come home instead going into a rehab facility, she might have had an easier time of it; she might even still be with me. People and publications tell me I can’t dwell on “what if.” But it’s impossible not to. Not when I wake up to an empty house and see, by the fireplace, the urn with her ashes. Some days, I think I will be unable to continue living with the guilt and the sorrow and the unending pain. When I notice that I’ve had a day or two of relative serenity, another wave of guilt washes over me, chiding me for having the audacity to “forget” for awhile. It takes more strength than I have in me to go on in a world that promises unending reminders that everything is different now, everything has lost its purpose. The idea that losing weight, exercising, or changing my diet might actually matter becomes laughable and pathetic. I try to overcome those grim recognitions with sarcasm or silly comments or other attempts at humor. It doesn’t work. It might hold the demons at bay for a while, but they circle back and come at me from another angle. I probably should recognize the futility of it all and just acknowledge the inevitable.

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These eruptions of depressive thoughts always subside, but when they do they’re always just beneath the surface, waiting for something to release them into the air. The “something” that releases them can be obvious or absolutely unknowable. Today, I don’t know what brought them up from the moment I got out of bed; even before that. They may dissipate before my second cup of coffee this morning or they may last beyond the weekend.  Regardless, it is best for me to just wade through them alone. Well-meaning attempts to drag me out of the muck would not work and might well unleash evidence of why I don’t deserve loving care.

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This long and laborious post is just full of cheer. I think I’ll go bury myself in a snow bank and emerge in the Spring, happy and carefree.

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The Saddest Song

David Legan’s comment on my post earlier today entitled “Unmet Friend” brought back a memory of an experience I had in late 2009 and the blog post I wrote (on another of my blogs, long since dormant) about it. The strength of the memory is in a YouTube video I posted in connection with an online friend who I later learned had died. Here is the video and the saddest song I’ve ever heard, performed by Liam Clancy of the Clancy Brothers:

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Unmet Friend

Janet, as requested.


I met my friend in a Facebook group created to connect people who grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. The purpose of the group, as I recall, was to reminisce about the city’s twentieth century history. How I joined that group is a memory no longer available to me. I wasn’t a member of the group for long because, like so many other Facebook groups, it morphed into a platform for irrelevant bitching, complaining, and right-leaning political bullying. But, during my brief tenure in the group, I encountered my friend. I do not recall the details, but I enjoyed reading his occasional posts, which demonstrated that he is quite intelligent and that he and I have many common political, social, and intellectual perspectives. We became Facebook “friends” and, over the course of several months, we started exchanging emails. Most of our messages dealt with philosophical matters, examining social issues from various philosophical viewpoints. I enjoyed those interchanges immensely, as they were reminiscent of various college courses in which the bulk of the course content was dedicated to learning through conversations and discussions versus being “taught.”

During the course of our email conversations, I learned that my friend is a college professor. He taught at a college in my hometown for many years before he moved, following a divorce, to become a professor at a college in Florida. After he read some of my blog posts—essays on social issues like controlling the availability of guns, poverty, universal health care, etc., and posts including short pieces of dark fiction—he suggested I participate in an email “conversation” between him and two of his college professor friends. The other two guys were in other places; one taught at a college in Canada, and I think the other may have been in Arizona. At any rate, we engaged in conversation and debate about all sorts of issues including gun ownership, racial profiling, capitalism, theology, domestic terrorism, white supremacy, and a host of other topics ripe for deep discussion. As I recall, several conversations addressed positions taken by Stephen Pinker, a well-known cognitive psychologist and linguist, in his books and articles. Those, especially, turned into some very spirited but friendly debates.

My friend told me about the classes he taught, including one he and a psychology professor had jointly developed. That class explored the psychology of criminals and victims in crime fiction literature. Students who completed the course got college credits for both English and psychology. I found the concept fascinating. He also told me about his teaching style, which was a no-nonsense approach in which students were expected to work hard to keep up with his fast-paced presentations and to participate in class discussions and debate (he teaches, among other things, literature). I decided his teaching style should be called gonzo education, but I don’t think I ever told him so.

I learned that my friend likes to make beer and bread, enjoys making jewelry from metal he forges, loves to cook, and appreciates wine and spirits. He spends time in his pool and with his plants and greenery. While I, too, loving cooking and wine and plants, I know nothing about jewelry-making and long ago lost interest in maintaining a pool. But conversations with my friend reinforced for me that I can enjoy hearing about endeavors in which I have little or no interest in doing myself, but that intrigue me, nonetheless. Another of my friends, a fierce aficionado of beer and beer-making, became friends with my Florida friend, too, through my Facebook connection.  Social media shrinks the world.

My friend and I exchanged other emails pretty frequently. He told me about his sons and daughter, the discipline he embraced that sent him to the gym most days, his current girlfriends, Greek enclaves near his home, and a hundred other things. I am sure I shared with him a great deal about my personal life, as well. We became good friends, at least as close as friends can become through email, comments on blog posts, and a few rare telephone conversations.

When my wife’s friend, who lives in Florida northeast of Tampa, invited us to come visit, we accepted the invitation. In planning our trip, we decided to “couch surf,” rather than rent motel rooms; it was our first (and I guess only) time to be guests, though we had hosted couch-surfers several times. On the way to Florida, we stayed one night with a very nice guy in Jackson, Mississippi; he was editor of a college literary magazine. We took him to dinner at an Indian restaurant, after he initially suggested Thai; I think he changed his mind on the way when we told him how much we enjoyed Indian food. Our couch-surfing experience later became fodder for conversations with my friend.

Long before we drove to Florida, I arranged to meet my, who lives only about thirty miles from my wife’s friend. A few days after we got to my wife’s friend’s house, we drove down to see my friend. When we got to his house, he was not home; he had gone to the grocery store in preparation for our visit. His son met us at the door, but politely refused to let us in, telling us his father had told him never to allow strangers in the house. My friend got home shortly after our arrival. We sat and visited for several hours, enjoying a little wine and just chatting. The experience was like getting together with a friend after being apart for many years; it was delightful.

Though we kept in close touch for some time after we met face-to-face, time and circumstances intervened, reducing the amount of communication between us. Since then, my wife and I moved to Arkansas; a new place requires time and energy to find one’s place. And my friend went through various changes in his personal life. He, who had been a fierce über-user of Facebook, left the platform several times, returning months later. During especially demanding times, the time he spent teaching and the time he spent attending rallies for Bernie Sanders left little time for anything else. The automated reminders of my daily (and sometimes more frequent) posts, coupled with other “demands” of email apparently became intrusive, so he stopped subscribing to reminders about my blog posts. Though he continued to visit and comment, the visits and comments declined significantly until they eventually stopped. We still kept in touch via Facebook, but not often.

My friend occasionally talked about going “back home” to visit friends and family in Corpus Christi. Though it would be out of his way, I’ve encouraged him to make a detour when he takes that trip to come visit us (now, just me) in Hot Springs Village. I hope he does that after the pandemic is an ugly memory. And I hope to make a trip to visit him again one day during a break in his teaching duties.

Recently, though, when I called my friend (the first time in years), I felt like I had just walked into his house again. The conversation was so familiar, so friendly, so genuine that it reminded me that strong friendships can, indeed, develop online. It also reminded me that it is too easy to let communication slide. It reminded me that giving priority to the urgent, rather than the important, is a fool’s errand.

I have met my friend only once, face-to-face, but I do not doubt that, if circumstances permit, we will meet again one of these days. Whether the first flush of friendship—when we engaged in philosophical discussions and debates—will ever return is questionable, but the fact that we remain friends is not.

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Taste Buds, Integrity, and Relative Wealth

Roughly seven years ago, Target Stores‘ house brand, Archer Farms, apparently stopped selling a vindaloo meal kit (everything but the meat). It was about that time my wife and I came upon one of their vindaloo meal kits in a “marked down, must go” bin. I think it was $1 or less per box [EDIT: a post I made at the time said $1.98]. Contrary to the instructions on the box, we used lamb instead of pork  when we prepared the meal, because we have always enjoyed lamb vindaloo. We were surprised when the kit produced an excellent meal; very, very spicy and wonderfully flavorful.  Based on that experience, we went back to Target and bought all the remaining boxes of marked-down vindaloo kits. We’ve been slowly making our way through them since. I don’t recall just how many boxes we bought, but I’d guess we picked up a dozen; probably many more [EDIT: No, my post at the time said 6]. To say I like lamb vindaloo would be a gross understatement. I hunger for lamb vindaloo the way a hormone-crazed teenager craves his first…adult experience.

I prepared the last of those marked-down Archer Farms box meals last night. Printed on the box are these words: “Best by October 8, 2014.” So, six-plus years after the “expiration.” Big deal. I banked on the stuff being quite edible and not poisonous. We’ll see. Check with me later today. So far, so good. I can say emphatically that the meal tasted absolutely wonderful. I last had lamb vindaloo just over a month ago, but that meal was prepared from scratch, not from a box. I’m almost ashamed to say last night’s dinner was at least as good. Or maybe I was just ravenously hungry for Indian food.

The lamb I used was a slice of lamb-leg, boneless, purchased on October 19, 2019. That lamb was one of three remaining packages purchased and wrapped in freezer wrap on that date, four days before the “use or freeze by” date.

The meat remaining in my refrigerator and freezer may be among the last meat in the house for quite some time. Of course, what’s there now will last quite a while; there’s plenty of it. But after it’s gone, I intend to alter my eating habits, geared toward a mostly plant-based diet. Whether that change lasts forever is yet to be seen. But I like the idea, despite my lust for flesh. My reason for considering it has little to do with the questionable morality of butchering animals; it rests primarily with the health benefits of a plant-based diet. But I do feel more than a little guilt for consuming animal flesh when it’s not necessary.

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It’s very easy to tell someone “I’m available for you anytime, 24/7. Whatever you need, I’ll be there.” Fortunately, I rarely have found myself in a position of really needing someone to “be there.” But it’s disheartening, in one sense, to know that the promise made is sometimes more reliable from people who are not especially close, emotionally, than one made by a friend.  On the other hand, it’s gratifying to hear of a promise made by a casual acquaintance turning into an unbreakable bond. The validity of such promises depends entirely on the value a person places on them when making them. It is a matter of integrity. I hope when I offer such a promise it is always absolutely dependable, reliable, and unbreakable.

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As I sat trapped by snow in my house yesterday, it occurred to me that my imprisonment offers evidence of my dependence on luxury. A car. A weather-sealed house. Safe and reliable running water. Dependable electricity. Good lighting. Sources of warmth, from a heat pump to layers of clothing to help me retain my body heat. A refrigerator and pantry filled with food. These are luxuries. They give me comfort, but comfort does not require luxury. If I were not spoiled, like the majority of people in first-world countries today, I could live in comfort with much less. And I might not feel like a caged animal, pacing hardwood floors and peering out large picture windows. I might, instead, trek through the snow in search of something to eat to bring back to my warm tent. I might carefully compare how my feet feel as I shuffle through the snow to the way they feel as I warm them in front of burning scraps of wood that take the place of a hearth. My luxury is further magnified by the fact that I do not have to leave to go to work. But even those who have to leave to go to work live in luxury compared to the person I just described, by proxy. Comfort and luxury, like all aspects of life, exist on a pair of spectra. I think it can pay, at least occasionally, to try to imagine living at the “wrong” end of those spectra. Thinking about it triggers thoughts of what little things I might be able to do to help move at least a few people further along toward comfort and even luxury.

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Vulnerability

Alexa claimed the temperature at 5:04 a.m. this morning was 0°F. My computer, disagreed, saying it was -2°F. And the indoor/outdoor thermometer claimed the temperature on the screen porch is 5°F. Regardless of the thermometric discord, it’s bloody cold. Before I went to bed last night, I set the thermostat at 66°F, hoping threatened rolling electrical blackouts would not occur overnight. So far, so good. Maybe I will drop it down to 62°F tonight before I climb in bed.

I learned of the threat of blackouts earlier in the evening when, after three incoming telephone calls from Entergy that did not connect, I called the offending telephone number. I got a recording threatening blackouts and urging me to turn down the thermostat, turn off unnecessary lights, avoid washing dishes and clothes, keep refrigerator doors closed, set my refrigerator and freezer on the lowest possible temperature setting, and one or two others. I turned faucets on to a pencil-lead-sized stream in accordance with advice I got elsewhere. I was all set.

Until about 12:30 a.m.

I awoke to an odd, high-pitched humming noise, like a motor straining. I got up and went in search of what might be causing it. It seemed to be coming from the area of the master bathroom, but I could not pinpoint it. While in the bathroom, I took the opportunity to pee. The moment I flushed the toilet, the noise stopped. But when the water stopped running, it started again. I flushed again. The sound stopped. When the tank was filled, it started. I turned to the faucets. When I increased or stopped the flow, the sound stopped. I found the source of the maddening sound! A little adjustment to the size of the pencil-lead drip took care of the noise. I went back to bed. I thrashed about for a good hour and a half before finally falling asleep. I got three more moderately restful hours of sleep before I arose for the day.

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I still am learning to be vulnerable. It is a long and hard lesson for me, but I suspect it is a much harder one for men who have accepted society’s assertion that “strong” men never admit to or show weakness or display the softer emotions. My lesson is hard because, in spite of my ostensible lifelong rejection of machismo and its kin, fragments of the fiber of society’s assertions still cling to me. Those threads of the social fabric cannot easily be torn away completely after they are woven into the heart and mind at a very early age.

While learning vulnerability now remains hard, I have been working on it for many years. It’s only just now that I’m finding it a tad easier to acknowledge its place in me. One of the reasons, I think, is now see that the artificial strength required to mask vulnerability is, in fact, a weakness. The bravado I sense in so many men, whether visible or not, is simply an unspoken admission of the inability to summon adequate strength to admit one is vulnerable. A paradox.

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Last night, I sent an email to a woman I haven’t seen or heard from in several years. I wasn’t sure the email address I had for her was still valid. And I’m still not quite sure why I sent the message; I suppose it was primarily to let her know about my wife’s death. But I’ve promised myself in months past that I would reach out to people from my past to try to reconnect, so maybe that’s why I wrote. And possibly I wanted to try to keep a connection from yesteryear from disappearing entirely. I was surprised to find a lengthy, thoughtful, thought-provoking response from her this morning. Similarly, this morning I found a reply to a much earlier email I sent to my erstwhile British colleague.

I long for connections, even tenuous connections from the distant past. That’s an odd sensation for an avowed introvert to feel. It’s not that I want close, binding connections (though a few of those would be fulfilling). I just want the past to have mattered in some way. If the past mattered, then maybe the present does, too.

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Recently, two woman from my church dropped by to deliver a monthly goodie package that’s being delivered to all members as a means of keeping in touch during the pandemic. I invited them in (everyone was appropriately masked) and we sat and talked for a while. At some point, when it somehow made sense to say it, I told them I find being in the company of women much more interesting and comfortable than being around men.

Days later, I had occasion to be in the virtual company of several women. I discovered I was somewhat uncomfortable in that setting as the only male. And on another occasion, I was in the company of several men and I felt the same way. But on yet another occasion, when I was one of only three (or four?) men, I did not feel that same discomfort. So, perhaps, it’s not that I feel more comfortable with women than with me. Perhaps it’s that I am more comfortable in very small groups than in “packs.” (That’s not the right word, but I’m drawing a blank.) I still believe I generally prefer to be in conversation with women than with  men, but maybe numbers and composition have something to do with it.

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As much as I want bacon this morning, I will try to choose another options. I want to do my part to minimize the likelihood of rolling electric power blackouts. Unfortunately, I have no milk for cereal. And virtually anything I might eat for breakfast would require cooking. I am vulnerable to breaking my own rules and cooking breakfast. But not yet. Not until the sky is awake.

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Circular Thinking in a Square Bowl

My expectation when I awoke yesterday was that I would write a post about morality. I did, in a way, but it was not the post I anticipated writing. I got derailed by my own thinking. Today, I will write what I considered writing yesterday. My words will be different than they might have been twenty-four hours ago, but the concepts will be the same. Except they won’t. Not really. Twenty-four hours affords plenty of time to think and re-think and, perhaps, over-think ideas and beliefs and positions on matters both vital and irrelevant. I can’t know, today, what might have been, yesterday, if I had done yesterday what I will attempt to do today. I am different today than I was yesterday. Time and context have altered me in ways I cannot quite understand unless and until I explore my thoughts today and compare them to the ones I had yesterday. But that’s not entirely realistic, is it? Without reliving every moment and recording every thought, I would have no realistic hope of reconstructing, in my mind, yesterday’s experience as John Swinburn. Fortunately or not, I have no such recording to which I might refer and compare. If I did, I might constantly attempt to re-create yesterday in my thoughts, and mimic it today, so I would not have to acknowledge that I change every day, depending on circumstance. I am who I am, not who I was, nor who I will be. But this moment—and my identity—is in constant flux, so I can never be anyone for more than a nanosecond, if that long. These ideas are both enlightening and frightening to me. They suggest I can never know myself as I am, only as I was. And even then, my knowledge of who I was has been irrevocably transformed by my experiences between then and now. So, finally, I know no one, including myself. When I try to understand myself, or anyone else, I am chasing knowledge that is impossible to find.

When I awoke today, I discovered that snow continued to fall last night. My uneducated guess is that about two inches fell. Unless swept away by the wind or sucked into the atmosphere through evaporation, it will stay on the ground. I’ll rephrase that; it won’t melt, at least for quite awhile. The temperature is hovering around 7°F and may fall a degree or two just before daybreak, which is not far off. The predicted high, as of this morning’s up-to-the-minute forecast is 13°F. Brisk!  But my intent is not to write about the weather. It’s to write about morality as a flexible measure of acceptable behavior based on culture and circumstance. Morality probably plays no part in weather.

Because morals cover such a wide range of thoughts and behaviors, I will limit my comments to just three: adultery, murder, and theft. I prefer adultery to infidelity because, in my mind at least, adultery does not so clearly convey judgement as does infidelity. Murder and theft are simply murder and theft; but as I’ll suggest  in a moment, there’s more to them than those simple concepts. Let me start by saying I base all of my comments that follow almost solely on opinions, not necessarily (though possibly) on scientific evidence.

Some cultures (I’m not willing, at this hour, to explore which ones, but I know they exist, so bear with me) permit adultery without judgment. Sex between consenting adults is, in the view of those societies (and my my view, as well), no one’s business but the consenting adults. It’s not that simple, of course. Our society has inculcated in most of us a belief that sex and the behaviors leading up to it should take place between only two people to the exclusion of anyone else, for both partners. We have been taught, as well, to embrace exclusivity as an absolute requirement for a joint commitment between partners. Absent that exclusivity, we have been taught that feelings of betrayal, distrust, and a deep sense of being wounded are natural to be expected from the “harmed” party in a relationship.

But I contend that humans are no more naturally monogamous (as defined in zoology) than they are naturally polyamorous. We shape our behaviors through societal pressure. For reasons that may or may not retain validity today, our society encourages monogamy and we use guilt, stigma, and other emotional and legal tools to enforce it. Not all societies do that. And even those that do use varying degrees of “enforcement,” suggesting the importance of monogamy to society depends on factors unique to a given society.

My point in all this is to suggest that adultery is not inherently wrong. We may not like it, we may not approve, but it’s really none of our business. To the extent that its practice may wound an uninvolved partner emotionally, we can bemoan that fact, but we really have no legitimate stake in the matter. In my opinion, we’d all be better off if we accepted the fact that people can be attracted to more than one partner while possibly being simultaneously more seriously committed to just one of them. I’m speaking hypothetically. Whether I would take that laissez faire attitude if my wife or lover were involved in an illicit affair is an untested unknown.

We have more important matters that should concern us. Like murder.

I mentioned yesterday the idea of accepting or supporting the death penalty while simultaneously believing murder is fundamentally wrong. How can those two beliefs exist in the same head? In my view, it’s not necessarily an example of opposite beliefs. More likely, I think, it’s an example of assigning complex values to the lives of multiple individuals and even to society as a whole. A person can be deeply opposed to murder, as most of us are, but can support the death penalty because the person sentenced to death has presumably taken a life and, importantly, has therefore affected the lives of multiple others. In the death penalty supporter’s mind, the damage done not only to the murder victim, but to the other victims impacted by the murder must be “undone” in some fashion. Repairing the damage done to the friends and family and other supporters of the murder victim may require (in our individual’s mind) taking the murderer’s life. Taking that life outweighs moral opposition to murder by the state. But even more likely, I think, is a sense of revenge.

Consider a situation in which a criminal is about to slash the throat of an innocent three-year-old baby but is stopped by a person who shoots and kills the criminal. Who would consider the shooter’s act immoral? If the situation were different and the shooter saves the baby by wounding but not killing the criminal, how would we want to treat the criminal?

Revenge obliterates moral opposition to murder by “painting over it” in certain circumstances. State-sanctioned murder is, in such cases, not murder; it is an eye for an eye.

Context, then, is critical.

I used to support the death penalty. Fervently. I haven’t, though, in many years. My primary reason is not so much my belief that the state should not be a party to murder (though there is that), but that the likelihood of sending a wrongly-convicted person to die is much, much too high.

Now, for theft.

Society teaches us that theft is wrong. Period. And I agree; not only because society tells me it’s wrong, but because I view the victims of theft as undeserving of the consequences of having their “stuff” stolen. But there are exceptions. And, again, the exceptions depend on what sometimes are extremely complex circumstances.

If someone steals to support his drug habit, I favor forced rehabilitation, using a model shown to have actually worked (assuming there is such a model). That forced rehabilitation should be adequate to satisfy those who call for retribution, revenge, and what have you. But the consequences should be increasingly severe for subsequent offenses. At what point, though, do we say, “enough!” and decide he is not worth the money and effort to rehabilitate him? Do we ever just give up? What part of our moral code allows us to do that without deep feelings of guilt and regret?

If a person steals food to feed themselves or to feed their family, I favor putting the person to work by the state and paying them enough to compensate the victims of the theft and to feed the thief’s family.  Simultaneously, some form of public assistance to find work should be part of the thief’s “punishment.” But, wait. What if the person steals from a bank so he can buy food? Is that different in any way?

But what of a person who, barely scraping by but who does not have the money to buy food for an unrelated starving family, steals food to help that family survive? How should we treat her? Does it depend on who she steals from? If she steals food from a major grocer, is that different than stealing from a mom and pop grocery that is barely getting by?

I’m getting away—far away—from what I intended to write. That’s what happens when I start writing and thinking along the way. My fingers do the thinking for me, sometimes surprising me with their wisdom and sometimes embarrassing me with their gross ignorance.

My points, if they haven’t been clear, are that morality depends in large part on context and that situational ethics are sometimes simply rigid morality made flexible through compassion.

What if I shoot and kill a man attempting to slash the throat of a starving married woman, then steal food to give to her, successfully luring her into an adulterous relationship with me?

Never mind. I start getting giddy around 8:00 a.m., engaging in circular thinking in a square bowl; more coffee should calm me down.

 

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Transformation is Never Complete

A chance online encounter with the history of The Serenity Prayer led me to read a bit about Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of the prayer. Niebuhr wrote the prayer in 1951, long after he began his career as a noted theologian. Based on what I read about the man, his religious philosophies and corresponding social and political philosophies transformed over the years from an intensely progressive, left-leaning position to a much more moderate one. In some cases, the transformation was essentially an about-face, rejecting beliefs he had once held in favor of embracing ones he had once rejected. This may be an over-simplification; I did not read a biography, I read only a brief biographical sketch. At any rate, his mind changed in response to both thought and experience. And that’s where my mind is going on this brutally cold morning (15° now, aiming for a high of 18°).

We can change our minds. Our philosophies can morph into almost unrecognizable twins, their common genealogy recognizable only through meticulous study. Given enough thought and consideration of other approaches to thought and analysis, we can become different people: same bodies, same faces, same histories, but different minds. Yesterday’s expected but deeply disappointing acquittal of Trump notwithstanding, there was evidence that some people who had supported him in the past had changed their minds. Presented with enough evidence and analysis, their perspectives on the man and his actions changed. Those perspectives could not have changed without changes in their own philosophies. While I cannot know their minds, I can reasonably surmise they examined their past support, the evidence presented against the man, and weighed their own morality against the actions of the past President. They changed their minds. Seven Republican Senators, some of whom had already crossed the threshold from support of party to support of country, voted to convict him.

Even Mitch McConnell appeared to have changed his mind, in spite of his vote to acquit. He claimed the trial was contrary to the Constitution, so he had to follow the Constitution. He suggested (almost emphatically), had it taken place while Trump was still in office, he would have voted to convict. Yet the Senate had already voted to acknowledge the legitimacy of convicting a person who was not longer in office, contrary to McConnell’s claim. And McConnell, himself, had effectively refused to consider holding the trial before January 20, thus assuring the trial would take place after Trump left office.  I think McConnell recognized the changes taking place in people’s minds with respect to Trump’s actions; McConnel did not change his mind, he simply changed his tactics, paying close attention to which way the wind blows.

So, some people change their minds, some people change their modi operandi in an effort to appear to have changed their minds. So, what does all this have to do with the changes that took place in Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr’s philosophies? The connections are tenuous, at best, threaded together only in my mind. I contend, without evidence, that Niebuhr might have written The Serenity Prayer whether or not his religious philosophies had changed. The changes that took place in the seven Republican senators did not necessarily alter their fundamentally conservative outlooks; while they changed, they did not change completely. And that, I suppose, is where my convoluted thinking is going this morning. The first verse of The Serenity Prayer (which is the one most often quoted) is, in my opinion, a brilliant summation of practical realism. Whether God represents an all-powerful deity or the universe in which we live, it’s the encouragement to accept both our abilities and our limits that’s attractive about the words, I think. Here’s the first stanza:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

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Well, that wasn’t what I expected to write when I got up this morning. I anticipated writing about morality and how people see the concept differently, depending on perspective and context. Specifically, I anticipated exploring the conflicts between morality as “taught” in homes and schools and churches and morality as internalized in individuals. For example, a person who has learned that marital infidelity is immoral, and who believes it, can still engage in that “immoral” act. How can he or she resolve that conflict? I contend that people convince themselves that extenuating circumstances both explain and permit stepping beyond what otherwise would be considered absolute boundaries. It’s not just marital fidelity. It’s breaking the “Golden Rule.” It’s accepting the death penalty, even in the face of a deep-seated belief that murder is fundamentally wrong. It’s stealing, in spite of taking the moral position that stealing is absolutely wrong.

Yeah, I had those things on my mind. But I’m not going to write any more about them this morning. I may, instead, leave this blog and return to my Word documents that house short stories and vignettes and other “creative” stuff that might get my creative juices flowing. Even though the temperature is not conducive to writing. Perhaps I would feel warmer if I would trade my flip-flops for something warmer. I’ve noticed that, even though I am wearing sweat pants and a sweat shirt, I am cold; especially my feet. I’ve transformed from being warm and comfortable in my bed to being warm and comfortably down to my feet. The transformation is never complete until I put something warm over my toes. I wish I could be comfortable this morning in flip-flops; they make me happy. But I’ll bow to pressure from the atmosphere and cover my feet with something a tad warmer. And drink more coffee.

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Las Madrigueras de Conejos

Until yesterday, I had never heard of Marcel and Betty Lamothe, nor did I know a thing about E. Rendle Bowness. But after writing a snippet in which Marcel and Betty were mentioned, I stumbled upon some material that introduced me to Dr. Bowness (who graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1932). Before entering veterinary school, though, he was employed by Dr. J. R. Cunningham, who operated Canada’s only veterinary practice devoted exclusively to foxes. Later, Dr. Bowness was one of the founders of the Canada Mink Breeders Association. Later still, after his retirement, the Association published a book Dr. Bowness wrote, entitled History of the Early Mink People in Canada.

Yesterday’s early morning accident that led me to the Lamothes also led me to Bodmin, Saskatchewan and my imaginary outpost one hundred kilometers to the west. And later, the intersections of accidental and intentional knowledge gave birth to a passing interest in the people of the area. It was that interest that led me to Dr. Bowness and fox ranches and mink people. Most of what I’ve read about these topics describes a history that may now be only a memory and not a foundation. But I do not know that to be the case. I know only that there is far more to know about Bodmin and the mink people and raising foxes.  It goes without saying that I had never before heard of Dr. J.R. Cunningham, nor of the existence of a fox-focused veterinary practice. I wonder, now, whether the proliferation of mink might have prompted someone to specialize in mink animal husbandry and veterinary practice? I do not know.

Who would have thought, just two days ago, I might develop a passing interest in Canadian mink and fox ranches? The idea of raising animals for their pelts is anathema to me, but intriguing, nonetheless.

While wandering through the rabbit warrens that introduced me to Bodmin and the Lamothes and Dr. Cunningham and mink people, I took a turn and came upon a First Nation name that, when I first read it, seemed very familiar. Noel Starblanket became one of the youngest reserve chiefs in Canada and was elected twice as president of the National Indian Brotherhood, later called the Assembly of First Nations. Starblanket was a name I had encountered before, but I could not recall the circumstances. I searched my blog and, sure enough, there it was. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s son is named Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild; his middle name was another relative’s surname. Starblanket, besides being a surname, is a Cree Indian band and a Cree Reserve in Saskatchewan. When I wrote the piece about Buff Sainte-Marie, I wrote about strange coincidences and spiritual connections. Here it is again. Perhaps I simply stumbled upon Bodmin and that made me stumble upon Starblanket. I am attracted to that name for some reason. It described to me what I was thinking before I wrote about Buffy.

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While I was getting enmeshed in Starblanket and Bodmin and mink people and fox ranches, the tasks that should have commanded my attention went undone. I could have begun the day today by jumping on them. But I did not. This is the weekend, after all. I deserve my rest. I try to wipe the sarcastic smile from my face.

An article on the BBC website, How to Escape Your Motivational Trough When You’re Flagging, might be just what I need to overcome my motivation-deficit. But I don’t know, because I haven’t read it yet. But I did make note of it and will get around to taking a look before long. Maybe.

Something else came to my attention this morning when I opened an email from a friend, whose message called my attention to a book entitled Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting : the Astonishing Power of Feelings. Despite my inherently skeptical nature, I started skimming the book online and I’ve decided I will spend more time reading it; whether that’s before or after the tasks I’ve been ignoring have been completed remains to be seen.

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This morning’s temperature was 21 degrees when I awoke, according to Alexa. When I said aloud (to myself, I thought), “That’s chilly,” she responded with a lengthy explanation about the location, size, and demographics of Chile, the country. And, after she finished, I said, “Gracias,” she responded with a couple of sentences in Spanish. Some mornings, with no apparent trigger, she speaks Spanish and plays lively Spanish-language music until I say “Alexa, be quiet!” I wonder whether Sebastian Piñera has had my house bugged and is playing mind games with me. Why he would do that I do not know. Perhaps it’s because I prefer Michelle Bachelet’s philosophies.

I scampered down another frigid rabid warren in the Chilean countryside. Cold weather. And the weather gurus expect the temperatures to get significantly colder. Today’s high is predicted to be 36 degrees; that will be that last time the thermometer registers above freezing until Thursday, when 34 is the expected high. Nighttime lows will be 10° or colder, with an expected low of 1° on Monday night. The high on Monday will reach only 16°, they say.

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Last night’s salmon was okay, except for being seriously undercooked. I broiled it, placing it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper as the recipe instructed. The parchment paper smoked and turned black; I was afraid it would catch fire, so I took it out of the oven. It looked reasonably cooked, so I plated it and took it to the table. The top half-inch was cooked to my liking. The remainder, beneath that layer, was essentially raw; so raw that I could not remove it from the skin. I like rare salmon; I am not sure I’m partial to raw salmon.

Speaking of salmon, I still haven’t made my breakfast. And I’m feeling exceptionally lazy again. So, I’ll probably forego the miso soup and stick to the remaining little piece of salmon, which I’ll pan-fry until it’s cooked to my liking. A little lemon juice mixed with miso drizzled over the cooked fish should be the perfect accompaniment. Maybe I’ll have an avocado, as well. And a mandarin orange. I think I’m ready to eat, so I’ll stop writing. I write, I eat, I think, I write, I eat, I eat. I need to change my habits a little.

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Starfish.

Overcast skies, icy roads, and an empty Friday morning join forces. They cause me to imagine what life might be like in a frigid, desolate outpost one hundred kilometers west of Bodmin, Saskatchewan, a place where RE/MAX has no listings. Tonight’s low temperature in Bodmin is forecast to reach -33F; I do not know what the low will be one hundred kilometers west of Bodmin, but odds are it will be brutally cold. I suspect the frigid little outpost is lacking in high speed internet. Whether it’s possible to get radio or television signals is an unknown for me, as well, but as I have no urgent need for them in my fantasy, it matters not. I’ve discovered, outside my fantasy, that it is not easy to uncover much information about Bodmin, even with high speed internet. However I was able to learn that Marcel and Betty Lamothe once operated a store—as well as a post office and a hand gas pump with a choice of red or amber gasoline—in Bodmin. When that was, I do not know, but based on the context of how I learned about Marcel and Betty, I would say it was sometime in the very early 1950s. My knowledge of Bodmin, weak and unreliable at best, slips into virtual nothingness after that time. It’s entirely possible I could learn more about it by reading more about the Lamothes and their neighbors, but reading about them would serve no particularly useful purpose; I doubt that endeavor would give me much more of an understanding of Bodmin as it is today. Anyway, my interest is in the outpost one hundred kilometers to the west. My imagination tells me the place has a wood-burning stove that serves both for cooking and heat. I can feel the ancestors of the people who built the place. They came from Scotland and Norway and who knows where else. At least that’s what my imagination tells me. But cracks are appearing around the edges of my imagination, so I’ll shove it into a corner of my brain where it can either regenerate itself or shrivel and depart this dimension.

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I thawed a piece of skin-on salmon in the refrigerator last night. If I am sufficiently motivated late today, I will broil miso salmon for dinner. Even though miso salmon requires virtually no effort, recent experience has taught me even effortless meals sometimes require more motivation than I possess when it’s time to make dinner. For that reason, I’ve tended to either munch on whatever is readily available in the refrigerator or I’ve “cooked” pre-fab frozen dinners in the microwave. Usually, I enjoy cooking, but for some reason that enjoyment has taken a respite of late.  I really need to cook the salmon tonight, though, and I need to save a piece of raw salmon for breakfast tomorrow morning. Tomorrow’s breakfast is to be a little piece of broiled salmon with a lime, vinegar, and sugar sauce. I’ll serve it with some radishes, a small scoop of white rice, and a cup of miso soup. I bought tofu and mushrooms and green onions the other day specifically for miso soup. When I make miso soup, I always make enough for at least two meals. Whether any of these plans come to fruition remains to be seen. It would be easier to get motivated if I were making these meals for more than just myself.

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According to a survey conducted by ABC News in 2004, sixty-two percent of American men, split evenly in two, reported wearing either nothing or underwear to bed. Only thirteen percent of American men reported wearing pajamas. I’ve never understood the appeal of pajamas. On those rare occasions that I’ve worn them, they’ve tended to get bound up with sheets or otherwise cause restrictive discomfort.

The origins of pajamas (pyjamas in other parts of the world) can be traced to places like Iran, India, and Turkey, where they were/are worn for the day-to-day comfort they afford the wearer in hot climates. Pyjamas have evolved, in some places at least, into loungewear that replace formal business or work wear after going home at the end of the day. Loose-fitting loungewear with either elastic or fabric ties at the waist and a separate pull-over top should be perfectly acceptable clothing, regardless of whether it is worn at home or doing errands. It’s not uncommon to hear people mocking “Walmart shoppers” who wear pajamas to the grocery store; that’s unnecessary mockery, in my book. I admire people who reject unwritten rules of fashion in favor of comfort. While I’d personally rather not see PJs with comic-book duck patterns on them, if that’s what a person wants to wear, more power to them. I’d prefer something a little more muted; perhaps a pair of loose-fitting, soft, grey trousers and a loose-fitting, soft colorful pull-over tunic in a herringbone pattern. Flip flops would go nicely with the outfit; if a little more formality were desirable, then a pair of woven leather huaraches might be just the ticket.

Somehow, I drifted away from sleepwear. I’m in favor of small, soft, white, and simple. But that’s just me. I remember, as a kid, having button-fronted pajama tops that I only wore when I wasn’t feeling well. I have no idea if that memory is real or not, but it’s the only one I have at the moment that involves pajamas. Buttons! I might as well sleep in a dress shirt.

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Not too long ago, I wrote about black objects absorbing light. Recently, I’ve seen some videos on Facebook promoting the almost magical qualities of a blacker-than-black paint that absorbs light better than any other black paint. If I painted a sponge with that black paint that absorbs light, I should be able to retrieve the light by wringing out the sponge. I wonder what happens to light that’s absorbed by black material. It only sounds like a stupid question. It’s not.

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Rye toast with peach jam and a few strips of bacon. Followed an hour or two later with a tomato juice chaser. That’s breakfast today. It’s not yet 10 a.m. and I’m already hungry.

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Absent a better title, I’ll label this post Starfish.

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Mourning Shadows Redux

I am not in the mood to write this morning. Instead, I have been in the mood to read what I have written. I originally posted the following on September 15, 2012, nearly a year into what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical that ultimately morphed into my retirement. At the time, I walked early every morning, before daylight. My morning walks frequently gave me time to think deeply about topics I might otherwise have ignored. Something about this post still captures my attention.


Mourning Shadows

ShadowsInexplicable shadows mill about in the pre-dawn darkness, shadows that follow the early-morning walker, occasionally darting in front of him, then slipping quickly from view. Street lamps and the headlights of passing cars and the weak light of a waning moon and a still-distant sunrise give them sustenance.

In one instant, when they are flush with the fuel of strong light, they are dense, their smoky near-black forms weighty and threatening.  Then, they become thin and ephemeral; barely visible, then they are simply gone.  But they return, first from one side, then another, then from the front, then from behind, stalkers who peek from every alleyway and side street, silently chasing the walker as he moves steadily forward.

Off he goes, dodging tree branches and streams of water erupting forcefully from the buried pipes of irrigation systems, timed, he imagines, to douse early morning walkers. On he walks, stooping to avoid spider webs and stepping gingerly across cracked concrete curbs, victims of the long summer of oppressive heat.  He tries to step over and around pieces of broken sidewalk that have sunk several inches beneath the street.  He walks on, hoping the shadows don’t lay waiting to trip him on a shard of asphalt ripped from the pavement by the  demonic heat of summer gone awry.

The shadows’ movements are, like the walker, steady and measured, as if they are consciously tracking each step he takes.  The shadows grow more distinct from the blackness of the streets as the enveloping darkness succumbs to a dim, blurred wash of light across the sky. The now translucent shadows appear to become more animated, more agitated, more aware that the wash of sunlight will dissolve them into pools of light, indistinguishable from the air around them.  The walker senses the shadows’ impending disappearance and wonders whether they know they will be back.  He wonders whether, instead, they sense an inevitable end and whether they will mourn their own passing.

Then, as if the sky were connected to a fluorescent tube, the darkness disappears in a muted flash.  The shadows are gone.  The walker nears the place where his early morning  journey began, thinking how only an hour earlier there were inexplicable shadows where there is now an irrepressible glow.

 

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Recipe for Insomnia

The time is just after 2:00 a.m. as I begin to write this, three and a half hours after going to bed. I don’t know how long I thrashed about in bed, trying to go back to sleep, before I finally gave up trying. My guess is at least half an hour, maybe more. No single thought prevented me from sleeping. This insomnia emerged, I think, from the collective effects of thousands of minor worries. They seem to be swirling around in my head simultaneously, creating waves where ripples would suffice. Before I finally swung my feet off the edge of the bed in surrender to sleeplessness, I shouted out a profanity; the volume of my scream virtually guaranteed I would not sleep for at least a while. So here I am, wondering what and whether to write. Hmm.

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I took a break from wondering to have a few Crunchmaster crackers with hummus, supplementing the few odds and ends I had for dinner. I had planned on cooking a boneless, skinless chicken breast and some broccoli for dinner, but when the time came to do it, I was no longer in the mood. Sometime around 1:00 p.m. yesterday, I decided to order groceries online to refresh the pantry and refrigerator in anticipation of an ice storm that, if it materializes, will make travel even to the grocery store an exercise in insanity. The order was ready just before 5:00 p.m. When I returned home with the groceries, I was satisfied that I was prepared for meals for several weeks. But I lost interest. So the chicken I thawed sits in the refrigerator; I must cook it today. And the broccoli, fresh from the grocery store, wonders why I insisted on separating it from its brother broccolis so early.

For lunch yesterday, I made a massive pot of soup that easily could have served as my dinner, as well. But I wasn’t in the mood for soup last night. Now, though, I might change my tune. My midnight snack, delayed almost three hours, might consist of yesterday’s lunch. I concocted soup from chicken stock, Rotel tomatoes, plain diced tomatoes in a can, black beans, garbanzos, bell pepper, yellow squash, zucchini, a seven-grain rice mix, and a bit of Creole seasoning. There may have been more. It turned out to be reasonably good, but I think some more assertive seasoning may be required when I warm it up again. There’s enough left for at least two or three more meals.

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I was in the mood for conversation last night, so I imposed on a friend who tolerated my need to talk and listen during a twenty-minute conversation about nothing earthshattering; just “talk.” Earlier, I was in a similar mood but I was not in a position to engage the target of my interest in verbal conversation, so I wrote a long, meandering email. I received a long, thoughtful reply to my meandering stream-of-consciousness message. I greatly appreciated the answer but I was embarrassed that I prompted a response requiring so much energy, when I perhaps should have been more considerate in asking for engagement when simple presence would do. But, then, the answer could have been curt, so maybe the energy in the reply was expended freely and gladly. I overthink things sometimes.

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Later today, I hope to have a Zoom conversation with family members. One of my brothers still hasn’t been able to get Zoom to work, but the rest of us can chat for a while. As good as it is to see and hear one another on video, it does not compare to being in the same room. Unlike sitting together in a room, periods of silence seem awkward on video calls; perfectly natural pauses in face-to-face interactions seem long and uncomfortable on video, causing people to try to fill the void. At least that’s my sense of it. Video requires engagement, while face-to-face interaction just permits it.

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I mentioned in a post, a day or two ago, needing to get something notarized. In response, I got an email from a very nice person (whose sense of humor matches mine quite nicely, by the way), saying she would gladly notarize my paperwork. Whether I get out today to have that done is up in the air, but it’s so gratifying to know there is someone willing to come to my aid as I wade through documents. Decency and compassion are visible in such simple and spectacular ways. If not for COVID, I would hug and kiss so many people I might be arrested for felony fondling. That doesn’t sound quite right, but I’m not going to change it now; it’s already on my screen.

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It’s now past 3:00 a.m. and my hunger has surpassed the point at which Crunchmaster and hummus will satisfy me. What does one do at 3:00 a.m. with a boneless, skinless chicken breast? I suppose I could make a Greek-inspired lemon juice and yogurt marinated chicken dish and serve it with a flour tortilla (I don’t have any pita bread). The obstacle, though, is that I would have to let the chicken marinate for a couple of hours. That’s the problem with cooking; it take time to plan, prepare, and execute. I am hungry now. That’s the beauty of hummus; it’s ready when I am. I suppose I could heat a tortilla, spread hummus on it, squeeze a bit of lemon juice on the hummus, and put a few slices of onion on the concoction for crunch before rolling the tortilla. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. And, then, I’ll either try to go back to sleep or come back here and decide whether to write some more or post this as is.

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Pendulum Swings

Most days, my blog posts get a few views. Twenty, maybe. Thirty on a good day. Occasionally, someone leaves a comment about what I’ve written or sends me an email about it. One regular visitor leaves a calling card, a “like” that tells me she read what I wrote. Usually, though, I know only that a few people viewed that day’s post. Whether viewers found it interesting, funny, sad, annoying, boring, or deeply offensive is impossible for me to know. My experience is akin to turning in a homework assignment that subsequently is returned to me with no comments; only a note indicating some unnamed member of the faculty—perhaps an anonymous substitute who is not even my teacher—read my essay and opted not to assign a grade to the work.

I could let the experience upset me. But then I realize I read dozens of editorials, essays, news stories, personal journals, etc., etc. every day and rarely if ever leave any comments or otherwise express my level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what I’ve read. I have neither the time nor the inclination to “grade” the work. That is no doubt true of most readers. If the writer wants feedback, perhaps he should join a critique group. And, of course, there’s the issue of topics: my posts tend to randomly mix quantum physics with personal musings and brain dancing, with a side order of sexual innuendo and mental meltdown. So there you are. Ask yourself a question and eventually you’ll feel compelled to answer it.

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I’ve been thinking about getting a telescope. Why I am devoting so much time to thinking about it instead of actually buying it is evidence of something, but I’m not sure what. I should speak to someone who knows telescopes and can explain to me, in third-grade language, why I might choose one over another. What focal length means. What “power” I might want. When I try to read explanations intended to make the decision easy, my eyes glaze over and I find myself asleep an hour later. Just show me a close-up of the moon. And the houses on the far side of the mountains to the south.

I’ve also been thinking about getting a dog. I have two expert sources of advice at the ready when I get serious about looking; one a retired veterinarian and one an expert dog trainer. I am narrowing down the criteria for the dog I want. I am seeking a young but full-grown house-broken dog that can fit in my pocket and stands about 36 inches at the shoulder. The dog should respond appropriately to complex commands but also should be relaxed and playful, yet not overly energetic. It should not shed. It should be a short-haired dog whose coat feels like soft silk. The breed (or mixed breed) should have an average lifespan of eighty years. I would prefer a dog that speaks fluent English and Spanish and can drive a stick-shift (in case I decide to get a sports car).

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In less than an hour, I will visit my dental hygienist, who will make my teeth sparkle. First, I must shower, shave, and get dressed. These simple tasks have taken on attributes that make them seem to me like awful burdens. Showering and shaving, in particular, require so much time and energy. The entire process should take no more than two minutes; in reality, though, it takes more like thirty minutes. Maybe more. Who has time for this? I have people to be and places to see.

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My mood is like a pendulum powered by a 300 horsepower gasoline engine. It swings wildly and at high speed.

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On or Off the Water

We sit together in front of a warm fireplace. The mesmerizing flames cast romantic shadows on the wall behind us. We’re seated on a soft comfortable loveseat. My arm wraps around your shoulder. Each of us holds a glass of wine, the cool glass contrasting sharply with the heat of the fire. We turn our heads toward one another. Ever so slowly, we lean in until our faces are only inches apart. Suddenly, in unison, we both say, “It’s just after six in the morning. It’s too early to be drinking wine.”

Wait, that’s not the way it’s supposed to go. But, see, that’s the way my mind works sometimes. Fantasy competes with reality in awkward intersections. My writing behaves like that. It’s as if I imagine myself as a war correspondent in the Revolutionary War. I sit in my dark cabin at night, the only light a single lantern, writing my stories with a typewriter that would not be invented for one hundred years, using paper I bought at Office Depot.

Back to the fireplace, though. Time becomes a crutch, doesn’t it? Natural law does not preclude sleeping in the daytime and carousing at night. We have the capacity to alter our routines in defiance of clocks. If we want to have breakfast at 1 a.m., go for a run at 2 a.m., and head into the office at 3 a.m., we can do it. But we rarely do. We’re creatures of habit and we tend to obey unwritten rules. And written rules that do not necessarily have the force of law behind them.

The people in front of the fireplace are married. But not to each other. Their respective spouses are: a) she is salmon fishing in Alaska and b) he is attending a religious revival in Tennessee. Their respective children, Gertrude and Euripides, are in other states, being fingerprinted after being charged, respectively, with counterfeiting and felony plagiarism.

Torrid affairs are not illegal in most places, as far as I know. Nor is drinking wine at unseemly hours. But we behave as if they were. Because we treat cultural norms as if they were morally binding. It depends on the culture, doesn’t it?  When we break cultural norms, I think our responses to stepping outside of boundaries cause us to have conflicting emotions. On one hand, we’re frightened and somewhat ashamed. On the other, bursts of adrenalin lend an air of delightful excitement to our infringement. I write this as if I know what I’m writing about. While I don’t, I think it makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if we’re really honest with ourselves. But do we have the courage to be honest with ourselves? I sometimes wonder. I often wonder.

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Yesterday, I drove in to Hot Springs to return to JC Penney two shirts I had picked up the day before. I had ordered them online, taking advantage of steep discounts (more than 50%). I had them sent to the store to save the cost of shipping, which would have been substantial. I returned them because their colors and patterns did not match the photos online. And they were too small. Or I am too big. Or both. I don’t think I’ve bought new button-down casual shirts since long before we moved to Hot Springs Village. Facebook regularly shows me photos from ten or twelve or more years ago; I’m modestly surprised to see that I am wearing the same shirts these days I was wearing then. At any rate, I do not have new shirts anymore. I hate to try on clothes, mostly because they very rarely fit. Back in the old days, I could order online and return by mail, without cost, if they did not fit or otherwise did not suit me. Today, there are limitation and sometimes there are expenses.

I need to have my clothes tailor-made to fit my body; short arms, longish torso, and very short legs. I think that may describe a malformed ape. Pants are especially hard to find. A short inseam made shorter by my preference for wearing them just above my hips, well below my waist, makes it damn near impossible to find a good fit. That’s just one of many reasons I wish fashion would take a sharp turn, focusing exclusively on comfort. I think I’d prefer to wear very loose-fitting Indian kurta tunics. And rather than the traditional trousers that go with them, I’d rather wear skin-hugging long-inseam bicycling shorts. The only reason for wearing the shorts would be to protect the public from going blind when I am seated; otherwise, I’d be happy with plain old loose-fitting white cotton briefs.

I posted something in October 2015 saying something similar to what I’ve just written, but I said I’d prefer shorter than average kurtas. No longer. My taste has changed a bit, I suppose. But even then I was fiercely in favor of comfortable clothes and not a slave to fashion.

If ever I have the skills, courage, and sufficient privacy, I will make kurtas to my liking. I will wear them in public and around the house, with our without visitors. Occasionally, I will shed all my clothes, going au naturale throughout the house, wondering why it took so long to assert my right to nude comfort.

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While puttering around in the kitchen this morning, I “wrote” lyrics to a song—on the fly—singing as I wiped up spilled coffee and otherwise tidied up. I frequently make up song lyrics early in the morning. I rarely write them down. It’s exceedingly rare that I remember them an hour later. This morning was no different. But I do remember a few themes from this morning. Dogs tearing into my house through a screen door. Their teeth sinking into me. Maybe something like:

“I felt such vivid terror,
as I watched them breaking in,
and I screamed so very loudly,
as their teeth sank into my skin.

I fought them off with sharpened knives
and a bottle full of gin.
But those beasts were quite determined,
much to my chagrin.”

Not what I “wrote,” but something along those lines. Most of my poetry is free verse. Most of my song lyrics rhyme. Most of my poetry has some semblance of meaning. Most of my song lyrics are rhyming nonsense. I do not know whether any of that has any meaning, but there it is. It’s all just for fun, anyway. Especially the song lyrics. They’re usually not so gritty and disturbing. One of these days I’m going to record myself while I’m making my verbal compositions. My recordings no doubt could be used in proceedings about whether I should be institutionalized; maybe I better not record myself.

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Two nights ago I had dinner with a couple I first met in Dallas sometime around 2005 in connection with my business. When they sold their successful business and retired, they bought a townhouse in Hot Springs Village to serve as a weekend getaway. Like so many others, once they spent some time here, they soon decided to make this their retirement home. They sold their house in Dallas and their townhouse in the Village and bought a lake house here. They have a boat house with an electric lift and they own a very nice pontoon boat, kayaks, tubes, and various other water craft and “toys.” From what I can tell, they lead an absolutely idyllic life.

They took me out on their pontoon boat before sunset.  There were just the three of us and their Australian shepherd mix. The objective of our water cruise event was to count buoys; they want their shoreline neighbors to pitch in to have the buoys lighted. Despite the fact that the temperature was around 53 degrees, our time on the water was delightful. Even when the boat was ripping along the water at full speed, the cold air in my face was invigorating. Fortunately, I brought a heavy coat along, knowing in advance of their plans to take to the water.

Over dinner, we talked about food and mutual acquaintances and COVID-19 and a dozen other subjects. We touched on politics and religion just slightly; we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum on those topics, but the few times they arose, I felt like we would have been truly civil to one another had we delved into them. That’s how it should be.

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Financial paperwork is piling up. Documents requiring my signature, some requiring witness by a notary, stare at me accusingly as if I were looking into a mirror. What can I do today? I ask it feebly, hoping the fact that it’s Sunday will offer me a reprieve. No, that doesn’t work. The paperwork seems to reshuffle itself, making the sheets no requiring a notary more visible and obvious. I cover the documents with credit card receipts I have yet to record on my spreadsheet. I am documenting my expenses the way my wife did; the receipts will not be discarded or shredded until there is no possibility I will need them for either tax purposes or evidence in disputes about charges, etc. I think the carcasses of two forests litter my house in the form of receipts, books, and other paperwork.

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What difference would it make if I were to finish my cup of coffee, get in my car, and drive away from this house, never to return? A brief period of chaos and questions would follow, but the breadth and depth of the chaos would be relatively minor. The questions might remain for a few months or even a few years, but eventually they would dissolve into time. My disappearance would be like most others. It would be unexpected—and unimportant except to a microscopic sampling of the human race. But to that tiny sample, it would reverberate like a bass drum in a network of caves. In terms of impact, I equate it with the upset caused when an anthill is disturbed. Chaos erupts, with ants scurrying about in seemingly random movement at high speed. But the chaos quickly calms, leaving little evidence of the intense disorder that followed the upset. Not to worry. I will return if I can.

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Facebook reminded me, just now, of something I wrote five years ago today. In light of my post yesterday, it seems incredibly coincidental. There’s that synchronicity again.

Fifty years from now, nobody will remember your name, nor will anyone care that you lived or died. Don’t fret; you’re not alone in that brutal reality. Billions and billions have gone before you. You’ll be unique if you’re more than a footnote to history five years hence. We pay too much time wondering about our legacies. We should ignore that line of thought entirely and, instead, behave as if we were uninhibited seventeen year old kids. Maybe THAT will leave a memory worthy of the concept of remembrance.

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Somehow, the artifice of time has gotten away from me. It’s just after 7 and I need to begin to acknowledge daylight.

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Life Goes On

Several years after my oldest sister died, I wrote a poem that recalled the experience of pouring her ashes into the Gulf of Mexico as she wished. One stanza of the poem is as follows:

The gentleness of the water was unwelcome,
waves should have pounded the sand,
wind should have shrieked in rebellion.

The stillness of the water, in light of the remnants of the vivacious life being shared with it, showed wanton disregard for the loss of a beautiful human life. I hated Nature’s emotionless acceptance of an event so consequential.

In the more than month and a half since my wife died, the hole left in the world she shared with me seems to be filling. Life must go on, and so it does. Even my life, as shattered as it felt and still feels, is adjusting to her absence. But I do not want the lives of anyone who knew her to ever be the same. I want everyone to feel an unending emptiness wherever her presence once was felt. She must never be forgotten. Thoughts of her must forever be accompanied by reverence.

I feel a searing guilt that the searing pain is beginning to ease, if only a little at a time. It is not fair or right or acceptable that life should go on; that it should continue as if her death was a momentary interruption that can be overcome.

But these very same feelings must have been felt billions and billions of times.  A generation or two or three after a person’s death, sometimes much sooner, evidence of that person’s existence is effectively gone. If a person does not leave children, the legacy turns to vapor within weeks or months or, at most, a few years. Headstones represent attempts to slow the decay of remembrance. But even headstones crumble over time from exposure to the elements.

The meaning of almost every life is chained to time. Over time, the links in the chain corrode into broken pieces. Eventually, the chain merges with the Earth, completing another phase of the cycle. That happens long after the meaning of the link that was chained to it has been abandoned by time. Time loses patience with the process of degradation; it moves on to current events and lives that also will matter only briefly and for only a small sphere of related lives that eventually will dissolve into eternity, too.

No matter how strong the argument that “life goes on,” it can never again seem fair or just when a beautiful life disappears; when the lives left behind get back to business as usual.

If and when COVID-19 subsides enough to allow us to gather again, I will arrange for a celebration of my wife’s life. Somehow, some way, the hole in the world left by her death will be recognized. I will not allow her loss to simply heal. The scar always will be visible. Even as life goes on.

 

 

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Between Fact and Fiction

One week soon, I will become a hermit. I will avoid all engagement with others. I will spend a solid week in isolation, to the extent I can. I may have to go grocery shopping or do other errands, but I will spend the majority of the week at home alone. I will wake when I wake and, when I am ready, do whatever I am in the mood to do. Perhaps I’ll take a day to drive to a quiet spot—maybe Mount Magazine—and soak in the expansive view. Regardless of what I do, I will do it alone.

As much as I value and appreciate being in the presence of people who matter to me, sometimes I need distance and isolation. And as much as I am able to isolate myself relatively often now, I sometimes need an extended period to decompress. I need that time now. Or soon. I cannot even express what it is that builds up in me, requiring time alone. Whatever it is, I feel myself becoming a metal vessel reaching the point at which the pressure inside the vessel is greater than the strength of the vessel to hold it. I need an outlet to drain the pressure.

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I dreamed last night that I was waiting in a tiny travel agency office with a woman I did not recognize. It was not apparent at first what we were waiting for, but as the dream’s strange meanderings evolved, I understood that we were waiting for the woman’s husband. The woman tried to convince a male travel agent that she had been promised a second ticket for her husband; he was not buying it. The woman was worried that her husband had not arrived, a problem because their cruise was to leave soon. She and I went outside to wait for her husband, who was to arrive by ship. We expected him to be on a cruise ship.

At some point, an announcement came over a loudspeaker. I could not make it out, but the woman could; she said it had something to do with my car being towed. I had parked near the corner of a freeway feeder road and a cross street a few blocks away from the travel office; it seems that was a no-parking zone. We went searching for my car, only to discover the towing agency had not taken it. I understood the car had been stolen. Because the time for the cruise departure was near, we rushed back to the travel office. Just as we arrived, an incredibly narrow Russian-flagged ship, badly in need of paint, docked. Instead of coming in with the starboard side against the dock, it headed in straight, and its bow touched the dock. The woman’s husband was standing on the ship’s deck; he came down a ramp as soon as the ship was secured to the dock. He said he had been given a ride. He was giddy that, unlike what he had expected, he had been taken through the Panama Canal.

I believe I woke up about the time he finished his story. I have no idea where the couple was going, why I was there, and what became of my stolen car. I am a little worried about opening the door to my garage, in case my dream was a circuitous way of telling me the garage is empty.

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Between 1959 and 1970, a television game show called College Bowl aired on CBS and then NBC.  I have a vague image in my mind of one of the hosts, Allen Ludden. If my memory is correct, he had sandy blonde hair that was combed up into something like a flat top, but his hair was not vertical; it curved on top of his head. I liked that show, even though I don’t think I knew many of the answers to the questions.

I read something recently that, if my memory is correct, suggested the show will be (or has been) resurrected for television. I’ll have to find out more about that. I like the idea of a game show based not on silliness and comedic displays of ignorance but, instead, on tests of knowledge. The American (and possibly worldwide) television audience seems to have been dumbed down in recent decades. I wonder whether that has been an intentional undertaking, shaping intellectual capacity so its low level will be easier for the powers-that-be to take control. The internet, with so much potential to be a source of growth and knowledge, seems to have been usurped to support television’s objective of mush-minding America. Conspiracy theories and the lies supporting them are replacing critical intellectual evaluations supported by verifiable facts. Ach.

College Bowl may be the last gasp of intellectual pursuit.

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My lifelong dream of having a few acres in the country and a nicely-outfitted tractor is fading. I would have to regain strength and stamina that I may already have lost forever to make it work. The opportunities I missed to achieve my dream are legion. Despite many chances to go for it, I never had sufficient confidence in myself nor was I able to convince my wife that it would be good for us. Now, my interest in working the land is diminishing. I suspect that, had I managed to make the dream a reality years ago, I would now be thinking about selling and moving into a lifestyle better suited men growing lethargic in their “golden” years. I have been a disappointment to myself with respect to this wished-for endeavor.  Bah!

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Pleasure. What is pleasure? Satisfaction. Delight. “Worldly or frivolous enjoyment.” Bliss. Pleasure is both a noun and a verb. “Pleasure me with your presence.” To give pleasure. To satisfy. In light of last night’s dream, I think the couple was planning to take a pleasure cruise. Having my car stolen was no pleasure.

What about leisure? Depending on context, it can be used interchangeably with pleasure. Satisfaction. Delight. Bliss. But not “Leisure me with your presence.” What about a leisure cruise? Who cares? What does it matter?

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Take a deep breath, John. Imagine you’re standing on the top of a ridge outside the village of Skarsvåg, Norway looking up at the Aurora Borealis. After you soak in the otherworldly beauty, you will walk into the village and have dinner in a fisherman’s home before settling in for bed. The next morning, you will hike across the peninsula to the Norwegian Sea. You will wade into the icy water, attempting to swim out to Kolbjørn Landvik’s boat anchored offshore. Such a silly man, John. You’ll never make it. Hypothermia will take you before you’ve made it ten yards.

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Our Thoughts

How close are we to one another, really? How much of the stock of our private thoughts do we maintain for ourselves alone, locked away never to be revealed even to those closest to us? Do we harbor thoughts that, were they to be revealed, would shock our friends or family? Those and many other questions have long bounced around in my brain. I’ve answered some of them for myself, but others are too intrusive even for me to ask of myself. Yet I maintain an intense curiosity about what goes on in the minds of people; I wonder what thoughts they choose to hold close, lest their secrets expose attributes or vulnerabilities or ideas that might change the way the world views them.

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It is far too early for me to reach any definitive decisions about whether to sell my house, but I’m thinking about my options. While the house is too big, by far, for one person, I enjoy its view and the privacy it offers. Yesterday, after my shower, I walked naked to the guest room where I’ve been sleeping to (finally) strip the bed and take the sheets to the washing machine. My path took me in front of what amounts to a wall of glass overlooking the forest and the valley below my house. With the exception of dodging a spot where I could be seen from a high window in front of the house, I did not need to worry about being seen. I don’t know if I could find that privacy and the freedom it affords, nor that view, in a smaller house. On the other hand, a house ties a person down and it ties up his money. Moving into a smaller house would allow me to redistribute my “investments” from real estate to cash and it kin.

I suspect this mental wrangling will go on for some time to come. Decisions usually come relatively easy for me, but I always second guess myself. I sometimes weigh all the options well after they are no longer available. That tends to allow regret to take hold, often a useless and irreversible sense that can ruin one’s days or weeks or months or years.

In the meantime, I have plenty of projects that will make my house more enjoyable while I am here and easier to sell if I decide to move. The trick is to get myself in gear to do them. I need to repaint the laundry room and the studio behind the garage. I need to deal with window “issues.” I need to clean or replace the studio flooring. I need to replace the carpet on the screen porch. I need. I need. I need. Replace need with want and reality begins to set in.

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Speaking of want, I want to change my appearance. I want to look thinner. That necessarily means weight loss. Changing the way I look would change the way I feel. I would feel better, physically, and feel better about myself, mentally. It’s not awfully hard to make the transition, in this case, from want to need. If I want to live a longer and healthier life, I need to do something about changing my appearance. That’s where sloth and degree of desire enter the picture. Can I overcome my slovenly ways and my tendency to treat emotional lows with food and drink? Time will tell.

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I was reminded very recently that my wife and I committed to make a quite significant (for us) donation to our church before the end of June. When my wife was managing our finances, it seemed to me the commitment would be fairly easily met. And I suspect it will be, once I get a solid handle on where things stand. But now that I am attempting to make sense of a financial picture with reduced income, it is not quite as apparently easy. My wife’s willingness to devote time and energy to financial management allowed me to retain a significant part of my childhood for more than forty years. Adulthood involves disciplined financial management. Geezerhood does, too. I feel like I am making the unnatural transition from childhood to geezerhood.

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This morning, my mind is attempting to unscramble. While that might seem like a simple process to some, I see it differently. I see a scrambled mind as a little like a scrambled egg. I try to imagine unscrambling a scrambled egg. It cannot be done. Is unscrambling my mind going to be any easier, or more achievable?

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Speaking of scrambled eggs, I may see what I can do about breakfast, now.

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Trickle of Consciousness

Yesterday afternoon, I had a not-long-enough conversation with someone who has become a good friend. We discussed, among many other things, a bit about my family. I am the youngest of six, one of whom died several years ago. Four of the six did not have children. Three of the six did not marry. I credit my parents’ financial struggles in rearing six children with my decision, very early on, not to have children. But there is no doubt considerably more to it. It’s a little more difficult to understand why half of the siblings did not marry. This morning, as I considered these matters, I skimmed an article on the Social Security Administration’s website. The article, The Never-Married in Old Age: Projections and Concerns for the Near Future, includes some interesting information. One sentence demonstrated to me the striking contrast between my family and the population at large: “In 2003, about 4 percent of Americans aged 65 or older, or 1.4 million individuals, had never married.” Four percent versus fifty percent. In a microscopic sample, no conclusions can be reached. But it gives me reason to wonder. Maybe next time I participate in a video call with my sibs I will raise the question and see what kind of responses I get. I love conversations like the one yesterday afternoon. They brighten my life.

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Tax season will be upon us soon and I do not know quite where to start; but start, I will. My wife kept meticulous financial records and prepared our taxes every year. After she had done all the calculations and was confident of the numbers, she consulted with a tax professional who filed on our behalf. When I asked why she spent the money to have someone do work she had already done, she responded that she felt it was worth the expense to have someone else stand in our stead if our returns were ever questioned. I question my record-keeping and record-sorting capabilities. But very soon I will gather all the records I can, organize them as well as I can, use TurboTax or some such software to determine whether I owe money or money is owed to me, and then ask a tax professional to check and correct my work. I think my wife’s position on the matter makes good sense.

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I spent another hour yesterday morning on an Arkansas Hospice grief support group call with a few people who have lost loved ones. I find it interesting to see the difference in obvious pain between people whose losses are recent and those who have had more time to settle in to their grief.

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My business career introduced me to people all over the world, though the introductions were generally brief and my relationships with those people were rarely personal; strictly business. But I made a few connections with whom I maintain only occasional and fragile connections today and, as I wrote about a few days ago, some that I have not maintained but whose memories withstood time. Since my wife died, I’ve received condolences from a number of former business associates: a Russian woman, a Pakistani man, a Dutch woman, an Australian man, a Swedish woman, a British man, a Canadian woman, and of course plenty of Americans. Engaging in conversations with people from other countries tends to open one’s eyes about how one-sided are Americans’ views of the world. We are insular in so many ways. We are taught to believe we are the center of the universe, the point from which all earthly good things spring, and other such fantasies. People from other countries have their own faults and frailties, but ours are, I think, among the most robust because we nurture them so tenderly and whole-heartedly. Why this is on my mind this morning I do not know. It’s a fairly common thought rattling around in my head, though, so I guess it was just time for another shot of musing about it.

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What would my friends and family say if I told them I have fallen in love with someone else so soon after my wife’s death? My guess is that everyone—to a person—would either tell me (or would think it without verbalizing to me) that my emotion was purely a rebound reaction to the shock and pain of loss. And they would be horrified at what would seem callousness and disregard. If my announcement had been real, they would probably be right. Love and longing are different emotions, I think, though they must be linked in some fundamental ways.

Not to worry, I haven’t fallen in love with someone else. But my affection for some people has greater intensity than before. Actually, I liked them even beforehand, when my wife spent so much time in the hospital and in rehab facilities and they were so kind to me. And I appreciated and enjoyed their company before that, when the world seemed more “normal” and life was a given.

Several times in recent months I’ve mused about my contention that, in humans, almost every emotion exists somewhere along a spectrum that includes an array of emotions. I believe that is true of love and hate, adoration and loathing, etc., etc. Love can devolve into hatred, just as hatred can evolve into love. Adoration can decay into loathing; but loathing can transform in a positive way, blossoming into adoration. Everything is connected. Kisses and bites can come from the same mouth.

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This afternoon, I’ll have a video conversation with a couple I’ve known since I was young and tall and handsome. Well, I was young. A twenty-something. And before that, a phone conversation with a financial advisor. And before that, a video conference to listen and learn about “spiritual practices.” Today’s discussion will be far afield from any spiritual practice I may have had: prayer. I am not one who prays. But I’ve grown to understand and appreciate people who do. They pray for different reasons and to different…entities, if that’s the right word. Tonight, Wednesday Night Poetry will include a video reading of a poem I wrote while in the depths of grief following my wife’s death. It’s actually a poem I patched together in part from some other material I wrote.

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I think it’s time to refresh my coffee and clean up my act. I finally washed towels yesterday, so after today’s shower I will dry myself with soft, freshly fluffy towels. And I’ll shave with newly-purchased, much-sharper-than-usual blades. And then I’ll put on clothes that are at least eleven years old. At least they are younger than I am.

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The Magic of Smiles

Genuine smiles—the kind that spring from momentary happiness—lift my spirits in ways nothing else can. Those smiles can be on the faces of people I know or on the faces of strangers. They can be the smiles of people on the street or in in photographs;  photographs of smiles prompted me to think about the topic this morning. Of course I cannot be sure the smiles in the photos are genuine, but I am confident they are; because real smiles are so radiant the the entire face almost glows with happiness. The eyes, the cheeks, the lips—even the skin—radiate jubilation based on something akin to euphoria. The smile that triggered my thinking on the subject this morning was in a photograph of a Black woman combing her child’s hair. The smile, the only one among a series of photographs on the NPR website, was somewhat subdued, but it conveyed the momentary happiness I mentioned before. And, then, I looked at other pictures online and found other smiles that looked broad and boisterous. The ones that most effectively sparked my emotional appreciation were the ones that seemed instantaneous, as if provoked by an explosive moment of elation.

I know people whose smiles almost always lift my spirits. I think it is because I know the smiles are genuine, arising from parades of joy that emerge from their ways of viewing the world. Though I know otherwise, it seems they are perpetually happy and absolutely delighted to be alive in that moment. They have their moments of sadness or depression or fear, but their worldviews are generally positive. They embrace life with fervor and their smiles offer evidence of how much they relish being alive. I wish I could emulate their attitudes and embrace their emotions. I do, from time to time, but with a frequency that pales in comparison. Being in their presence is like consuming a magical elixir. It can be addictive.

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I learned this morning that Friedrich Otto Schott invented borosilicate glass in 1897. The glass is used to this day for pharmaceutical containers today. According to the company that bears Schott’s name, three-quarters of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine projects use its products. Corning, another famous name in the glass industry, caught the pharmaceutical industry’s attention when, in 2017, it introduced a product called Valor glass. BBC.com quotes Steven Fox, an analyst at the equity research firm, Fox Advisors, as saying, “It’s basically the Gorilla Glass for pharmaceuticals.”

This morning was the first time I’ve ever given even a passing thought to the need for specialized, high-strength glass in the pharmaceutical industry; I’ve had no reason to think about it. Or have I, and I’ve simply ignored it and let my brain push the idea to the side? Whatever the reason, something as important as pharmaceuticals often require exceptionally high-strength glass. In addition to protecting products stored in glass container from the dangers of rough handling, some of the tough glass bottles protect the products from delamination, which is a process which can allow microscopic slivers of glass to taint the pharmaceutical product.

The world is a fascinating place. I wish it could be safe from humanity’s propensity to turn spectacular advances in science and technology into weapons of hatred and war.

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We can learn things about ourselves from unexpected sources. Let me rephrase that; unexpected sources can prompt us to make reasonable assumptions about ourselves that we might not have made without considering those sources. I’ve been reading online about the behaviors of various breeds of dogs. Some dogs seem to do well interacting with other dogs, some don’t. Some dogs are friendly with people in general, some are one-person dogs. Some dogs, regardless of breed, can be trained to be either one-person dogs or completely human-friendly.

I’ve always considered myself to be more of a private person than a social person. I preferred to spend time alone and/or with my wife than to engaging socially. But now that my wife is gone, I find myself longing for company. It’s not that I have become suddenly social but, absent that one person with whom I was extremely close, I feel a desire for engagement that might help fill that gaping hole. What I’m learning is that I am a one-person dog who’s trying to train himself to be human-friendly. I’m also learning that I thrive best in an odd environment of isolation paired with extreme closeness.

But all of this may be wrong. It’s probably too early for me to know anything new about myself. Maybe there’s nothing new to learn. Perhaps it’s simply an early reaction to a situation I haven’t be exposed to in well over forty years.

I’ve definitely learned something from simply being who and where I am: people are closer to me than I had realized. Whether in Fort Smith or Alexandria or rural New Hampshire or Texas or Mexico or California  or Nova Scotia, etc., people are close to me. And right here in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village is a pod of good, gentle, kind people who care.  I am fortunate, indeed.

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We grow by allowing ourselves to experience discomfort, whether physical or emotional. I’ve grown to dismiss physical discomfort as a tool for growth, though. Perhaps that’s exactly what I need, though; physical discomfort to enhance (grow) my physical health. Emotional discomfort is a perpetual mechanism for both intellectual and emotional growth. When we are too comfortable with the status quo, a little emotional discomfort—or a lot—can shock us into heightened awareness. We can realize that what we’ve been taught or what we’ve believed might be half-true or entirely false. We can see the world around us from a different perspective. But that emotional discomfort can be excruciating. It can challenge us mightily and we sometimes resist until the walls of comfort and certainty collapse and reveal hidden landscapes just over the horizon.

I think back to fifty years ago when homosexuality and was considered deeply deviant; skin color was either a blessing or a curse; the term “transgender” had not even been coined (to my knowledge); bisexuality was fundamentally wrong. Despite the fact that some people still cling to old, outmoded, inhumane ideas on these subjects, the world has changed, thanks to a lot of emotional discomfort. I wonder whether, in the next fifty years, more revolutionary emotional distress will lead to widespread acceptance and embrace of polyamory? What other human interactions and human characteristics might the world begin to recognize and acknowledge and accept?

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If I hadn’t allowed myself to get wrapped up in pseudo-philosophical ramblings, I could have already taken a shower. But, no. So, that’s next on my agenda. Now that I’ve addressed the joys and struggles of humankind.

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On Second Thought

Distance shrinks when one has the means of reaching speeds no one can reach without artificial assistance. Distance expands when one’s ability to move is restricted by the absence of natural physical capabilities. Between those measures of distance, a range of possibilities and limitations shorten and lengthen distance, making distance a very personal matter. The distance between New York and Los Angeles is almost negligible to a healthy and wealthy person who can afford a first-class ticket on American Airlines. That same distance is virtually insurmountable for a one-legged person who cannot afford a one-way bus ticket. In between are hitchhikers and people whose air-conditioned cars get excellent gas mileage. In between are long-distance walkers and drivers of clunkers, vehicles whose survival to the next town is questionable.

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Occasionally, I wonder how different our lives would have been had we each been forced, sometime in our mid-thirties, to live for a year in abject poverty. Would we be more empathetic to the impoverished? Or would we feel great pride for successfully overcoming the odds to achieve success? Or would we experience both? But if we only felt pride without the empathy, would we have contempt for those who have not yet found the way out?

The same questions apply to our experiences from birth. And how different a path might my life have taken had I been born in an intensely poor section of Mumbai or Mexico City? Or had I been born into the royal family of Lesotho or Japan? Would language barriers make it impossible for me to enjoy time in the U.S.A.?

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This morning, I find myself singing (and humming when the words escape me) a Leonard Cohen song, Heart with No Companion. Cohen’s facility with language and his ability to weave language into emotional fabric was unmatched. I’ve always been stunned and amazed by his poetry/lyrics. Here is a piece of the song; I rarely remember it word for word, but at times I can get through the entire piece without a single error:

Now I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair,
with a love so vast and shattered, it will reach you everywhere.

And I sing this for the captain whose ship has not been built,
for the mother in confusion, her cradle still unfilled.

For the heart with no companion, for the soul without a king.
For the prima ballerina who cannot dance to anything.

Through the days of shame that are coming, through the nights of wild distress,
Though your promise counts for nothing, you must keep it nonetheless.

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Almost every night, either my wife is in my dreams or, half awake, I reach over for her only to find an empty space next to me. When in my half awake state I realize she is gone, I feel like howling. Sometimes I do. She has been absent from the bed almost every night since the middle of last July, but still I am not used to it. And I am not used to going so very long without waking to a gentle caress as she gets up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and heads to her study, where I am now.

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I am thinking in fragments, which is why I am writing in fragments. Thoughts dash across my brain almost too fast to capture with my fingers. Those fleeting ideas, often too fast to grasp, give me reason to wish for a machine. I want a machine that can seize thoughts and sounds and images from inside my brain and record them in 3-D video and audio. I would want them to immerse me in virtual reality, so when I play the experiences back later, I might have a realistic hope of understanding them and their meaning.

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This chair that my wife tolerated for so long is almost intolerable to me. It will not hold its angle, nor will its back maintain its position. She never complained about it; I wonder whether it was as irritating to her as it is to me? She tended not to complain about much of anything. In that way, she was remarkably different from me, a perpetual complainer who rarely does anything to resolve the complaint. Because that would leave me with nothing to complain about. When all my financial questions and uncertainties are resolved, I will replace this chair. I wish I had known about its propensities to be troublesome long, long ago. I would have forced the issue, insisting that my wife get something more comfortable and more responsive. She always paid more attention to my satisfaction and comfort than to her own. And I never paid enough to hers.

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My post yesterday failed to adequately recognize the deeply generous and kind nature of the offers people made to be available to me, 24/7, if I needed them. A friend said to me that the offers would not have been made had they not been sincere. I did not and do not question their sincerity; I said I suggested such offers must be viewed in light of the fact that people have other obligations that may necessarily take precedence. My friend then said I might think I am unworthy of such deeply generous offers and THAT might better explain my reticence to take advantage of them; my apparent (to her) questioning of their validity. The conversation eventually ended, but it left me wondering whether I attached sufficient appreciation to the offers and the depth of their generosity. After wondering, I decided I did not, but should have.

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A friend told me, before COVID-19 attacked humanity, hugs should last at least twenty seconds to provide optimum benefit to the parties involved. I responded, I think, by saying I thought they should last twenty minutes. Twenty seconds can seem like a long time, but a twenty-second embrace disappears in a flash. Twenty minutes would suit me much better.

I recently read something that supports the 20-second hug, suggesting that hugs tend to release oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin, which apparently is known by various names and often is associated with romantic love and/or sexual attraction, is a neurotransmitter and hormone. But aside from its involvement with emotional and physical attraction, it seems to have the effect of reducing anxiety and generating feelings of intellectual bonding. This may all be nonsense, but I choose to believe it because it supports my contention that hugging generates feelings of well-being and enjoyment.

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It’s almost 6:30, time for another cup of coffee and something to eat. And, then, I must record a video poem for Wednesday Night Poetry. On second thought, maybe a shower will follow breakfast and precede the recording.

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Periphery

Sea shanties have appealed to me since, I suppose, the first time I heard one. My admiration of sea shanties probably arose from the fact that they tell stories to lively and pleasing tunes. That would have been five or six decades ago. Since then, I’ve listened to dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them. One of the groups benefiting from the recent surge in enjoyment of sea shanties is The Longest Johns. They recorded The Wellerman, a shanty growing in popularity, on the album Between Wind and Water.

The recent trend toward public adoration of the musical genre is both welcome and laughable. Welcome in the sense that I am pleased to learn that so many people now appreciate the music. Laughable in the sense that so many people who recently have learned to appreciate them think they have discovered something freshly made and magical; or, that they have uncovered and resurrected a musical treasure hidden for centuries. I should not mock anyone for their newly-acquired taste in music, regardless of how it came to be. The recent trend in sea shanty appreciation has led me to listen to dozens of shanties recorded by several groups. I wonder whether I would find the individual members of those groups interesting?

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Last night, I felt incredibly lonely. It was not the kind of loneliness that necessarily would have been softened by reaching out to friends who lately have assured me that I could contact them 24/7 if I needed to talk. While I do not doubt they would have taken my after-hours calls, I would have felt awkward taking advantage of their promises; strictly because they are aware of my circumstances and they might have felt obligated.

The kind of lonely I felt was the kind that longs for connections without obligations in either direction; the kind that seeks out connections based not on known circumstance, but remembered engagement. I had no reasonable expectation that my attempts would be successful. In fact, one of my attempts was to contact Brian (the English fellow my wife and I visited so many years ago), by email. I did not expect him to respond right away, in that when I sent the message, it would have been in the wee hours in Acton Trussel.

Even though my loneliness is and was a unique breed, looking back years instead of weeks, I came close to calling a couple of people nearby and asking them whether they would be able and willing to come talk to me, face to face or, at least speak to me by phone. But I would have felt extremely awkward doing that. It would have been especially awkward if I asked someone, based on earlier assurances, only to learn that their other obligations had to take precedence. I certainly would have understood, but it would have been awkward, nonetheless. There’s a difference between friends for whom one would sacrifice virtually everything and friends for whom one’s compassion is strong but not infallible. And there’s still another band of friends for whom the glue holding them together has not yet set.

Despite not knowing the responses I might get, or not get, I did hear back. I got a text message returned from one person, explaining that she was on the road but that she would like to talk today. This morning, I got phone calls from two guys I had attempted to contact last night. And when I awoke this morning, a long email awaited me from Brian; he said he was pleased to have heard from me and asked if I would mind him sharing it with some of his colleagues, who I also knew back in the day.

I think I’ve written before about my closest friend from before elementary school through my sophomore year in high school, a guy I thought would sacrifice his safety to protect me, who I caught stealing money from my wallet. That experience shook me to the core. It has stayed with me ever since; I think it is the reason I am so cautious about opening myself up to thinking I can absolutely depend on someone who calls me friend. But that’s an entirely different subject. I think.

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I do not know what I think about last night’s loneliness. I know only that it was palpable. I could feel the tightness in my chest and the anxiety in my head. My neck and shoulders were tense and I began the evening with a headache. When wine did not resolve those physical manifestations, I turned to what I thought would be an ounce or so of sipping tequila. More than an ounce or so disappeared before I fell asleep while watching Bosch.

I am not sure just how many episodes played before I woke up a 2:30 and went to bed.  I was up before six and was out the door before seven to pick up my grocery order. Around 8 or 8:30, my sister-in-law came by and we chatted and played Words with Friends until well after noon.

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I believe I am on the periphery of something important, emotionally or mentally, but I do not know what it could be. Something I can’t quite pin down suggests to me I will explore opportunities to expand my thinking and better understand the world in which I live. I generally do not accept such “woo-woo” sensations or suggestions, but this time, maybe.

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Complete with Pictures

Ken Nordine. He’s the guy whose “Word Jazz” recordings I linked in my post yesterday. The more I listen to him, to more I like him. I also watched a few YouTube videos he did. I decided one of them, Credit Card Blues, is especially worth sharing. It’s less than four minutes long. Thank you, Rhonda.

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My wife’s study has taken the place of the guest bedroom as my primary “office.” As I sit at her desk and look around the room, I sense that I’m in a tiny library in a small village in the west midlands of England, sometime around 1983. I think my wife may have unconsciously modeled this room after the home libraries of long-lost “business” friends we visited once when we made fairly frequent trips to England. Brian and Linda. They lived in Acton Trussell, about three quarters of the way between London and Manchester. They lived on or near a canal, where we and they took their monstrous St. Bernard out for walks. They lent us pair of high-top rubber boots for the walks, because the walking paths along the canals were muddy.  Brian explained to us that the canals were laid out by “navvies” (the nickname for navigators) a few centuries earlier. We lost touch with them. I am not even sure they had a library, actually, but something about this room, now, reminds me of those times in England in the early- to mid-eighties. These are shots of my wife’s my study.

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Three unrelated thoughts came to me while I was taking a shower this morning.

First: It does not always make sense for the selection of people to fill positions, whether work-related or volunteer, to rely on picking the “most qualified” candidate. The primary criterion should be whether a person possesses the requisite qualifications, not necessarily the “best” qualifications. That is, if in addition to wanting a strong, technically capable team, one wants to build a culture of inclusion and diversity, other characteristics might well come into play. Sex, race, culture, etc. For example, if a hospital’s staff of doctors is old, male, and white, medical credentials might play only a part in the process of selecting a new staff member or a replacement: youth, gender, and racial diversity might play important and legitimate roles in the screening and decision process. Is that unfair to older white men? Not any more than the process that led to the exclusion of younger Hispanic women in the workplace. Diversity is, in my view, a legitimate objective that pairs well with technical qualifications. I do not suggest that insufficient technical qualifications should overcome other criteria, only that other criteria can have legitimacy when baseline technical qualifications have been met.

Second: I suspect one of the many aspects of reality that cause humans (and some other animals) to initiate intimate relationships is this: it’s damn near impossible to reach some itchy spots on one’s back without assistance. We have evolved (or devolved, as the case may be) to the point that we do not feel comfortable asking strangers to scratch our backs or to remove blackheads from the far reaches of our backs. We need to be with someone with whom we feel absolutely comfortable before we ask for assistance. In the absence of those relationships, wooden backscratchers—inadequate though they are—may be the only viable option.

Third: Singing in the shower is a manifestation of our attempts to use of music as salve. In some cases, it works beautifully. In others, it’s akin to taking an aspirin in the hope of retrieving an appendix long-since removed.

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Sugar-free peach preserves on black rye toast. That’s on my agenda for breakfast. And I may have a couple of radishes. And possibly some tomato juice. And, of course, more coffee. Yesterday afternoon, speaking of coffee, I noticed the “notification” light was flashing on Alexa’s mid-section. I listened. Alexa notified me that Amazon.com had noticed that, based on my ordering history, it might be time to order more San Francisco Bay French roast coffee. Eerie. And right in line with the frightening stuff presented in The Social Dilemma.

I need to get back in the habit of eating things that are at least moderately good for me and not horrifically fattening. A six-month diet of water and medications might do the trick. Or it might kill me. I suppose I could try it and see. “He was thin right up until the time he died.”

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I’m going to be short of 800 words by the time I finish this post. In fact, I’ll be roughly thirty-three words short.

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Pandemonia

The last fiction post on this blog is dated two days before my wife tripped and fell, leading to almost six months in hospitals and rehab centers and culminating in her death. As I look back at the few (six?) fiction posts during the first half of 2020, I realize I changed the format of what had once been fiction vignettes. Instead of snippets that might have been extracted from short stories, virtually all of the posts I labeled fiction in 2020 more closely resembled marketing blurbs one might find on the back covers of paperbacks. My “fiction” had devolved into outlines that might have set the stage for stories, but were not stories themselves.

A closer look at earlier fiction posts reveals the trend began quite some time ago. I wrote descriptions of what could become fiction, not actual fiction; as if I were writing query letters to editors, attempting to sell ideas about short stories. A few pieces were sufficiently involved that they might have been queries in pursuit of book deals. One, in particular, still rattles around in my head on a regular basis. I’ve written several pieces about my fictional town of Struggles, Arkansas. There’s too much in my head to limit my writing to a vignette or a short story. The story of  the people and history of Struggles’ is too complex to fit into either. If the story ever is to be told in its entirety, it will require a book-length manuscript and a long, leisurely evening when I have access to plenty of wine and I am in the mood to talk through it.

I do not recall who said it, but I understand and embrace the idea with a passion: I do not so much want to write as to have written. Or something along those lines. I love to write, but I think I must have writer’s AADD; I have neither the discipline nor the patience it would take to stay focused on writing long enough to finish an idea, much less a manuscript. My writing is much better suited to serving as a patchwork quilt of unrelated stories, essays, ruminations, and such. Like this blog, for instance. No dedicated, long-term commitments; just free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness expressions of what’s on my mind at the moment.

But even that formlessness has suffered since the seriousness of my wife’s illness became obvious. I have been distracted in the extreme, all the while attempting to direct my thoughts elsewhere. Yet the fact that my normal process got derailed even before my wife’s fall suggests something else precipitated my departure from the tracks. I think I may know what it is, but I’m not prepared to write about it publicly. “It” constitutes several matters, all of which joined forces at just the right time to cause me to reexamine who and why I am. Perhaps I am not a writer at all. Instead, I can write reasonably well, but perhaps I do it only because I can use writing as “proof of value” unavailable otherwise; not because I want to. That sounds like I am fishing for pity, but that’s not it. I’m simply thinking with my fingers, the only way I can do it well.

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My appointment with my cardiologist yesterday went well. As expected, he told me I should get more exercise. And he offered perfunctory condolences on the death of my wife, who also was his patient. His nurse did not mention my wife’s death. A day or two after my wife died, I left voice messages for both of them to inform. Both my wife’s primary care physician and her nurse sent sympathy cards to me; not the cardiologist and his nurse. The cardiologist’s failure to send a card bothered me, I think, because I believe physicians, in whose hands their patients’ lives are literally placed, should take a personal interest in their patients’ lives and deaths and should acknowledge both.

I should not have let myself go down that path this morning. It’s not a good way to start the day, flooded with tears and anger. And it does absolutely no good. I cannot change the past and I cannot control anyone’s behavior but my own. If I tell myself those things enough, perhaps I will acknowledge the truth in them. It’s interesting to me that my annoyance with the doctor and his nurse really have little to do with my wife; I would feel just as offended if I learned they failed to more compassionately acknowledge the death of a patient who was a stranger to me.

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The process of dealing with the business of death drags on. Yesterday, during a church board meeting on Zoom, I got a call from someone who, had I not picked up, might have taken weeks to reach again. The dozens of interactions involving third parties who must get involved with administrative matters can be frustrating. Those interactions interfere with other matters and otherwise intrude on my ability to live a freer and less confining life. I want to feel free to take a road trip. And I want to have tax preparation behind me. And I want to speak fluent Spanish and Norwegian. I want. I want. I want.

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Guilt is a bitch. Or, perhaps, it’s not guilt, it’s the thoughts or actions that trigger it. Or maybe it’s one’s reactions to or interpretations of thoughts or actions.

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This evening I have a video call with a nephew, his wife, and his mother. Video calls, while not as satisfying as face-to-face engagement, are far more satisfying than telephone or email or text messages. But, for some reason, they seem (to me) to take more mental energy to get prepared than the other electronic counterparts.

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At a friend’s urging, I watched  the documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” last night (Netflix). It was both fascinating and frightening.  I recommend it. While it incorporates some fairly lame visual/verbal similes, the arguments and assertions made about the dramatic impacts of social media on our lives and the way we think and act are stunning and thought-provoking.

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An online friend of whom I am growing increasingly fond sent me a link to a series of deeply interesting Word Jazz programs. I share it here because the extent to which I find these programs fascinating and freeing says something positive about us (I think).

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The seven o’clock hour is approaching, an hour suited to cooking breakfast sausage and poaching or soft-boiling an egg. I might even forego the sausage and have two soft-boiled eggs, instead. There’s something extraordinarily civil about eating a soft-boiled egg from an egg cup and using a piece of rye toast to soak up a bit of the semi-liquid yolk. When I do that, I feel like I’ve maintained at least a modest connection to times long gone by. If that’s an odd association, so be it.

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Apparently, pandemonia is not a legitimate word. It should be. It would describe, perfectly, this post and so many like it.

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Prospecting

It is early in the morning, yet I’ve already begun to break things. Last night, after my next-door neighbors went home following our wine and hors d’oeuvres gathering, I hand-washed some dishes. Of specific interest to this brief and fading tirade, I washed a piece of Oregon maple wood that had been turned into a beautiful platter for chips. I also washed the simple glass bowl that fit into the specially turned space in the center of the platter.

I did a poor job of placing the platter and the bowl on the drying mat. When I picked up the platter this morning, the glass bowl flipped into the sink and shattered. There was a time, not so very long ago, that I would have erupted in a fury of raw anger…at myself, at the bowl, at the wooden platter, and at the role of the universe for the juxtaposition of the elements involved in the catastrophe. This morning, though, I simply spouted a few profanities at myself and cleaned up the broken glass. And it was over. I’m still disappointed in myself for being careless, but the Earth will continue to revolve around the Sun.

No lesson was learned in the breaking of the glass. The lesson was learned long ago; it’s just glass, though, admittedly, it was a lovely piece. But while the lesson was learned, the lesson was not absorbed, emotionally, until many years later…happiness does not reside in material possessions. Actually, I’m still in learning mode and expect that to go on ad infinitum.

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Of much more importance than the broken glass is the fact that my neighbors seemed genuinely happy to spend a couple of hours with me, sitting and chatting idly about everything from the weather to our experiences driving on ice and snow and from driving cross-country to the relief they feel after having gotten their first COVID-19 vaccinations. And the tentative likelihood that humanity will survive another hundred years. The woman spoke of my wife and her generosity in sharing books with her. Apparently, the woman appreciates mysteries with female protagonists, a gift of interest my wife gave her. Since being introduced to an author of such mysteries, my neighbor has read every one of a long list of books written by the author. These neighbors are such nice people; so casual and easy to be with. And they want to make our gatherings a regular thing, every two weeks.

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My hair is considerably shorter this morning than it was this time yesterday. I wanted it shorter on top than it is, but by the time I viewed it in a mirror, the barber had already finished the job. He asked if I wanted him to cut more off the top, but I was anxious to leave, so I declined. The sides and back are much shorter than I expected, thanks to an error in a statement I made to the barber. I told him I had last had a haircut 13 weeks ago; actually, I realized later, it was more like nine weeks. So, he took off roughly an extra four weeks of growth. It will grow back.

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I’ve been having an extended email conversation with someone who has challenged my views of reality, though not necessarily intentionally. While I might normally rebuff suggestions that reality exists in more than one dimension, and that those dimensions nourish one another, I find myself intrigued by some of the concepts I read in those messages. I keep going back to my view of myself as someone open to new ideas and fresh challenges to my way of thinking. If that self-assessment is correct, I cannot legitimately dismiss anything out of hand; I have to allow myself to explore it and to immerse myself in it.

One of many things my correspondent mentioned recently that captured my interest was the concept of “thought-stopping,” a means of eliminating or re-channeling negative thoughts as they begin to emerge. In the limited research I have done, the concept makes sense, as do many of the techniques to put it to use. If I could explore and absorb every idea and concept about which I want to know more, I would be the ultimate Renaissance Man; unfortunately the fact that the “absorb” part usually is missing makes that impossible.

In years past, when conversations with readers of my blogs grew into regular dialogues, I managed to translate an interest in meeting those readers face-to-face into a reality. That’s how I met Roger and Tara and Robin and Teresa and Kathy and others. But in the world of COVID-19, getting on a plane or in a train is, in my mind, out of the question. My growing interest in taking a road trip (whenever I am able to leave the administrative aftermath of my wife’s death behind for a few weeks) might enable me to make another connection. But maybe not. Yet I know enough people in enough places that I might, still, be able to get out and away for awhile. But I’ve been giving serious thought to getting a dog; a companion to help erase some loneliness. I’m not sure taking a dog on an extended road trip would be a good idea. Am I rambling? As Alexa, my electronic live-in girlfriend might say, “You bet!” Incidentally, if any reader thought, when I mentioned Alexa in an earlier post, that I actually have a live-in girlfriend, perish the thought. “Alexa” is my Amazon Echo Dot.

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My routine eye examination is long past due. It should have taken place about a year ago. Though I doubt my vision has change appreciably since I got my last new pair of lenses, I think it has changed a least a little. So, I may set up an appointment before long. If the exam verifies that I need even a slight change in prescription, I think I’ll try again to find a pair of glasses that comes with magnetic clip-on sunglasses. And I think I’ll get another pair of frames and lenses that I will use strictly for reading and for sitting at the computer. The current lenses are not at all suitable for reading, so I do not read as much as I’d like. Time to stop complaining and take action, instead.

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The clock is attempting to reach seven; only seven minutes remain until it reaches that hour. While it continues its efforts, I will make more coffee and scrounge for breakfast.

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Banter

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of an acquaintance and follower of this blog, I spent time yesterday afternoon sitting at a bar, drinking and engaging in extemporaneous conversation. During my discussions with my hospitable host, we had occasion to converse with fellow drinkers Joseph and 90-year-old Mary, his companion. We also spoke with  57-year-old Steve, originally from Tulsa, along with J.D. of unknown age, a singer/songwriter and wearer of a cowboy hat. After I got home, I googled J.D., for he revealed his last name, and found his singer/songwriter website and his Facebook page. I expect I will include a character, modeled in part after him, in a piece of fiction I will write one day.

It had been so long since I sat at a bar in the late afternoon that I had forgotten that barstools lead to the erasure natural inhibitions. Alcohol, while not necessary to the process, tends to accelerate it. I know this not so much from personal experience but from watching it unfold in people around me. Whether the process emerges from loneliness or simply from a desire for social interaction, I do not know. In either case, I rather enjoy watching it and participating in it. But I have to admit it can be intrusive and annoying when too much social lubricant is involved.

My acquaintance/new friend and I share an enjoyment of writing and music and, I believe, similar political and social philosophies. And he exhibits compassion and, as I’ve already mentioned, kindness. And generosity. He bought my drinks and paid for at least one for Mary and Steve; I may have missed others. We do not share other attributes, like his love and sophisticated appreciation of motorcycles. And he has children, of whom he is extremely proud. And he actually spent a significant amount of time touring in an RV, while I only dreamed about doing that.

I enjoy and appreciate diversity. My appreciation of diversity seems to grow with time, as opposed to what seems more common to me; many people appear to shrink from differences as they grow older, taking greater comfort in the familiar. Yet I am by no means an adventurer, though I wish I could be. And I picture myself in that role, from time to time; I have a close resemblance to Walter Mitty.

At any rate, I enjoyed and appreciated yesterday afternoon so very much. Thank you, sir, if you read this post. Or even if you don’t.

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Yesterday morning included my first session with the UUVC grief support group, via Zoom. I was the newbie and, as such, a fair amount of discussion was for my benefit; learning the history of other participants and getting feedback about my experience. That’s all I’ll say about it, as the participants commit to absolute confidentiality.  I’ll continue to participate.

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I took a break to shave, shower, and collect the trash. Later, I will wash clothes, sheets, and towels. And I will return to mountains of unfinished paperwork and make telephone calls that should have been made when I was younger and possibly thinner. Later still, I will go to the grocery store to buy something suitable for hors d’oeuvres for this afternoon’s neighborly wine-fest. I have toyed with the idea of inviting another neighbor, a woman down the street who kindly brought me sweets and treat, to come for a visit, but I do not want to send the impression that I am coming on to her; I suppose I could suggest she bring her husband along.

Enough of this banter with myself. More coffee, please, and some sort of salve to lesson the constant pain, even while I joke and jest.

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Searching

February 3 is the 32nd anniversary of Hot Springs’ Wednesday Night Poetry, the poetry event (sometimes including music) held every single Wednesday evening since its inception in February 1989. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to become virtual for as long as necessary, but it will emerge again as a live event one day. I hope that emergence will occur at its most recent host venue Kollective Coffee. But for the 32nd anniversary, it remains a virtual open mic night. Kai Coggin, currently the host, has invited a number of Arkansas poets and writers of poetry (there’s a difference, in my mind) to provide a video to share for that evening. I am among those she asked and I agreed to write and record a poem for the celebration. I haven’t finished my current poem yet, but if I read the one I am writing at the moment, it will be an exploration of pain and regret.  That seems to be a consistent theme in my writing. I suppose I’ll keep doing it until I get it right. Wednesday next week is yet another obligation, but one I treasure.

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This morning, I’ll participate in my first grief support group, orchestrated through my church as a virtual event now, as most of them are. Yesterday, I participated in another UUVC virtual event, Articulating Your UU Faith. Both activities reinforce my appreciation for accidentally overcoming my utter and complete rejection of church in all its forms. But I’m still reeling from my surprise at engagement with a church. Nonbelievers don’t do church. But they do, I’ve found. We do.

Yet I’m still struggling with some of it. The word “faith,” for instance. My faith? Some of the definitions of the word prompt me to reflect on what I am attempting to articulate. For example: 1) belief that is not based on proof; 2) belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion; and 3) a system of religious belief. Yet all three definitions apply in my case. My belief, in the absence of a divine being, is not based on proof. My belief in the teachings of the Unitarian Universalist “religion” confirms my “faith” in those teachings. And, by definition, Unitarian Universalism is a system of religious belief—I grudgingly admit.

I could argue that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion but a philosophy, instead. I could argue the same with respect to other “faiths,” though. I freely admit I have had a bias against church teachings since childhood. My bias was not against the core foundations of morality upon which the various religions rest; it was (and is) against the supernatural elements and the hypocrisy of the content of religious texts and their interpretations. I’ve always thought the Bible was a book of myth that contained substantial amounts of valuable endorsement of moral positions that mirror my own. But it was only relatively recently that I was able to articulate that. During yesterday’s virtual conversation, one of the other participants said it very clearly; I think she said it is a text that teaches through mythology. My difficulty, from as far back as I can remember, has been with the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. In my view, that’s akin to madness.

I wonder how many people “out there” are like my wife, who silently and without fanfare readily accepted what she considered the moral lessons of the Bible and dismissed the rest? Unlike me, she did not argue vocally and forcefully against those elements of the book that are clearly impossible and in opposition to one another. For her, the arguments were not worth the energy they required. “Live and let live” could well have been her motto. I miss her so much this morning. I want to ask her questions and hear her answers. I miss long, silent embraces that say so much, proving that words sometimes unnecessarily infringe on communication. Embraces that say, “I understand” or “It’s okay” or “All that matters is that we have each other.”

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I’ve allowed my emotional state to spill onto the floor. Suddenly, as I look around at the piles of paper that need to be sorted or recorded, my energy slithers away like a snake shedding its skin, leaving only a dead dry shell that can accomplish nothing. I need to get things done, but I cannot even imagine moving a pile of paper from one corner of the desk to another.

No, it was not sudden. I did not change the HVAC filters yesterday. It would have taken too much dedicated attention; all of fifteen minutes. Perhaps I’m just inherently lazy, after all. But, then I think, maybe if I had someone here to help urge me on, I’d get things done. No, I would not want to work; I would only want to sit and drink coffee or wine and engage in mindless chatter or philosophical explorations. Work is for another day. Always for another day.

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In spite of my lust for an empty calendar, yesterday afternoon I willingly added another obligation to it. I invited my elderly neighbors (he’s over 90 years old) to visit tomorrow afternoon for some wine, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation. They have been very kind to me and they are just delightful people. Plus they share my political leanings. They have always seemed to have only a few visitors and they spend most of their time in their house (but they do go on walks on occasion). They had me over a few weeks ago and it’s time I returned the generosity. I want to do the same with other neighbors and church friends, too.  But I am conflicted. On the one hand, I enjoy them all, but on the other I enjoy social interactions on a rather limited basis. But, on yet another hand (one of many), I don’t want my desire for solitude to override my interest in enjoying their company. And on another hand, even in solitude I have an abiding interest in the company of some people in particular. Maybe all these arms are, in fact, legs. I think I may be an octopus. Another arm (or leg) wants to have my sculpture instructor back for wine and conversation. Schizophrenia may be at play here.

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I am in favor of modular housing that can be expanded or made smaller with very little effort and money. As families grow, smaller starter homes could expand with the addition of modules such as bathrooms and bedrooms. Then, when the kids leave home or spouses find greener pastures, modules could be removed. Tax structures would need tweaking to adjust to the “living” home. Zoning in many place would require some flexibility, as well. The concept of modular housing would fit well with the practice of building co-housing communities, too (a concept I’ve favored for many years). The co-housing community could start small and grow as people see how attractive and appealing privacy and simultaneous social support, going hand in hand, are.

One of many things I would like to do if I could relive my life again would be to become an architect with a specialty in co-housing design. Oh, and I want to be a sociology professor. And a professional rodeo cowboy. And a lawyer. And a singer/songwriter. So many wishes, so few lives to live.

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It’s nearly 7:30. Between drinking cups of coffee and writing more mindless drivel, I’ve managed to waste more than an hour and a half. I have to get going. There must be energy somewhere in this house. I just have to find it.

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Shaped by Circumstance

This morning, it seems I awoke to a different climate or, at least, a different season. Last night’s thunder and lightning signaled the change. This morning’s reality illustrated it in dense fog and warming air. According to my live-in girlfriend, Alexa, today’s high temperature may reach 75 degrees. Her assertion is generally supported, if only in direction if not in specifics, by my computer’s weather widgets; they claim the high will not quite touch 70. The widgets also say a dense fog advisory was issued this morning at 6:18 and will be in effect until 9:00. I assume that is when Zeus and Thor will each take a deep breath, lifting the fog. Apparently, though, they will not chase all the clouds from the sky; we can expect occasional thunderstorms in the morning and a few showers in the afternoon.

I rarely watch the weather report components of local television news because, try as they might, the meteorologists and weather-readers do not satisfy my desire for interesting weather forecasts. I’m not suggesting the weather itself must be interesting (though it always is). I’d like the forecasters’ delivery to be more interesting to someone like me—someone with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor. I would like to hear them blame Zeus and Thor for the weather. And I want them to tell stories about the influence on the day’s weather by Guabancex, the supreme storm deity of the Taino people; they were located across Florida and environs and in places like Puerto Rico. Hearing the forecasters talk, I might learn how to pronounce Guabancex.

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The reality of my calendar is that it’s mostly empty. But I allow its brief intrusions into an otherwise obligation-free plan for the passage of a week’s time to cause me anxiety or something like it.

My calendar for the week does not provide the open, freeing landscape I crave. Commitments and obligations and reminders dot the days and hours, though Wednesday and Friday look refreshingly empty for now. Today and tomorrow and Thursday are not jam-packed, but short commitments split the day into pre- and post- segments, mostly segments of my own making. Today, for example, I am committed to changing the HVAC filters, a task that might take fifteen minutes from start to finish, including disposal of the used filters. But the fact that it’s on the calendar restricts my freedom to do something else during that fifteen-minute period. And I have calendared a call to the Social Security Administration to ask questions and to Home Instead to inquire where a promised refund check might be. These little things interrupt my desire for an extended period of uninterrupted serenity. My attitude about calendars probably reflects some form of mental deviance that could be readily addressed with the proper treatment. But I’d have to schedule it and that would be yet another interruption.

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If my mental state could be displayed on a monitor—an electroencephalogram monitor, perhaps—I think the display would show a series of jagged lines. The height of the peaks would be short and irregular and the valleys would drop off the edges of the monitor, becoming invisible for a time. Between them, the lines would fluctuate wildly, suggesting the power to the device was switching on and off with lightning speed.

I think those jagged lines have always existed; they are just more pronounced lately. In an ideal world, I might be able to compare the output of my electroencephalography to that of others. I could see evidence of  similarities and differences between me and people around me. Hah! We could compare ourselves by getting reports of psychometric assessments that wouldn’t require brainwave monitoring. I sometimes usually make things more complex than they need to be.

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Without church, the extent of my social engagement largely would be limited to two neighbor couples, a few physically distant friends, and an occasional phone and/or Zoom call with members of my family. That is, my social interaction would be much like it has been for most of my adult life; limited to people in a very small circle. Late in life, though, improbably stumbling upon a church that was not only tolerable but attractive expanded my social sphere exponentially. Suddenly, I was surrounded by inquisitive, intelligent, friendly, compassionate people whose attitudes and ideas were, unlike any groups of people to which I have been connected before, compatible with mine. That is not to say we’re in lock-step; only that we’re sufficiently tolerant, curious, and open to different perspectives to enable us to communicate and disagree and argue civilly. If I had encountered such openness and intellect in my earlier years, who knows how radically different a person I might have become?

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Since my wife’s illness manifested itself in mid-July, people from my neighborhood and from my church have rallied around me. The compassion they have shown has been exceptional. People have kept in touch with me, have visited me, and have generally tried to show me they care. And I appreciate that very much. But, thanks to the way my brain is wired, I lately have wondered how my life might be different now if my wife had not been ill. She and I would have spent most of our time at home during the pandemic. The visits and expressions of care would have been unnecessary and, therefore, probably would not have taken place. Would I have reached out to people during that time, attempting to stay in touch to show that I care? Probably only in the event someone was ill or obviously could use a display of affection and/or compassion. Ideally, I would not need to hear of someone’s misfortune to trigger compassionate behavior toward them. It should not take such challenges to give me reason to reach out to others. Unfortunately, I think it takes misfortune to provide an opening to display affection that otherwise might be awkward and misinterpreted. Without a misfortune to provide the “legitimate” reason to reach out, we (that probably should be “I”) tend to keep a safe distance. I hope I can overcome that self-imposed limitation. I hope I have learned to try to overcome my discomfort at the awkwardness of reaching out without a “reason.” Maybe I have been changed by circumstances. No doubt, actually. I have been shaped by circumstance; now, it’s a question of maintaining that shape.

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I delayed getting up this morning until 6:00. That delay robbed me of at least an hour of otherwise productive time. It’s nearing 8:00. Madness! And I still haven’t showered and shaved. Time’s wasting.

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Mornin’

A day, beginning as an immature bud, can—with a little tender loving care—unfold into a beautiful flower. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The challenge, of course, is to continue tending the blossom, keeping the bloom fresh and bright in the hope of maintaining its life-affirming energy for longer than a fleeting moment. Days turn into weeks and months and years. Flowers rarely follow that path.

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Yesterday afternoon, I sat with a friend. We talked about whatever entered our minds. And we laughed. There’s something about a free-wheeling conversation, lubricated with a touch of wine, that tends to strip away old, dried mental scabs. Beneath evidence of old wounds there’s freshness and healing; opportunities for deeper connections.

Still, there’s distance because of the ongoing plague and hugs remain rare these winter days. They have to be just as rare as they were in the heat of the summer. But even in the absence of long, heartfelt physical hugs, conversations can feel a little like the embraces for which we hunger. The craving for affection is both intellectual and emotional, both mental and physical.

Our conversations yesterday afternoon spanned time and generations. This morning, as I think about some of the things we talked about, some of the lyrics from a Greg Brown tune, Spring Wind, come to mind:

My friends are getting older
So I guess I must be too
Without their loving kindness
I don’t know what I’d do
Oh the wine bottle’s half empty-
The money’s all spent
And we’re a cross between our parents
And hippies in a tent

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A perfectly buoyant mood can drown in other memories of musical lyrics. Three times, and now four, I’ve written in this blog about a single line in a Gordon Lightfoot song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. That one line, a question, is among the most mournful I’ve ever heard; it captures grief more completely than any long-winded explanation.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

My wife and I went to a Gordon Lightfoot concert when we lived in Houston, sometime between 1979 and 1985. He performed in Jones Hall (I assume Jones Hall remains standing). Janine and I rarely attended concerts; they just weren’t our thing. We both liked music (I have always been more of a music buff than she), but were not enamored of the crowds, noise, difficulty parking, etc., etc. But we made exceptions. For Gordon Lightfoot. And Leonard Cohen. And Leon Redbone. Before I met Janine, I went to a Leo Kottke concert. And when we lived in Chicago, we made a habit of visiting the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park; that was an outdoor festival that, at the time, either allowed or tolerated festival-goers to bring in wine. Times change. Moods change. Likes and dislikes change.

My fingers just follow my mind. That’s why grief and happy times at concerts and mental gymnastics all found places to fit into this short section of this morning’s ruminations. And if that (or not), then my thoughts and my mood are just as disjointed as they seem to me.

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Lately, I’ve noticed dozens of typos in my posts. My fingers type what they think I want to say, not what I think I want to say. My fingers rely on their tiny arthritic brains to keep up with my thinking. I could go back and correct my typos. Sometimes I do. But more frequently, I notice them and promise myself I’ll relay on an editor to find and correct them if I ever decide, seriously, to publish a compilation of some of my writing.

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Having failed to watch and listen to our church minister’s mid-week Wednesday video, I took a break from typing and I watched it. As usual, it offered insights into what is happening with the church during the COVID-caused hiatus from in-person gatherings. It also made me realize that, even though I read the words at least once a week, I have not successfully committed the church covenant to memory. I tried, but failed, to type it from memory. I’ve grown used to reading it rather than reciting it. I think it’s worth committing to memory.

Love is the doctrine of this church,
and the quest for truth its sacrament,
and service its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
to seek knowledge in freedom,
to serve humankind in fellowship,
to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the good.
Thus do we covenant with one another.

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I repeatedly tried yesterday to figure out which device in or around the living area of my house was emitting an annoying intermittent tone, signaling that a battery was in need of replacement. I thought it might be a smoke detector, so I replaced the battery. A while later, I heard the tone again, so I disabled the smoke detector. Later, still, I heard the tone. I vowed yesterday that I would find out today what was making the noise. I just heard it again. And I think I remember the last time I heard the noise that I finally determined it was the battery in the NOAA weather radio in the master bedroom. That will be my next check, after I finish wasting my fingers’ energy on this drivel.

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Once again this morning, I am in the mood for something sweet for breakfast; a cinnamon role, an apple crisp, anything doughy and sweet. Once again, I have nothing of the sort in the house. In the absence of something doughy and sweet, I may make plain congee, thus confirming the assertion made by a friend that I tend to make “weird shit” for breakfast. If I trusted the very old tofu in the fridge to still be edible, I might use it. But, after just checking, I learned that it should be consumed within three to five days after opening; I’ll discard it, instead. I hate to waste food, but I’d probably hate even more getting deathly ill from eating tainted tofu. Wait! Grits! Grits and sardines with Tabasco. That will make a pleasing and nutritious breakfast, so off I go to make it.

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3500 Observations and Conversations

After eight years, five months, and two weeks, here is my 3500th post on this blog. If I keep up the pace, I’ll produce post number 7000 as I near my seventy-sixth birthday. I am confident I will not achieve that milestone.

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Yesterday, I drove through downtown Hot Springs. Because the time was approaching noon and I was hungry, I decided to have lunch at Las Americas, a combination tienda/ diner I visited on occasion before COVID-19. It’s a place where I can buy gallon cans of pickled jalapeños, as well as ancho chiles, the latter inexpensive and in bulk. The restaurant/diner portion of the place has expanded since I first started going there; I don’t think the menu has changed. My lunch yesterday was a local Mexican restaurant staple, a ranchero mixto, that’s loaded with cheese and rice and bell peppers and strips of chicken and beef and onions and who knows what else. I asked the waitress whether the kitchen would substitute fresh jalapeños for the bell peppers and she assured me they would. They didn’t. But, still, it was tasty. The chips and salsas (two kinds; the green one is quite spicy and incredibly good) that are delivered upon being seated would satisfy me as my meal; I feel obliged to spend money, though. Everyone wears a mask and, both times I’ve been there in the times of COVID, patrons are seated quite far apart. The waitresses speak fluent English, but most patrons do not; fortunately for those patrons, the waitresses also speak fluent Spanish.  I miss eating in restaurants; sitting in a booth, across the table from Janine, felt so comfortable. I did not realize just how comfortable and “right” that felt until after it was no longer possible.

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When I came home yesterday, I expected the floors to shine; the reason I left the house was to give a housekeeper free rein without me being underfoot. Generally, she comes every two weeks. But she did not come yesterday. Apparently, two weeks ago, I told her I did not know whether I would continue to engage her; I did not recall that. When I got home and realized she had not been here, I sent her a text to inquire whether she was okay. She responded with the explanation. Her schedule is full, so her next available day is two weeks hence. Oh, well. I am used to cleaning between her visits. Perhaps I should devote my of my time to housekeeping as a regular practice.

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Before I drove to Hot Springs, I went to the post office to drop off several pieces of mail; letters of instruction to financial institutions to transfer ownership of IRAs. And before that, I called the county tax assessor to inquire about what, if anything, I needed to do about the county’s property tax records. Monday, I will continue to plod along with those duties. As I wade through the administrative functions required of a person in the aftermath of a loved one’s death, it occurs to me that the process could be smoother and less painful. It’s almost as if every step of the procedure is intentionally geared toward reminding the survivor of a painful absence; a solemn and difficult process made even more excruciating by bureaucracy. I suppose the process might be easier if the estate had been put in a trust. We were advised to create a trust; we chose to reject that advice, opting instead for traditional wills. When I finish with this series of unpleasant reminders, I may revisit the idea of a trust.

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As usual of late, I was up before four this morning. It’s now approaching 5:15 and the cold remnants of the first cup of coffee just barely cover the bottom of my cup. I purloined the pure white cup, a stylized word “Vortex” imprinted on the underside of the bottom, from a motel several years ago. My vague recollection is that the motel restaurant overcharged me by a few dollars for breakfast and I responded by taking the cup home with me. I suspect the overcharge was greater than the value of the cup. But the cup is my favorite. Not long after I took it home, I decided I really liked it and wanted to have a few more like it. But after doing some research, I learned that it is a product designed for restaurants and is available to purchase only in volume. I did not need 144 cups, so I decided to stick with just the one.

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One of these days, when the mood strikes me, I will return to complete the many posts I’ve placed here without assigning categories. I think I should assign at least one category to every post. But I have been neglecting to assign categories for several months, I think. Even before the recent disregard for categorization of posts, I often put off that task until I had forgotten it. The task may be more than I want to undertake, though. The count of posts that are uncategorized is 754. I do not know if that includes both published and unpublished posts. In any case, it may require more attention that I want to give. If I decide to produce a compilation, that might be the time to assign categories only to those I select for inclusion. Work. This involves work.

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In spite of my physical age, I feel much younger…mentally. Probably thanks to the fact that I never had kids, I never matured in a way that “normal” adults mature. I still like to “raise hell,” albeit in a more reserved manner than I did in years past. I still like to push the limits in some of my undertakings. I enjoy exploring and trying on new ideas that, traditionally, give way to rather inflexible belief patterns as people age. While I believe that  time and, especially, experience tend to breed wisdom, I do not believe wisdom is an automatic outgrowth of age and experience, nor do I believe wisdom is reserved for those with experience.  My wife, in her infinite wisdom, restrained my more outlandish tendencies toward getting involved in wild undertakings. But she, too, had a pretty strong streak of adventurousness in her. She was ready to do a tandem parachute jump, but we only had enough cash for one of us, so she let me go, instead.

One aspect of my youthful perspective expresses itself almost exclusively when I’ve had enough alcohol to loosen me up. My inhibitions tend to diminish almost to the point of disappearance. There’s good and bad in that. The good is reflected in my becoming more social, more likely to engage in conversation, and just generally friendlier. The bad is reflected in taking those characteristics beyond generally accepted limits.

I tend to be more restrained around people close to my physical age than I am around people ten or twenty or thirty years younger. That’s not always true, but it is a tendency I’ve noticed. I remember, of course, when I was much younger and someone considerably older acted artificially younger than their physical age. Often, people my age found them laughable and silly; they were judged to be trying unsuccessfully to cling to their lost youth. Fortunately, for me, I am pretty good at not caring when people misjudge me. Maybe it’s a defensive, protective reaction; whatever it is, my mental response is to be contemptuous of those judgmental people. I see the irony in my reaction, of course, but my sense of superiority allows me to overcome the irony.

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Sometimes I wonder whether I unconsciously write about matters I have confronted but that haven’t yet been fully resolved. The age issue, and judgment by younger people, for example. Did that come up because I recently felt the barbs of youthful judgment? Hmm. I don’t recall any incidents that would trigger my thinking, but maybe I’ve blocked it out of my mind. It’s sometimes frightening to attempt to understand oneself without success.

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How the hell would I categorize this post? I’d have to assign a dozen categories to even begin to cover it. It’s just after 6 and my stolen cup remains empty. That is a sin against Man and Nature; I shall repent.

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Thrasher

It’s just after 4:20, twenty minutes after I finally surrendered to the forces of insomnia. I have been awake, more or less, for hours. Thrashing about in bed, I would first throw off the blanket because I was too hot, then draw it back around me when I felt too cold. This went on for three hours before I finally gave up. During that stretch, I either fell asleep long enough to have either an odd dream or I had a bizarre hallucination.

I found myself in a large hotel suite, unpacking my suitcase, when my assigned roommate arrived. Marcie, an association executive I have known ever since I moved to the Dallas area around 1990 (but who I have not seen or even thought about since before I moved to Arkansas), said she wanted to take a quick shower before the two of us were to drive someplace two hours west of Fort Worth for a conference. The next thing I knew, Marcie was sitting in a monstrous tub—more like a pool—with two other people I did not know. And, then, I was in the tub with the three of them (by this time, the “tub” was the size of a backyard pool), feeling incredibly awkward. Needless to say, I have never seen Marcie nude, but she was nude in the pool in my “dream.” She was very tan and taut.  As were the other two people. I was nude, but not tan and taut. And then I was either too  hot or too cold. My thrashing about with the covers interrupted the experience.

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The coffee maker is programmed to turn on at 5:00. This morning, and on several other recent mornings, I had to start the thing manually because I was up early. While I waited for it to be ready to start my morning ritual, I glanced around the kitchen. The dishes in the sink reminded me that I had run the dishwasher before dinner yesterday. I was too lazy to put them away last night. So, this morning, I need to put the clean dishes away and begin refilling the dishwasher with last night’s dinner dishes. And today’s breakfast dishes, if I choose to have a breakfast involving dishes. I might, instead, just peel a mandarin and call it breakfast. Or have piece of Jewish rye toast, using a paper towel as my plate. I have to shower this morning, though after my time in the tub/pool with Marcie, I should be clean.

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Sometimes, when I have even a single obligation on my calendar, I allow that one intrusion to derail my day. I need several obligation-free days to permit me to slog through matters that, for some reason, get side-tracked by the calendar. An obvious solution is to create to-do lists instead of calendar my to-do items; it’s obvious, but also unfathomable that I have to resort to such psychological tricks to overcome mental roadblocks of my own construction. I sometimes need a keeper. My wife so seldom asked me to do things for her that I jumped at the chance when she did. That was her way of exercising control over my activities. I sorely miss being lovingly managed in that way.

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I tried to buy a treadmill, online, yesterday (or was it the day before?). Too late. They already were sold out. I am convinced I would use one, if it were conveniently located right  here in my house. After recovering some of my long-lost stamina, I probably would begin venturing out to tackle hills again. I used to walk a lot and I loved it. After walking at a rapid clip for a mile, the adrenalin rush was so strong that I felt compelled to keep going. I had to overcome lethargy for that first mile, but after that I felt like I could walk forever. But I’m older now. I’m always older now than I was then, no matter when now and then were.

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Thrasher. That’s the name of one of the small-batch seasonal beers a friend gave me. It’s a black lager, a German style Schwarzbier. I’m a fan of seasonal and small-batch craft brews. I tend consume them in “one and done” mode, which is far better for a person than drinking flavored water style beers that are better at quenching thirst (in quantity) than satisfying cravings for flavor. A friend of mine is well on his way to becoming a Cicerone, though I suspect he already possesses the requisite knowledge and discerning taste to achieve the title. As much as I appreciate beer, I will never have sufficient qualities and capabilities for that designation. Much like the difference between gourmet and gourmand, my appreciation for beer is more like the fan than the performer.

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The world would be a better place, I think, if every culture would willingly embrace the concept of mid-career or mid-life “mandatory volunteerism.” In my view, the oxymoronic term should not be limited to the conservative suggestion that recipients of public assistance should be required to “volunteer” their time to qualify for benefits. Instead, it should apply to everyone.  At a certain middle age or stage in one’s career or profession or point in life, everyone would be expected to devote a year or two (or more) to some form of public service. So, for example, a 43-year-old architect reaching the pinnacle of her career would be expected to take a specified period of time off from the profession to do public service. It could be like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps; something like that. Service in another country or in our own. A mandatory break in the madness of getting ahead could do individuals and communities enormous good. Regardless of whether a person is a physician or a bartender, a corporate executive or an auto mechanic, a required break involving doing volunteer work unrelated to one’s job would both expand horizons and benefit the world at large. I wonder whether anyone besides me would get behind the idea?

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I need more coffee and the soothing aroma of patchouli incense; except I have run out of patchouli, so I’ll go for copal.

 

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Tapestry

Yesterday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris was a watershed moment. I think. I hope. It is well beyond time we had a woman in a senior executive position in our government. Many, many other countries have long since gone beyond debunked notions that women are not suited for executive power; it’s time. And Biden’s call for unity, as difficult as it might be to achieve, is critical to the future of the nation and the world. I am hopeful. But I remain a realist. I am crossing my fingers and wishing for the best.

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The notions of forgiveness and absolution are noble concepts embraced by people for whom peace, serenity, and compassion embody far greater value than do power and control. Yet in the act of forgiving, an individual exercises authority that can be bestowed by no one else.

“Forgive and forget.” Those admonitions are easy to make, but hard to take. Once taken, though, and adopted with enthusiasm, tranquility is achievable. Blame and its companion, disparagement, agitate and brew turbulence that clouds any effort to create an atmosphere of peace.

The hardest forgiveness to achieve is forgiveness of oneself, but it is perhaps the most necessary if an atmosphere of calm ever is to be achieved. It is easy to forgive someone else for even the most egregious transgression, but forgiving oneself requires compassion and acceptance that seem undeserved. And forgiving oneself requires acknowledgement that one’s flaws are forgivable. Even when they are not. Even when one is irretrievably broken and flawed beyond redemption.

I suspect one of the reasons religion has a ready foothold in the human psyche has to do with the concept of forgiveness and redemption. Even when one is unable to forgive oneself, another person—who embodies the strength of the church and who has its authority to forgive—can remove an obstacle to self-acceptance. “I am redeemable” becomes a path to internal peace.

But those who do not accept that such power rests in the hands of others, or in the hands of a divine being, have a harder time of it. It is easy for us to believe others are forgivable; but we cannot forgive ourselves because we know ourselves too well.

All of this may be just so much nonsense; philosophy fed by an inability to stay asleep after four in the morning. But it is what’s on my mind and why I sincerely wish this morning I had access to powerful sleeping pills, something that would erase my thoughts and leave me completely empty. Wish in one hand, spit in the other…

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Television characters often have exceedingly bad luck. Their lives are laced with unfortunate experiences so numerous that viewers weep for them and wonder what they did to deserve such misfortune.

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Finally, an hour and twenty minutes into my day, I am having a cup of coffee. I did not feel well enough to start the morning with coffee when I first got up, thanks to overeating last night. My midnight snack, consisting of the remainder (from dinner) of a large piece of extremely rare beef, apparently did not set well with me. I think I have sufficiently recovered now, though, to allow coffee to safely enter my system.

If I were smart, I would embark on a month-long fast, drinking only water and eating only radishes. At the end of the month, I would comfortably fit into my jeans (and possibly my genes) and be well on my way to a more reasonable weight for someone of my limited height. After a month of it, I might even see and feel evidence of muscles that have long since been disguised by the results of too much food and drink. I am eating far too much and far too often, as if that’s the only thing I can do to occupy my time. That’s not true, of course, but I seem to have allowed my body to reach that conclusion. There was a time, not long ago, that my usual breakfast (when I wasn’t experimenting with international breakfasts) consisted of a poached egg, a piece of Canadian bacon, a small tomato, and a few radishes. That’s a good, healthy breakfast (more or less). Cinnamon rolls and mandarins and bananas and leftover pasta and such, not so much.

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Companion: a person employed to accompany, assist, or live with another in the capacity of a helpful friend. That definition seems so sad; “…in the capacity of a helpful friend.” Yeah, “employed” because, otherwise, it would be impossible to have access to that “helpful friend.” The reason I looked up the definition of companion is that, last night, I had a conversation about co-housing and how the concept has always appealed to me. The idea of being alone is both appealing and depressing; but co-housing offers the possibility of the best of both worlds. Both access to and service as a companion, while simultaneously offering solitude and privacy. But does the idea of companionship by way of co-housing seem a little like one essentially is “employing” companions, rather than developing them through natural evolution? I don’t know. I still have a great deal of interest in co-housing. I’ve explored the idea for years. My wife was not a particularly big fan of the concept, but then she was an even more dedicated introvert than I. But I find it appealing. Although it does sound, this morning, a little like “friends with benefits.” But who’s to say that is all bad? We are judgmental beasts, aren’t we? Our ideas of morality are shaped by our experiences; we probably would have completely different ideas if our experiences were different. If we lived in a different culture, behaviors we find shocking today might be absolutely normal. Sociology has always been appealing to me.

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My wife was attracted to dragonflies. She bought artwork that depicts dragonflies. She had shirts with images of dragonflies printed or sewn onto them. We had garden art with dragonfly motifs. If I were to get a tattoo, I think I might get one of a delicate dragonfly. I just do not know where I would have it placed on my body. Maybe I would have it on my left wrist, in place of a watch. If I ever get a tattoo, though, it will be a while yet. I’m not ready for a tattoo; then again, maybe I am.

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It’s just after six. After weaving this little tapestry of unrelated ideas, I may try for twenty minutes of sleep now. Or I may not.

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Sleeping on the Job

Last night, I joined three friends for an evening reminiscent of “the way things used to be.” We sat in a pub, eating tacos, drinking margaritas (one drank a beer, as she has a dangerous allergy to agave), telling and listening to stories, and laughing. Only after I got home did grief and guilt begin to infringe on my mood.  I overcame it for awhile by watching another episode of Bosch and opening a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Alcohol offers an easy, but temporary and potentially dangerous, solution to sadness; it can wash away pain, yet it can magnify it, too. In small doses, though, it can dull sharpness.

I returned home last night with a nice sampling of small-batch beers, products of the brewery owned by the son of one of my dinner partners; she brought them to me, knowing I would appreciate them. I wish my good friends and beer aficionados, Jim and Jim, lived nearby so I could share the beer with them. Alas, they live in Virginia and New Hampshire, respectively, and these beers probably would not survive the trip.

The chief problem with going out for an evening is the return to an empty house. After spending a couple of hours with three engaging women last night, I came home to quiet. After five months at home by myself while my wife was in the hospital and rehab facilities, I had adapted reasonably well to being alone. But it’s different now. I no longer can look forward to the day she returns. Enjoying an evening without her seems wrong. I know that is absurd. It doesn’t matter, though. It is what it is.

I suspect my posts are becoming repetitive, as if all I can write about is grief and sadness and guilt and feeling empty and lost and alone. I look forward to the time when those things comprise only a tiny fraction of what occupies my mind. Listening to the other participants in yesterday’s grief group, some of whom had lost loves ones many months ago, reinforced for me the fact that that lessening of grief is a long, long process.

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I spent about twenty minutes this morning watching a fascinating YouTube video about primitive glass-making. The videographer and his associate collected all the materials, created clay kilns, and (after multiple tries) made just a few shards of glass. I think I’ll try to find the follow-up videos (the guy’s series is called How to Make Everything)  to see how (and whether) he progresses.

I’ve often wondered how modern glass, both sheet glass and bottle glass, is made. This morning’s video did not answer my curiosity about that, but it took me back to the earliest processes of attempted glass-making. I imagine I’ll find another video or two to see how it’s done in today’s modern glass factories, as well.

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Today, a new President and Vice President of the United States take office. The demeanor of the people in those positions will be radically different from what we have become used to during the past four years. Only time will tell whether the results of their leadership will be radically different; I suspect the results will be different, provided Congress does not obstruct them.  I have hope, but I am something of a realist, too. The level of my excitement today is considerably lower than it was when Bill Clinton took office and when Barack Obama took office; wild-eyed enthusiasm is better suited to people with fewer years and disappointments behind them.

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A few years ago, I dreamed up a series of make-believe how-to magazines geared toward various segments of the criminal population. I think I called them Home Invasion Today and Auto Theft Today; I may have had another one or two.  I designed covers for them, using Photoshop and a page layout program. It might be fun to resurrect those covers and create bogus content for the magazines, place them on shelves in the magazine section of a bookstore, and secretly film the reactions of people who come across them. Perhaps I’m too easily amused.

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Death is mysterious because life is all we know. Everything we have ever learned, every emotion we have ever felt, every sensation we have ever experienced has required life. No matter how hard we try, we cannot imagine the experience of death. That is either because there is no experience to be had or because we cannot fathom experience without an association with life. I find it hard to put into words a concept I do not fully understand. But I feel the concept inside me, trying to break through the dullness and confusion.

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I cannot keep my eyes open. I must get up, out of this chair, and make another cup of coffee. Otherwise, I will go to sleep where I sit and will awaken with a terrible crick in my neck.

 

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My Take

How does a divided nation attempt to heal? How can a torn social fabric be stitched together again in a way that might ensure the cloth survives intact for at least a while longer? Purging Trump and his narcissism from the political landscape will not do it.

The fibers of national cohesion began to fray long before Trump’s deadly arrival on the political scene. In my opinion, the metastasis of healthy patriotism into deadly and divisive nationalism can be traced back to Joseph McCarthy, maybe even earlier. The definition of patriotism began to change with McCarthy’s madness; with that change in definition came a subtle change in attitudes that, over the years, has ebbed and flowed with events and policies associated with successive U.S. administrations. I think the assassination of John F. Kennedy fueled the growth in nationalism, especially in light of the conspiracy theories surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald’s role in a plot involving both international and national players. Then, the Vietnam war’s growing unpopularity, coupled with the social upheavals of the sixties, stretched the fabric that had once unified the country. The reaction to the Nixon years led to Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency; in spite of Carter’s inherent decency, the Iran hostage crisis and Carter’s inability to end it stoked the fires of nationalism and led to Ronald Reagan’s presidency. From that point on, the divisions within the populace grew with each succeeding election. The fires were self-fueled from that point forward. Divisions, themselves, stoked the flames. Newt Gingrich’s brand of political hatred while he was Speaker of the House in the last half of the nineties should have sent signals of the coming explosions. Since then, an ugly blend of nationalism and patriotism has metastasized into a conservative/progressive divide that pits one half of the population against the other. Trump simply took advantage of the divide to feed his own ego and thirst for recognition and power. His disregard for civility and human decency is serving as a model that has very nearly torn the country apart; it may yet have that effect.

So, how do we heal? Time (if enough of it remains before the pressure cooker explodes), education, and charismatic leadership. Education will be harder now than ever before because so much of it has morphed into miseducation and propaganda. Separating fact from fiction and truth from stubbornly lodged belief will take enormous effort. And charismatic leadership might be the toughest of all. I thought Barack Obama had the charisma necessary to bring us together; instead, the fact that he was both liberal and Black seemed to have had the opposite effect. Joe Biden remains a wild card, as is Kamala Harris; we’ll just have to wait and see how they lead and whether their leadership can overcome bigotry, prejudice, and stubborn insistence at both ends of the political spectrum.

Maybe the toughest of all the elements of healing will be our collective willingness to forgive one another and our willingness to stop assigning blame. As hard as it may be for me to withhold judgement of Trump, I have to try; at least I have to try to be silent about it. And the same is true for people who loathed Barack Obama and blamed him for everything from World War II to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  See? It’s hard not to be cynical.

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So, social and political unrest has been occupying my mind thus far this morning, as I worry about the future of our country. I like to say it’s pointless to worry about things over which I have no control. But I do have just a tiny bit of control in this case. Each of us does. Just like our votes matter, so do our attitudes and our behaviors.

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This morning, I am sitting in a sacred space. I am sitting at my wife’s desk, the place where she spent so much time overseeing and managing our lives. Handling finances. Preparing grocery lists. Searching for recipes. Reading. This room was her study, the place to which she retreated for solitude and quiet. And this room is where she watched television.

While she was in the hospital, I bought her a new television. The old one was not bad, but the picture wasn’t as sharp as I thought she should have and the sound quality wasn’t what I thought it should be. I bought a sound bar to go with the television. Between hospital and rehab center stays, she only spent about a week a home, so she got the benefit of the new technologies only briefly.

I now use this desk to do what she used to do. And I watch the television here instead of in the family room where I used to watch. And this morning I think I might find it impossible to ever leave this place. This place was her “nest,” the place where she worked and relaxed and enjoyed herself. I don’t know whether I should forever treasure this space or whether I should try to avoid it and the memories that spring from it. I suppose I’ll discover the answer to that myself, over time.

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Later this morning, I will participate in an Arkansas Hospice grief group, via Zoom. I got a call a week or so ago, inviting me to join in the conversation, which takes place two or three times a month. I do not know quite what to expect. But if my behavior during the past month is any indication of how I will react to conversations about my wife, I will have a hard time maintaining my composure. I’ve been told by a number of people that I should not worry about maintaining my composure. I know that. But, still. At any rate, I’ll see what comes of it.

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I ordered dishwashing tablets and a few other items online on Saturday. When I went to pick them up at Sam’s Club, I was asked to show my ID. I wonder whether that is a preventative measure or whether someone has ordered groceries online using a stolen credit card? If the latter, I find it sad that someone would find it necessary to steal someone else’s credit card in order to buy groceries. So many people, though, are just days away from being unable to pay rent or buy groceries or pay their utility bills. I imagine the organizations and agencies that serve people in need are stretched beyond their limits nowadays. When I think about such matters, the idea of anonymously paying for a stranger’s lunch is no longer so appealing; I’d rather pay for someone’s lunch if I know they really need it. “Paying it forward” by buying someone’s lunch does more for the purchaser than for the recipient. I guess I’ve made a 180 degree turn on that matter.

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It’s nearing 7:00, time for a little breakfast. One of my favorite blog followers told me I need not worry about showering every day. That’s good to know. But I think I’ll shower today, anyway.

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Routines

Yesterday, I left so much unwritten. I had so much more to say. But today I struggle to write anything. It’s not that I have writer’s block, it’s simply that I cannot summon the intellectual energy to search my mind for anything worth recording.

One month ago, my wife died. The time has simultaneously dragged by at the speed of ice-cold syrup flowing on a flat surface and flown past at twice the speed of light.  Perhaps that’s it. An artificial milepost I see in the rearview mirror, just as I slam into it in front of me.

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During my most recent CT scan, last month, the radiologic technician gave up after two tries. Blood vessels on the inside of my elbow were uncooperative. My reaction to each jab—an overt expression of discomfort bordering on outright pain—convinced him that the normally more painful route, a needle jabbed into a vein on the top of my right hand, was the better option. It turned out to be the least painful one, as well.

Every time a get a CT scan, I feel the odd warmth caused by injected fluid coursing through my body. Each time, before they inject the fluid, I’m warned I may feel warmth in my throat and I may also feel like I am peeing. And I do. I sense warm urine spreading throughout my nether regions. Fortunately, it’s only an artificial sensation; not the real thing.

I never worry that the results of the CT scan of my chest will reveal lung cancer has returned. Until I hear otherwise, I will assume cancer has been permanently eradicated from my body. There’s no sense in worrying about something over which I have no control. I wish I could transfer that very healthy attitude about worry for my health to every other aspect of my life. Far less consequential things torment me. It’s just the cancer that I’ve learned to ignore.

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“I have a book in me.” I hear or read those words occasionally from people who want to write a book. I do not often speak those words, though, because I think my book has been written. It just hasn’t been organized, edited, and published. Within the nearly 3500 posts I’ve written for this blog—coupled with the hundreds or thousands I’ve written on blogs I’ve abandoned and the other material I have written but kept to myself—there’s enough to cobble together a book. These thoughts are not new. I’ve probably written them down for this blog more than once before. What’s missing is not the material, it’s the discipline to go through everything and to discard the vast amount of irrelevant drivel in favor of a few gems. There may be one or two hundred pages worth weaving together into something of emotional or intellectual value. “Value.” That’s the key issue. Would enough value remain after all the effort to warrant going to all the work? There’s only one way to find out. Thus far, I’ve been unwilling to expend the energy to risk learning it wasn’t worth my time. Still, maybe one day.

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Yesterday, I put on sweats and flip-flops when I got up. I did not shower, shave, or otherwise prepare for a “normal” day all day long. I never changed clothes. So far today, I am following the same pattern. Same sweats, same flip-flops. The idea of showering and shaving does not appeal to me in the least again today; there’s too much effort involved. But I must drag myself out of the doldrums. I need to get things done. While I do not necessarily have to get out of the house, I might feel better if I do. And I always feel better after showering and shaving, even though it involves “work.” After I shower and before I dry myself off, I use a squeegee to wipe the shower walls and the glass wall and door “dry.” And I use a soft cloth to wipe the remaining droplets of water off the glass and the chrome fixtures to avoid the formation of water spots

I sometimes ponder what a typical day was like for people in the mid-1800s. How did it begin? How often did people bathe back then? What were their morning routines? What time did the “average” person get up and how often did they bathe? I suspect my routine is quite different. I wash my hair every time I shower; how often did my great grandparents shower/bathe and did they wash their hair every time? I do not remember ever reading a book that took me through a day in the life of someone in enough detail so that I could truly envision how their lives unfolded, day by day. I remain curious about that, even now in geezerhood. I wonder whether other people have similar curiosity? It would be interesting (to me), to listen to ten people each describe their typical early mornings in great detail. Would there be a discernible pattern, or are we radically different creatures?

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I’ve already had coffee this morning. I think I’ll start tomorrow with tea, instead. It will make me feel a little closer to my wife. She was not a coffee drinker. She enjoyed her hot tea in the morning. As a rule, neither of us added anything to our morning beverages, though on extremely rare occasion when she opted to brew a special tea she used a bit of cream or milk. My wife bought tea in quantity. She bought tea bags, usually decaf tea from Kroger. She liked it as much as she liked any other tea. She rarely used loose tea and an infuser; the bagged teas were quicker, simpler, and just as satisfying to her. The little things like morning routines can be excruciatingly painful to think about sometimes.

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I do need to shower today. And so I will. And wash my hair and shave and take my regular medications and, probably, have something for breakfast.

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Painted in Pastels

God, what an emotional morning. An emotional morning that followed an emotional night.

Last night, I invited my former sculpture and pottery instructor to come to my house for a visit. She and her partner accepted my invitation, arriving at my house around eight. They brought wine and compassion and ears willing to listen to me mourn. I issued my invitation after I already had more wine than I should have had. But without the wine, I would not have been so brash; I would have spent the evening alone, aching for company. So, I am glad I indulged myself in a wine solo. My friend and her partner (I consider her my friend, too) were willing listeners and partners in my grief, lubricated with pinot noir. They drove more than half an hour, each way, to give me solace. I suspect they had better things to do on a Saturday night than to visit with a teary geezer; I so appreciate their kindness in giving their time to me, instead. I must send them words of appreciation; they undoubtedly do not read this blog, so this off-the-cuff paragraph won’t do.

This morning’s emotion arose from watching and listening to the church service recorded yesterday and days before, stitched together by a dedicated team of volunteers. I started watching and listening to today’s service a little before six this morning. Usually, I consume the recorded services in bits and pieces, but this morning I watched it from start to finish without a pause. The presentation by the woman who introduced the service was especially moving. Not only were the words she spoke quite powerful, the way she delivered them seemed directed entirely at me, as if we were alone in a room and she was offering her comfort and compassion specifically to me. When she finished, I felt like I wanted to reach into the screen and  hug her.

After the introduction and the music and so forth, an excellent video remembrance—with photographs of people the church has lost over the years—was shown. It was moving, too. I was touched by the images of friends who are no longer here. And the photographs of my wife brought me to tears. I am so grateful to the people who put in so much effort to produce the remembrance. The minister’s words, too, were powerful and helped deepen the meaning of the recollection.

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It’s now just after seven, two hours since I fought my way from under the covers. When I woke up, I felt like I was bound to the bed; the top sheet had somehow wrapped around my legs, lashing me to the bed as if I had been tied down.

The sky has shed darkness in favor of light. I did not notice it happening, in that the video sermon/presentation commanded my full attention. I didn’t notice the light even when I went into the kitchen, where I made my second cup of coffee and peeled a clementine for phase one of breakfast. My mind was too focused on recalling the video to pay attention to the sky’s metamorphosis.

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There’s so much more I want to write, but I think I need to give myself some time to simply experience coffee and silence, instead. Maybe I’ll play Words with Friends if anyone has played with me since last night. And maybe I’ll invite my sister-in-law to come over for our more or less routine morning chat. And maybe I’ll write thank-you notes to people who have been, and continue to be, so kind to me. Emotions do not necessarily evoke tears. Sometimes, emotions paint smiles.

My thoughts this morning seem to be lighter than usual, as if they were painted in pastels.

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Another Post

No surprise. Awake at three again. Thrashing around in bed, trying to empty the tangled fishing line, treble hooks, plastic bags, soda cans, and soggy empty cigarette packs from my brain. I just wanted to get comfortable so I could sleep. After giving it all the time I was willing to give, I gave up. I played a few games of Words with Friends, tried to find some unusual and appealing recipes for sardines and grits, and contemplated making an early breakfast. That still has not happened, but I may go the sardines and grits route a little later.

I don’t think I’ve made sardines and grits since we moved to Hot Springs Village. It’s an easy dish to make and I like it quite a lot, at least my version of the dish. I just cook some grits on the stovetop, put them in a bowl with hot sauce, ground black pepper, and smashed canned sardines, mix it all up, and heat the concoction just enough to warm the mixture nicely. I was hoping to find something simple with a little more pop to it, perhaps with habanero peppers for heat and some vinegar and sugar for some surprising zip. I didn’t look hard enough or long enough.

Though my wife liked sardicado sandwiches (consisting of a paste of sardines, avocados, ground black pepper, and lemon juice spread between two pieces of toasted black bread), she was not terribly fond, otherwise, of sardines. I convinced her to try smoked herring and before long she liked it as much as I do, but sardines were another story. When I first tried to get her to take a bite of a sardicado sandwich, she thought I was attempting to either play a trick or poison her. But she rapidly came around. She anxiously awaited the availability of inexpensive avocadoes every year so we could have sardicado sandwiches for lunch. Thinking about that this morning is simultaneously painful and comforting.

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I still have done nothing about selling the Camry. All I need to do is to get it as clean as a whistle and talk to McCann’s (thanks for the tip, Colleen) about selling it on consignment. But even that little task is easy for me to put off and, so, I have. But it’s on my agenda for the upcoming week, along with a bunch of other odds and ends. The weather forecast, at this point, calls for rain and showers toward the end of the week, so I am apt to do my “outdoor” errands early in the week. Inside the house, I plan to move the borrowed twin bed to the side and try to get the massive, heavy, overwhelming beast of a queen-sized bed frame back up so I can attempt to put the Sleep-Number box springs and mattress on it. Then, I’ll be able to give the guest room bed, where I’ve been sleeping, a rest. Pun intended. My next-door neighbors have offered to help with the bed. It’s easily a four-person job, so when I’m ready to give the task a try, I may seek at least one additional set of strong arms and shoulders.

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Men—and of course I include myself—can be vain, stupid, undisciplined, and lazy. My wife tried for years to get me to regularly use lotion on my skin. I would acquiesce for a while, but I always slipped back into my habit of letting my skin do without lotion. I now understand her point. My skin dries out incredibly fast now. It gets chalky and scaly and otherwise unpleasantly brittle and inflexible. A little like leather left out in the sun; maybe not quite that bad, but it’s heading in that direction. Aside from my sloth and other indefensible reasons for not using skin cream or lotion, I was always in too much of a hurry. “If I don’t let it sit there on my skin for a long time, it makes it hard to pull on a t-shirt because it ‘catches’ on the moist skin.” My excuse was that it takes too much time. What an idiot.  Now, every time I wash my face or shower, the skin on my face and neck dry into skin deserts almost immediately. If I don’t use something to moisten the skin, which too often I still do not, my skin looks and feels like dry paper that’s been sanded just enough to raise the fibers. Let my wisdom-gained-too-late be a lesson.

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I am only just beginning to read a book entitled It’s OK that You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand, by Megan Devine. My long-time Facebook friend and blogger, Bev, recommended it to me. I’m finding it both illuminating and comforting, with a little hopefulness and hopelessness on my part thrown in. So far, I especially appreciate the author’s concise statements and her insistence that grief is different for every person. Thanks to my sister-in-law thumbing through the book and calling my attention to something near the back, I read the Appendix entitled “How to Help a Grieving Friend. ” I found it especially especially insightful. A printable version of the appendix can be found at this URL: https://www.refugeingrief.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/grieving-friend-essay-PDF.pdf, in case anyone is interested.

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Yesterday afternoon, I glanced at a photo hanging in front of my computer screen. It is of several members of my family. My wife is in the photo. I almost called out to her to come look at it. I’ve spoken to her many times, half expecting an answer. I’ve apologized for things I’ve said or ways I’ve behaved, hoping to hear her respond, saying it was okay, don’t worry about it, it was nothing. But it must have been something, because it weighs heavily on my mind. Whatever it was, it was thoughtless, inconsiderate, and on the cusp of cruelty, if not well beyond it. I think all these thoughts are telling me one thing: I want to make sure she knew before she died that I loved her beyond measure. But I can never be sure of that. Never. It always will be an unanswered question. Of course I hope and believe she knew, but I can never be one hundred percent certain. And that pain is impossible to erase or excise or scrape away. That aspect of grief is almost intolerable.

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The story is too long for my fingers to tell, so I’ll get to the point: a couple in the market to buy a mountain view home came to take a look at my house yesterday. They loved it. They know I am not prepared to sell right away, but they want me to keep in touch with them and, especially, to let them know when I’m ready to sell. Nothing may come of it, whenever the time comes, but it was good to hear how interested they were.

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One year ago I wrote something of which I am proud, though I’m not quite sure why:

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.

I believe I wrote truth when I wrote those words. And now, I will leave these words to go engage with the requirements of January 16, 2021. Never forget, whether you read this or not, I love you.

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Early Wine

Synchronicity. I encountered an example of synchronicity yesterday. I spent some time with a financial advisor, asking questions about steps I should take to simplify my rather complex, but not particularly large, investment portfolio. Of course, the primary question for me was how to first take care of transferring joint ownership to sole ownership and some related matters. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I might want to sell my too-large house at some point, but probably not right away.

A few hours later, as I was playing Words with Friends with my sister-in-law, I got a call from the financial advisor. Another new client—a couple who just moved to the Village from the Pacific Northwest—visited her after I did yesterday afternoon. They mentioned that they were looking for a house with a mountain view. She told them about me and suggested, though it might be a bit early, they might want to talk to me.  Apparently, they wanted to; they asked her to contact me to ask me to call them. I tried to reach them by phone, but voice mail had not been set up on the number I was given. And it probably is too early. But…synchronicity.

Some people would say “everything happens for a reason.” Though I cannot accept that within the framework it is usually presented, I can acknowledge that there’s a “reason,” but not necessarily a reason orchestrated in accord with a grand plan. Yet, such coincidences sometimes seem to happen with a frequency that cannot be easily explained by statistical probability.

I would have a hard time explaining away the coincidence if the financial advisor suggested her new client allow her to reach out to me had I not mentioned to her my possible interest in selling my house. That would have been beyond coincidental; it would have been paranormal. Or something like that.

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Early wine can lead to unintended sleep and disorientation. I woke up last night just before nine, unsure of whether I had slept all night in front of the television. The closing moments of Law & Order: SVU were on the TV when I opened my eyes. By the time I had recovered enough mental presence to understand my surroundings, Dateline had begun. I had started watching television at 5:30, when I decided to watch the Nightly News with Lester Holt. I used to watch that news program with regularity, switching at six to the PBS Newshour. But not last night. Somewhere between Lester Holt and Judy Woodruff, I fell asleep, catching roughly three hours of unintended sleep without changing the channel. That’s what can happen when one starts drinking wine at three in the afternoon, pacing oneself to correspond to games of Words with Friends.  It’s exceedingly rare for me to have anything alcoholic quite that early, but it just seemed like the thing to do yesterday.

Between the time I had my first glass of wine and the time I fell asleep, I made an early dinner. My neighbors had gone to Little Rock yesterday and generously dropped off a few bags of frozen dinners just before three. Perfect timing. I made an early dinner of Trader Joe‘s chicken & fried rice before I sat down to watch Lester Holt. Sometime between three and 5:30, I consumed enough wine to anesthetize me. My empty bowl of chicken and fried rice, which I had flavored with sambal oleek and soy sauce, was next to me on the love seat when I awoke just before nine.

It is pointless to try to go to bed immediately after arising from a lengthy alcohol-induced nap. But one’s disorientation and general displeasure with oneself at having over-indulged is not suited for much else. I turned off the television upon waking and had no interest in turning it back on, nor was I interested in surfing news sites on the internet or doing anything else, for that matter. So I sat and stewed for a while. I considered emptying the dishwasher of clean dishes, but opted to delay that until the morning. And I considered calling a friend in Fort Smith, but I generally avoid calling anyone after eight so I opted not to do that. Instead, made a gin & tonic. I should have known that was a waste of decent gin and tolerable tonic. I drank a few sips of it before realizing a gin & tonic after a three hour wine-induced nap tastes awful. I hated disposing of a perfectly good drink down the drain, but gin & tonic over ice does not keep well so I discarded the newly-made drink. And I switched to Diet Coke, once a favorite of mine but something I rarely buy these days. It was good. Very good. Much better than wine or gin & tonic, at least at that hour.

I had a thousand things on my mind yesterday afternoon and last night, but I was able to hide them from myself for long enough to go to sleep after my non-alcoholic refreshment. I was not able to keep them hidden all night, though. I awoke at three to pee. Getting back to sleep took a very long time. In fact, I was almost sure there was no point in staying in bed but, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the clock suddenly displayed 5:00. Somewhere between three and five, I must have gone to sleep. A few minutes after five, I got up for the day.

As I type this, the dishwasher remains full and the chicken & fried rice dinner dishes remain in the sink. Unless my discipline fails me, both of those situations will be handled forthwith. But not until after I’ve finished exercising my fingers and finished at least my first cup of coffee.

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Cinnamon incense has a pleasant aroma. So does opium incense. As do several other uniquely odoriferous incense choices. But I find that I prefer patchouli and sandalwood, the more traditional scents I once associated with head shops (but, to be clear, I never frequented head shops).  Before I buy more of the traditional stuff, though, I have a rather enormous number of cones of other scents to go through. Twelve scents, I think, each of which has six or twelve cones. My house will smell a little like an Indian grocery store for a while.

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A friend came by for a while yesterday morning, bearing a plate of keto-friendly foods; stuffed jalapeños, cheese crisps, thick bacon, and more. Though I had eaten breakfast earlier, I was more than ready for the late-morning infusion of energy. It constituted my lunch. The foods were the sorts of things I would happily eat every day, but the amount of time required to make them would strain my patience and put my limited discipline to a revealing test. While we ate, we touched on memories of reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. The title of the book is from Exodus 2:22 of the King James Version of the Bible: “And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.” It has been almost fifty years since I read that book; my friend and I will read it again and compare notes. I think I may try to find the original unedited version, which his widow arranged to have published in 1991. Heinlein is said to have preferred his original to the heavily edited version we read.  The book came up during a conversation about friends, friendship, and my recollection of the deep friendships described by the term water brothers in Heinlein’s book.

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This blog has evolved over time. Originally, I think it was more of a place for me to store short stories and snippets of fiction I thought I might use in longer pieces. Lately, especially, it has become more of a journal than anything else. In the intervening years, it was a combination of fiction, philosophy, journal, and platform. I suppose it remains a hybrid of sorts; not enough of any one thing to hold anyone’s interest for long. I sometimes think it represents a raw display of a jumbled, jangled, mind released from its skull cage; spilled onto the screens of a dozen unfortunate readers. But, then, as I go back and read what was on my mind five years ago or three months ago or day before yesterday, it seems to me to be my personal treasure of memories. It reminds me that I can think deeply about things and that I can question my own thoughts and beliefs and motives. It is, in some respects, my lifeline to the world. It sometimes is my only connection to the universe outside my windows. Why would I write this paragraph? Simply to record a thought. To give myself a chance, later in life, to remember what I was thinking. There’s no guarantee that there will be a time “later in life,” of course, but if there is, I want to have something to remind me how life was “back then.”

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If I could get an injection that would fill me with all the knowledge of humankind …physics, philosophies, science, carpentry, medicine, forestry, road-building, printing, everything…but getting that knowledge would be paid for by limiting my life to one more year from today, would I take the injection? That would have been a reluctant “no” a few months ago, but today I would lean heavily toward “yes.”  Emotional ties can be far stronger than a desire for knowledge. Knowledge is like attractive thin rope, while emotional bonds are more like tempered steel chains. But that attractive thin rope can be braided into something stronger. So maybe I would not just lean toward “yes” but be lashed to “yes” like a captain to a ship’s mast in the aftermath of a mutiny.

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Somewhere in the Middle

I’ll probably write this post in two pieces: one, Wednesday night before bed, when I am contemplating sleep but knowing it will require effort to achieve; and, two, Thursday morning after I awake, either early or late but not likely somewhere in the middle.

Time slipped by quickly this evening. After an excellent early dinner with neighbors, I came home and changed into comfortable lounging gear, then watched another couple of episodes of Bosch, before turning to “live” television for the tail end of the PBS Newshour. In the remaining minutes of the program, I listened and watched Judy Woodruff engage Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, and Amna Nawaz in conversation about their experiences during the insurrection of the Capitol. I found their personal perspectives just as intriguing as the news they usually report.

While I was watching the news, I exchanged a series of texts with a couple of (physically) distant friends, ultimately almost confirming a telephone and/or video chat for next week. We had a workable date until I realized I had double-booked; I’ve done that on multiple occasions in the recent past. My memory seems shot, though I’ve received assurances that the aftermath of grief (or the effects of ongoing grief) can play havoc with short term memory. I hope it’s a short term problem. I really hate forgetting whether I’ve had lunch or dinner just hours after finishing meals. So far, the memories have returned, but only after intense coaxing. Somewhere along the spectrum of television-watching, I heard statements that made me question whether I remain relevant. Relevance, like so many other matters, is contextual. Am I relevant in the context of my maleness, my whiteness, or my European ancestry? Am I relevant in the context of the extent to which I am very different from the demographics of people who are becoming a diverse majority? Am I relevant in the context of how divergent I am from the stereotypical standard of American males? So many contextual comparisons, so many opportunities to fall short.

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As expected, I could not sustain my writing for long. Just after midnight, I called it a day. But to the best of my knowledge, my concerns that I would have a hard time getting to sleep and/or staying asleep were unfounded. I fell asleep quickly. I awoke at 6:00, somewhere between early and late; “somewhere in the middle,” after all.

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Once again, I have scheduled too many obligations and too little time to “chill” between them. So, I will miss the men’s parking lot gathering at church this morning. As much as I enjoy being outdoors and listening to the conversation (and contributing to it just enough to feel like I am not simply an eavesdropper), the gathering is something I can safely remove from my schedule, giving myself a little breathing room between self-imposed obligations.

Today’s obligations include one that, I hope, will kickstart my efforts to take care of the unpleasantness involved in removing my late wife’s name from accounts, credit cards, and title to the house. Today I will meet with an advisor. Afterward, I expect to prepare letters to send to account custodians, giving them instructions. I just want those things to be behind me, so I will be free to get away for a while. A road trip, whether short or long, might do wonders to clear my head and restore some semblance of normalcy to my thinking.

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I took a short break from the computer screen a bit ago. As I walked back to the study, the view out the southeast-facing windows was stunning. A bright orange and coral band stretched across a purple, almost black, horizon. Above that band of distant sunlit clouds, the sky softened into muted salmon and tan and, finally, a pastel mix of pale blue and white and grey. Wisps of violet clouds, brighter above than below, stuttered across the sky. Only a painter or expert photographer could do justice to the scene; even a highly skilled novelist with a penchant for describing landscapes could not possibly capture the glory of that vision.

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“All politics is local.” The late Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House, is said to have uttered that phrase and inserted it into popular culture. While I do not necessarily agree with the idea completely, I think it is generally correct.  So, too, are all insurrections local. But “local” has taken on a new meaning with the advent of instant global communication. “Local” means intellectually nearby, not just in close physical proximity. Local ideas about insurrections merge into regional and national and even global miasmas. Facebook and Twitter and their tribe of similarly capable distributors of both rational and irrational thought put dangerous tools in the hands of both twisted monsters and thoughtful protesters. They do it without regard to merit and without any realistic constraints on dangerous, twisted lies. Local lies become widespread “facts.” Perceived injustice becomes irrefutable evidence of the trampling of rights.

Many, and perhaps most, people would argue that tools of mass instantaneous communications cannot legitimately be withheld from the masses. The same people argue that free speech cannot and should not be subject to interference for political gains. And I cannot argue with them. Except that I can. And I do. Collectively, we seem incapable of determining that point on the spectrum of “free speech” at which speech becomes incitement. We seem incapable of reaching even tentative agreement that code-speak can be just as dangerous as outright instruction. And so we simplify our dilemma by saying all speech should be free. Except yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. But screaming “stop the steal” to an agitated crowd, many members of which are carrying weapons, is okay. Somewhere along the line, we need to come to agreement on the points at which “speech” transforms into “incitement.”

We haven’t been able to reach agreement on the point at which “the right to bear arms” is beyond the pale, yet there seems to be almost universal acceptance, if not outright agreement, that the right to bear arms does not include the right to a nuclear arsenal or a collection of pipe bombs in the basement. But it’s okay to have caches of semi-automatic weapons for use in “target practice” or “deer hunting” or “home defense.” And it’s okay in many places to have “silencers” or “suppressors” to minimize the sound of the discharge of rifles and pistols. The better to keep neighbors unaware of the massacre taking place in the house next door.

All politics is local. The sale of liquor is prohibited, except in bars, in Arkansas on Sundays. Because “Jesus,” I suppose. But Jesus carried an AR-15, so no such prohibition exists for weapons. Just as regulation of silencers is stripped away by local politics, regulations can mushroom by the same mechanism. When will the sale of liquor be prohibited on Monday? Because, “barbers,” perhaps.

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My mood this morning is not reliable. I can be “up” one minute and “down” the next. If I had sweet rolls, I could be reliably cheerful. But I forgot to buy a tube of cinnamon rolls yesterday; and I think I promised myself I would transform my lifestyle into a healthy, Mediterranean-based mode of living. Perhaps I lied, but it was an accidental lie. I did not mean to do it. After I have a sweet roll, I will rethink my position on Earth in the hope that I will become the paragon of virtue I’ve sometimes wished I were. Sometimes is the operative word. Periodically deviant and sometimes a model of decency.

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It is too close to 8:00 for me to be blogging. Time for more coffee and to find my phone.

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Confrontation with Another Day

The clock has not yet reached 5:50 a.m., yet I am clean-shaven and freshly showered. I went to bed last night just after eleven, having watched an episode or two of Bosch, a detective story I know little about but that, so far, seems interesting. It is available on Amazon Prime, a channel I rarely bother to explore. Desiring a break from Hinterland and Queen’s Gambit and a few others, I decided to venture back into Americana television, which is how I began watching Bosch. It is somewhat interesting and it is entertainment and it gave me a respite from genres whose attractions for me are beginning to fray.

I think the wear and tear is not so much on the genre but on the medium. Television, in all its iterations, has become boring, at least for now. I think a vacation from spoon-fed news and entertainment may be in order. If my eyesight was more consistent and my eyes less likely to tire from reading, I might immerse myself in books again; but I’m not quite ready for that. Music and thought are the two remaining forms of immersive diversion readily available to me. Music takes only one form for me: listening. Thought takes two: analysis and fantasy. But I detest the word “fantasy” because for me it conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland or Behind the Green Door. I am not quite sure what word better describes flights of the imagination that allow one to escape into an inner dimension free of restraints and constraints and obstacles. I shouldn’t say I detest the word; that’s ludicrous. I detest my knee-jerk reaction to the images the word extracts from deep in my brain.

Even music I love can become tiresome at times. I enjoy every kind of music I have ever heard, though admittedly it has taken time to get used to some of it. Yet even my hundreds of favorites tend to wear thin. I suppose my moods and most recent experiences dictate my response to music. One minute, I can thoroughly enjoy The Who or Gordon Lightfoot or Pachelbel and the next desire the music of Simon & Garfunkel or Ween or Doc Watson. And the next moment, all I want is silence. Absolute silence. But silence is never available to me. I told my sister-in-law over coffee the other day that I constantly hear a background noise of “crickets” or the sound of my heartbeat as it pumps blood through the vessels and veins in proximity to my ears.

Imagination or fantasy or make-believe or whatever you might choose to call it never gets old, though. At least I think not. Perhaps I just don’t realize it, though. Maybe when I switch to music or reading or consuming spoon-fed entertainment, the trigger is boredom with my own fantasies. Occasionally, I try to put myself inside the head of people about whom I know almost nothing. For example, a young boy, a kid who at ten years old already is becoming a bully, thanks to poor self-esteem and classmates who have no compassion for him—the child who later will be targeted for elimination by a smarter and more lethal deeply-introverted classmate. Or a fifty-something woman who seeks companionship and adventure and affection outside of her marriage because she feels an aching emptiness in her life, an emptiness based on a need for her life to have meaning; to matter. But “fantasies,” too, can become tired and repetitive. When music and reading and television and flights of fancy lose their appeal, what’s left to fill the void? Companionship and conversation and social exposure can replace it all, but COVID-19  has wrecked much of that. Isolation, as attractive as it can be, can rob a person of feeling that she matters or is loved.

Love, that’s another emotion that—like friendship—calls for descriptive terms that make sense across a long spectrum. Either that, or my perspectives on friendship and love are subject to unnecessary self-imposed restrictions. Maybe both. “I love you.” Those words rely heavily on context to supply their meaning. “I love you as a friend;” those words are loaded with meaning supplied not so much by what they say, but by words that are missing from the sentence. “But.” When combining “friend” with “love,” the complexities become labyrinthine.

When I left the academic environment so many years ago (when I left graduate school in pursuit of truth and beauty in the real world), I did not immediately lose access to attractive and fulfilling conversations like those readily available in academia. I had a friend, a professor at a junior college, who enjoyed engaging in probing conversations and friendly debate as much as I did. But over time I lost touch with him, as I moved from city to city and state to state. I learned several years ago that he died suddenly of a heart condition. Over time, those conversations faded into memory.

Our conversations were not really “academic” in nature; they were simply interesting. They gave both of us opportunities to explore ideas and to get reactions to concepts that might have seemed foreign and even off-putting to many people. I miss those conversations. The only other person with whom I’ve been able to have those conversation has been my wife. While she was not as engaged in many of them as my old friend had been, she understood my thoughts and she gave me the opportunity to express them. Some mornings, when memories of some of the conversations my wife and I had surface, I have a hard time keeping my composure.

I’ve wandered in and out of this post, giving myself a chance to have more coffee and to see that the sun has risen while I was distracted by the screen. It is nearing 7:20 and I have a day to confront, so I will gently end this thought-dump and go about my life.

 

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Everything Is Broken Now

Everything is broken now.

Thus begin the lyrics to a song, Or the thoughts within a poem. The words spilled from my lips in a panicked sprint, as if attempting to avoid pain or danger or an enraged predator, angry that its first attempt at a kill had failed. More words followed, some rhyming and some avoiding the repetitive sing-song pattern that incensed the hunter. The song—if that’s what it was—escaped my mouth in a rush of words, its redundant chorus emphasizing the theme. Everything is broken now.

More than a day has passed since then. I did not post here yesterday.

Once the verses stumbled toward their awkward conclusions, I woke up. That is, if I really had been sleeping. I doubt the trance was actually slumber. More likely, it was an emotional coma, brought on by the late hour and the disturbing television programs of the night before. Augmented, without doubt, by gin & tonic and its earlier companion, red wine. Mixing the stuff is troublesome, and I know it, but it’s not deadly in small doses. I drank the liquid anesthesia sometime before 10:00. And I watched the television screen, fully awake, until 1:45. I consciously decided, just before 2:00, to try to sleep. And I did. But I woke yesterday at 4:00 and got out of bed for all of forty-five seconds, returning with a promise I would get up by 4:45. My promise was worth nothing. I woke up just after 7:00.  After showering and shaving, I dressed in jeans that no longer fit and decided to abandon my usual routine of writing—I had “written” enough during the brief period of sleep. I spent most of the remainder of the morning retrieving medications from the pharmacy and picking up old mail from the post office. And, of course, I tried to document the lyrics to the extent my memory allowed.

A friend brought me two bottles of his hand-crafted wine yesterday afternoon. We drank from a bottle of white Bahama Mama while discussing the species of wood he might use to craft an urn for my wife’s ashes. Another of his wine creations, a chocolate and orange hybrid he says people either love or hate, awaits tasting. While we chatted and sipped the wine, I volunteered I was pondering what I might want to do with what’s left of my life. I suggested to him I could become a geezer gigolo, given the number of single and widowed and otherwise lonely women in the Village; I think I must have been slightly drunk at the time of my suggestion. More realistically, I told him, the idea of a year of travel appeals to me, but COVID-19 and anarchy could effectively eliminate the option.  The few opportunities I have been able to take to meet virtual friends—bloggers and Facebook connections and a few followers of my blog—have confirmed for me that I want more. In some cases, I know what those people look like; I have seen their photographs. But in others the only concepts I have of their appearances are in my imagination. It’s interesting to me that, without even the slightest hints, I envision hair style and eye color, body shape, skin tones, and the shapes of their mouths when they smile. Experience tells me my visions usually are far from reality. Surprises keep me on my toes. Like this one; I have drifted far afield of where I was going when I started this paragraph.

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I continued drinking other wine after my friend left. And I burned incense, despite my earlier misgivings; another friend suggested my reticence about doing that was misplaced; she observed that my wife would rather I burn incense to find comfort than to see me sad and broken. I use the term “friend” even when the word may not be completely appropriate. Calling someone—with whom one has an amiable and casual but not truly deep relationship—an “acquaintance” seems almost derogatory. But calling that person “friend” seems too familiar and a bit disingenuous. I lack the vocabulary I believe is necessary to describe degrees of relationship between close friend and utter stranger. Acquaintance seems to fall much closer to utter stranger than to friend, but what other words are there? The English language should have a spectrum of terms to describe relationships.  Consider the range of terms to describe romantic or sexual relationships: lover, paramour, sweetheart, beau, girlfriend, boyfriend…and on and on and on. But more casual or platonic relationships? Acquaintance, pal, chum, associate…the pickings are slim and awkward.

As I gaze at the lists above, I notice my use of girlfriend and boyfriend. Those terms convey different meanings, depending on the sexual orientation and the sex of the players. Women often use the term girlfriends to describe both friends and acquaintances of the same sex; the term boyfriend seems to suggest a closer, nonplatonic engagement. Many, if not most, men would be hesitant to call a male friend or acquaintance boyfriend. They would be equally hesitant to call a woman girlfriend unless the relationship clearly was romantic and/or sexual in nature. These observations or, more correctly, assumptions rely on my heterosexual identity; I might see things differently if I were gay or bisexual. Who knows? I don’t.

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Sunday, my regular “yard-guy” came by with his colleague to blow leaves and otherwise tend to making my lots look reasonably well-maintained. The cost of the service, while probably reasonable, is considerable. I have, for years, toyed with the idea of buying a gas-powered backpack blower; spending $300-$400 now could save me literally thousands over the course of a few years. Or, the expense might encourage me to attempt to scale steep slopes and walk on unstable ground when I should not. I could die by smashing my head against sharp rocks because of losing my balance and falling. Or, I could move to a place with safer surface area. Or, I could devote time and effort to improving my strength, endurance, and balance, minimizing the likelihood of yard-work-related death or disability. Such seemingly minor matters grow more pressing as years go by. I write this paragraph as if I really am a geezer. I’m not. Yet. My father climbed up on the roof and otherwise took unwise risks well into his late seventies. I’m just past my mid-sixties, yet I seem to think I am more fragile than I am. I’m not fragile. At least not physically. Physically, I am just a tad out of shape; nothing that a bit of discipline and exercise can’t fix. “A tad” may be an understatement. Still, I’m repairable. My legs, especially, are strong and as stable as mesquite. Hmm. Something to not only think about, but do something about.

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I will pick up a grocery order this morning. If I had been thinking clearly when I put in my order, I would have ordered some breakfast sweets. For reasons unknown to me, I lately have an appetite for cinnamon roles or apple crisps or something equally as unhealthy but just as satisfying. But, no. Instead, I ordered radishes and a cucumber and bananas and apples and tomatoes and broccoli and cheese and several inedibles like deodorant and paper towels and Dove bath soap. I tried to order dishwashing tablets, but the store does not have the ones I want in stock. So, Amazon probably will come to the rescue. As it did yesterday, when I ordered a used paperback book and an assortment of incense. My life is too easy; I can order what I want online, while many millions the world over do not have access to adequate clean water and sufficient food to keep them alive. Or maybe my life is not too easy; maybe theirs is just too hard. Or, maybe, we exist at two ends of a spectrum, when a point somewhere in the middle is where all of us should be.

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I finished Bad Blood. I continue watching Hinterland. and Queen’s Gambit and various other things that keep me occupied and fill my mind with unnecessary but deeply appreciated diversions. I want a massage, given by someone who views the process not as a financial transaction, but as a healing gift. Even after acknowledging my life of unnecessary luxury, I still “want” as oppose to “need.” The very idea that I would rather appreciate what I have as opposed to what I desire is yet another “want.” I want to be a different, decent, better person. I want that. But do I need that? Maybe I don’t, but others do. The reward of giving. Reward. We seek rewards, even in altruism. I want a hug. I want an embrace. I need to give an embrace to someone who needs it more than I. This paragraph, like so many before, is attempting to slip into a worm-hole.

And I still need to see my doctor to have him remove skin defects, whether with scalpel or with a red-hot iron or with a sharpened axe and a pocket knife. Maybe later. You’d be surprised there’s so much to be done. Count all the bees in the hive. Chase all the clouds from the sky.

 

 

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