Brittle Memories

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Doing Cartwheels in the Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Child Who Is Not Embraced by the Village…

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

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

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

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Jeremiad

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

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

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

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

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

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Repackaged Memories

Once again, I came across an article on Facebook about cannibal sandwiches. But it wasn’t another article. It was the same article, repackaged for distribution by NPR through Facebook on Saturday, June 22, 2019. Facebook claims the link to the original post was published four hours ago, but it already had 994 comments by the time I came across it about 4:30 this morning. The link goes to the article I first saw in March; it was dated March 29. I won’t go into any detail, as I wrote about it on March 30.

I wonder why NPR decided to repackage three-month-old information? Could it be that the organization has run out of general interest stories? I don’t know. But it just seems odd to me that, after such a short time, the piece would appear again. Yet I don’t know that it’s appearing on Facebook again. Maybe it’s the first time. Maybe, when I came across the article three months ago, I didn’t find it on Facebook.  My blog post doesn’t say; it just says I came upon it on Wisconsin Public Radio’s website. So, perhaps I didn’t come upon it on Facebook. Maybe, instead, today’s NPR post actually new.

I wonder how much other information I come across as I skim the web is not new information but, instead, is simply repackaged old information. If the article this morning had been a few months older, perhaps I would not have remembered having written about it so recently. I know some of my posts here are essentially repeats of something I thought about and wrote about earlier, unintentionally repackaged ruminations that I didn’t recall having. Or, that I vaguely recalled having but could not find the original, so I thought my “memory” of having written about them earlier was false.

This post is probably one of the least interesting and most useless ones I’ve written. So I’ll stop writing it.

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Compassion for Monsters

Feeling compassion for people whose ill will and animosity shine like beacons of hate is not easy. But it may be necessary. If we are to have any hope of healing the divisions that have brought the world to the brink of an explosive rift, the likes of which we have never seen, we have to practice compassion. Even for monsters. Because they, too, are victims. Their attitudes and behaviors may have been shaped by a lack of compassion. Perhaps experiencing it first hand can turn monsters into, if not angels, tolerable beings.

The question for me, of course, is whether I can live this dream. Can I actually adopt this attitude in my interactions with other people? The jury is out, but I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests the likelihood is slim. That’s the problem, isn’t it? We know what we should do, but we fail to do it. We know the answer, but we allow our flaws to refuse to accept it. So, we behave like the beasts we wish to overcome.

We become the monsters who need compassion, all the while wishing we could simply forgive the monsters we’ve identified in others. Catch-22, I think. Or some semblance thereof.

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That Damn Good Deed

I should have known better, but I did it anyway. I came to a stop, put the car in “park,” pressed the emergency flasher button, and got out of the car. I then dragged two large, broken tree limbs blocking the street to the side of the road, then pulled them off the pavement into the high grass.

Many hours later, the painful itching around my ankles and much higher, around my belt line, tell me chiggers lay in wait in that tall grass. And they took full advantage of my good deed to latch onto my flesh and drink greedily of the fluid stored beneath my skin. That damn good deed did not go unpunished. I could have left the limbs in the roadway for someone else to have moved. Or for someone else to have run over them, damaging their car’s undercarriage in the process.

There were no good options, no good outcomes. Only difficult choices with unpleasant outcomes. Of course, I could have driven home, lathered my feet and legs with something offensive to chiggers, and returned to do my good deed. But I didn’t. I actually thought of that, but considered that someone might have motored by in the intervening time, ruining their car in the process. So I stopped and did my damn good deed.

No one saw me do my damn good deed. No one would have seen me drive around the limbs in the road, leaving them for someone else to deal with. So I didn’t even get the pleasure of seeing admiring glances cast my way for stopping. The only way I can receive accolades is to write about my damn good deed and hope a neighbor happens upon my post. It would be the first time in history that a neighbor happened upon my post. Less likely things have happened. The war in Vietnam, for example, and mankind’s landing on the moon.

The only good to have come out of the episode is that a few chiggers died, crushed as my fingernails scraped across their miserable, bloated, parasitic bodies filled with fluids extracted from my flesh.

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Today Can Only Get Better

I don’t have it in me today. I do not have the wherewithal to write about last night’s storms or the film we saw yesterday afternoon or the meal we ate last night. And my philosophical side is torn and ragged and frayed. I’m tired and angry at the world and disappointed in myself. I feel guilty for being the brittle, reactive, immature bastard I am from time to time. No, not from time to time. Frequently. Often. Too often. The aforementioned having been said, I’m documenting this unhappy mood as a reminder that my flaws are insufficiently hidden away. They are unsafely visible. They should be burned and buried. But what would be left? What’s the opposite of flaw? Strength? Nothing like that here. Today can only get better.

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Time is Money

Time is money. That apothegm means, to most of us, that time is a valuable resource and, as such, it is better to do things as quickly as possible. But I also see it from another perspective. That is, one sometimes can invest either one’s own time or one’s own money to accomplish a desired outcome and certain situations suggest the former is the best investment.

A video I watched this morning, showing a guy repairing a rusted-through spot on a car, brought the maxim to mind. The video demonstrated that, for a few hours (or less) of one’s time and energy and about $20, the car could be repaired. Though the video did not mention how much a professional body shop would charge, I think (based on a few estimates I’ve gotten over the years) the cost for a professional job would exceed $800. The finished products would not necessarily be of the same quality, but the outcome in both cases would be acceptable to most of us.

The question the video raised in my mind was this: how is it that we (modern-day Americans) have forgotten that we once did a lot for ourselves that we now pay others to do for us? We fixed our own cars. We sharpened our own knives. We patched our own clothes. We maintained workshops that served as our general do-it-yourself headquarters. Today, though, we tend to find other people to solve our everyday problems. We have grown either too busy or too lazy (or both) to do for ourselves those things that, once, would not have been done had we not done them. Instead, we pay others to do them for us. In so doing, we are in essence saying our time is more valuable than the time of the people who are doing the work for us. Put another way, we apparently believe the money we save by doing it ourselves is insufficient to warrant expenditure of our own time; our time is worth more than the monetary cost of “farming it out.”

Ultimately, I think it often boils down to individual choices in which we say to ourselves, “I don’t want to do that. I’d rather pay someone else to do it than do it myself.” Some would call that sloth. Because I engage in that kind of behavior, I would choose another word: lethargy. It’s a choice we can make because we have ready access to money.

Paradoxically, it’s a choice we make because we assign greater value to the time spent by someone else accomplishing the work to be done than to our own time doing something else. We’re willing to pay someone else more than we would “pay” ourselves in discretionary time.

I base all this theoretical stuff on my real-world experience. I pay other people to do things that I am (or once was) perfectly capable of doing myself. I could, in a pinch, take an inch off the length of a pair of jeans and hem them. Instead, I use gas, time, and money to take my jeans to a place down the street, where they will do it for me. I pay someone to do yard work, house work, paint, install toilets, etc., etc. etc. I’ve grown fat and lazy. And, apparently, old.

That last one, the age thing, accentuates the value of time. Not monetary value, necessarily, but quality-of-life value. Do I want to spend a day blowing leaves while choking on pollen or would I rather take a leisurely drive in the country?

Yet I still find myself spending time doing things I’d rather not do because paying someone else would simply be too costly (in monetary terms) for me to feel good about it. For example, a year or two ago, I replaced the headlights in the old 2002 Camry. My cost for the two headlights was about $150. I spent a good two or three hours doing the work. And I did not enjoy it. But I felt better about the work when I considered that I would have had to pay close to $800 to have an auto service center do the work.

Time is money, indeed.  Benjamin Franklin did not coin the phrase, by the way. Franklin used the phrase in 1748 in an essay titled Advice to a Young Tradesman. Quote Investigator found an earlier use, in a 1719 periodical called The Free Thinker. Well before that, variations in wording were used to express the same proverb. Two of them are: “The most costly outlay is time” (attributed to Antiphon) and a 1572 Discourse upon Usury, which noted that “They saye tyme is precious.”

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Opinions and Facts

I read an interesting but painfully true cartoon caption this morning.

You don’t want to hear my opinion. You want to hear your opinion coming out of my mouth.

Too often, that’s true. And the thirst for affirmation is the reason right-wingers watch Sean Hannity and left-wingers watch Rachel Maddow. When we seek confirmation that our perspectives are the “correct” perspectives, we give aid and comfort to the enemy of enlightenment. When we doggedly search for corroboration that our opinions are right and others’ opinions are wrong—skillfully avoiding exposure to information that might damage the credibility of our points of view—we willfully reject opportunities to grow, both intellectually and morally.

As painful as it is for me to hear Sean Hannity utter even “good morning,” I think it’s my obligation to hear, from time to time, what he and others like him have to say. It is difficult, indeed, to weed out opinions masquerading as facts, but it is a necessary obstacle. Even in my left-leaning universe, I often have the same experience listening to Rachel Maddow. While she and I often think alike, I get more than a little miffed when she, like her right-wing counterpart, presents as facts her persuasively-dressed opinions.

It gets worse, though. As much as I hate the phrase and its chief advocate, “fake news” is a real phenomenon. Fox, CNN, and even NPR on occasion stray far, far away from presenting hard facts and, instead, present “information” in a way that supports their very obvious biases. Other so-called news media don’t even attempt to shade or hide their biases from view; they lie with abandon and fabricate stories that, if true, would support their jaundiced perspectives. But the stories they present are, indeed, lies. Deeply biased opinions dressed in “facts” created out of thin air.

One of the problems facing us today is one of our own making: we reward media that strokes our egos and feeds our biases. If facts that fly in the face of our deeply-held beliefs are presented to us, we change the channel or switch to another URL or turn the dial until we find the comfort of a confirming opinion, a voice that agrees with our own.

Truly, we “can’t handle the truth.” Too often, it hurts so much we prefer lies. The media knows we can’t handle the truth. Even when the legitimate media is forced to report information that conflicts with the perspectives of its audience, the facts are presented in ways that soften the blow.

Politicians have learned the same lesson. So they fabricate, stretch, bend, and otherwise do damage to facts so their constituents will continue to support them. A politician who votes to dismantle financial oversight agencies will lie to his constituents, telling them the agencies are endangering constituents’ privacy. In the meantime, he will accept money from financial institutions that wanted the agencies to disappear. And, when constituents begin to suffer from those institutions’ malfeasance, the politician will lie again and lay blame at the feet of the members of the opposition party. Everyone hears what they want to hear, because they have taught the communicators to say what they want to have said.

Until John Q. Public and his female counterpart insist on getting the hard facts, we will continue down the road toward happy but fatal ignorance. I am nearing the point of turning off any media that puts its own spin on reality. While I feel obligated to hear both sides, I think the best way to get there is to get the straight facts, first, then see what both sides are saying about them. In that way, the biases and interpretations can be screened and identified. Or, maybe, one or more media outlets will take a long, hard look at themselves and will insist on getting journalism right. Still, we’ll need to accept the possibility that we’ll hear both facts and opinions we don’t want to hear.  That’s really nothing new, but it’s infrequent.

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The Appeal of Doubt and Uncertainty

Yesterday morning, after the regular church service, I watched and listened to a TED Talk entitled “The Gospel of Doubt,” delivered by Casey Gerald. Hearing Gerald’s words was like listening in on my own thoughts. But I have nothing in common with him. I am not a gay Black man nor did I grow up in a broken home, emerging from extreme poverty to attend Yale and Harvard, nor did I work on Wall Street, nor did I form MBAs Across America. Despite having almost nothing in common with him, his message resonated with me. His admonition to embrace uncertainty could well be the philosophical theme of my life. He is far better at articulating the philosophy.

I almost never speak up during our post-service conversations and yesterday was no exception. I listen intently, though, and I try to understand the perspectives of others who choose to share their thoughts. As I listened to the comments yesterday, it seemed to me that Gerald’s message did not break through to many people around the room. Though in some cases they spoke passionately about the “take-aways” they got from his TED Talk, I sensed that many in the room heard the man’s words as if he were in support of their certainties. I heard a different message, a message that suggests we question everything.

Certainty is lethal. Only by allowing ourselves to be open to new ideas, new philosophies, and new realities are we able to grow intellectually. But we have been so well trained in staking positions that often we don’t realize that we’ve taken them. Yesterday, as I listened to the comments from the audience, it occurred to me that rampant assumptions about the “right” beliefs guided much of the conversation. For example, unquestioned support for capitalism as the “right” economic framework formed an underlying assumption of several statements. Rather than allow themselves to explore possibilities outside our experience, I got the sense that some of us inadvertently staked a position that said, in effect, “I know what I believe is right.”

I understand the mechanisms involved in the process. We don’t know what we don’t know, so we don’t know what to question and what to accept. It’s easier to articulate the problem than to solve it, though. The audience for yesterday’s TED Talk was among the most open-minded I’m likely to encounter outside academia. (Even in academia, where “question everything” is a mantra, academics tend to stake positions and fiercely protect them.)

I don’t know how to enable and encourage people to let go of their certainty in favor of embracing doubt. I wish I did. The world, I think, would be a better place if all of us allowed for cracks in our beliefs. I don’t advocate that we abandon our beliefs or our principles or our fierce sense of right and wrong, only that we give serious consideration to the possibility that our certainties rest on foundations built of eggshells and snow.

We tend to defend that which we know. Politically and socially, we tend to think our ways are the best ways. Even when confronted with evidence that other forms of government or social investments may work exceedingly well in other places, we are rabid in our attempts to find evidence why “it won’t work here” or to seek out flaws to support our certainties. Maybe capitalism isn’t the “best” economic system. Maybe republican democracy isn’t the “best” political system. Maybe there’s room for socialism or communism or social democracy. Or maybe, if we believe capitalism feeds the systemic amorality of American life, we’re wrong. My point is that we ought to be open to new ideas, new beliefs, new perspectives. We ought to admit that we may be wrong about literally everything. That is not to say that we assume we are wrong, only that we could be. And if we are, we ought not fight tooth and nail to defend an indefensible position.

Back to my experience yesterday. I didn’t disagree with many of the comments I heard. But I heard opinions, passionately held, that suggested to me that the holder overlooked the admonition to embrace doubt. The people who expressed the opinions are intelligent and open-minded. Yet they did not recognize (it seemed to me) that many of their statements were made on the basis of what they fervently believed to be truth. Doubt wasn’t in the room. And, though I recognize it at a distance, I do the same thing with some frequency. I embrace doubt, but I exhibit certainty. How can we expect doubt to lead us where we need to go if we insist on being certain about where we want to be?

I have no satisfactory answers. Only questions. Thousands and thousands and thousands of questions.

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On the Lake

Yesterday afternoon, our neighbors took us out for a boat ride on Lake Balboa. Their small catamaran party barge accommodates four people quite well and could, I imagine, hold up to eight comfortably. Yesterday, though, it was just the four of us. We skirted the shoreline, floating into dozens of coves, peering at large lakeside homes. Many, probably most, of the houses have large decks and/or big verandas that must have superb views of the lake and the lakeshore. Their views, though, could not be better than our view from the water.

We took our time wandering around the lake, putting in at about 2:00 p.m. and docking again around 5:00. I used sun block on my forehead and neck, but didn’t bother putting any on my arms and upper thighs, the two areas most often in the sun’s rays. Today, I have slightly red lower arms and decidedly red upper thighs. Just the front of my leg, above my knees. I suspect I’ll peel before long.

After the boat ride, which was made better with the bottle of sangria our friends brought along and the watermelon cubes we provided, we opted for an early dinner at Home Plate. All of us ordered prime rib with various sides. Nice way to cap off a delightful afternoon!

I could have spent the day prepping our deck for paint, but the last few days of doing that convinced me I needed to kick back and heal my sore muscles. It was the right thing to do.

I wish we could reciprocate our neighbors’ hospitality in some fashion. I suspect we’ll find a way. We must. It’s only right.

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Someone Else

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

I came upon this pithy aphorism-in-the-form-of-a-question while I was searching for the words of a common platitude that admonishes us to refrain from comparing ourselves to others. Naturally, encountering the question with which I began this post derailed my search for the platitude; at least temporarily. As I considered the interrupting question, about a subject with which I’ve wrestled my entire life, I wondered why we tend to attribute such profundity and meaning to these witty little maxims. It’s as if the wisdom of all human experience is encapsulated in them. If only we could unlock the limitless sagacity contained in a short string of syllables, we would achieve true Understanding. Of course that’s not true. These adages can, at best, trigger intellectual and emotional considerations that may, if we’re lucky, lead to slightly more knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. But they won’t unleash wave upon wave upon wave of wisdom, drowning our ignorance in a sea of enlightenment.

The platitude for which I originally searched suggests we avoid comparing ourselves to others because doing so either crushes our self-confidence or builds it to unsustainable levels. The wording of the precept varies, but the concept varies only a little from phrase to phrase. But, regardless of the structure of the advice, the message is clear and consistent. With so much agreement between various forms of the axiom, it must be true; right? Perhaps, in many cases, it is. But I would argue that comparing oneself and one’s circumstances to others can bring reality into sharper focus. For example, when I was undergoing treatments for lung cancer, I was unhappy about what I was going through. But, during the processes, I realized that my pain and discomfort and inconvenience paled in comparison to what many others were going through. That realization did not “cure” me of my unhappiness, but it caused me to feel greater empathy for those unfortunates around me and to feel less self-pity for myself. The following quote, attributed to the Buddha, puts comparisons in a different light:

Let us rise up and be thankful,  for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

“There’s always reason to appreciate what we have, who we have close, the good fortune that befalls us, and the misfortune that doesn’t.” I wrote that sentence in a Thoughts for the Day post I wrote in November 2014. The Buddha quote expresses that reason for appreciation.

Though I said in  a paragraph I wrote just moments ago that such adages “won’t unleash wave upon wave upon wave of wisdom,” maybe that’s not entirely true. They cause us to think and to explore why we think the way we do. And that exploration leads to greater wisdom; at least we become wiser about ourselves.

The two concepts I’ve been exploring this morning, self-knowledge and comparing oneself to others, fit together quite well. Mentally, I am creating a pair of lists. The first is a list of who/how I want to be. The second is a list of who/how I am now. I compare the two to identify what changes I must make to enable me to transform the person in the second list into the person in the first. But there’s a piece missing. That second list is who I am now, after the world told me who I should be. Well, the world didn’t tell me. But it shaped me. It replaced the natural me with the person who responded to others’ expectations. That will be the perpetual struggle, I think. Trying to peel away the layers of “stimulus-response” identity to uncover the identity unique to this mass of cells that form my mind and body.

When I think of such things (the entire string of thoughts comprising this post), I feel rather sad. I feel I’ll never be able to find that original me, so I’ll never know who I was before I allowed the world to transform me into who I am. I’m pretty sure I’d like that original me much more than the current version. But then I think, again, of the Buddha’s suggestion of thankfulness and I realize I may not be happy with who I am, but at least I’m not the monster I could be. I have so much for which to be thankful, and I am, indeed, thankful for all of it. But sometimes, it’s not easy being me. Yet it could be far harder being another person, so I’ll make it my mission to avoid being that someone else.

 

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Afflictions

Just over nine months ago, I went to my primary care physician to see about a persistent cough. Thus began my experience with lung cancer. At least that’s where my experience with the medical establishment’s engagement with my lung cancer began. Who knows how long the tumor had been growing inside my right lung? I don’t. My oncologist said she didn’t. She guessed it was quite some time, based on the final determination of the tumor’s size.

That first cancer-related visit with my doctor, on the heels of the final legs of my brother’s lengthy hospitalization, seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, I’ve undergone countless x-rays, PET scans, blood draws, CT scans, an infuse-a-port installation, a lobectomy of my right lung, four chemo treatments, a pulmonary capacity test, thirty radiation therapy treatments, and god knows what other tests, probes, and procedures. I don’t think my body has ever fully recovered from all those invasive and intrusive experiences. My weakness remains. Shooting pains continue, though not nearly as severe as they once were.

I’ve tried to “buck up” and get along with my life as if nothing has happened. And, really, I thought I could do that. I thought my body would heal, quickly and completely. But it hasn’t healed as quickly as it once did after such traumas. My age, I guess, is asserting itself. My body is saying, emphatically, “you’re not as young as you once were.” No, that’s not it. It’s saying, “You’re getting old, you’re wearing out, your tissues are decaying faster than they can replenish themselves.”

My physical decline today is emphasized in how I feel this morning. I ache. I hurt. I feel sore and slow and uncomfortably infirm. Yesterday’s hours of sanding and scraping and sawing and otherwise engaging in an almost endless battle with elderly deck boards and youthful young timbers brought me to today’s realization. My body informs me this morning that my efforts yesterday were the province of young men; and my body is paying the price of bravado and pride. Maybe if I would just wait until I fully heal, such work would not take such an enormous toll on me. But I’m afraid that’s probably not the case. Once the assaults on one’s body outnumber the body’s healing responses, the body begins to get tense and attempt to shield itself from the onslaught. Full recovery seems impossible when the body is shrinking away from its environment.

I shall do no more on the deck today. In fact, I’ll wait to work on it until the predicted period of rain, which is expected to begin tomorrow and last at least a couple of weeks, is behind us. Perhaps by then, I’ll have sufficiently healed to enable me to do the work that needs to be done. Or, perhaps, I’ll relent and let the most recent contractor come back. Or hire someone else. I’m still waiting for the most recent contractor to provide a replacement 2x6x16 and a receipt for $170 in lumber purchases. Even without those things, though, I will push forward. I want the deck complete and usable before mid-summer is upon us.

I want. Yeah. I want. But will I get? We shall see.

***

How does one know when one is supplying enough comfort and support to someone going through tough times, but not too much? When does being available begin to seem like “hovering?” But when does one’s efforts to avoid cloying concern, instead, make one seem distant and uncaring? I suppose it’s just a matter of making one’s intent clear and asking for honest reactions and direction.

Those questions were on my mind when I was in the midst of my cancer treatments; not so much for me, but for people who wanted to be available to me if I needed them. I could tell that some people were uncomfortable, not knowing quite what to do or say to me. They didn’t want me to feel like I was being smothered, but by the same token they didn’t want me to feel like I couldn’t rely on them if I needed them. I’m not sure I was as helpful as I might have been. I could have just told people I appreciated their concerns, but I needed my space. Or that I could use an ear and a shoulder. But too often, I think, I just remained silent, hoping people would just “get it.” Too often, I think, I assume other people can sense my emotions. I don’t know why I make that assumption, because I know I can’t sense theirs. Another lesson for another time of deep reflection. This isn’t that time.

***

Humans are symptoms of the diseases that have befallen our planet.

Humankind is a disease whose wide-ranging symptoms afflict our planet.

Is it one or the other? Or both?

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Broken Strings of Thought

There’s a chill in the air, if one believes 61 degrees can constitute a chill. And I believe it can, when one finds oneself in mid-June in the Bible belt. It’s not an uncomfortable chill, though. It’s the sort of chill that accelerates the heartbeat and makes one grateful the temperatures aren’t hovering near 80 in the early post-dawn hours. It’s only a few minutes before six and the sun’s light is sufficiently bright to make nighttime a distant memory. I love cool mornings that hold the promise of a warm, but not hot, day ahead. Tonight’s low, though, is forecast to dip only to 70. Dammit. I prefer 61.

***

Today, I expect I’ll spend time outside, sanding wood damaged by too-aggressive power-washing. And I’ll smooth the edges of paint still attached to the wooden substrate. If time and energy permit, I’ll start painting, but I doubt I’ll finish even the first coat. There’s a lot of deck to paint and there’s only a little energy in my muscles and bones. Depending on our neighbors’ decision as to whether to go boating tomorrow, I may continue the job tomorrow. If they opt to take us out on the lake, though, completion of painting will wait until another time, when my muscles and bones have had a chance to rest and recover from what I’ve been putting them through these last few days.

***

I’ve been coughing almost non-stop, it seems, for several months now. I think I might have an allergy of some kind, though it could be the aftermath of surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. Spending time inhaling paint dust and pollen can’t help. Does a man ever really grow up and become a responsible adult? I’m stubborn and stupid and forever a child.

***

I just watched a deer amble by the window. It looked like the same deer I watched last night, just before dark, heading in the opposite direction. Last night, the deer walked up the hill beside the house to the driveway, where it took a sharp left and walked through the front “yard” and disappeared from sight. I enjoy watching wildlife meander through the neighborhood. Even though I know deer tend to eat gardens and flowers and other carefully tended plants, I’d rather have them around than not. The armadillos and raccoons, on the other hand, are welcome to relocate out of state.

***

I’ve let my coffee get cold again. I did that yesterday, too. But yesterday, I had an excuse. While my wife slept, I cooked bacon and prepared the batter for pancakes. Those tasks drew my attention away from my coffee. The pancake batter, especially, required my attention. I didn’t make the “normal” pancake batters. I jazzed it up with the addition of baking powder and vegetable oil and sugar and vanilla extract. That jazzing prevented me from focusing on the coffee. Unfortunately, the jazzing had no appreciable impact on the flavor or fluff of the pancakes. It was as if the additions constituted wastes of time, energy, and products. I’ll complain to the pancake batter adjustment corps, the party responsible for the suggestions I followed.

 

 

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Still Scathing

The handyman texted me this morning. He had “just” been told by my neighbors that he had committed to work on their driveway on Friday. Unfortunately, that meant he could not come to work on my deck as promised. He asked, how about Saturday?

My response wasn’t especially friendly. No! And, by the way, your contract calls for payment upon completion, but I acquiesced to your request to pay the first 2/3 because of rain delays and your need for money. And you repay me by accepting a NEW piece of business instead of finishing mine? It was longer, but no less unfriendly. He responded an hour later, asking if I wanted him to come over then to do the painting. I was away, so I told him no. I didn’t tell him that there was no way in hell I was going to let him work on my deck in my absence; I want to be present to correct his mistakes. Plus, he thinks he just needs to paint. No, he needs to say, scrape, blow the dust off, and THEN paint. Plus, it’s a 2-coat job. But I don’t think he understands that.

Am I peeved? Just a shade. A tad. A bit. A smidgeon.

I doubt I’ll have him finish the job. I suspect I will do it myself. I’m at least as capable as he is. I’d rather have someone more capable, but I’m tired to trying to find such a person.

Enough.

Today, we took a little day trip. We drove to Hope, AR, where we ate lunch at an interesting little burger joint (decent, but they badly overcooked my “medium-rare” burger). Then, we drove to Magnolia, AR where we had a slice of pie each. Neither was especially wonderful. But it was pie. At least. I would have preferred uninspired apple or uninspired cherry. But that’s just me.

After we got home, my favorite wife called the only independently-owned pizza spot within a 15 minute drive and ordered a super-duper-supreme pizza or whatever they call theirs. We picked it up and ate half of it. The other half rests in the refrigerator, awaiting tomorrow’s hunger.

Our good friends are in the midst of a multi-state road-trip. Tonight, they are spending their time in Tombstone, Arizona. We communicate, in snippets, via text message. I wish we were with them. I’d prefer communicating person-to-person.

***

I wrote something on Facebook a day or two ago, since removed, about suicide. I opted to remove it because I sensed it might seem like a call for pity, even though that’s not what it was. I was just saying, basically, suicide should not be illegal. Since then (and for a long time before then), I’ve been thinking that I think about suicide far more frequently than I should. I wonder whether my periodic thoughts on the matter might be unhealthy symptoms that I may not be as mentally healthy as I ought to be. My thoughts are far too complex for me to attempt to explore them here. But I think maybe I am giving myself warning signs. If so, I’ve been sending them for years, but have taken great care to hide them from the rest of the world.

All the above should not be taken as a warning. Really. But I think people, more people than any of us might imagine, consider suicide. It may be a fleeting thought, it may be a constant mental burden; but it’s there, somewhere, in the back of the mind.

***

The time is closing in on 10:30 p.m. I have no reason to go to bed, but no compelling reason to stay awake. My life is not sufficiently exciting to require my eyelids to remain open. So I shall go to sleep. Soon. Before I write something I can’t unwrite.

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Dammit…Now, Hitting the Road

I spent a large part of the day yesterday deconstructing and then reconstructing the sixteen-foot-long step that leads from the upper level of the back deck to the lower level. I did this because the contractor didn’t pay attention to how the original step was built and, as evidence of his incompetence, built the new step with a four-inch gap between the step and the side railing. Just enough space to be a trip and fall hazard. Plus, it looked bad. He insisted he had to build it that way. By the time I noticed his screw-up, I was too tired of correcting him to fight it. So I let him leave, thinking I would rebuild the step myself. So I did. I’ll have to replace a 2 x 6 x 16 that’s not quite right because of the way it was originally cut to accommodate a drain for the roof gutter, but I can do that anytime. For now, though, the step is as it should be. Before I noticed the latest screw-up, I caught a more serious one in time to rectify it before he had gotten too far. He was building the step two inches too high. He “thought” it had been built with a 2 x 8 x 16. I stopped him and explained to him that what he was doing was wrong. It took a while, but he finally figured it out. A light bulb, quite dim but with barely enough illumination, came on in his dark little brain and he “saw the light.”

I’m afraid the guy and his helper are handymen by virtue of the fact that they own hammers, not because they have any handyman skills. But, they have replaced a number of rotting or split deck boards, so progress has been made. And they’ve power washed the deck (though too aggressively—fuzzy wood fibers are visible on many, many boards) and scraped a bit. There were to have been back yesterday to paint, but they “got behind on another job.” So, according to a text the contractor sent to me, they will return Friday to paint. That’s the same day he committed to doing some other work for a neighbor. I asked the neighbor if her job had been pushed back, too. She responded via email that she had called him and reminded him that he had promised to do her work on Friday. He was confused, she said, but finally agreed that he would do her work on Friday and would tell me. He hasn’t told me anything yet. We’ll see.

My experience with “handymen” and their ilk has been disappointing, to say the least. The few people who do good work in the Village and who are dependable are backed up for months. And they are expensive. I’m reaching the point that I am willing to engage people who are expensive. And if I can wait, I will. It’s maddening to hire people who don’t show up or who show up only with hammers when the job calls for saws. And who do not know how to use a tape measure. Arrgghhh!

Once the deck is painted, I have committed to seeking out truly skilled, competent contractors to give us quotes on several other projects. Once we select the one we like, I’ll be satisfied to be put on the project list, even if it’s months hence. I just don’t want to babysit people who know less about what they are being paid to do than I.

Enough griping and moaning. We’re going to go for a drive today, destination as yet undetermined. I think, though, it will involve pie-seeking. Janine found something about what is said to be among Arkansas’ best locations for pie. This appears to be calling her. I am happy to accommodate. Where are these pies? We shall see.

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Drenched in Thought

In mid-November 2012 (and many other times, before and after) I wrote a little about why I find Buddhism refreshing. Among my thoughts seven years ago was this one:

It (Buddhism) is a refreshing perspective,  far more appealing to me than any “religion” that requires me to suspend my disbelief and far more appealing than what I consider “militant atheism” that expends its efforts to condemn religious beliefs instead of supporting freedom of belief (or lack thereof).

Today, I feel the same, but at a higher pitch or greater volume. As I consider Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, the intricate complexities of life seem simple, although presented in an unpleasantly mystical way:

1. Suffering: Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. We always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty.

2. The Cause of Suffering: Craving and fundamental ignorance cause suffering. We suffer because we mistakenly believe that we are a separate, independent, being. Alan Watts captured our misconception when he said:

We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.

I learned once, and did again, that the painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

3. The End of Suffering: Our obscurations, those efforts we make to hide our connections to the universe, are temporary. Someone once said they are “like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature.” Thus suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and an awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path: According to Buddhism, by living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the Buddha took. We, too, can wake up.

The problem I have with this, as well as every non-religious “path” toward happiness or awakening or clarity or whatever you might want to call it is this: I don’t know whether I really believe it or I simply want to believe it. So either I don’t trust the philosophy, no matter how appealing I find it, or I don’t trust myself to be able to distinguish knowledge from desire.

Unitarian Universalism holds some of the same appeal but, at the same time, I am equally skeptical of it. Yet its seven principles are rooted in morality and decency as defined in Western culture; and I can buy into them.

Ultimately, I suppose, my internal struggles with philosophies of existence come down to my struggle with knowing who I am, at my core. I’ve written about that so many times. I would think the sheer volume of writing about exploring myself would have led me somewhere that offers answers. But that is not the case. I’m still just as lost as I ever was. As I’ve said probably dozens of times before, Paul Simon put the words in my mouth: I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.

Religion, in and of itself, is not the opiate of the masses. Religion is just a thin shred of the broader opiate, philosophy. Philosophy is what guides us. It permits us to determine morality which, in turn, seems to need religion to serve as its anchor. I see Universal Unitarianism more as a philosophy than a religion. But most UUs tend not to see it that way. And I see Buddhism as a philosophy, too. Philosophy and religion intersect in a complex web, but they are not the same thing. Religion needs philosophy for sustenance. Philosophy stands on its own; it does not need religion for support. “Opiate” is not the right term, anyway. Philosophy does not dull one’s senses and weaken one’s control over one’s mind; it does just the opposite. Religion, on the other hand, does both. So maybe Marx was right, after all. Maybe religion is the opiate of the masses and philosophy is the potential antidote. Obviously, my mind is shifting with every stroke of my fingers on the keyboard.

I think all of this can be distilled, for me, into a few questions. Why am I the way I am? Who am I? What do I believe about life and the human condition? Why do I hold those beliefs? Simple, right? It’s taken me sixty-five years to begin forming the questions. It will probably take another sixty-five years to frame them properly. And another few lifetimes to draft and polish and embrace the answers.

On an entirely different subject, today is a brother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Brother!

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Authenticity in Appetite

I find it interesting that definitions of passion conflict with one another. For instance, on one hand passion can mean ardent affection or strong sexual desire but, on the other, it can mean an outbreak of anger, as in a crime of passion. Yet one’s passion for grapefruit never, to my knowledge, equates with citric anger (nor is it synonymous with a sexual attraction to its fleshy segments). In the right mood, I can enjoy the inconsistencies of language to the point that I get a sense that language was invented as a means of expressing whimsy. But, of course, whimsy is a concept that requires language for its expression, so language could not have been created to conceive of a concept not yet conceive. I suppose, though, whimsy can be expressed in art or even in facial expressions, so language isn’t necessarily a precursor to whimsy. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word whimsy, defined as whim or caprice, was in 1605. But the online version of the definition goes no deeper; I’d like to know precisely how, in 1605, the word whimsy was used. Context, please! But, no, M-W chooses to be mysterious and seductive. If I let myself yield to my curiosity, I will find myself immersed in a pool of etymology, drowning in obscure words whose histories will pull me deeper and deeper into a never-ending search for meanings. “The autopsy revealed both lungs were filled with scraps of dead language, many syllables of which had Grecian origins, leading us to the conclusion that his death was a Greek tragedy.” Passion and whimsy seem an unlikely pair of words, don’t they? Whimsy is an annoying word that I associate with bored, intellectually deficient, stay-at-home-concubines or sculpted male paramours who paint wall-hangings that read “Home is Wear the ♡ Is.” I know. I intended to write “wear.” I ran from the room, screaming, as they called after me with witless aphorisms.

***

Usually, after I read articles on BBC.com, I feel at least moderately enlightened, as if I have been infused with new information that improves my knowledge of the world. Yesterday, though, I read an article that concerned me a bit. The article suggested, in an oblique sort of way, that the Indian food recognized the world over as Indian food is not truly “authentic.” That is because many of the ingredients Indian food aficionados expect in their Indian food dishes are not indigenous to the subcontinent. Potatoes, tomatoes, hot chiles, cabbages, cauliflower, peas, and carrots are not native to the region, yet they are essentially required in many Indian dishes today.

The article suggests/implies/hints that the only truly native Indian cuisine is that prepared for meals once each year by the family’s eldest male on each of the death anniversaries of immediate family members for the religious shraadha rite. Ingredients used in those meals have been native to the subcontinent for at least a millenium.  The author says, “the food eaten after the religious shraadha rite showcases the indigenous biodiversity of the Indian subcontinent. It’s a rich medley of unripe mangoes, raw bananas, cluster and broad beans, sweet potatoes, banana stems, taro roots and a succulent called pirandai (veld grape). These ingredients are flavoured with pepper, cumin and salt, while soft yellow mung dal provides much of the protein.

To be fair, the author never says, specifically, that today’s Indian cuisine is not “authentic.” But I think that perspective is implied. And, to that, I say “nonsense.” Cuisines everywhere evolve over time and as new ingredients become available and as sources of traditional ingredients disappear. I think it is impossible to point to any “ethnic” cuisine and say it is “authentic.” At least not when that word suggests the cuisine has not changed since its creation. I think we ought to think of cuisines in temporal terms. “Contemporary Mexican food.” “Late eighteenth century Afghan cuisine.” That sort of thing.  The food of India changed with the advent of trade with Europe and South America and so forth. I vaguely recall reading that the availability of ethnic foods in the U.S. increased dramatically beginning in the late 1960s, when significant changes in both trade and immigration policies took place. I wish I remembered where I read it; I’d like to explore that more. It would be interesting, I think, to compare the number of ethnic restaurants in the U.S., by ethnicity, year-by-year, to the changes in trade and immigration policy. I suspect someone has already done it, though I’d love to replicate the work just to see if the concept holds.

The more I think about “authentic” ethnic foods, the more certain I am that there is no such thing. The foods of all cultures are always in the midst of radical transitions, a result of enormous changes in agriculture, transportation, immigration, trade policy, deforestation…the list could go on forever. My interest in “fusion” foods is nothing new (except to me, and even for me it’s actually an old interest); fusion foods are the cuisine of planet Earth, thanks to human adaptation.

Speaking of passion, and I was, I have a passion for food and a thirst for information about it. I find food intriguing to the point of lusting after knowledge about it. Thirst. Passion. Lust. There you have it. Language doing its thing, creating intellectual passageways in the brain that connect unrelated concepts. Another light bulb just went off in my head. How is it that the term “sexual appetite” came into being? I equate appetite with food. So, a passion for food must be the result of a sexual appetite, right? I’ve leave it there.

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In the Absence of Proof

In the absence of proof there is no truth. Lacking incontrovertible evidence, every experience is a lie, every memory is created in a cracked vacuum suddenly filled with biased fiction. Evidence cannot prove an event never occurred, so whether it did nor not is immaterial. Without evidence to the contrary, it must have taken place. And vice versa. If an event is said to have occurred, absent evidence, it most certainly did not.

Historical records are suspect. Even contemporaneous records are created after the fact, so they cannot be trusted. The subject of their documentation is colored by the lens through which the contemporary historian interprets “facts.”

The colors of facts are not black and white but, instead, a million shades of grey and green and fuschia and every tone along the spectrum. Facts look different from every angle of observation. An irrational tangle of metal, from one angle, looks like an irrational tangle of metal. From another angle, the one from which the artist see it, it casts a crisp shadow of a dead President. The visions are not really facts. They are interpretations of perception.

Scientists will tell you…at least the honest ones will…that proof is impossible. Proof is an illusive objective that can never be determined because all the facts can never be known. But scientists rely on evidence that support theories to which other scientists readily subscribe. If evidence refutes a theory, the theory changes to reflect the evidence.

Especially now, when facts are treated as utterly subjective and personal, we can be sure only that the more information we get, the less we know. We cannot rely on the preponderance of evidence because evidence is like truth; without proof, it is meaningless.

“We hold these truths to be self evident…” We did, once. We valued rational thought and accepted the conclusions to which it led. We disagreed, even with rational arguments, but we based our disagreements on mutually accepted facts. Beliefs colored our world, but facts tended to support our beliefs. And even if our beliefs had no factual basis, we accepted and acknowledged that reality.

There will come a time when we return to the rationality of the early twenty-first century. Until then, we must muddle through as we try to drown out a voice belonging to someone we hope will become the subject of an artist’s irrational tangle of metal.

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Phrases

Not long ago, I wrote a somewhat depressing philosophical screed that included concepts and phrases I’ve never used before. Phrases like “tetanus fog” and “smothering with a cellophane pillow.” I didn’t post the discourse on my blog, but I kept it for personal reference. I do that quite a lot. I write what’s on my mind, intending not to share it but to record my frame of mind for my own purposes. I want to try to remember what was on my mind that caused me to write such foul, ugly stuff. The only way to try to remember is to record that foul, ugly stuff.

I remember, but didn’t write it at the time, that I seesawed between “cellophane” and “diaphanous,” opting for cellophane because I think of something that’s diaphanous as being permeable to air. I wanted a word that would conjure an image of a pillow that cut off the flow of air, even though I used it as a metaphor, not as a description of an actual experience.

The same is true of “tetanus fog.” It was intended as a metaphor that would evoke an image of an imaginary mist that seizes the muscles, making speech impossible. I don’t know where that term came from. I searched Google for it this morning and came up with a handful of “hits,” but none of them were even close in meaning to what I intended. So perhaps I finally came up with something original.

I’m not sure why I am writing about what I wrote but have not shared. I don’t plan to share it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I think it is the product of a foul mood translated into poor writing. And it reveals more of me than I choose to reveal; a depressed core that I should excise somehow. But I was, and remain, fascinated with the terms I latched onto while writing it. Smothering with a cellophane pillow. Tetanus fog. Maybe I’m writing this so that I will one day stumble upon this post, see the phrases, and say to myself, “Eureka! Those are the words I’ve been looking for!

 

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Time and Coffee

My mood this morning is best described as somber. Witnessing mortality express itself will do that to a person. On the other hand, reality with all its messy attributes tends to expose hopes and dreams as artifice. Mortality puts the expectation of everlasting life in sharp relief. Mortality emphasizes the need to experience life to its fullest while time allows that experience to take place.

There it is again. Time, that artificial construct, plays with us as if we were toys. And I suppose we are. We are playthings in the hands of a mischievous and cruel universe that doesn’t care whether we laugh or cry. It’s not that the universe doesn’t care; it can’t care. Caring also is an abstract dimension created by us to compress or extend the sensation of time. In a sense, we create the universe of which we are a part. So if we are playthings, we are toys of our own making, toys crafted from the thin shavings of time. Without time, we are not—and do not have any—toys.

Circular thinking becomes spherical thinking becomes misunderstanding becomes tarnished wisdom with enough time and coffee.

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Respite from the Respite

I grossly underestimated the work involved in developing a coherent compilation of my writing. The endeavor is far more time-consuming than I expected; I didn’t realize how long it would take to sort through the 2900+ posts to this blog, let along the hundreds more posted to old abandoned blogs. And there are hundreds of pages of material that I never posted for public view; stuff that just sits in desolation in my computer.

Of course, most of this stuff will not find its way to my compilation. It’s either redundant, poorly-written or ill-conceived, or irrevocably incomplete and, therefore, unsuited to dissemination. Let’s say I have 4000 pieces from which to choose. If I decide to pick just ten percent, I’ll still have quite a task before me.

One of the difficulties I’ve had thus far has been organizing material into topics. And one of the obstacles to doing that is the fact that my writing tends to reflect the way I think; my thoughts ricochet from idea to idea, frequently failing to conclude one thought before moving on to the next one. So, it’s a task. Once I get the materials sorted, I’ll have to cull ninety percent of what I’ve written, then edit, revise, and/or rewrite what’s left so that each topic area is at least moderately coherent. This is more effort, perhaps, than it’s worth. Or, to use a slightly modified favorite aphorism: “The game may not be worth the candle.”

The idea, once I gather this material and tidy it up intellectually and cosmetically, I will self-publish it in book and e-book form. I expect sales may reach the low double digits. So why go to so much trouble? Ego, perhaps. A desire to eventually leave something tangible as an intellectual legacy. I really don’t know. I’ve tried to explore my own motives and thus far haven’t been able to pin them down. We’ll see what comes next.

***

I spent the day yesterday in Little Rock. First, we ran some errands my wife wanted to complete…Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Drug Emporium. Then I was in what seemed to be a perpetual state of waiting to be called for my CT scan. I got there fifteen minutes early for my 11:30 appointment. I was called in for the scan after 12:30, the time I was scheduled for a blood draw. The CT took only 20 minutes, allowing me to be just a little late for my 1:00 appointment to see my surgeon for my six-month follow-up visit. Everything looked reasonably good to him. “Come back in six months.” I then went back to the lab for the blood work (not necessary blood work…I had agreed before my surgery to allow the research team to follow me, which entails periodically giving them blood and urine samples…who knows, research conducted with my blood and urine may lead to a cure for lung cancer).

After all the medical engagements, we went to El Tapatio for a late lunch of borrego and birria, thereby satisfying our hunger for lamb and/or mutton and/or goat (but I doubt we had any goat…even though birria usually is made with goat meat…it didn’t taste like it to me). I gather from the menu that the restaurant’s owners are from Jalisco (where birrierias are ubiquitous). As always, the little dive of a restaurant was a delight.

While we were away, the contractor spent a second day replacing deck boards. By the time we got home, they had come close to completing the replacements. All that’s left now is to rebuilt some steps. Next up, they will clean and power wash the deck, sand where necessary, and paint. But all that will depend on cooperative weather, which may be a while. But progress is most certainly being made.

Today, I’m taking a break from my compilation and anything else requiring the expenditure of much mental energy. Even though I didn’t spent much yesterday, I still feel a need to vegetate.  And so I shall.

 

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Respite

I’ve decided I’ll take a break from my blog for a while. That decision comes after another hour or more, this morning, of attempting to write and failing miserably. Over and over, the words that slip from my fingers seem dull and lethargic. They seem unwillingly compelled. And they are.

Lately, I’ve had to force myself to write, which is reflected in the quality—or lack thereof—of what I’ve written. Perhaps the problem is my hope to be funny or profound or clever when I don’t feel capable of humor or profundity or quick-wittedness. In spite of knowing I’m not in a mood suitable to decent writing, I’ve pushed myself to write, hoping to overcome the obstacles in my way but knowing that was fruitless. Instead of just laying off, though, I’ve insisted on writing something, only to acknowledge later the uselessness of that endeavor. So, in lieu of humorous, my words are colorless. I’ve attempted to be profound and achieved superficiality, instead. I’ve tried to be clever and failed.

The underlying reasons for this state of affairs are clear to me, but not worthy of explanation except to myself in the privacy of my own head. When my issues resolve themselves in some way or another, I’ll try my hand at writing for (semi)public consumption again. In the meantime, I may direct my energies toward compiling the best of my writing into a themed collection, or a series of collections, that with a bit of editing and care could comprise a readable compilation. I don’t think I’m being overly boastful in saying that I’ve written some pretty decent material that’s worthy of inclusion in a “collected works” that some people might find engaging or useful. I just don’t think I’m writing decent material now. But perhaps, if I overcome the obstacles standing in my way of late and, while doing that, can generate a spark of enthusiasm about what I’ve already written, I can get back on track.

I shall see.

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Eggcorns and Neologisms and Mondegreens

Eggcorns and neologisms. I think I have heard the term eggcorn before, but its meaning slipped away over time. I know neologism quite well; in fact, it’s one of my favorite words. The terms came to my attention again recently. Eggcorn is likely to slip away again, but at least I’ll be able to find it again here. If I remember to look. An eggcorn is “a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase.” Some people poetically call them a slip of he ear.

Here are some examples of eggcorns, the first word or phrase is the mistake in every case:

  • doggy-dog-world versus dog-eat-dog world
  • for all intensive purposes versus for all intents and purposes
  • happy as a clown versus happy as a clam
  • ex-patriot versus expatriate
  • passes mustard versus passes muster
  • illicit a response versus elicit a response
  • expresso versus espresso
  • chomping at the bit versus champing at the bit
  • another think coming versus another thing coming

Wait, that last one…is the original, correct, phrase really another think coming?And the one before that, is it really supposed to be champing at the bit? If you were to believe an article in Time Magazine from May 2015, that’s correct.

Regardless of whether you believe which word or phrase is “correct,” you might wonder whether, indeed, eggcorns are simply malapropisms by another name. The difference, according to some online source I’ve forgotten, is that malapropisms consist of substitutions that form nonsense phrases. I’d argue that for all intensive purposes meets that definition of malapropism; but I don’t know with whom I’m arguing, so I’ll let it pass.

What’s the difference, though, between an eggcorn and a neologism? I’d say it depends… The word eggcorn, now accepted as a legitimate word, was adopted in 2003 by a group of linguists who (according to Time Magazine) discussed someone’s mistaken use of the word to identify what the rest of us would call an acorn. In my book, eggcorn was at the time a neologism. Speaking of neologisms, my favorite (the one I think I coined but could be wrong) is insinuendo, a portmanteau combining insinuate and innuendo. But I think some people, including some linguists, would say the word is an eggcorn. Inasmuch as I control my own language, thank you very much, I don’t really care what they say. I’ll call it a neologism until it comes into common usage, as it should. Before I leave the topic, let me use that favorite word in a sentence: “His comments about Beth’s disheveled dress, when she emerged from the library with Maxwell, were engorged with insinuendo.”

I could go on. I could discuss, at length, the term mondegreen and the strange appeal it has over me. A mondegreen, by the way, is “a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.” Sometimes used to describe the mishearing/misinterpretation of lyrics to music, the word is best understood by way of example. My favorite example of a mondegreen is the mishearing of a Jimi Hendrix song that includes the words: “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.” The alternative, the mondegreen, is “excuse me, while I kiss this guy.” A reverse mondegreen, one with which most English speaker are familiar is:

“Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey.
A kiddley divey too, wouldn’t you?”

The “original,” from which the lyrics were extracted, is:

Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy
A kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you?”

According to a piece on Wikipedia, The Twelve Days of Christmas originally included “four colly birds” (“colly” meaning “black”); over time (around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century), “colly” was replaced by “calling.”

Language is fascinating. Life is fascinating. Make the most of it while you have it.

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