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.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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