Escape from Dreamland

art by Austin Swinburn

Gochujang Deviled Eggs

For years, I’ve attached a name to the kitchen my wife and I share: French Kangaroo.  One of my nephews created the image to the left at my request; I use it on a Facebook page of the same name, where I show off photos of food we cook. The name is one of several I’ve decided would be in the running if I were ever to open a restaurant. Other prospective names include Scrawl and Cobra. I’ve written about those ideas before; no need to rehash them now. The idea of opening a restaurant of any kind is madness for someone with insufficient funds to invest and no food service experience. That notwithstanding, and regardless of the fact that I’ve let my desire to create ceramic masks dissipate for a couple of years, I am revisiting the idea with varying degrees of seriousness. You might think this a non sequitur. Give me a chance. Either I’ll knit myself a cradle in which my ideas can rest or I’ll braid a hangman’s noose for my neck.

Fake Japanese Kintsukuroi

For some reason, I have in my head this afternoon the notion that I might be approaching the point at which two of my more compelling interests might merge into a passion.  On occasion, I’ll stumble across a ceramic kiln at a garage or estate sale and begin calculating how to fit the thing in my work space (as unwise as that might  be).  Lately, I’ve begun to think, “Hey, if I were to open a restaurant, I might be able to operate a kiln outside, in back, where I can fire masks.”

Here’s where things begin to come together. The only way I’d be able to afford to create a restaurant would involve finding the cheapest, poorest-suited spot I could scratch up. It would require a great deal of work just to bring it up to code, much less make it a place patrons would feel comfortable. I’d have to do the work myself. Inasmuch as I have been having trouble pushing myself to take the risks associated with replacing a a valve stem in a leaky bathroom faucet, that could be problematic. But let me go on. Imagine, if you will, a kiln outside my kitchen where, late at night after the test patrons are gone, I could fire masks I made the week before. Once fired, I could hang them on the blank walls of the restaurant. My decorating problem is resolved! I need to decide, though, which masks pair well with which foods. I suspect the best way to find out is just to lay a bunch of them out in random order.

Yeah, I agree. The idea emerged from the brain of a madman. It has returned from whence it sprang.

Wild-eyed nutcase

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Reviving the Town’s Soul

I’ve played with the town of Struggles, Arkansas, using it in a few vignettes I’ve posted on this blog and in a few stories I’ve drafted. When I conceived of the town, I had a specific picture of the place in mind. I fabricated the town and its inhabitants, the bars and the restaurants and the court-house and police station. I manufactured the industries that had served as its life blood.

The town’s social scene was clear to me. I understood the relationships between wealthy land developers and investors and between business owners and their employees. I knew the economic and civil fabric of the town better than the mayor and the directors, better than the police chief and the head of the health department. I was so knowledgeable because, I created the place in my head.  I gave life to that place and its businesses.

But then, as I watched a century pass, the town changed. The products its manufacturers produced and the services its businesses offered became anachronisms. In a society changing at the speed of thought, their factories and headquarters buildings crumpled into useless hulks and breathed their last breaths. Large-scale lay offs transformed a once-successful town, its skeletal remains barely able to stand. Buildings stood empty and decaying. The mood of the dwindling population darkened. Gloom wove its way into the fabric of every conversation. A sense of the inevitable complete demise of the town was everywhere. A rancid, acidic slurry of hatred and blame for the town’s fate flowed through the streets.

But I had other plans for Struggles. I crafted in my head the town’s last bar, the Fourth Estate Tavern, and its owner and barkeeper, a mysterious character in his mid-sixties named (until I decide to change it) Calypso Kneeblood. Though Kneeblood was just barely scraping by, he frequently spent money he didn’t have to help patrons who frequented his place. Calypso Kneeblood looked like and spoke like a harsh, hard, gnarled old man, but his actions told another story. And the other story was unfolding when I killed Struggles, Arkansas. I closed the Fourth Estate Tavern without even the courtesy to tell Kneeblood nor to say why. In my mind, I sent the characters who frequented the place to the homeless shelter that, I knew, would close soon.

Like everything else in Struggles, the homeless shelter would lose its source of funding and the emotional energy to keep it afloat. Without the stamina to keep the story going, the town would shrivel and die. Struggle, Arkansas would be the victim of progress and apathy, a victim of egotism gone awry and lust for money gone utterly insane.

Ultimately, though, Struggles, Arkansas could have survived, except for the murderer who lived in the town’s soul and allowed his fingers to clasp Struggles’ neck in a choking death grip.

If it’s not clear, the stories in my head about Struggles and the afflictions the town faced were moving a story line forward, but I permitted myself to allow the powers that were pushing Struggles over the edge to win. I stopped writing about it. I starved the town of the energy I had given it.

Fortunately for Struggles (and, perhaps, for me), I think I’m about to resurrect my story, dust it off, and give new energy to the people inside the Fourth Estate Tavern. Calypso Kneeblood and his derelict patrons may yet return to life and may give Struggles, Arkansas another opportunity to come off life support. I know the characters and I know their stories. I don’t know just what’s going to happen, but I think there’s some new energy on the horizon. So, I’ll gather up all the bits and pieces I’ve written about Struggles, stitch them together as appropriate (and discard the detritus), and continue with its efforts to survive.

Onward and upward, as they say. But, this morning, I have to finish making the sausage and cheese balls to take to the UU church. A friend will speak this morning about Black History Month and her life growing up in the segregated south. My wife and I agreed to make the pre-program goodies; she is providing the sweet stuff, I am providing the savory.

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The People Who Feed Us

I’m embarrassed that I have not attached more value and significance to a large group of people who, collectively, play a vitally important part in my life. I’ve come late to an expanding appreciation that the food I eat has a fascinating history involving people I don’t know doing work I can only imagine. I’ve long understood, of course, that food I get from grocery stores and restaurants has a long history of nurturing and production and transportation. But only lately have I thought about it intently.

I have a better understanding of the farmers and ranchers and fishers and others who begin the process of feeding me than I have of some of the other folks involved in putting food on my table. I can imagine people on tractors plowing fields and planting seeds. In my mind’s eye, I see people on horseback rounding up cattle. I can envision people on large fishing trawlers casting nets and hauling them in, emptying their catch into holds filled with ice.

But I have a harder time imagining the people and the processes involved in the next steps. Who kills the cattle and sheep and pigs and how do they do it? Who skins the animals and prepares them for the butcher shops or mass-production outfits that package huge volumes of steaks and roasts? Who does the work involved in curing bacon? And what of the people involved “only” in packaging or the people who transform freshly harvested corn from corn-on-the-cob to creamed and cooked corn in a can? I haven’t even mentioned the migrant workers who do much of the back-breaking work involved in planting and harvesting crops. I could go on and on, all the way from factory workers involved in massive-scale canning to people involved in freezing and packaging frozen food to truckers who deliver the merchandise to grocery stores to the folks who stock shelves and work the cash register. There are so many more I’ve not mentioned—some because I didn’t think of them, others because I don’t even know what role they play or that there even is a role of the sort they play.

My fascination is only partly with the processes involved and the roles people play in those processes. Beyond those aspects of my curiosity is my interest in the specific people who touch my food in one way or another. I’ve been imagining a trek that begins with a conversation with the very first person involved with each item on my plate. For example, I’d like to have a conversation with the farmer responsible for planting (or having planted) the seeds for the tomato plants from which my tomatoes were picked. What’s his life like? Does he wonder about the people who consume the food he grows? Does she think about the importance of her work and how she contributes to averting starvation for so many people. And the person who artificially inseminated the cow that gave birth to the animal from whose carcass my steak was carved—I would like to talk to him. Or perhaps I’d have to go back even further, to the person who “harvested” the semen used in the artificial insemination. You can see, can’t you, how complex this matter of exploring how the food on my table came to be could get? What is the source of the seeds the farmer planted for his crop of eggplant? Who gets those seeds? Who packages them? I want to converse with those people, too.

Many books have been written (mostly in the form of exposé, it seems to me) about the horrors of packing houses and the hellish conditions to which field and factory workers are exposed. I may select a few of those books to read. But I sense, from reading the back covers of several, that I won’t get what I want out of them. In one sense, I’m certain I won’t get what I want—I want to engage in conversations with people involved in getting food to my pantry and my refrigerator. I want to know something about them, about their lives. Do they have children? Are their children aware of the parents’ role in feeding millions of people?

These questions came to me after, one day not long ago, a thought came to me out of the blue: What if all the grocery shelves were empty? What if all the usual sources of food I have always taken for granted dried up? A lot of people have gardens; living on a steep slope of rocky ground makes a garden almost impossible for me. So I couldn’t rely on growing my own food (and, realistically, even if I had access to rich, fertile soil, I suspect I’d starve before my first crop reached maturity).  We’ve allowed ourselves (at least most of us) to come to be utterly reliant on a well-developed system of food production and delivery that, if disrupted, could result in mass starvation. That is not a cheery thought. As I sit here at just after 5:00 a.m. drinking my coffee, I think I’d like to know a little more about the likelihood (or, I hope, the more likely unlikelihood…get it?) that the people involved in the process would allow it to happen.

Something else has been on my mind as I ponder these matters. I suspect most of the people involved in the process of feeding the rest of us don’t realize the importance of their roles. I suspect farmers realize how important a part they play in feeding us; their role is a frequent theme in public policy discussions. But people who work in canneries (are they called canneries anymore?) may consider their jobs just jobs. But without them, the system would not work as well. And the people who design the equipment used, from conveyor belts to food labeling equipment—they, too, make important contributions to the “system” of food delivery. Yet until just a few days ago, I hadn’t thought about it. It was all background noise that didn’t matter…well, it’s not that it didn’t matter, I just hadn’t thought about it.

I said these questions of  came out of the blue. Not really. I had been reading about meditation practices, a topic I’ve explored off and on for many years, and the matter of mindfulness was top of mind. I was attempting to “be present, in the here and now” as I was having dinner. That’s when the issue really entered my mind. I paid close attention to what I was doing. Who was involved in the process of getting my meal to me, I asked myself. That’s where it all began. I blame the Buddha and Ram Dass for my present fixation on the food production and delivery system!

If nothing else, my recent preoccupation with how food reaches my table has raised my awareness about the many, many people who play a part in ensuring I am well fed. Every one of them matter. And, I suppose, my interest in actually talking to them, conversing with them, is based on wanting to tell them they are appreciated—I appreciate them—for what they do. I realize, as I reflect on what I’ve written here, that I have simply never thought about so many of the people who play a part in feeding me, the people in the middle of the process, especially. I’m thinking about them now.

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Scurrying Between Pity and Decency and Rage

I just sent a long email, and a text message, to a friend I’ve not seen in a long time. As we grow older and our friends morph into the diaspora of the aged, I wonder whether it’s safe to make close connections at any point in life. Though that has rarely been an issue with me because I’ve been either unable to make those connections or unwilling to expose myself to what that could mean, it’s on my mind now. Invariably, friends and family move away or die, leaving empty spaces impossible to fill with new acquaintances. I can’t think of a single person I call friend today who I knew thirty years ago. I have friends I’ve known for twenty years and more, but they are part of that diaspora of friends, aged or aging, who wander in search of success, money, power, decency…who knows what?

Tonight, I feel sad and alone, though that’s probably just me lavishing self-pity on myself. I wish I could talk to someone who might understand, though, how rough it feels to be lonely even when surrounded by loving and lovely people. That’s not the way things should be, but occasionally, at least, that’s the way things are.

I have friends who will die soon. That’s hard to know. But it’s not impossible to accept. It’s not impossible to accept that I may die soon (though it’s not in my plans).  Would that we would all try our best to sooth the experience of one another’s time on his planet. Is that too much to ask? Wouldn’t we all experience more happiness, greater joy, if we just accepted and nurtured one another? Well, sure. But there are those among us who need superiority. Ach. That’s why they make drugs that make euthanasia more than a thought, but a reality.

—————-EDIT OF FEBRUARY 9—————–

I do, of course, have a very few friends who I’ve known for more than thirty years. God, I’ve known a few for around forty years. But last night, when I was writing this, I was in the midst of a strange tangle of self-imposed detachment. I do that from time to time. I’ve broken out of that web of emotional cables.

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Uprooted by Wind and Madness

Last night, I heard heavy rain slam against the composition shingles above my head. I wished I were a child again, the sort of child who would go outside to experience that cold anger of the winter sky. But I’m no longer a child. I avoid walking outside in the cold, looking skyward as frigid raindrops pelt my face. In so many ways, I hate growing old and inflexible, chained to my comfort like a man in bondage shackled to an immovable slave-auction oak. Fear of discomfort, I guess, bars me from the experiences I wish I wanted. If I had courage, I’d have walked outdoors into the bone-chilling wind and luxuriated in the experience, a testament to my strength and stamina. But I lack courage in the same way I lack vigor and endurance. Ach, what happened to that brave young man who wanted to experience everything?

I watched the last episode of the second season of Good Behavior last night. I relate too well to the character of Letty. She and I are water brothers, soul spirits, keepers of the ugliness that binds together broken people like glue. As I watched the episode unfold, I drank my glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend and thought to myself:

“If my internal life weren’t such a tragedy, I’d share it. If my reality weren’t such a cruel story, I’d use it as a lesson. If people who know me realized how empty and aching I am, they would avoid me like an acrid wind carrying sarin gas and the seeds of bubonic plague.”

Yes, I get just a little dramatic in my self-pity. If I had the stamina and the intellectual strength, I’d turn my thoughts into drama and heartache worth sharing. But I can’t keep my mind focused for more than 15 minutes at a time. I get bored. Even with fascinating things. Something, methinks, is awry inside my head. If it weren’t for my ADHD (or whatever it is that keeps me from completing tasks like shaving or finishing breakfast), I might have been an esteemed linguist or an internationally famous detective or beekeeper. But, my thoughts ricochet like bullets inside my head, never staying in one place long enough to mean anything more than an echo.

Yesterday, I wrote about an “art inspiration” event at which writers viewed the work of an artist and then, using that art as a trigger, wrote something inspired by the art. I included the post that was “inspired” by that art. This morning, I’ll include here the piece I was inspired to write from the second piece of art.

As I explained yesterday, “The…painting shows two very colorful but very frightening clowns, one of whom is baring sharp teeth behind what I read as an evil grin. The other clown suggests, to me, an expression of insanity. The artist calls this piece ‘Clownopin.‘” I had a hard time with this one. It inspired several narrative fiction vignettes, but the piece that I finally read to the group of writers involved in the inspiration exercise was this poem, if that’s what it is:

I knew a man who thrilled young children with exaggerated
antics, a man with painted clothes and a maniacal wig,
who drew laughter from young throats and love from
tender minds, gently scaring children into delighted squeals.

I knew a man whose heart was woven from sunlight and love,
a man whose perpetual smile was painted on his face with
brushes made of compassion and adoration , using
pigments mined from quarries filled with lavender and lilac.

But I knew a woman whose personality was stitched from
weather-worn steel and braided brass, a woman whose
compassion dissolved before birth in a caustic bath of
corrosive, acidic amniotic fluid and palpable hatred.

I knew a woman whose disdain for empathy was etched
on her face like dates carved on a granite tombstone,
her sickeningly luminous derision as impossibly bright
as a deviant neon peacock preening for a public execution.

I knew a woman who cackled at others’ misfortune, her
throaty laugh riddled with phlegm and the odor of stale
tobacco, a mist of spittle spraying from her lips with
every vile cough and every shrill, convulsive chuckle.

I knew a woman who cared for nothing but herself,
a woman whose emptiness was as wide as the sky, a
woman who smothered sympathy under an air-tight
blanket of cruelty and scorn before it was born.

Still, I knew a man whose whimsical costume and silly laugh
hid sinew and force, sculpted muscle and a booming voice
with the strength to rip through barriers between
mistakes and madness, misdeeds and malefaction.

I knew a man whose depth of compassion was surpassed
only by his capacity for unbridled rage and whose thirst
for retribution could be quenched only by blood and whose
sense of justice was stronger than any legislative panacea.

That woman made a mistake, mocking a child at a town
circus. She made a mistake by failing to look behind her
as she walked home that night, a man following her, a
man with sharpness in his pocket and a mission in his mind.

That monstrous woman who spread misery with abandon,
who reveled in causing pain and whose happiness grew from
sowing seeds of sorrow in her wake—that woman is no more, thanks to a straight razor and a gentle man, Clownopin.

I wish I could have posted the two images with my two posts, but I didn’t bother to ask my artist neighbor before I started writing these posts. Maybe later.

 

 

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The Awful Secret

A tiny knot of local would-be writers has been playing with the idea of strengthening our skills by marrying art with writing. The idea is to use a piece of art (painted by the husband of one of the women in the group) as an inspiration for writing. A trigger, if you will. The artist and his writer wife live next door to me. He is a prolific and highly talented artist, so there’s plenty of art from which to choose as the inspirational trigger. In preparation of the gathering (which took place yesterday), my neighbor suggested that she and I both pick a painting and write something, then share it with the group. I picked two. The first painting shows two wide-eyed boys, one whispering to the other, standing in front of a female, who could be an older girl or a young woman. Her hand is held up to just below her face. She seems to be either mulling something over or using her index finger in a physical way to say “hush.” I may not be describing that well; I hope I’ve painted the picture, as it were. The painting is entitled “The Awful Secret.” The other painting shows two very colorful but very frightening clowns, one of whom is baring sharp teeth behind what I read as an evil grin. The other clown suggests, to me, an expression of insanity. The artist calls this piece “Clownopin.”

For lack of anything better to post here today (due, in part, to an attitude that seems to be trying to mimic the drabness of the cold, grey day), I’ll post the outcome that emerged from my thoughts about “The Awful Secret.”


The Awful Secret

Sierra Bunkerhouse had no proof of her husband’s infidelity until she overheard Cyrus say to her son, Calvin, when he thought she was out of earshot, “I told you your father was foolin’ around with Kenny’s mother. Did you see him kiss her a few minutes ago? That weren’t no peck on the cheek.”

Cyrus was Calvin’s new friend, who had moved in only a month earlier, from down the block. Kenny was the boy next door, whose mother was Lynn. Sierra had been concerned that her husband, Mike, was being a little too friendly with Lynn. Now, though, she thought her suspicions were confirmed.

Sierra didn’t hear the remainder of the whispered conversation.

“You dimwit, that wasn’t Kenny’s mother, it was my mom. Kenny’s mother wasn’t even in the kitchen.”

“Ummm. Uhhh. Oh. Well, they look a lot alike and—”

—“You’re a dimwit. And you’re a blind dimwit.”

The intensity of Sierra’s anger at the challenge to her marriage filled her brain to the exclusion of every other emotion for the rest of the evening.  The bastard. I ought to divorce Mike and clean him out of every penny he has to his name. Or maybe I’ll let Gary kick Mike’s ass and then divorce Lynn.

The next morning, as she was rinsing breakfast dishes and angrily gazing out the kitchen window toward the house next door, Sierra saw Lynn’s husband, Gary, step out of his back yard and cross in front of his kitchen window toward the front of the house, carrying golf clubs.

A moment after Gary disappeared from view, Sierra heard Mike’s voice behind her. “Hon, I’m going next door to replace a washer in Gary and Lynn’s kitchen faucet.”

Sierra spun around, her eyes wide and her nostrils flared. “Why the hell can’t Gary fix the damned faucet?”

Mike’s eyes sprung open wide. His eyebrow snapped into an arch. “Where did that come from?”

“Let’s just say I’m a little pissed off about something.”

“What is it? Is it something I did?”

Sierra imagined that her hot cheeks must be glowing red. “Just go ahead! Go fix the bloody faucet,” she snarled.

Mike cocked his head and opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, but then seemed to change his mind. Finally, spoke. “Okay. When I get back, talk to me about what’s got you upset, okay?” Mike hesitated for a moment, then continued. “You know, Gary isn’t a handyman. I told him I’d do it for him.”

Sierra, still feeling the heat in her cheeks, turned back to the sink to silently converse with her husband. Sure ‘Gary’ asked you. Do you think I’m stupid? She pause for another moment, and then said,  “Yeah. I bet he can’t even see something’s broken right in front of him. Go ahead.”

Mike sighed. “Yeah, right. Okay. Back in a bit.”

Sierra stood staring blankly out the window. Her emotions bounced between anger and despondency, hurt and rage, and then settled into numbness. She watched as a silhouette moved back and forth behind the slats of Lynn’s kitchen miniblinds. I wonder what she’s doing …Probably putting up last night’s dishes,’ she thought, as she watched the repetitive motions behind the barely open mini-blinds. Then she saw another silhouette, a taller one, cross in front of the window. The second silhouette raised its arms and merged with the first one in what was unmistakably an embrace.

Sierra turned away from the window. How dare the bastard take her in his arms right in front of me! She strode toward the door, but stopped midway and turned around. She shuffled back to the kitchen table and sat down. For five minutes she sat, her anger brewing into a dark, blind rage. Sierra stood slowly and walked to the kitchen counter. She clenched her jaws and opened the knife drawer. She drew out the long slicing knife from its slot.

***

Sierra walked across the lawn to the neighbors’ house. The knife in her right hand, Sierra reached with her left hand and quietly turned the knob of Gary and Lynn’s front door. She crept inside and closed the door, taking care to avoid causing the latch-set to “click.” Once inside, she heard the low murmur of indistinct voices from the kitchen. With steely patience, and careful not to make a sound, she tiptoed to the dining area just around the corner from the kitchen. She stopped and strained to listen, when she heard Lynn giggle and say, “Don’t get fresh me with me. Kenny might see you and wonder what’s going on.”

Sierra’s deliberate quietude erupted into a banshee’s scream. “I’ll kill both of you!” She sprang around the corner, the knife raised high above her head.

Frightened screams filled her ears as the scene before her unfolded. Gary shrieked, his arms pulling Lynn close to him. His scream was loud, but Lynn’s howl almost matched its volume. Mike, half his body stuck beneath the sink, responded to the commotion by lifting his head, smashing it against the bottom of the cast iron vessel. Little Kenny, who had been sitting at the kitchen table on the far end of the room, sprang out of his seat as if he had been launched from a slingshot.

Sierra was stunned by what she saw in front of her. She looked at the knife in her hand, then at the frightened people in front of her, then back at her hand. She collapsed onto the floor, sobbing. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I…I…I…I… thought L..L..L..Lynn was having an affair with M..M..M..Mike. I was sure of it. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’ll go now. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry!” She turned and ran out of the house, sobbing hysterically.

***

Lynn turned and saw her son standing, eyes wide, at the end of the kitchen table. “Come here, Kenny. Everything’s going to be fine. Ms. Bunkerhouse just got confused. We’re all just fine. Don’t worry. Gary,” she said to her husband, “talk to Kenny. Make sure he’s okay.”

Gary put his arm around Kenny’s shoulder and led him toward the back door. “Let’s go outside and talk, son.”

Mike pulled himself out from beneath the sink and slowly rose to his feet. He rubbed the top of his head.

Lynn strained to see the growing knot on the top of his head. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just a bump. But I don’t know about Sierra. She was ready to kill us.”

Lynn nodded. “Uh huh. This little episode is another reason we have to do something about both of them, baby, or this could get ugly.” She put her arms around Mike’s waist, leaned into him, and kissed him on the mouth.

 

 

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Hiding Behind Rainbows with a Machete in Hand

I dabble in reality the way other people I know dabble in fiction. Those other people write an occasional piece of fiction but they spend the majority of their writing time solidly entrenched in the real world. I, on the other hand, spend most of my time—not just writing time, mind you—in a world that exists only in my head. I find that world, even with its cast of demented characters who sometimes do unspeakable things, more serene than the one I view through my eyes. I have imaginary friends, imaginary enemies, imaginary lovers (don’t tell my wife), and imaginary solutions to problems that exist only in my imagination. It’s quite nice, actually, because when things begin to get too intense, I can slide back in to the real world. There’s a risk, of course, that I might slide back in at precisely the wrong time and step in front of a moving automobile but that’s a risk I am willing to take. On the other hand, some of the characters in my head tend to be so dark that I have to leave them alone and lock them away for a time while I visit with unicorns, leprechauns, and English-speaking bulldogs. By the way, this paragraph is my way of dabbling in reality.

Just this morning, I was tromping through a fictional place with a fictional character. I’ll take you there for a few moments.

I wake early almost every day. I used to think it was a curse from my time in Afghanistan, but now I consider it normal. On those rare occasions when I sleep past 5:00 a.m., I worry that I might be coming down with something. Ach. That’s not really true. I don’t really worry. I hope. I hope my late awakening is a sign. A symptom of a fatal disease that will end my life. I once made the mistake, after waking late one morning shortly before my annual physical, of telling my doctor about the experience and how I felt. He said he thought I was depressed and prescribed an antidepressant. He was right. I was depressed. I’ve always been depressed.

When I slip out from under the covers and sit up on the side of the bed, my wife moves slightly, but doesn’t awaken. She won’t be up for several hours. I pull on a pair of sweat pants and slide my favorite threadbare sweatshirt over my head. I listen to her soft breathing, synchronized with the rhythmic crackling patter of the white noise machine next to the bed.

I step out into the living area and close the bedroom door behind me, taking care not to let the latch set click. My eyes are adjusted for the darkness, so I maneuver the room with ease without turning on the overhead light. The dim blue light from the thermostat and the pale green light from the clock above the oven door and the red glow from the power strip next to the television are like beacons for me. The house is cool, the thermostat set at sixty-two degrees overnight. Even at 4:00 a.m., the quiet hour, the house plays a nocturne. The gentle buzz of the refrigerator. The noise machine, like rain, behind the bedroom door. Creaks from the wood floor. Wind jostling the screen on the back door.  I make my way to the kitchen counter, flip on and under-cabinet light, and drop a pod of French roast into the coffee maker. I wait until the machine spits and sputters the last drops of liquid into my cup.

The under-cabinet light is sufficient to illuminate my way from the kitchen to my office on the other side of the house. I sit at my desk and stare at the black screen. Staring back at me is my reflection. My hair is screaming for a comb and my face and neck are too plump and pasty, testament to my recent habit of eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Mottled black and white whiskers hide my skin, despite the fact that I shaved eighteen hours earlier. I stir the computer awake with a movement of my mouse, and open a document. A heading on the first page reads, “Here’s Why.” I’ve been working on this document for almost six months. When the time comes, I want my wife to understand why I committed suicide. I want her to know she was not to blame. I want to explain my reasons in sufficient detail that she will come to the conclusion that my suicide was the best, most logical course of action for me to take. Over the course of the past six months, it has occurred to me that my suicide note, now at two hundred and thirty pages and growing, is perhaps too long. But I to say too much for it to be any shorter.

***

Carolyn Stafford learned of her husband’s suicide while shopping for groceries. She had arrived at the store only fifteen minutes earlier after driving half an hour across town, when the intercom interrupted her shopping.

“Carolyn Stafford, please come to the customer service counter for an important message.”

Carolyn wheeled her shopping cart to the front of the store. Two police officers were standing at the customer service counter.

“Ms. Stafford?”

“Yes. What’s wrong?”

“Let’s talk over in the manager’s office,” one of the officers said, as he gently took her left elbow in his right hand and guided her behind the counter and into an office.

The next several days were a blur to Carolyn. Thinking back to the week of his death, her memory was foggy except for the day she listened to the tape of her husband’s call to the police.

“My name is Gregory Stafford. Your officers will find my body in the woods about fifty yards behind the parking lot of Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 750 Eastglynn Road. Please have officers go inform my wife, Carolyn Stafford. She is grocery shopping at the Publix on Crescent Parkway. Tell her I’ve written a very long explanation and she’ll find the file open on my computer. And tell her I love her and that this was for the best.”

The dispatcher tried to talk to him, but he didn’t respond. He simply said, “Did you get all that down?” When she replied that she had, he hung up his cell phone. Officers found his body a few minutes later, exactly where he said. Next to his body was his cell phone, the gun he used to shoot himself, and a sheet of paper, the text of his phone message printed neatly on it in sixteen point type.

The officers who found his body asked the dispatcher to send someone to inform Carolyn.

Like most of my writing, I have no idea whether this will lead anywhere. I own literally hundreds of vignettes that never turned into full-blown stories. Some days, that bothers me. Other days, like today, it doesn’t matter a whit. I like to write, so I start to write. I just don’t seem to like to finish.

Yesterday, I was unhappy with myself for jumping around between poetry and fiction and travelogue and stream-of-consciousness story-telling and political rants and just being an emotional fire hose. Today, I am perfectly comfortable in the role I described. Which means, I guess, I’m psychotic. So shoot me. Not really. I think I’ll entitle this post “Hiding Behind Rainbows with a Machete in Hand.”

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Spinning Broken Webs

Some days…or weeks or months…I’m ashamed to claim that I am a blogger. I miss posting for days or weeks. And then, when I do, my posts are so random that I cannot in good conscience suggest to a living soul that anything I’ve said is worth reading. I post recipes and short stories and poems and political rants. I post emotional screeds that, while I’m writing them, reveal my emotional depth but later, on reading them, suggest they were written by a teenager who has not yet escaped the scourge of pubescent hormones gone haywire. I post such absurd bullshit that no thinking person would ever accuse me of having thoughts worth serious consideration.

My blog can be—often is—more emotional vomit than carefully crafted thoughts worth thinking, much less reading. Yet I continue to write. I continue to pour my heart and soul onto the ‘page’ in what I can only characterize as a plea for someone, anyone, to read it and tell me what it is I’m trying to do. But I’m losing the energy to do it. I’m losing the will to expose my innumerable flaws to the universe, despite the fact that the universe at large is unaware of what I’ve posted. The fact is, the universe could stumble across it and could discover a lunatic is loose on the interwebs. I might be tracked down and arrested for my incoherent thoughts. My ramblings and rants and screams could land me in a psychiatric ward or, worse, a prison cell.

Yet I keep doing it. I keep writing. I continue to reveal my overabundance of stupidity and emotional baggage to anyone with the misfortune of stumbling upon my words. Either I’m inconsolably stupid or irrevocably dumb. Or both. Or a combination, a stew of inferior intellect and pitiful emotion.

So, with all the reasons not to write, why do I continue to do it? I do it because, goddamn it, one day a gem might spill from my fingers. Or an idea worth sharing might drift from my inadequate mind onto the screen. Or I might actually be growing in worth with each stroke of my fingers on the keyboard so that, one day, what I write might have value to someone who finds a ribbon of hope in what I say.

I know, as do most writers, the likelihood that my words will ever mean anything to anyone is small. I know my words likely will disappear from the internet, from pages, from thoughts, from files, and from memories. But, still, don’t we all have to try to make a difference? Mustn’t we all attempt to use whatever the tools or weapons available to us to encourage this broken world to fix itself and move forward?

I am a skeptic. I don’t hold out much hope for humanity. I think we’re sliding at a much faster pace than anyone might have imagined a year ago toward utter and complete chaos and, ultimately, annihilation. But my skepticism notwithstanding, don’t we have an obligation to try to change course? Should we not do everything in our power to prove this moronic skeptic wrong?

I cry too easily, laugh too often, and express my opinions too freely. None of my failures matter. I am just one man, one man who’s done little to change the world. Even my words fail to spur anyone on to action. I continue to be ashamed that I’ve done nothing. I watch Rome burn and simply wring my hands. I’m ashamed, but what CAN I do? What should we all do?

Phil, I offer my apologies for inserting my drivel into your blogfest. But you ASKED. (I will withdraw upon request. Maybe even absent request.)

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Last Man Down

“On the cusp of my departure, my words are hollow and weak, as I struggle to describe the man I wished I’d been, a speck of the decent man I failed to be. I tried but I failed. I could not overcome whatever it was that took hold of my decency and held it deep under a thick slurry of ugliness until it drowned. On this day of my demise, I attempt to express regret too deep and too profound for words, far too late to be believed by people who I wished could hear and believe my contrition. The depth of the anguish I feel towers above me alongside the guides of the guillotine’s blade, the blade I so richly deserve.”

Thus were the last words written by Theodore Crawford, who was put to death by guillotine in Struggles, Arkansas. His words of penitence truly were hollow. He wrote them in an effort to change the future into a time when, if he was remembered at all, he would  be remembered as a man with a heart. He was not. Crawford was as bad a man as ever lived. He did, indeed, deserve to die, but not necessarily in such a quick and humane manner as afforded by the guillotine. But that’s for another time.

Crawford’s ‘trial’ was by kangaroo court. Six self-appointed members of a jury allowed Crawford no defense. Truth be told, though, even a legitimate jury trial would certainly have found the man guilty of capital murder. He had walked into a bank in the town in broad daylight and, without provocation, shot and killed two tellers. He left the bank without even asking for money. His motive was revenge. The bank president had rejected his request for a loan a week earlier.

By the time Theodore Crawford committed his last hideous act, Struggles, Arkansas no longer had a police force, a prosecutor, or a justice system. Even the bank in which he murdered two tellers no longer dealt in real U.S. dollars. Instead, traded in Strugglers, a pseudo currency created by the bank when its customers had no more legitimate U.S. currency in their accounts.

The guillotine used for Crawford’s beheading was built by Jason Boxwelter, a welder,  blacksmith, and occasional executioner. Boxwelter, though, did not drop the blade that killed Crawford. The man who did that was Moses Perkins, the foreman of the jury that convicted Crawford.

As you might have guessed by now, this story is going nowhere. I’m simply typing for finger exercise. I think my fingers are strong enough for this morning, so I’ll stop here for now.

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Exploring the World of Wine

Last night’s World Tour of Wines stopped off in Auckland, New Zealand, with a couple of side trips to Christchurch and Wellington. We sampled wines from only a few of New Zealand’s seven hundred wineries; I suppose the only way we’ll get a full grasp of the country’s diverse assortment of wines is to organize a wine tour of the country, which my wife suggested last night we do. She was joking. I am not. The only thing stopping me from doing it is the lack of an abundance of money crying out for discretionary spending. Well, a few of the people at our table last night said they would not go because the time involved in travel would be too great. Crybabies. I would happily stow away in a cardboard box in the underbelly of a slow airborne freighter to make the journey.

The star of the show from last night, without question, was The Crossings Pinot Noir. The description provided to us reads as follows: “This expressive Pinot Noir has lifted aromas of black plums and violets. Ripe berry fruit flavours combine with savoury notes on the palate to produce a wine that is both elegant and approachable. Enjoy with dishes such as lamb rack, roast pork, or duck breast.” The pretentious, turgid descriptive language notwithstanding, the wine was very, very good. However, at the temporarily discounted price of $20 per bottle (tax included), I doubt I’ll be buying much. Or any. I had a conversation with one of the guys at our table about wine prices. I discovered that he and I are on the same page with respect to “daily drinker” wine prices; $10 to $15 is pretty much our range. However, keeping a stellar bottle,  like this one, that costs more around for special occasions is reasonable. So, I haven’t decided. The price does include tax, after all.

We started the evening with a Kim Crawford Pinot Noir, at $19 (including tax). It was decent, but it paled in comparison to The Crossings.  However, the Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay ($21 per bottle, inclusive) was a huge hit at our table. Even my wife, who’s not at all fond of chardonnay, liked it. But, again, at $21 per bottle, it’s outside of my price parameters; but if she wanted a bottle, I’d break my own rules.  After the chardonnay, we sampled a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. The price was more in line ($15.75 per bottle), but I was not impressed, personally. I much prefer other New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, such as Babich, Oyster Bay, and New Harbor; and those are less expensive, if only by a touch. The last wine of the evening was Matua Pinot Noir Rosé ($14.75, inclusive). Decent, in my view, but not outstanding.

Now, to the menu. The first course was ostensibly kiwi and strawberries with assorted cheeses. And it was. Except there were no strawberries. But it did come with crackers, which were not listed on the menu. And the goat cheese was especially good. The other cheese was, we were told, a New Zealand cheddar; it was good, too. Next up was “New Zealand Salad,” which combined a nice red lettuce with goat cheese and half a canned pear (which was very good, notwithstanding being canned) and drizzled with balsamic dressing.

The main course was New Zealand venison (the caterer put the boxes in which the venison was shipped on the table as evidence of the meat’s pedigree) with juniper berry glaze. The venison was farm-raised, so it had no game taste; it tasted like beef to me. While it was very good, I really prefer wild venison, but I know it’s impractical (perhaps illegal?) for a caterer to serve wild venison. The menu described it as being accompanied by parsley butter potatoes and fresh spinach. And it was. Except there was no spinach. The dessert was a pavolova, topped with a lemon curd, whipped cream and berries. Maybe it had berries. I don’t remember.  I don’t think we’ve been to a single World of Wine event at which the printed menu corresponded to what was actually served. But that’s all right; we go for the conversation as much as for the food and wine.

The evening wasn’t entirely about enjoying food and wine and laughter. Our group actually made plans for the future. Well, the plans involved food and wine and laughter. My wife suggested we all meet again at our house in February for an evening of heavy hors d’oeuvres and Malbec wine. Everyone is to bring a bottle of Malbec and a plate of hors d’oeuvres of their choice. We’ll sample the wine and select our favorites and will indulge ourselves in assorted goodies from the kitchens of all involved.

We learned that the next World of Wines event will be on March 15, with the spotlight on South Africa. Naturally, our group will plan to participate in that event, as well. And then, in May, we’ll turn our attention to the USA, with a May 17 event focused on California wines of the north coast. Then, on August 30, we’ll have a special event with a representative of a Sierra foothills winery, from which all of the evening’s wines will be served, will be present. On September 27, we’ll train our palates on the wines of Washington and, then, on October 25, we’ll move on the wines of New York. I like the direction this thing is heading. However, I have to say I think it might be just as much fun, if not more so, to do it in our homes. I suppose the February event will give us a glimpse of what that might be like.

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Bitterly Wonderful

Where would the world be in the absence of glass and screen? How would we let light enter our homes in the absence of glass? Would we live closed off from the world, choosing darkness over exposure to weather and insects or would we tolerate what, today, seems intolerable? I am afraid I am among the many who don’t take enough time to think about the little things. The things that make my life far easier to endure than it would be in their absence. I don’t need to look to a supernatural being to thank for the invention of glass or screen. I don’t need to explore the history of glass and screen—to find a name to which to assign credit for their invention—to appreciate and be thankful for their existence. It’s enough to know that, at some time in the distant past, people had good ideas that impact my life today. That’s true not only of glass and screen, but rubber and sheetrock, ceramics and saws, food preservation and light bulbs; the list is endless. This morning, I am especially grateful that someone, at some time, decided that roasted and ground coffee beans, combined with water, would make a bitterly wonderful beverage. I am glad to be alive, though I wouldn’t know it if I weren’t.

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Scorn

You look around you and you see people who could have been friends but are not. They don’t reject you, they simply don’t embrace you. They are not bad, they do not wish you ill, it’s only that you do not fit the profile of “friend” they unknowingly use to measure the people they encounter. You, too, opt not to label them friends. You label no one friend. You try to understand the meaning of friendship, but it seems to you that friendship is deeper and more entwined with intellect and emotion than they do. They don’t see that friendship merges acquaintance with family in a stew of love, a broth in which one is willing to offer one’s existence in return for a friend’s happiness. That is love, I suppose. Love dismisses self and, instead, attaches supreme value to “other” in a way that’s inexplicable to those who have not experienced it. Love requires the giver of the emotion to overlook and dismiss his or her own emotion; suicide, which might relieve one’s pain, becomes an impossible option in the face of love, because it would cause pain in one in whom one places more value than his or her own life. Yet there is that perpetual circle of strangling logic; is my presence or my absence the least painful?

These things on my mind suggest I have some issues of my own, I suppose. And I suppose they’d be right. But my pain, if that’s what it is, is far less than the real pain of people who are dealing with gut-wrenching psychological issues. So my little bleat is an inconsiderate whine that deserves nothing but scorn and utter disdain. If people cried more, the world would be a little less parched and dry.

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Affixing Blame on Tuesday

I resent Facebook. Facebook extracted depth from communication, replacing meaning with volume. Depth now splashes in shallow Facebook pools, trying in vain to find its way to the life-sustaining oxygen of conversation. Conversation that died at Facebook’s hand.  Conversation withered in the absence of air, replaced by meaningless chirps—the sorts of noises made by wind-up birds whose wings keep the attention of infants for a few moments while their parents try to breathe. But the parents don’t breathe; they perish while listening to the shrill noise of artificial love-bots.

You can’t have a conversation about suicide on Facebook. You can’t discuss the relative merits or shame of polygamy or marital infidelity. You can’t explore the wrenching heartbreak of realizing fifty years of one’s life were spent in a wasteful fog. You can’t even probe the psychological roller coaster of child-rearing in a way that mines real information in place of socially induced emotional obligation. Facebook and its brethren are, for lack of a better analogy, parasitic viruses that suck the life out of intellect. They calcify the flexibility of thought, replacing ideas with rigid shards of imbecilic dogma. They petrify creative ideas, substituting group-think for consensus and contempt for compromise.

The reason I remain on Facebook is that I am simply a member of the mindless flock. I go where like-minded idiots go to seek evidence they are appreciated by similar like-minded idiots who populate the flock. I go to lap up the news of the flock that would be absent but for the flood gates of Facebook, releasing a torrent of personalized entertainment pretending to be information. What an embarrassment! What a pathetic scramble, what an absurd scurry toward meaningless affirmation! The crap I post on Facebook is almost entirely superficial, as is the vast majority of crap most everyone else posts. The stuff that emerges from real thoughts goes onto private screens that no one sees or, on occasion in my case, finds its way here to this blog that a precious few ever see. They are the ones whose opinions matter, not the Facebook addicts who scroll through inane posts and “like” them only to attest they, too, have witnessed my (and others’) embarrassing pleas for acknowledgement. Yet Facebook, the heroin of the ego, won’t allow us simply to cut back. We must either go cold turkey or substitute Twitter or Instagram or some other such methadone wannabe of social media.

Isn’t it ironic that I pounce on the evils and addictive nature of social media while writing in a blog—a highly personal social media device? Is it simply a matter of resentment that other social media get more air play? Am I envious of the traffic numbers of other social media, just whining because my piece of the social media sphere goes unnoticed, while linguistic diarrhea in the form of Facebook posts is smeared up and down freeways and side streets and back alleys worldwide?

Here I am, again, mindlessly barking at the wind, bellowing at shadows cast by leaves blowing in the breeze. What the hell. It occupies my mind and my time. Better to argue with the voices in my head than get into a shouting match with heavily armed dullards driving against traffic in the Walmart parking lot.

I’m wound up of late. I don’t know quite why. I’m just angry and anxious to move someplace new, to be around people who haven’t yet disappointed me and whom I have yet to disappoint.

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Edging Toward Utopia

When we moved to Hot Springs Village, I assumed we’d identified our last house and our last community. Speaking only for myself, and not for my wife, I am having second thoughts. I don’t know this is the place for me for the long term. I think I would be more comfortable in an environment in which more of the populace shared my morals and my values and my beliefs. I think I’d find another place—where intellect is valued and nourished and where diversity is encouraged and celebrated—more comfortable. I suppose part of my shifting frame of mind is due to laziness. I don’t want to have to try to change minds by educating people who need compassion. I don’t want to have to struggle through the ugliness that circles around irrationally conservative drains. I need, or at least want, peace. I want love and acceptance and appreciation…not just for me, but for everyone. I want the kind of world the Unitarian Universalist church claims to want. Tolerance, decency, forgiveness, appreciation…you know, the ideal in which all people get along together in accepting reverence. But I know, though I wish it were not so, that no such ideal place exists. It could be. If only people would collectively seek it out. But people are not the kind of neighbors I’d want to hang around. Our neighbors are, by and large, deviants from another galaxy. At least I hope they are. I’d hate to think they are “of us.” Because that would paint an ugly picture of us. This is a long, strange way of saying I think I’m going to suggest to my wife that we look at our options. That is, moving away to another place where utopia might be just a little closer.

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African Eatery

We’re going to lunch today at a new African restaurant in Alexander, AR (AKA suburban Little Rock). The place is called Kontiki African Restaurant and today is its grand opening. My spouse is rightfully cautious about going to restaurants during the first several weeks of their opening, given the need to work out the “kinks,” but we’re going anyway, inasmuch as some friends alerted us to the existence of the place and are willing to go along on this first day of full-on operation. I gather the place had a soft opening about a week ago and, from what I read, it went well. My first thought when I heard “African restaurant” was that my dream had been fulfilled; finally, a place to get Ethiopian food in Arkansas. But, no, that is not the case. Kontiki will serve west African food, but that’s all right, too. I am familiar with some of the menu items (e.g., jollof rice and fufu), but don’t know much else about west African cuisine, so this will be a treat.

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Someone New

If the day fails to set your soul on fire,
return to the mattress and sleep.
If the week fails to give you hope,
take refuge in a memory and rest there.
If the month fails to give you solace,
seek out old photos that recall happiness.
If the year fails to sweep away sadness,
look for a way to begin again, as someone new.

The life you’ve lived thus far is no
prescription for the future.
The life you’ve lived thus far does not
shackle you to the past.
The life you’ve lived thus far holds
no power over you that you don’t give it.
The life you’ve lived thus far is only
a prelude to the life you’ll live as someone new.

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The Bootstrap Boys – Poverty Line

This video was played during the collection for a charity at the Unitarian Universalist Village Church in Hot Springs Village, AR last Sunday (and a Sunday before). I love the music!

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I Need to Open a Restaurant

The painters came yesterday. Three of them. Father and two sons. One of the sons is the man in charge. Our front door is no longer bubble gum pink; it is belligerent red, an aggressive tone that cautions all visitors to accept the supremacy of the residents or face the ugly consequences of a bad decision. Most of the work yesterday involved taping. But there were some actual painting. Some of the ugliest scarred baseboards were coated with white paint, white paint that matched the trim color before scuff marks obliterated it.

The painters will be back today, perhaps. But that’s not a sure thing, as snow coats the roads and temperatures are expected to remain well below freezing.   I will not blame the painters if they don’t return today; instead, I will open their buckets and paint in their stead. No, I won’t. You know I won’t.  My knees won’t stand for it.

While the painters were mussing with our house, we went to Hot Springs to buy groceries. But before groceries, we had lunch at SqzBx (you can call it Squeeze Box), the new brewery/pizza joint on Ouachita Ave. It is my kind of place; I told my lovely wife I would call it my “Third Place,” except I do not have enough money to spend every afternoon there, eating pizza and drinking beer. But if I did I would. Beer was decent, pizza was excellent, atmosphere was (for inexplicable reasons) perfect. Oh, then we went grocery shopping. We bought all sorts of things, but not enough. I want to go out again soon and buy more; fish, pork, chicken, vast quantities of vegetables. Oh, and a chest (or upright) freezer. We need this thing—you know, to store the vast quantities of stuff I will buy.

Today, more than ever before, I want to open a restaurant. Not the typical style. No, I want to open a restaurant with a very limited menu and with a requirement that patrons share their stories. I want people to laugh and cry and stumble into the real world simply by eating in my restaurant. We would serve beer and wine, but hard liquor only if patrons bring their own. And we would require a signature before being seated: “I agree to lift myself up in this establishment, and to do my level best to lift up the other patrons. I will sing, I will dance, I will giggle and howl at the moon if asked. I will become a child again but I will not behave like a child when my meal is placed before me. I will eat what I am given without complaint.” People who break that very last rule will be served at the next seating.

I’d like to continue this diatribe. Because I might be able to extract from it some tiny fragment of decency, some minuscule piece that mattered, for a novel or a play or a short story. Won’t I probably won’t, will I? No, I probably won’t.  But I’ll wax philosophical later about that fantasy restaurant.

 

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2500

Over the years, I’ve managed to adjust. I’ve taught myself to laugh or shrug when my body and mind would be inclined to offer tears as the automatic response to a stimulus. The replacement of laughs or shrugs for tears has never been “natural,” though. I’ve had to work at it. “Fighting back tears” describes the battle very well; the war with my emotions has taken me prisoner more times than I can count. Books I’ve read—or skimmed, until I found them soft, offering only hugs and no concrete data—fail to explain why I dissolve in tears when others don’t. Until recently, when I read only a few pages of a book I picked up at a Little Rock library. The Empath’s Survival Guide isn’t a magical bullet, but a few of its pages explains things about me that I’ve never been able to understand, much less explain, on my own. Frankly, I found the book—at least the few pages I read—an absurdly “mystical” collection of nonsense. I don’t buy its “woo-woo” assertions involving synesthesia and electromagnetic fields and emotional contagion, etc. the least bit compelling. But the book’s description of people whose responses to the world around them typically involve tears struck a chord with me.

In reading the first few pages of the book, I came to the conclusion that I’m not an “empath” as defined by the author. However, I might fit the definition of a “highly sensitive person.” Reading a few pages of The Empath’s Survival Guide sent me to other published works that described “highly sensitive people.” The traits that describe them, according to an article by Amanda L. Chan, and my personal “score” as to the degree to which I “fit” the description are as follows:

  1. They feel more deeply that the average person. (8)
  2. They’re more emotionally reactive. (9)
  3. They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?” (6)
  4. They prefer to exercise solo. (9)
  5. It takes longer for them to make decisions. (6)
  6. They are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision. (10)
  7. They’re extremely detail-oriented. (4)
  8. More often than not, they’re introverts (about 70% of them are). (10)
  9. They work well in team environments. (3)
  10. They’re more prone to anxiety or depression. (9)
  11. Annoying sounds tend to be significantly more annoying to them than to others. (5)
  12. They find violent movies extremely disturbing. (4)
  13. They cry easily. (10)
  14. They have above-average manners. (6)
  15. Criticism affects them deeply; they feel it in an amplified way. (6)
  16. They prefer solo work environments; that is, they like their privacy. (10)

Perhaps my personality traits contribute the fact that I much prefer the company of women to the company of men. Not all men fit the male stereotype, but I find that too many (for my taste) are either afraid to or uninterested in discussing matters involving “feeling.” I don’t know if that’s because they are worried that emotions reveal weakness or because they’ve just never been taught how to discuss matters of a personal nature. Women, on the other hand, seem to be open to conversations about things that most men find uncomfortable. Women are, by and large, more “approachable” than men. They are more readily willing to reveal themselves and to accept the revelations of others. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I might be uncomfortable having the same revelatory conversations with men as with women. Those conversations with men might send the wrong “signal,” i.e., they might suggest I’m looking for a male “connection.” I wonder why that is? I’m not looking for a female “connection” when I have such conversations with women, but I’m especially conscious that I don’t want to send the wrong message to men. I suppose it’s all about socialization. Heterosexual men are just “supposed” to demonstrate their masculinity in ways that preclude being too “sensitive.” What bullshit. If I could change the world, I would. But I’m too old to do that, so I’ll sit and stew about it.

This post marks number two thousand, five hundred since I started this blog. Congratulations to me on achieving a milestone that has no meaning, but calls for celebration nonetheless. I’ve written far more posts than this blog suggests (plus almost two hundred “drafts” are waiting in the wings to be either finished or deleted). Numbers are meaningless, except in pure mathematics, in which case they represent beauty in its purest form.

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Food Fetish

We enjoy food. “We” means my wife and I. We’re both food aficionados. We’re fond of food. Food feeds our “freak,” as it were. Some people think it odd that I post photos of food, both on my blog and on Facebook. Let them think it. Let them? Can I stop them? Would I even want to try? Why would I? Their lack of creativity doesn’t impinge on my happiness in the least. No, it surely does not do that. Something does, but not the lack of creativity amongst people who would judge me for my food fetish.

Swordfish, buried under mushrooms, alongside mashed butternut squash and—from a can, how apalling—green beans.

Dinner of butternut squash and garbanzo stew, flavored with tomatoes and wonderful spices, alongside some rather bland zucchini that, with appropriate seasonings, became downright delicious.

Breakfast, consisting of a hard-boiled egg, some radishes, a slice of Canadian bacon, a tiny wedge of cream cheese dressed with ghost pepper salt,a few slices of tangerine/tangelo, and some tomato juice.

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Bristling Sardines by the Wayside

Sometimes I think I have too many stories whirling around in my head. Too many incomplete ideas seek a foothold in a brain unable or unwilling to provide a foundation. Yeah, that’s it. I’m flush with ideas, but not with the mechanisms of transforming them from concept to completion. If I had the energy and the time to go through this blog, every post, and outline the story lines I’ve started, I would discover an enormous volume of snippets, as I call them, that might deserve development. But I’ve done that, haven’t I? I’ve begun the process many times, losing interest far before the work is complete. Pfftt! And the thing is, even when I decide on a small number of stories, or even a single piece, my attention span proves insufficient to carry the idea to some semblance of completion. I mentioned my short little span of attention recently, didn’t I? Yes, I did. But I don’t recall the context; my short-term memory is becoming just as fuzzy as my long-term memory.

While I’ve thinking of it, I had a dream last night in which I was instructed to take pieces of paper and discard them in a stream. The shreds of paper represented my regrets about things I did or did not do during the past year. That exercise, someone in the dream told me, was my opportunity to make a new beginning, without regrets to weigh me down. The dream progressed, in a disjointed fashion, to the next scene in which I was looking for an address in a dense city neighborhood where I was to take a class. But I discovered the address was incomplete; it pointed me in the right direction, but not to the right building. And I discovered that the address where the class was to be taught was on a street perpendicular to the street address I was given. I woke up in the midst of the confusion about the address; just before I woke up, I was trying to make sure I balanced between three things…not sure what three things they were. I think they may have been three lifestyles or attitudes or beliefs. Odd dream. Can’t remember much of it. Another incident of memory failing me.

Between my January 1 weigh-in and my weigh-in yesterday morning, my weight dropped by an impressive 6.6 pounds. But after yesterday’s monstrous Italian lunch, complete with enormous rolls of garlic bread, I gained 1.8 pounds back, according to this morning’s weigh-in. Not to worry. I’ll continue on my path; it’s not a diet path, though. It’s a lifestyle change path. I don’t feel pressure about it; I just feel that it’s time I stopped behaving as if my body belonged to a twenty-five year old who could consume as much of anything as he wanted without worry. Too much meat, too much bread, too much booze, too much of everything. Enough. Enough. Enough. Last night, as I snacked on the leftovers from yesterday’s breakfast (the remnants of a can of heavily-spiced Rotel tomatoes), I thought, “I could enjoy a steady diet of nicely-spiced cooked mixed vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc.” And I am sure I could. Perhaps I should. Would that allow me to consume the necessary amounts of protein and other nutrients I need? I do not know. But I bet I could figure it out without a great deal of trouble; no gnashing of teeth required. If I went to a purely vegetarian diet, I’d have to give up my herring and my bristling sardines. That would be a challenge and a hardship. How can I just cast my bristling sardines by the wayside? I could become a vegetarian with periodic deviations into pescaterianism. Yeah, that’s it. And when the moon reaches the zenith of its brightness in the sky, I could deviate even further, becoming a carnivore for the night. I believe that mix is called omnivorousness, or something like it. I could follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That is excellent advice. Perhaps my lifestyle will follow it. We shall see. We always do.

 

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Water Memories and Wishful Thinking

Wave upon wave of moisture-laden air sweeps across the mountain-top, if that’s what this is—this peak upon which my house was built. The level of humidity in the air is most obvious when I look out to the screened porch on the rear of the house. Moisture drenches almost every square inch of the tightly-woven fiberglass screen, filling in the weave almost completely, with only a few patches where water does not fill in the spaces between intersecting threads of screen. I’m not quite sure why, but as I gazed out to the sheets of wet screen, I thought about the age of this house. It was built just a year before the board of directors of my former employer opted not to renew my contract after more than seven years. Changing boards makes job longevity a rarity among association chief executive officers; seven years, I’m told, represents the median tenure of association CEOs. The demise of my job with that organizations seems so long ago. And it was.

My God, how could twenty-one years have passed since I was effectively fired? At the time, the board emphasized that I wasn’t being fired; they simply decided not to renew my contract so the organization could “move in a different direction.” Uh huh. “You’re not being fired, we just want you out of the building and, by the way, give us your keys.”

In the intervening years, I got another executive job, quit after a year, and then started my own business managing associations on contract, which I operated for thirteen years before deciding to retire at age fifty-eight. As I’ve written before, I didn’t decided to retire then, not really. No, I decided I hated coming to work each day and loathed most of my clients, so I needed to take a one-year sabbatical. I moved from working for a single board of directors to working to satisfy as many as eight at a time; madness!

So, I sent my clients packing, sold the assets of the business, and took a break. After a year, I decided to extend it for another year. And then a third. And, finally, I decided to call it quits.  I liked not working far more than I liked working. But I still miss certain aspects of working. I suppose that’s why I remain engaged in a few organizations that hold my interest. At least for a while.

Today, my wife and I are joining a fellow writer and his wife for lunch, at his insistence. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this die-hard conservative, considerably-older-than-me, football-loving man whose interests do not coincide with mine in the least, took a liking to me from shortly after we met. One of the first interactions I had with him was over a holiday lunch with the writers’ group to which I belong, during which we engaged in arguments over the relative value of the life of Ted Cruz. My argument was, and is, something along the lines that Ted Cruz is as close to the anti-Christ as anyone is likely to come. My friend defended him and said he represented American values and the American way. I’m afraid my friend may have been right, but that’s another story. After a short conversation that caused my blood pressure to increase into the stratosphere, I told him neither of us were apt to change our positions and we’d both be better off if we just leave political discussions off that table. Occasionally, since then, he’ll try to bait me, but I ignore his efforts and attempt to keep my blood pressure under control.  At any rate, we’re going to lunch today in Benton. I’ll drive. My friend and his wife recommended we go to an Italian restaurant they like very much, so we agreed.

What does this retrospective about association employment and political tension have to do with high humidity and water on my screens?  I suppose there’s really no direct tie, but for some reason when I saw the water-soaked screens, I thought to myself, “it looks like the porch is drowning.” And the idea of drowning triggered my memories of feeling like I was drowning in stupidity as I worked with self-important dim-wits who used their election to boards of directors to enable them to exercise power they did not have in other aspects of their lives.  That uninformed use of “power” required me to attempt to gently guide them toward reasoned decision-making, rather than taking spur-of-the-moment actions with far-reaching negative consequences that might far outlive their board tenure. It just got old. Drowning in stupidity, that is. I had to get out.

My difficulties with boards seem so petty now, now that a drunken aardvark armed with nuclear weapons and unchecked by even a modicum of intelligence runs the country. I read with interest an article on Facebook recently that asked readers to answer the question: “What one place do you want to visit more than any other before the end of 2018?” My immediate thought, which I kept to myself instead of responding, was, “Donald Trump’s grave.” “What a terrible thought to have,” I said to myself. So I changed it, in my head, to “Washington, DC, at the conclusion of the successful impeachment hearings.” I can imagine the voices in DC saying to Trump after the impeachment hearings lead to his removal: ” “You’re not being fired, we just want to go in a different direction. By the way, we want you out of the city and, oh yeah, give us the keys to the White House.”

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News from the Sewer

It’s becoming increasingly hard to believe anything I see or read in the “news.” Part of the problem is that I don’t know what constitutes “news: anymore. Fox News on television certainly is not news any longer; it’s a combination of facts and interpretations molded to fit a conservative agenda. CNN, once a network I believed transmitted facts without interpretation, has become a liberal-leaning interpreter of information. And it occasionally seems to make things up, along with its ugly, deceitful, and unscrupulous competitor, Fox News. Until the badly flawed election which resulted in a deeply self-absorbed narcissist living in the White House, the term “fake news” was not used; most people recognized bias and swept it aside in favor of learning the real facts. But the undignified piece of sewer clog gave voice to a term that deserves to be erased from the language.

Local television news and newspapers regurgitate what they get from Fox or CNN or whatever other channel they find appealing; whatever matches their skewed view.  I listen to and watch PBS and BBC because I think they report facts without interpretation. The same is true with Aljazeera. But both may have a bias. They may reflect attitudes I want to hear. But, in fact, that’s not what I want. I want unfiltered facts. Data. Reality. I want to make up my own mind. I don’t want skew thrown at me. I don’t want information twisted in a way to either appeal to my left-leaning attitudes or warped in an attempt to legitimize right-wing thinking. Where can I get my news that’s not biased?

I don’t really know. 45, the fake human who occupies the White House, calls all news organizations “fake news.” That, by itself, makes me want to embrace and fully fund every news organization. God, I do hate Trump and everything he stands for. But that’s not the point of this wandering diatribe.  But what is the point, really? I don’t know. I just need to ventilate some pent-up frustration. I just need to express my rage in a way that doesn’t harm anyone or anything, other than my personal peace. That rage has done quite a job of ruining my peace; I’ve become preoccupied with my loathing for indecency… immorality…monstrous misuse of power..harassment in every form.  And so I bellow in the dark. I engage in meaningless drivel on a website/blog that no one reads because it’s not interesting.

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They Don’t Make Clothes for Men Like Me

My body shape does not correspond to the body shapes for which clothing manufacturers make clothing. It’s not just the fact that I am over-ample in the belly at the moment, though I am. Even if I lost my pot-belly and otherwise discarded excess poundage, off-the rack clothing would not fit me. I know this because I’ve tried on quite a lot of suit jackets, slacks, jeans, shirts, etc., etc. over the years during periods of overweight and otherwise. Nothing ever fits. My inseams are shorter than clothing manufacturers think they should be for a man my height and girth; my arms are shorter and my neck broader than they think is appropriate for a man of my size.  The sleeves of sports jackets that fit me around the chest look like they were created for knuckled-dragging beasts, when I wear them; the sleeves fall far, far below the end of my fingers. The bottom hems of those same jackets, if they fit me in the chest, almost reach my knees. Obviously, the “average” mannequins that serve as models for manufacturers’ clothing look nothing like me.

All of this brings me back to a topic about which I’ve written several times before: I need to learn to use a sewing machine.  Or, perhaps, I need to employ the services of a tailor. Yesterday, I found an online service that promises to provide truly tailor-made clothing at prices that even I find reasonable. I may well give the company, iTailor, a try. Just for kicks, I went to the company website and started building my “ideal” sports jacket. When I got to checkout (I didn’t actually measure sleeve length, etc.; I just pulled numbers out of the air), I came to the price: $179. Now that’s more than I’d normally pay for a used jacket at Salvation Army, but it’s a far cry from the prices I’d pay for a tailored suit in a store, even a store like J.C. Penny. So, I started thinking, “maybe I should do this.” The down side, of course, is that picking fabrics online has the potential of being extremely disappointing. It’s hard to know what colors will really look like and how fabric will actually feel by looking at a rather dark image online. But maybe it’s still worth the risk? I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over.

I’ve never had a piece of clothing that fit me truly well. Either the sleeves are too long or the inseams are too long or some other measurement is “off.” Invariably, I have to either accept ill-fitting garments or pay someone to alter them; even then, the fit is not “perfect.” I don’t really expect the fit of an online “tailored” product to be perfect, either, but I’m increasingly interested in giving it a shot. The other option is to learn how to sew and to become my own personal tailor. That, of course, would require me to learn more than how to sew. I’d also have to learn how to adjust patterns to fit my unique measurements. That sounds like it would take a ten-year apprenticeship with an extremely talented tailor. And that sounds like something that’s not going to happen.

iTailor just may get another customer sometime soon.

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Short Little Span of Attention

Finally, after an extensive hiatus, I’ll attend a writers’ critique group in downtown Hot Springs today. I’ll take for review a revised first chapter of a would-be-novel I’ve let languish for several months. Whether I continue will depend on whether I decide the novel has any potential—for being finished and being moderately appealing to the intended reader.

I’m slow to start my assessment of my plans for the year ahead. Here it is, eight days in, and I’ve still given only modest attention to “what do I want this year to hold for me.” It’s odd, I don’t feel a sense of urgency, nor a sense that planning matters much. But I’d rather not be a ship without direction, so I’ve committed to myself to pay attention and make decisions about where I want to go, both figuratively and literally, this year.

My wife and I both know that one thing we want to do is to fit into our clothes better, so we’re adjusting our intake of food and booze (for me), in terms of substance and volume, with the objective of saving money on a new wardrobe and, frankly, feeling better (speaking strictly for myself) than today. I feel stuffed and lethargic, though I can’t quite figure out why. It’s not that I’ve gained THAT much weight, but my body is telling me otherwise. Where’s my energy? I should be out blowing leaves to clear out paths for water to flow around the house, but I’ve not been able to muster the energy and the inclination.

I want to travel, but I don’t know where. I saw a television program about Costa Rica the other day; that holds promise. Or Nova Scotia; I’ve always loved what little I’ve seen of Nova Scotia and I want to go back. I’d like to relearn what little I once knew of welding, and then build on what I learned, but that’s an expensive proposition. The need for money to pursue so many of my interests (or what I think might be my interests) suggests I retired way too early; I would have served myself by chaining myself to the work-world for another four or five years, saving every penny I could in the process. That ship has sailed, though. Nothing can be gained by second-guessing a decision long since made and executed.

This post is the poster-child for my style of blogging; stream-of-consciousness that has no meaning to others and holds questionable meaning to me.  I’ll stop now and drink coffee, cup number two.

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