Cracking

The sun will not rise for almost two and one-half hours. Peering into the darkness, I cannot forecast what the day will look like. I could look into the weather forecast, but that would take the mystery out of what awaits me. So, I am satisfied to know only that the temperature outside is uncomfortably cold: 22 degrees, according to the indoor-outdoor thermometer. It’s almost fifty degrees warmer inside. If I were more adventurous, I might take my computer outside on the deck to experience what 22 degrees feels like. Or, perhaps, if fear did not hold such sway over me, I would throw water on the deck boards and attempt to skate as the water froze; but I am afraid I might slip and fall. I might slide off the deck and plummet to the rocky slope twenty feet below. If the fall did not kill me, the elements probably would. It’s not death I fear; it’s the potential agony on the way there.

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The prospect of pain has too much control over us; over me, anyway. It can dissuade me from doing what I should do and it can protect me from doing what I shouldn’t. Both popular and professional literature about pain differentiates physical pain from emotional pain. Memories do not trigger earlier physical pain but memories can evoke emotional pain; remembering emotional pain can cause that pain to be replicated. I read an article in Psychology Today that claimed people use physical pain as a distraction from emotional pain, but not vice versa. As an example, the article mentioned the unhealthy practice of slicing one’s skin, replacing emotional pain with its physical counterpart.

Physical pain, even excruciating physical pain, does not reverberate the way emotional pain does. Emotional pain returns over and over and over again; memories of emotional pain can do lasting damage, whereas physical pain rarely has the capacity to do the same. Yet the two types of pain can intersect and can feed off one another; I’ve not read anything that supports that, but I am confident the statement is true. However, I am not sure whether the strength and direction of the correlation between them is always clear. And I am not sure I want to know.

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Guilt is a form of emotional pain. And like so many other kinds of emotional pain, it is not anesthetized by admonitions to “stop feeling it.” Logic, whether valid or not, has as little bearing on reducing emotional pain as it does on physical pain. Telling a person “you did all you could to try to save the drowning child” is just as useless as telling someone “you’re not at fault for slicing your finger while chopping onions.” The motives behind both statements might be pure and full of good intentions, but both are equally ineffective.

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I wonder whether “analgesic” applies to the relief of both physical and emotional pain? Google would tell me, if I asked, but I’m not interested at the moment in what Google has to say about the matter. I’m more interested in what actual humans think. “Actual humans.” What other kinds of humans are there? Artificial? We seem to be moving closer and closer to artificial humans with artificial intelligence. Is artificial intelligence any better or worse than actual intelligence? And what about emotional intelligence; what is its counterpart in the real (actual) world? I do not like the term “emotional intelligence.” Something about it seems artificial; intentionally deceptive, as if it attempts to hide something beneath its irrationality. Emotional intelligence seems a little like slip-on seat covers for car seats, hiding cracked leather beneath a cheap weave.

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The idea that I will never be with my wife again is impossibly hard. She was the reason I woke up every day; she was the person who was there for me, even when she was ill and locked away in hospitals and rehab centers. Most days, I wade through and think I will get beyond the dark sense that there is no longer a reason to wake up. But then I realize I am deceiving myself. For more than forty years, she inflated me, as if I were a balloon, and gave me purpose. I lie to myself and tell myself I will recover that sense of purpose. But no matter how hard I try and no matter how much other people try to help me get through it, I doubt I’ll ever feel that again. Without purpose, there’s just emptiness. And guilt that I did not do what I should have done; I should have brought her home, not shuttled her off to Good Sam, where she became horribly depressed. When I saw her depression, I should have brought her home, but I did not. If had done that, I think she might have recovered. Maybe not her physical strength, but her will to live. Maybe I deserve the emotional pain. Maybe the idea of wanting it to end is just more selfishness. Perhaps the pain of eternal guilt is an appropriate sentence.

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Sunrise is still an hour away. Darkness surrounds my house, but inside is a cozy pocket of light. I am too comfortable here in this protective nest. My ready access to coffee is too easy. It is too easy for me to wallow in pity. Is my sadness based on wishing for my wife a longer, more fulfilling life? Or does it rest on my own desire to have her back? Who am I sad for? Is it pure selfishness? I cannot stop thinking that my tears may be for me, not for her. That is unbearable.

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I spent most of the day yesterday preparing materials to review with a financial advisor. It seems I should do that, but I don’t know why. And I thought, during the day, I should begin the process of giving my wife’s clothes away. But then I thought I should not do that; her closets are still her closets. Her clothes belong there. Her desk was her province; I should leave it the way she left it. I had already put some of her things, on the bathroom vanity, away; I should put them back. I feel like I’m going crazy; these thoughts are insane.

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The fact that I’ve been burning incense in the house now seems so wrong. What the hell was I thinking? Why would I do something that I know she would have hated? It is utterly absurd. I wonder who I have become. Whoever he is, I loathe him.

I assume my moods this morning are just part of the grieving process. But it could be that my shell is cracking. My protective armor could be rupturing, exposing me to the carrion-eaters and opening me up to the elements. If that’s it, so be it; the sooner, the better.

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Incense

My wife was not a fan of the aroma of incense. I am and have been for years. I used to sit outdoors, alone, on the little patio of our house in Dallas, enjoying the scent of burning cones of incense. The flavor of bourbon or wine went well with the scent of incense; I sat for hours, listening to the sounds of crickets and birds, drinking in my celebration of the senses. I imagined my wife sitting with me, but she did not appreciate the outdoors the way I did. Later, or the next morning, I tried to entice her with descriptions of how my experience with the sounds and the smells and the tastes enriched me. But she rarely took the bait. On those rare occasions she did, I think she was disappointed that she did not find the experience as delightful as did I. She wanted to, but it just wasn’t as appealing to her as it was to me. Of course, she had other experiences that enriched her life that I did not find as appealing. Despite our differences, we meshed well, as if each of us represented a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fit with the other to complete a finished form. She tolerated my many flaws, more so than she should have had to live with. I doubt anyone else on Earth would be willing to accept me the way she did. She deserved far better, but she was satisfied with the assortment of my broken pieces.

Because the smell of incense bothered my wife, I burned it outdoors or, since we moved to Arkansas, in the shop area behind the garage. Since her death, though, I have burned cones of incense in the house a few times. I have mixed feelings about that. I feel guilty for doing it, knowing my wife would find the odor offensive. But, since she is no longer here, I know it no longer has the capacity to bother her and the scent helps me relax. For some reason it helps me feel her presences, as if she finally has developed an appreciation for the odor of patchouli incense. I think her objection may not have been to the smell but that the odors might have clung to her clothes. But I do not know. I cannot ask her.

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Last night, I continued my pattern of watching Bad Blood. But I paused it several times so I could sit and think about things that popped into my mind. That way, I ensured that I would not lose the plot while I ignored it in favor of a mental detour.

I wondered whether I might one day decide I simply cannot continue fighting to overcome or to tolerate the emotional pain I feel on a regular basis. How could I quietly slip away from it, never to feel it again? After I had my lung cancer surgery, I was given a significant number of oxycodone pills that I rarely used for pain. I kept them, thinking one day I might need them to erase pain of one kind or another. But I do not think they are particularly potent. I told a friend some time ago I was collecting such stuff to ensure that, if confronted with a prognosis of a painful death, I could end my life on my own terms.  I am a firm believer in giving individuals the options of making the decision to end their lives on their own terms. As much as I hate learning of suicides brought about by emotional states that could have been corrected, I think the choice of euthanasia should be entirely personal.

This section has gone completely haywire and badly awry. I intended to explore the oddities that emerge from watching emotions play out on television dramas. The control I have over my own emotions is sometimes taken over, replaced by emotions written into screenplays by talented screenwriters. And sometimes it’s just the opposite.

Last night, I made the mistake of pouring, and consuming, two whiskeys and then, later, switching to wine. I made it half way through the glass of wine before deciding that had been a bad decision. Half a glass of red wine awaits me in the refrigerator; it will wait at least until the end of the day, maybe longer. I don’t know whether it was the combination or the size of my two whiskey pours—or maybe something else—that caused my fierce headache this morning. Here’s hoping the coffee will tame the beast.

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I did not begin 2021 with resolutions. But I may may some commitments to myself within the next few days. Among them could be assurances that I will try to eliminate some of the excess weight I accumulated over the past several months—years. I spent some time yesterday looking at a ledger of meals I ate during the first three-plus months of 2017. I keep returning to that list because the meals I prepared were low calorie and completely satisfying. But sticking to the types of meals I ate for long enough that the routine would become a lifestyle would have taken longer than three and a half months; my discipline apparently failed before my lifestyle changed completely. I seem to have gone badly off-course; rather than simply reeling myself in and correcting my deviance, I adopted gustatory deviance as my mantra. My problem, I think, is that I ran out of radishes. Radishes tend to keep me in line. Radishes and tomatoes. Let that be a lesson to me.

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A church friend mentioned to me last week (was it last week?) that her financial advisor has been very helpful to her. Given that my wife was my financial advisor, I decided to call my friend’s advisor to get some help with my transition to financial widowhood. I have an appointment with her late next week. Between now and then, I will assemble financial records and compile a list of questions to ask; assuming she knows about Social Security matters and tax treatment of retirement accounts, I expect I will have plenty of questions to ask. Fortunately, my wife kept meticulous records. And, during the last six months, I kept records just as meticulously. My wife taught me so much about so many things.

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On this date last year, I wrote about poverty, particularly food poverty, in Mexico and other impoverished countries. And I compared U.S. income levels with income levels in Mexico. My diatribe effectively constituted a condemnation of the immorality of our individual and collective failures to do something about the problems; I argued that we have within our power the ability to address these matters. Here, a year later, what have I done? Precious little. I complain about hypocrisy, yet I am a practicing hypocrite. Throwing a few dollars a month, through my church, at domestic issues just does not seem adequate to assuage my guilt. On the other hand, should I ask my financial advisor to help me redirect forty percent of my wealth toward the elimination of poverty and hunger? Would I do that if I would be the odd man out by not doing it? As I mull this over, I also consider whether we are leaders of ourselves or followers of others. Ach! I will continue to turn things over in my head until I grind them into soft mush. Perhaps incense will help clarify my thoughts.

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Softening the Anxiety

My primary care doctor gave me a prescription for medications to help with depression/anxiety a couple of months ago. I was not sure I needed it, but I had been feeling anxious and a little depressed, so I had the prescription filled and have been taking it once a day since. I took the last pill a few days ago and there are no more refills remaining. It occurred to me I might want to ask the doctor to renew the prescription, but I decided against it. I never sensed the medication had any effect on me and I am growing increasingly skeptical about the necessity for several other prescriptions.

In addition to skepticism, I have been debating with myself whether “treating” naturally-occurring phenomena is always the right thing to do. Doesn’t everyone feel anxious and/or moderately depressed from time to time? How appropriate is it, then, to try to erase those emotional rough spots with drugs? What about hypertension? Should medications be the first line of defense? Instead, should doctors urge patients to change their behaviors/ lifestyles before prescribing chemicals?

I’m still mulling over these matters. I know I should change my sedentary lifestyle and my diet. Whether I do remains to be seen. If I opt not to, though, should I expect my insurance to cover the cost of medications that intervene on my behalf, doing the work I should be doing myself?  I have no quarrel with medications that address all manner of maladies, but I question the point at which those medications should be used in lieu of alternative treatments. I should know more about these matters. However, I think the massive amounts of “information” available to me is laced with misinformation driven by marketing decisions. Yet it’s my health, so should I not invest the time to wade through it all and reach decisions based on my assessments of the best information? Only if I value my health and my life enough. And I wonder whether any of us pay adequate attention, until it’s too late. Just thinking about these matters has an odd impact on me; rather than making me more anxious, thinking about them softens my anxiety.

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Speaking of anxiety: A day or two after my wife’s death, I started the slow, unhappy process of dealing with its administrative aftermath. I notified Social Security. I contacted some of her lifelong friends. I cancelled some accounts. I made adjustments to automatic payments linked to credit cards in her name. I cancelled credit cards. I looked for our wills. And I continued looking. Day after day, I searched for the wills. I thought I would find them where our other important papers were located. When they were not where I expected them to be, I looked in our safe deposit box. And when they were not there, I called the attorney who handled our new wills when we moved to Arkansas. She assured me the original must be at home or in a safe deposit box. And she said she could supply me with copies, but the originals might be necessary for some legal matters. I kept looking. I decided I would go room by room, looking in every box, every bookshelf, every possible “hiding” place. My wife was incredibly well-organized when it came to such matters; I had no doubt the documents were in the house, but I had to put myself inside her well-organized brain to find what she had done with them.

Yesterday, I found them. I stumbled upon them, literally a few feet from her desk; I was stunned I had overlooked them so many times during my search. My level of anxiety diminished and softened immediately. The administrative matters I delayed during my search can now be addressed without the anxiety associated with being unable to find the documents. The long, unhappy process of addressing the aftermath of the death of the love of my life can now resume. My disquiet has eased; the matters I must handle will be a bit easier. Now, it’s a matter of setting priorities. Do I sell the car first, or should I have the title to the house changed, naming me sole owner? Is now the time to talk to a financial advisor, or should I wait until my wife’s IRAs and 401Ks are put in my name? There are plenty of resources to help me make those choices; I just have to give myself time, which I will.

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Yesterday afternoon, I sat and chatted with some neighbors, a couple I rarely see or talk with. The man almost never leaves the house and the woman ventures out on very rare occasion, going grocery shopping when crowds are sparse. They are exceptionally nice people and very interesting. We raised a champagne toast to the memory of my wife and discussed topics ranging from Netflix movies to the cost of housing in southern California to their intentions to keep their very attractive Christmas decorations up inside their house until mid-March or beyond. After the champagne bottle was empty, we moved on to chardonnay. By the time I returned to my house next door, we had agreed to get together every so often. I’m quite conscious of COVID-19, so we’ll be sure to take proper precautions.

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Lunch yesterday was potato soup, left for me a few days earlier by a neighbor down the street. Dinner last night, leftover lamb vindaloo, called for something cold to temper the heat, so I finished a bottle of sauvignon blanc. After champagne, chardonnay, and the remnants of a bottle of SB, I had no anxiety whatsoever. And I was in just the mood to watch another episode of Bad Blood. I have decided that Kim Coates, the actor who plays a main character (Declan Gardiner) is an extraordinarily accomplished actor. Until I looked up information about the series, I was unaware it was a Canadian program. Live and learn. The head of the crime family, now out of the picture (in Season 2), was played by Anthony LaPaglia; he is an Australian actor, though I could not have known that except for what I read. LaPaglia’s accent, in character, does not betray his birthplace.

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Today, a woman I knew from my work life plans to come by to leave me a dinner. She and her husband have stopped in once or twice already since my wife’s death. They are very nice people. Although their political perspectives run counter to mine, and their religious views clash with mine, I find them gracious and caring, evidence that political perspectives do not necessarily define the person. But that is a hard position for me to accept and internalize; yet it’s true. I don’t know how to discard the conflict.

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This morning, I am sitting at my wife’s desk. I look around the room and see reminders of her everywhere. Almost every time I think of her, my eyes brim with tears. I miss her terribly. It’s nearing six months since her first hospital admission, making it almost six months since she spent more than a few nights at home. I missed her all that time, but the intensity now feels so much stronger and so much more painful. Even though I think I am doing pretty well with my grief, there are times when I feel like collapsing into a heap and sobbing. I wish, right now, I could just go back to bed and stay there all day. But I can’t. I have obligations and commitments and work to do this morning and throughout the day. I just have to buck up and wade through it. I’ll wipe away the tears and get with it. My wife was so much stronger, emotionally, than me. I could use some of her superior strength right now.

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A Thousand Thoughts

Yesterday’s assault on the Capitol will long be remembered as the primary lasting legacy of Trump. The rest of his nightmarish presidency can be undone over time. But his invitation to QAnon, Confederacy-loving anarchists, and other delusional groups to “protest” the simple act of certifying the count of Electoral College ballots with the objective of overturning the results of the election is now permanently sewn into the fabric of American history. Even in the face of raw and rabid nihilism, he refused to concede that he lost the election. And he opted to foment a coup as a last-ditch effort to stay in power. Finally, some of his staunchest supporters still inside the White House and his administration have begun to resign, joining the ranks of the dozens of former officials who long since have abandoned him in favor of democracy and decency and sanity. Trump’s golden years, beginning January 21, 2021, should be spent in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison.

I feel just as much rancor for his powerful supporters, people who have attempted (and continue to attempt) to make a name for themselves by supporting him to the detriment of American democracy. A few names: Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Roger Marshall, John Kennedy, Tommy Tuberville…and there are so many more.

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Once again, I awoke very early this morning—before four. I stayed in bed, awake, until I finally got up sometime after six. During those two-plus hours, my mind raced. I tried everything I could think of to empty my head, but nothing worked. As the minutes dragged on, my body and my mind grew more and more tense, until I felt like I might be a stone statue, but with a brain. And in my mind’s eye, a high-speed video displayed thousands of images that reminded me of obligations and commitments. Utter confusion, but with a directional pattern that I could not quite discern. When I got up, I discovered that I had not planned well; I should have laundered my underwear and socks yesterday. I still haven’t. I’ll put them in the washer while I shower in a bit; and when I get out of the shower, I will find some old stuff. Backups I keep around for precisely these situations. I did plan well; but only for long-term contingencies.

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Yesterday afternoon, my sister-in-law and I made lamb vindaloo, using the leftover leg of lamb from New Year’s Day. It was a good thing she was involved in the process. I had about decided to leave out the “Base Curry Sauce” from the ingredients, because it seemed like too much of a hassle to make and it seemed to me that it would not have added much to the dish. She thought otherwise, so she cut up the five onions the sauce recipe called for and I measured out the spices. When the sauce was finished, it had a nice flavor and was thick and creamy. I discovered that, without the sauce, the meat would have been quite dry and inedibly spicy hot. As the dish turned out, with the sauce, it was quite spicy (but not too painfully spicy) and wonderfully flavorful. After we ate, she took some home and I put the remainder in the fridge. I may have some for breakfast this morning. And dinner. Who knows? It’s very tasty; it would be good for any meal. Before she left yesterday afternoon, my sister-in-law suggested vindaloos tacos might be good. That reminded me that I had planned on using lamb vindaloo as tamale filling. Either vindaloo tacos or vindaloo tamales would be good. Maybe I’ll give them a try. or maybe I’ll wait until I make the next batch.

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Yesterday, I re-read some messages from someone with whom I’ve been communicating via email off and on for a few months. One of the comments I read triggered a resurgence of thoughts I had the first time I read the message. The comment said we literally create our own reality. I responded that I thought that was true, but we rarely acknowledge it because we are busy responding to the world around us, as if the world around us imposes realities on us. I went on to suggest the world does impose realities on us, but we impose realities on the world, too. During my sleepless time this morning, one of the thoughts that sprinted across my mind was that I was creating my own reality simply by thinking, yet my thoughts also were changing the world because the world responds to me based on how I perceive it. If I spent more time on the concept I probably could explain it better than I have, but I think what I’ve written thus far will be sufficient to trigger my recollections when I read this later. If not, all I need do is to think about synchronicities. That will do it! At least I hope so. So, I know how to set my mind to reproduce some memories. But how do I turn others off, just to give myself at least a brief period of tranquility? I suppose I’ll just keep trying.

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It’s already after 8:30. I must get to work on washing clothes and myself. But, first, breakfast. Vindaloo? Pizza? Cereal? Time will tell.

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The Morning of January 6 2021

My drive to Little Rock to retrieve my wife’s ashes and a stack of death certificates from the crematorium yesterday was uneventful. The interaction I had with the crematorium’s representative was all business; she was polite, but I experienced no genuine warmth nor any indication that our interaction was anything other than business. Condolences and consolation were not part of the interchange. Like the text message several days earlier, our conversation yesterday was strictly transactional; sign here, sign there, now here is your package and have a good day. I am not sure I should have expected anything more than I got, but I left with a sense that matters of death and cremation are, for her, simply business transactions. And I am not sure that isn’t as it should be, though it felt cold and empty to me. But I got over it or, at least, I will.

From the crematorium, I went to Colonial Liquor, where I bought Flyway Honeybird blonde ale to satisfy the thirst of last night’s guests. Because it was still early when I stopped by Colonial, I called the Subaru dealer to inquire whether I could have the 72K maintenance service for the car done in a timely manner. I was assured it was doable. And so I took the car in. In less time than the service advisor estimated, they had replaced the engine oil and filter, cabin air filter, rotated the tires, and conducted a survey of other systems that revealed nothing of consequence. So I headed home. The trip to Little Rock and back was not nearly as difficult, emotionally, as I had expected. My anticipation of spending time with friends from church last night probably had a great deal to do with that; that coincidence may well have kept a fragile vessel from shattering. That may seem overly dramatic; I know myself, though.

Last night, my guests brought two pizzas and a tasty dessert pie and a complementary dessert beer, as well as a bottle of wine that remains unopened. I did not even realize the wine was here until they left. And it did not occur to me until they were gone that I contributed no money to the purchase of the pizza. I feel a need to reimburse for a significant share of the pizzas, especially because one, untouched, remains in my refrigerator; I’ll figure that out.

I think the evening with my guests was largely responsible for my ability to withstand what could otherwise have been a very trying day. We laughed at one another’s stories and I truly enjoyed the company of people with whom I am finally beginning to allow myself to open up. And I’m not referring to opening up my grief; I mean opening up my self.  I enjoyed a few hours of genuine relaxation, a casual atmosphere in which laughter filled the air.

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I awoke to the news that Raphael Warnock won in Georgia yesterday, defeating his obnoxious opponent, Kelly Loeffler. The other Georgia race, between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue is still too tight to declare a winner; I am so very hopeful that Ossoff will win it. But, still, there is the perfunctory Congressional “sign-off” on Biden’s victory that, thanks to partisan lies and Republicans’ abandonment of decency, honor, and integrity, that has become yet another Republican attempt to overturn the will of the people. I am attempting to control my rage this morning; I am sure I will, but it will take more effort than usual. There was a time, not too many years ago, when I disagreed with Republican philosophies but I respected our differences. Not today. Today, I hold the majority of Republican supporters of Trump and his legion of liars in utter contempt. Their philosophies do not drive them; their motives are based entirely on an unhealthy lust for power and control.

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I watched an intriguing BBC video this morning about the widespread and very strong support in Sweden of the country’s welfare state tax system. What I find especially illuminating about Swedish attitudes about high taxes is that Swedes view their taxes not as paying for welfare for the least productive members of the society but, instead, for public sector services for all members of the society. They look at the taxes they pay for schools, public transit, social safety nets for everyone, etc. as valuable benefits and good justification for high tax rates. I would be interested in getting the perspective of one of my online friends and bloggers, an American who is married to a Swede and lives permanently in Sweden. If she happens to read this little snippet, I would love to read her take on the pros and cons of Sweden’s tax structure and the benefits that accrue thereto.

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Distasteful tasks and chores tend to make me lethargic. That’s how I justify my slothfulness, anyway. In fact, though, work I do not want to do amplifies my lack of discipline. It’s not lethargy; it’s capitulation to undisciplined weaknesses and shortcomings. I wonder whether I should explore taking drugs to rectify my failings? Speed, for example. Probably not. I’m scared even of the idea.

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I must take out the trash today, unlike last Wednesday. Last week, I got the bag as far as the garage, but never got it to the curb. Since then, I’ve added three or four more bags (justifiable, I say, that I’ve added so much; it’s not that I have generated so much more trash, but the explanation is longer than my fingers wish to explain). I have until about 11 to take the bags to curbside; if I do not do that, I will punish myself in some way. Perhaps it’s better if I reward myself if I do it, yes? That’s the perpetual question: is punishment or reward the best teacher? We all know reward tends to work better, yet we keep falling back on punishment when we do a poor job with reward.

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I’m leaning toward melancholy as the morning matures. I do not want to give in to that mood. I will move on to something else, something other than writing, to improve my disposition. But what? Time will tell. It always does.

 

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Why Disable Power Breaks?

The luxury of sleeping through the night is history. But I will try to avoid complaining. Lately, I have been able to nap, at least briefly, during the day; that makes up for sleepless nights. Today, though, I think I will have to forego napping; today, napping could be dangerous. It’s odd, my sleep pattern. Midnight. Two. Four. Last night, at midnight, I awoke with an awful cough, triggered by sinus congestion and drainage. The sinus congestion is not new, but the extent to which it triggered such a ferocious coughing fit is, thankfully, rare. But not unheard of.

I tried to avoid complaining. Right. And then I set about doing exactly what I said I would attempt to avoid. Frivolous grievances seem to find their way into my head and out through my fingers. I have more weighty things to complain about, if I were to choose to complain.

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Tonight’s Taco Tuesday gathering has morphed into a pizza fest, thanks to Beehive being closed for repairs. Instead of a small gathering at Beehive, we’ll have a small, masked, socially distant gathering at my house. So, I also will miss something else that I learned this morning will occur tonight. Home Plate Cafe is hosting French night tonight, including Ménage à Trois and escargot, and chateaubriand, among other  French attractions. What a surprise to learn that, in what is primarily a conservative retirement community, Ménage à Trois would be on the menu. Perhaps I live in a more adventuresome place than I thought. But ménage translates into “housework.” Ménage à Trois translates into “threesome.” So, this risqué expression may refer, in the Village, to housework for three, not an arousing, titillating experience.

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My plan for dinner last night, preparing lamb vindaloo, dissolved in a cloud of my torpor. Luckily for me, my wonderful neighbor called, offering some smoked pork tenderloin her husband had prepared for their dinner. I readily accepted and she delivered it to my door. It was outstanding. So, my lethargy remained intact. But even if I have to force myself, I will prepare lamb vindaloo tomorrow night; letting the remaining leg of lamb spoil would be a crime against man and Nature, which I will not abide. While in Little Rock, I may visit an Indian grocery to pick up some green cardamom pods; apparently I do not have any and the recipe calls for them. And the base curry sauce required for the recipe calls for ten large onions, a quarter of a head of cabbage, six tablespoons of various other Indian spices, and nine tablespoons of garlic/ginger paste. I think I will plan on a much-reduced recipe of the base curry sauce. The recipes, though relatively simple, are time-consuming. The lists of ingredients of both the vindaloo and the base curry are as long as my arm. I love the sweat-inducing heat of very spicy Indian food. Years ago, a good friend introduced me to the phrase “hurts so good” in describing Indian food. I wonder whether she remembers?

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Attempts to escape from grief induce guilt. When I think of or plan time with people in an effort to get my mind off loss, I invariably feel a sense of guilt, as if I am being unfaithful. But I know, intellectually, I need to escape from grief from time to time. And I know, intellectually, those times need to be more and more frequent and longer and longer in duration. Yet even acknowledging those facts seems like abandonment. Either way, the mental pain is difficult to live with. But in saying that to myself, I feel even more guilt in the knowledge that others, in the millions, have dealt with more deeply excruciating pain than mine, and for much longer periods. Intellect and emotion do battle with one another, neither willing to budge from their steadfast positions, nor accepting of the idea that adjustments might be possible to satisfy both. Even reading about how to deal with grief seems like a ploy to justify abandonment. Sometimes I think the overtly masculine demeanor of “just soldiering through it” may have some merit, although I suspect that method of dealing with grief can do long-lasting damaging to one’s psyche.  One way to deal with it, I think, is to just take a damn break from it.

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For months, I have spent little snippets of time off and on to remove some hideous wallpaper borders from just under the ceiling in a couple of rooms; the laundry room and the “workshop” area behind the garage. I’ve been in no rush, obviously, but I have planned to get the job done so I could patch the spots where the wallpaper peeled paper from the sheetrock. I want to paint those rooms after I smooth the damage, making the walls ready to accept paint without leaving tell-tale signs that three-inch strips of paper once covered horizontal bands along the ceiling. I’m getting there. One day soon, I will move massive amounts of crap out of the way (including a washer and dryer) so I can put down protective tape and paper on the floor in preparation for paint. And, then, I will paint. That project, when finished, will give me an enormous sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that it really amounts to, probably, only three full days of work.

At about the same time, I will begin going through stuff that has been stored behind the garage for almost seven years without being used. It’s a safe bet I will never use those things. That includes several power tools that still work, but which weigh two or three times (or more) what newer tools weigh. I have a circular saw that must weigh fifteen or twenty pounds; maybe more. A new high-power circular saw today might weigh eight or nine pounds. I’ll need a truck to take all the excess junk to the dump or to recycling. A moving van might be more like it. I’m afraid, though, that once I remove all the excess stuff from the garage (and inside the house), the building might be so light it will float away.

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I know about fostering homeless animals. But that concept worries me. How would I know, for example, whether the creature is house-trained or sufficiently well-behaved that it will not ruin the furniture or tear into foodstuff in the pantry? Those concerns, among some others, prompted me to conceive of the idea of pet-rental. Pets could be certified as house-trained, etc. so the renter would feel confident the rental experience will be positive. In some ways, the concept of pet-rental would be a little like engaging a housekeeper whose references have checked out. Like hiring a housekeeper, one need not make a long-term commitment until the chemistry is right. I’m in favor of this.

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I hope I can keep it together today. Despite the assurances from people that it’s okay and even therapeutic to let one’s emotions flow, often it’s best to keep them in check until one is alone. Isolation allows emotional meltdowns to take place unnoticed by the rest of the world, avoiding embarrassment and more.

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Donald Trump should be institutionalized. He is a power-mad narcissist whose self-interest is dragging the U.S. closer and closer to the collapse of democracy. And his enablers in Congress should be jailed. Just thought I’d mention that.

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I do need a break. I should not disable my power breaks.

 

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Even-Tempered

For the first time in a very long time, I participated yesterday in a “live” Sunday event with the Unitarian Universalist Village Church. “Live” via Zoom. The production took considerable effort by several people to coordinate and orchestrate the program; it showed. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but what I saw surpassed my expectations by a significant amount. It was stellar in many ways; the pre-sermon conversation, the well-organized series of presentations, and the music/video elements incorporated into the event. Perhaps the most gratifying element was the opportunity to see and hear about 80 members and friends of the church who joined by Zoom.

The theme was the “2-cookie communion,” which used ritual to encourage congregants to mentally discard the negative behaviors and circumstances from the year just ended and to commit to taking action to guide the coming year into the positive experience we are capable of molding and expressing. Though I have always disliked church ritual (as I remember it from my childhood), since getting involved with UUVC I have come to appreciate ritual as symbolic expression, not as voodoo; that’s how I perceived it in other church traditions.

Despite the artifice of ritual, though, it caused me to feel strong emotions about the loss I have just endured; I am glad, during much of the service, my image and my sound were both muted/invisible. Even now, as I think about yesterday’s emotions, they return in all their power. All in all, I was very pleased to have been a member of the audience who participated. And the minister’s guidance and his words were both inspirational and healing.

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My afternoon yesterday included a too-short Zoom conversation with my oldest brother and his wife, another brother, and my sister. Another brother cannot get his computer to cooperate with Zoom, so he cannot participate in the conversations. I did not realize how very long it had been since we’ve had a video gathering. My oldest brother’s hair is quite long, courtesy of admonitions about avoiding close proximity to strangers due to COVID-19. He and his wife are behaving intelligently, unlike too many others in their community in Mexico (and so many here). Our chat was a welcome departure from my normal Sunday afternoon routine of…doing nothing. I may invest in a Zoom paid membership so we can have longer conversations. And I may develop a pre-chat questionnaire so everyone involved can have at the ready tidbits to address for those occasions when empty air lasts a bit too long. Or I may not. It’s an idea. But it sounds a bit contrived and superficial. I’m quickly turning on myself, berating me for offering such a strange structural response to natural pauses in conversation. Hmm. Thinking through my fingers. I like that description; always have.

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Last night, I chose to microwave frozen potstickers from Trader Joe’s for dinner.  I made my own dipping sauce, using only soy sauce and Sambal Ooleek. Though the meal was not especially nutritious, I suspect, it was tasty. And I augmented it with a salad and some hummus & crackers (and chips), some of which boosted the nutritional value of the meal. While I ate, I watched Season 1, Episode 1 of The Queen’s Gambit. I started watching that with my wife the last morning she was at home, before going back into the hospital for the last time. She decided, after watching only a short while, she wanted to go back to sleep and had no real interest in watching anything; no film, no series, nothing. She had just finished watching a Christmas movie the home health aid had suggested to her; she watched that whole film and was not really ready to watch something else. Later that day, she went to the hospital. I promised her she would come back home. I did not keep that promise; she went into inpatient hospice, instead. My mind could not stay focused on The Queen’s Gambit last night; I kept returning to my wife, who will never see it. It shocks me how seemingly little things can land such powerful blows on me, as if I’m an inept boxer almost knocked unconscious by a much stronger and forceful adversary.

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This morning, as I peered into the darkness behind my house, I thought to myself sunrise would begin before long and how it would be nice to sit and watch it with someone, someone interested in conversing about the rapidly-changing skyline and the colors arising from it. It’s not that I miss those conversations with my wife; she was rarely awake for sunrise. But I often talked to her about the sunrise and described to her what she was missing by sleeping in. She appreciated the word picture, but it was not enough to spur her to get up earlier. She liked her sleep. And I’m glad I didn’t try to change that.

The sunrise has begun, now. The southeast horizon is bright orange and pink, streaked with grey and salmon and ochre ribbons. By the time I finish this paragraph, the colors will have begun to merge into a pale watercolor tapestry. No matter what takes place in the sky, it’s beautiful this time of day.

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I have personal business to address today. I’ve never been very good at personal business. My wife took care of almost all of it, from banking to taxes to scheduling HVAC service and on and on. I am not sure whether she liked it, but she certainly tolerated it far better than I ever did. It’s time I grow up and tolerate it for myself now. I’m not sure whether I have the discipline just yet, though. Soon, I will find out.

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A few years ago, I wrote “thoughts for the day” every single day for two years running (2014-2015). Here’s one: “There is a point at which even the most even-tempered person will snap. I have no personal experience with this, though, as I am not even-tempered.”

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Just Beyond the Edge of Confusion

Yesterday was, for all intents and purposes, a washout. I woke up a bit late, after an unpleasant night. My morning coffee with my sister-in-law did not include any Words with Friends; apparently I was not sufficiently awake and alert—I overlooked the normal routine. She left a little after 9 and I decided, about 9:30, to rest in my recliner, listening to Amazon Spa music. I awakened several times to pee, but each time I returned to nap. I did not get up to finish the day until just before 2:30 pm. Five hours, more or less, of fitful napping seemed to have more or less erased my narcolepsy.

Every time I think of that word, I remember sitting in the Albuquerque airport with a couple of colleagues, one of whom was the president of the association for which I worked. The president kept nodding off as we waited for our flight. At some point, he said something to the effect that “I’ve had a terrible case of necrophilia.” My staff member and I howled with laughter for what seemed like hours. I still don’t think he quite understood what he had said, even after we explained it.

A late lunch of black-eyed peas, followed by a run to the mailbox, led to a late afternoon call to a friend, accompanied by wine, following up on a text message I had received the night before. Scanning Facebook, I learned that the place some friends and I planned to have tacos on Tuesday will be closed until Friday. Whether Taco Tuesday will take place somewhere else or another time remains to be seen.

Later, still, I opened a can of chicken and rice soup and poured some more wine. And I recalled the evening events from the previous night, when I watched an utterly absurd, ridiculously stupid film called Sharknado.  At least the moronic film caused me to laugh. Oh, and I watched an episode of Hinterland; that series is worth watching, I’ll say again.

Here I have slipped from yesterday morning and afternoon to the night before. Writers who confuse readers in that way should be horsewhipped. But not yet. Later. Much later.

So, last night, after the soup and wine, I sat in front of the television for quite a while and wished for a time before this nightmare. I did not turn the TV on; I just sat there, looking at the blank screen. I thought about the L-Pill I read and wrote about yesterday. It would resolve things for me, but would create nothing but grief and pain for others, so it’s off the table for now. Not that I have access to such a device, of course. But even if I did, it would be off the table. Following my little foray into self-pity, I turned on the TV and watched another episode of Hinterland. I rather like the fact that episodes of the series are much longer than many programs, running an hour and a half, sometimes. I think. I should have timed it last night.

One’s purpose in life, as difficult as it is to comprehend, becomes clear only after that purpose is lost. That purpose is noble and positive and it inspires happiness in the face of trouble and pain; yet it remains hidden. When it disappears into a mist that fades into oblivion, it is too late to capture it and hold it as one’s guiding principle. But that is when the purpose becomes clearest; the purpose is always outside of oneself and impossible to retrieve once it is gone. Only then does another purpose take its place, a purpose designed to replace joy with grief; that purpose cannot be abandoned, though, regardless of the pain. But the L-Pill, at the moment when all of one’s obligations have been met, might erase the purpose when the purpose has been achieved.

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Well, that was an odd trip around the psyche, wasn’t it? Indeed it was. Fortunately, Hinterland was sufficiently attractive to lure me out of a flood, just in time to escape drowning beneath a heavy metal livestock grate. (Only by watching Hinterland will that reference make any sense at all; fortunately for me, I understand exactly what I mean.)

I still weigh far too much. And I will until and unless I change my lifestyle. I need to eat less, exercise more, and pretend I will be able to look at myself in the mirror without disgust and shame if only I lose 70 pounds. I must figure out a way to place myself just beyond the edge of confusion so the changes I desire become the changes I seek. Seeking change is the active form of desiring change. Desire does not necessary trigger action. Wishing is not a motivator.

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Last night, after all my pre-sleep activities, I went to bed around 9:45, still far too early. I woke at 12:30, at 1:45, and at 2:45. In each case, I went back to sleep quickly. But at 3:30 the wakefulness lasted longer, around 45 minutes. I woke just before 5 with another set of leg cramps, though not nearly as severe as the night before. I stomped my feet and they diminished considerably; thanks for the tip, David. I drank a little tonic water before bed, but not quite enough. And today I will consume a lot of water to see if that addresses the issue.

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It’s just a shade after 5:40 now. I’ve unloaded the dishwasher and put the dishes away. I’ve almost finished a cup of coffee. There’s no Words with Friends and coffee visit with my sister-in-law on the morning agenda. I think I may indulge myself in a breakfast of bacon and eggs, though my desire for a healthier lifestyle looms over my conscience, urging me to start today, now, to improve my eating habits. I decided to check my January 3, 2014 “Thoughts for the Day,” to see if that motivational tidbit might give me any direction. It reads as follows:

Any recipe that calls for a single clove of garlic must be considered suspect; that recipe was very probably produced by someone who does not like you.  Always use a minimum of three cloves of garlic, regardless of the recipe’s measure, or you’ll have vampires running rampant in your kitchen.

Obviously, I should go forward with my plan for bacon and eggs, augmented with three cloves of garlic. There’s always tomorrow to start living a healthier lifestyle. But, as we know, there’s never a guarantee of tomorrow; certainly no guarantee there will always be a tomorrow. My wife would have tolerated my hunger for bacon this morning, but not at this hour. I would have had to be as quiet as a mouse in the kitchen. And so I shall.

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Thumbnails

Leg cramps, deep in the middle of the night, used to plague my wife on occasion. When it happened, I began to massage her legs in an attempt to quell the pain. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it exacerbated the pain and she let me know, urgently, to stop. Less frequently, I experienced the same excruciating cramps and she did the same for me. Neither of us knew what caused the pain, nor why massage sometimes helped and sometimes made it worse. I still do not know. Last night, I experienced severe leg cramps. When I woke to the pain, I attempted to get out of bed. But when I moved my legs, the pain got much worse and my legs suddenly contorted and locked in odd positions. The muscles on the outside of my lower legs seemed to freeze in position, becoming as hard as rock. I was able to overcome the paralysis, but the pain endured for a very long time, though at a much lower level. When I finally got back to sleep, it happened again, though not as bad as before. This cycle repeated itself four times—maybe five.

When I finally got up (late, for me) around 5:45, the lower-leg muscles in both legs were extremely tender. I did not sleep in; I just did not want to move my legs and risk another outbreak of pain. Finally, though, I forced myself to move. I was relieved that I did not feel an electric jolt of pain and paralysis. A hot shower helped a little, but I still feel slight remnants of raw pain. Ever since the first flare-up, sometime deep in the early morning hours, I’ve been thinking how my wife would have tried to help me, had she been by my side.

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“Mixed feelings.” That phrase has more meaning at this moment than I recall in times past. On one hand, I feel grateful that friends and family reach out to me to try to comfort me in a time of grief; knowing that people care makes me feel protected, in a way, and watched over. On the other hand, though, I want solitude and isolation, free of obligations to talk to anyone or be in the presence of anyone or otherwise participate in the human race. The tricky part of these “mixed feelings” is that they spin around me like a top, trading places with one another at lightning speed. If I were to verbalize my emotions, I can imagine saying “thank you for being here” one minute and then saying “please go” another and then “please come back” a moment later. Were I on the receiving end of my “mixed feelings,” I would quickly lose patience with me and suggest I make a decision and stick with it.

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One day soon, when I can comfortably abandon any and all of my responsibilities, I may wake up one morning, put a few clothes in the car, and abruptly leave. Not for long, necessarily, but just long enough. Ideally, I would go to a house nestled in a wooded area in the middle of an enormous fenced pasture. There would be no other houses for miles in every direction and no way in except through a locked gate, for which I would hold the only key. Whether that ideal is realistic is open to debate; I would argue it is not. I might have to accept less space and unobtrusive people nearby.

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I recently read a short article about something called the L-Pill (lethal pill), which supposedly was supplied to British and American spies and other agents operating behind enemy lines during and after World War II. It was a very small capsule containing highly concentrated potassium cyanide. If an agent/spy were in danger of capture, he or she could commit suicide by biting down on the capsule, thereby avoiding torture and/or revealing secret information. It occurs to me that a pill of that sort would be valuable to carry inside a pendant hanging on a necklace. If the world were to become too much, one could quickly escape. I suspect I won’t find much support for the idea. But consider all the people who would, if they could, go to Oregon or Sweden to put an end to needless suffering…but for various reasons that just cannot do that. An L-Pill might do the trick. The very idea of an L-Pill might be extremely painful and offensive to people who have experienced the suicides of friends or loved ones. A very difficult issue, this is.

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Every time the HVAC system shuts off or comes on, a very loud noise comes from the vicinity of the return air ducts in the hallway. It sounds like metal against metal. I used to think it was just the AC filters dropping when the air flow cut off (and getting sucked up when the air flow begins). But the nature and volume of the sound seems to have changed. I may need to get someone in here to take a look. Or perhaps I should take the return-air grate off and watch to see what I can see.

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I can barely keep my eyes open again. God, I wish I could just sleep through the night and stay comfortably awake during the day. I’ll stop writing and wishing for a while.

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First Words

Here we are at the first day of the first month of the two thousand twenty-first year. There it is again, the contrivance of time. “Two thousand twenty-first year,” indeed. I have no better measure of time in mind, so I’ll stick with what we have. And I bid good riddance to a year laced with pain, sadness, heartache, fear, anger, and lies. With that boot to the rear of an ugly year, I also welcome a year that holds promise and potential that can be met only if humanity collectively applies itself to correcting the errors of the past. I wish I felt more optimistic about the likelihood that the potential will be met. That having been said, I believe attitude contributes to accomplishment. Attitude alone, though, is impotent. Attitude coupled with engagement and commitment, along with a significant store of resources, is necessary. But not sufficient. Without collective will, wishes and dreams languish and shrivel. I’m rambling. It’s what I do best. I’m not at all good at writing motivational copy. 😉

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Yesterday morning, a phone call from the crematorium notified me that my wife’s ashes are available for me. I was told I could select from one of two times to arrive at the Little Rock office of the crematorium. I chose Tuesday morning. The woman with whom I spoke said the death certificates I ordered would be available at the same time. Though I did not expect a deeply solemn conversation, I think I expected a bit more dignity of the interaction; something a shade less like I was making an appointment to pick up an appliance from a repair shop. Perhaps it was just my extreme sensitivity that left me feeling dissatisfied with the conversation. The woman was perfectly pleasant and professional; I just expected a tone more like the one I heard when I was making the arrangements last Sunday.

Maybe it was the text, not the voice interaction, that unsettled me. This is the text, verbatim (including the lower case “mistake”), except for the pickup address:

This is Arkansas cremation and you have a scheduled pickup on 1/5/2021 at 10:30 am. Address

It struck me as cold. My immediate thought was whether my wife would have been treated with dignity by an organization that would send such a message. I got over it. I can never know how she was treated. I do not want to think about it. But I felt like I had to document it here, if for no other reason than to have a record of it to mull over at some time in the future when my emotions are not so freshly raw.

I do not know quite what to expect, both from the process and from myself, when I get to the crematorium. My emotions could well overflow, making for a teary, awkward encounter. I suspect teary, awkward encounters probably occur there with some regularity, so I should not be concerned. Regardless of how I react to the situation, I will get through it.

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I got a call later in the day yesterday from a friend, asking if I was interested in getting together on Tuesday afternoon. By then, my confusion had allowed me to forget the time and even the date of my Little Rock appointment, but when I checked I thought a visit that afternoon would be exactly what I needed. The call could not have come at a better time. A rather new virtual friend has suggested such things are part of a pattern of synchronicity, as if the universe is responding to circumstance. My mind attempts to argue against it, but I have to admit I do not know precisely how to interpret, nor to understand, all the laws of physics. And all the rest. So, on Tuesday afternoon I will meet friends for tacos and social lubricants, AKA alcohol. My focus on weight and health will have to wait.

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Last night, my very fine neighbors had me over for dinner and drinks and conversation in celebration of New Year’s Eve. We ate Mexican food from a local restaurant and drank some of my friends’ favorite wine, followed after dinner with ice cream and then, later, some champagne and, still later, a snifter of cognac. As I thought about all the kind and generous things my neighbors have been doing for me, I felt enormous gratitude. And then I started thinking about all the other kind and generous and compassionate things others have been and are doing for me. A sense of guilt for being so receptive to all that kindness and generosity started welling up in me, as if I should refuse such goodness. But I caught myself. All the caring things people have been doing for me should not cause me to feel guilty in the slightest; instead, I should allow myself to embrace the love and decency and humanity they are showing me. And I should allow them the opportunity to demonstrate their care and their interest in helping me get through a tough time. Even knowing this, though, I still cannot help but feel I don’t deserve so much kindness; I am not entirely sure why that is.

My neighbors urged me to play the game, Mexican Train, with them. It’s a game my wife and her sister played fairly frequently, a game I steadfastly refused to learn because I am not much into games. I relented last night, though the fact that I did so bothered me. Not long ago—I don’t recall precisely when—I promised my wife and sister-in-law that I would learn the game and play it with them when my wife came home. Because putting off learning to play it was a standing joke, I offered to put it in writing; I wrote a note saying just that. But she never came home. I came across that note yesterday. Seeing the note triggered some tears. Succumbing to my neighbors’ urging to play with them made me feel like I let my wife down by refusing to play the game with the two of them for so long. My neighbors knew nothing of my history of avoiding the game; they would not have suggested it if they had known.

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After I got home last night, intending to go to bed before the stroke of midnight, I started watching some BBC coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. Most of the celebrations had taken place hours earlier: in Sydney and Wellington and London and Hong Kong, etc., etc. Sydney Harbor was awash in spectacular fireworks, but without crowds. Wellington, though, did not have to keep crowds at bay, thanks to Jacinda Ardern’s leadership; she led New Zealand through a response to COVID-19 that yielded spectacular results. Somehow, I missed the ball drop in an empty Times Square; I suppose I was in the midst of switching channels by then. I finally went to bed around 1:00 a.m. As usual, I woke with some regularity through the night and finally climbed out of bed at 5 this morning.

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No shave this morning; I opted only to shower. I doubt I’ll be going out today, so my almost invisible stubble won’t ruin anyone’s day.

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I went to the grocery store yesterday in search of black-eyed peas, thinking I would buy a can. There were no cans to be found, so I bought a bag of dried peas. Half the bag soaked overnight; I will cook them so that they will be ready about the same time the leg of lamb comes out of the oven.

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No matter how much I try to boost my own spirits this morning by writing silly nonsense and meaningless drivel, I think I feel sullen and grey. I am in no mood to celebrate the beginning of a new year. I hope that changes as the day wears on.

 

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Laughing at the Last Day of an Ugly Year

Thanks to good friends passing through, on Tuesday evening I enjoyed the spectacular taste of a beer I could not hope to find in Hot Springs (and probably not in Arkansas): Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Caramella Ale. The beer is labeled as wheatwine ale aged in bourbon barrels from Larceny Bourbon with apple, cinnamon, and natural caramel flavors. And it is, indeed, a marvelous drink. The label also claims it develops in the bottle for up to five years, but the elixir we drank was bottled in 2020; I cannot imagine it “developing” and getting better until 2025. These friends, a couple I have known since 1997 (I think that’s right), are among a relatively small cadre of people I admire for their adventurous spirits and their generous and compassionate natures; people who care.

That happy experience was followed yesterday morning by a masked visit by a writer friend who brought wonderful breakfast treats: a Keto Egg Bite and a Cheesecake Fat Bomb, along with an array of savory treats for later and a coffee mug I’ve coveted since I first saw it at her house a year or more ago. The mug is imprinted with dozens of Shakespearean insults, all styled in different fonts and colors. We had a great conversation that wandered through a maze of all sorts of subjects, the kind of conversation I enjoy immensely.

As that conversation was coming to a close, I got a call from a woman at church who asked if she could stop by to give me cookies for the church “two cookie communion,” which will take place via Zoom next Sunday. One day I will write about the “two cookie communion.” For now, though, it will suffice to say the word “communion” is not as typically religious as one might expect. At any rate, a while later I answered the door to find two women from church, bearing the two cookies and a bottle of wine. I invited them in and we had a gloriously long conversation. I knew both of them only casually beforehand, but by the time they left I felt I had developed two friends. They are funny, energetic, intelligent, and obviously caring and compassionate people.

Before my new friends left, another friend from church came by to share with me a coffee table book about Newfoundland; she had read my blog post about my desire to go there and thought it would be of interest. She was right. In addition, she brought a journal of the trip she and her late husband took in 1990 to Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. The day-by-day journal is a fascinating read; well-written and packed with information. While their trip took place thirty years ago, I suspect quite a bit of the information is still valid today. I was enthralled by many of the details she incorporated into her journal: Canada is the world’s second largest country, behind Russia; at that time, at least, Montreal had absolutely no slums and was graffiti-free; it was illegal to leave a vehicle running longer than three minutes (to minimize pollution); and much more.

In addition to the coffee table book and the journal, my friend left me with some advice on dealing with grief, based on the wisdom of experience. She suggested that, as soon as circumstances permit, I get away from Hot Springs Village for a while. By getting away, she said, I will be giving myself a break from all the daily reminders of a life no longer available to me. Whether my “get away” is a road trip to Newfoundland or a trip to visit family, getting away will at least temporarily relieve some of the pain of loss and accelerate the process of healing. She also passed on some advise someone else had given to her: make a list of the little annoyances my wife caused me (everyone has some of these). Then, use the list to tell myself “at least I don’t have to deal with [whatever] now.” I am not describing its value as well as she did; it made very good sense and sounded to me like an excellent idea.

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This morning, I got up at 4:00, after checking the clock at 2:00 and again at 3:00. I may have slept some between 2:00 and 4:00, but if I did it was brief and shallow. Waking in the middle of the night is contributing to my early-to-bed habits of late, I am sure. I prefer not to go to bed so early, but by the time 8:30 or 9:00 rolls around, I am ready to call it a day. I think I may force myself to stay up much later than usual tonight. My next door neighbors invited me for dinner tonight. We may watch television coverage of New Year’s Eve festivities around the world; I do not think I’ll try to stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square. But maybe I will.

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Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, I will roast a leg of lamb. It has been thawing in the refrigerator for a few days; I hope it is (or will be) thoroughly thawed before I roast it tomorrow. I will stab the lamb as if I were a crazed murderer, frenetically plunging a knife into the meat at intervals of about one to two inches. In each murderous incision, I will place a thick sliver of garlic. I am certain most recipes that call for garlic slivers to be placed in knife wounds do not call for as much garlic as I plan to use. I love garlic in general. Garlic in leg of lamb is even more wonderful. So I go a bit overboard. I may make hasselback potatoes to go along with the lamb. And a salad or peas. And I must make sure to have black-eyed peas. My sister-in-law will join me for the feast. I assume I will have leftover lamb, perhaps enough to make lamb vindaloo, another delightful dish, within the next few days.

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Yesterday was trash day. I bagged the trash and put it out in the garage early in the morning, intending to take it to the curb before 10:30. I realized I had not done it only after I noticed the garbage truck pass my house. Once I get the trash ready to take to the curb, I never forget it. Until yesterday. My memory must have hit a glitch. What else have I forgotten? I haven’t necessarily forgotten to do things, I just haven’t done them. My lethargy continues to plague me. Though it may not be lethargy, it may be lack of interest and absence of discipline. I made jambalaya a couple of nights ago, which requires a significant amount of time and energy; much more than sorting and recording receipts; if I can make jambalaya, I can sort and record receipts and have energy to spare. But I continue to resist doing what must be done in favor of doing something I enjoy. I think I may have to resort to terrorizing myself if I have any hope of getting stuff done. I might threaten to crush a finger with a hammer every day I put off doing these administrative chores; I would, of course, need to clarify that I’m referring to my own fingers. Yeah. I’ll make that threat tomorrow if I get around to it.

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I just noticed that my fingers seem especially thick this morning. It’s not an optical illusion. I tried to slip off my wedding ring a moment ago and it would not come off easily. Yesterday afternoon I recall pulling it off and on, sort of a nervous tic. It slid on and off without resistance. This morning, though, my fingers seem to have become much thicker and heavier. I’ve never noticed that before. A quick check of Google offers sixteen possibilities, including pregnancy. That leaves fifteen possibilities; my guess is that there are more. Unless time reveals otherwise, I will assume the swelling will diminish. Then, I can decide what to do with my wedding band. I’ve worn it almost every day, except during surgeries, when I was required to remove it, for more than forty years. It would feel a bit odd to be without it. On the other hand, it seems strange to me to wear it when my wife is gone. I was pleased to read that the decision about what to do with it is purely personal; there are no “etiquette” guidelines about which one should be aware. Some people continue to wear it, some switch it to the right hand, some take it off, some put it on a chain to hang around their necks, etc. I’ll decide, one day, what to do. There is no rush. There is no time too soon or too late to worry about. So I won’t. I just hope the swelling of my fingers self-corrects very soon.

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I have not been to the recycling center in far too long. My recycling bins and bags are full to overflowing. I may go today. Or maybe not. Whether today or next week, I must do it soon. Otherwise, bags of recyclables will begin to fill my garage. And the time will come that I’ll have to decide what to do with my wife’s clothes, etc. There’s no rush on that, though. I will not simply discard them. Some of her clothes might well be in demand at resale shops. But maybe not now, not in the time of COVID. Do those stores get any traffic these days? Probably not much. We shall see.

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I just had the strangest urge. I felt like having a shot of bourbon. It’s 6:40 a.m. It is most definitely not the time to have a shot of bourbon. But that urge was strong. I’ve never had a shot of bourbon (or any other alcoholic drink) this early; except once when I caught an early flight from Chicago to Houston. It was probably about 1983; I was on the way home from a conference with several workmates. We each ordered a Bloody Mary in celebration of a successful conference. And then another. And another. Now that I’m thinking of that flight, a Blood Mary sounds even more appealing than a shot of bourbon. Neither should sound appealing this early. I think I’ll let this urge pass.

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Years ago, before we moved to Hot Springs Village, my wife and I talked about taking a year or so to travel. The idea was to get an RV and just go. Though we ultimately abandoned the idea, before we did we went looking. I found one I really, really wanted: a wonderfully compact Roadtrek van-based RV. I don’t recall the specific model. My wife, though, said “we wouldn’t last a week together in that.” There just wasn’t anyplace for privacy, which we both needed but she needed more. I checked the 2021 models and found one I think I would like: the 2021 Play, offered at a price of only $104,986. Hell, at that price I should just go ahead and buy two. Right. I don’t think RVing is in my future, after all.

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I’ve quenched my thirst for alcohol. I had some tonic water, instead. No gin at this hour. For some reason, I absolutely love the taste of tonic water, especially diet tonic water. Diet tonic is not always easy to find, though. So I occasionally buy regular tonic, usually Schweppe‘s or Canada Dry or, if at Walmart, Great Value.  But non-diet stuff has about 390 calories per bottle. I can drink a bottle at one sitting. Almost. The diet version may have various highly toxic poisons in it, but they are deeply satisfying highly toxic poisons, so I will continue to partake of them.

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My sister in law just texted me that she is on the way over for our morning coffee and Words with Friends fest. I have wasted a perfectly good hour or so writing when I could have showered and shaved. Oh, well. There will be time for that later. For now, I will laugh at the last day of a miserable, nasty, no-good year. And I will put black-eyed peas on my shopping list, because I do not have any…I thought I did!

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Early in the Mourning

They remain unfinished lyrics to what was shaping up to be a country-western song. The working title, “Early in the Mourning,” emerged from my mind as I pondered how long I might feel the combination of sorrow, guilt, and myriad other emotions enveloping me. Initially, as I mused about whether this turbulent storm of emotions might ever end, the title seemed appropriate for an essay. But as I thought more about it, and slipped deeper into a depressed mood, the more it sounded to me like the shrapnel of discarded song lyrics. I find myself attracted to lyrics that tell a story, even maudlin lyrics bathed in self-pity. I think that’s the appeal of country-western music; it is story-telling to a catchy tune. The elusive catchy tune, though, can make or break an otherwise decent set of lyrics—in my opinion. There’s the rub. If my opinion amounted to anything of substance, I might be a country-western music promoter. “Promoter.” The word reeks of rotted capitalism, doesn’t it? Well, yes, I believe it does. Music promoters work to mold products around public desire. But that’s an unfair description to pin on people whose only sins relate to making a living off meeting the public’s demand for poetry accompanied by a tune.

Here is the first verse of the unfinished song:

When I woke up early in the mourning,
my eyes were salted shut.
My tears had flowed and left a solid track.
I tried and tried to dry them,
but they just kept right on flowing;
‘Cause I knew that you were never coming back.

There was more, but I decided audiences might overlook the clever wordplay. And I couldn’t stem the flow of salt. Maybe I’ll come back to this later. Maybe not. I started another piece long ago but abandoned it when I decided it was going nowhere. It was called “Bad Poetry.” It started out like this:

Bad poetry smothers empathy with a pillow of ill-formed phrases.
Bad poetry digests the imagination the way a snake eats a rat.
Bad poetry causes people to drown tires and slash kittens.

It didn’t even begin to fit into a musical pattern. There are ample reasons I am not living in Nashville, turning down recording contracts right and left.

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Yesterday, I attempted to reach an attorney to discuss various matters about which I thought I might need professional advice. I haven’t received a return call yet. I suspect the lack of a return call might have something to do with the fact that 85% of the American public is taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The 85% figure is a figment of my overactive imagination. But, still. I remember my years of owning a business; the only time I could get away was that one week period, when I closed the business for the duration. It was an easy decision. None of my clients were active during that week. In fact, none were reachable. I could have used the week to get caught up. Instead, I used the week to breathe. And my staff were forced to take one of their two weeks of paid vacation time during that period. I required them to breathe, as well. In hindsight, I probably should have given them two weeks of vacation in addition to the forced one-week respite. And I would have done so, if not for the demands of my clients. If I had it all to do over again, I would do things differently. Not just work, either. I would be a better person all the way around. Now that it’s too late, it’s easy to promise it all would have been different.  I have no idea why this paragraph found its way onto the screen. I think my fingers sprung a leak.

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Yesterday (or was it the day before?), I spoke to a woman I once considered a good friend. I had not spoken to her in a very long time. Her Chicago/Midwest accent was startling to me, despite the fact that it had not changed since I knew her. Something about it, though, was disturbing. Or maybe it wasn’t the accent as much as it was her demeanor; an air of patronizing superiority. The accent was the same, but the attitude seemed very different. I doubt she changed, though. I think, instead, I have become more attuned to how very grating it has always been. I kept hearing her say “you should…” do such and such, as if she had answers that someone of my lowly station could not possibly find on my own. Though I was polite, I could not get off the phone quickly enough. I ended the phone call with “I wish you all the best.” I hope that conveyed the message I intended to convey; that the conversation was the last one I plan to have with her.

Ach. I want to live according to this philosophy: “Everyone you meet is facing a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” But I fail to live my wishes. Who knows what she might have been dealing with? At the time, it did not enter my mind; I simply wanted to close a chapter. It’s not enough to want to be good. If I do not behave the way I claim to want to be, I am at minimum a hypocrite.

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Some days, and this is shaping up to be one of them, I would like nothing better than to curl up in bed and sleep until dark. But that is not going to happen. So, I might as well continue sliding into the day.

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Obsessively Avoiding Obsessions

There’s plenty to be done, but I don’t seem capable of motivating myself to do it. Finally, when I woke up this morning, I put a load of sheets in the washer, a full week after I should have done it. Whether I clean and polish the stove top remains to be seen. Ditto the kitchen counter. At least I’ve kept the bathrooms reasonably clean and sanitary.

When the sun rises, the dust on the hardwood floors will be so obvious that I might be moved to vacuum. But it was obvious yesterday and the day before. I was moved only to use the mini-vac to pick up the more intrusive bits and pieces. And these are only the normal housekeeping matters. Filing paperwork and shredding paper with identifying information remains to be done, along with dozens of other minor, easily doable chores. And the windows are in dire need of cleaning, inside and out when the weather cooperates.  I can hire someone to do that chore, if I get around to it. I’ve never been good at eliminating streaks; windows often look worse after I tackle them than they did before.

I did manage to get to the Post Office again yesterday, where I extracted a bill and several pieces of junk mail from the P.O. box. And I bought gas for the Subaru. So I’m not entirely consumed by slovenliness. A very kind friend generously took the time to scheduled the Subaru for service on my behalf. But I decided yesterday to put it off again for various indefensible reasons. I really could use an injection of energy. Sweet treats won’t do it. I’ve had more than my share of cookies and other such sugar-laden goodies.

It’s not that I’m incapable of coping in a time of sadness. I think I have that under reasonable control most of the time, so I can’t blame grief. I’m just deeply lethargic. I’m retiring early and getting more hours in bed than normal, by a fair amount. I’m not necessarily sleeping all those hours, but at least I’m resting. Now that I think of it, though, maybe I’m spending too many hours in bed. Last night, I was in bed by nine. I got up at five. I was awake between one and three, off and on, but I was in bed for eight hours, which is considerably more than normal for me. I may be thinking my way to a solution for this lazy attitude of mine. Stay awake later and get up earlier. I’ll try that.

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I read a few minutes ago that a strong (6.3 magnitude) earthquake struck central Croatia not long ago. A 5.2 magnitude struck yesterday. News reports say the quake was felt throughout the country and in neighboring Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. My wife and I traveled to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, along with Montenegro and Slovenia, last year. We spent time in Zagreb while we were in Croatia. I was sorry to read that the earthquake apparently caused widespread damage, though I’ve seen no information about deaths or injuries.

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In other reading this morning, I came across an Italian dish that supposedly is among the favorites in the country: cacio e pepe. It consists of three ingredients: goat’s milk cheese (Pecorino, ideally, according to BBC.com), black pepper, and pasta (including lots of starch-infused pasta water). It is said to be very difficult to perfect, but spectacular when perfected. I should avoid pasta if I want to fit in my clothes much longer. Dammit.

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Yesterday, while sitting at my computer doing nothing productive, I stumbled across a record of every meal and snack I ate during a nine-week period at the beginning of 2017. I recorded not only every meal and snack, but the approximate number of calories in each, based on the calories in the ingredients. My records were maintained in excruciating detail (for example, a lunch consisting of 1 can kipper snacks; 1 medium tomato; 1 zucchini; 1 jalapeño; and a glass of water, for a total of 226 calories). It appears my plan was to limit my caloric intake to 1,300 calories per day, maximum, with a target of 1,000 calories. My records reveal that I maintained my targets or, at least, my maximum almost the entire 9-week period, with a few notable exceptions when I hit a high of 4,000 calories one day and 1,600-1,700 a few others.

Though I had to prompt myself to remember that endeavor, after I started thinking about it, it all came back to me. I remember the process being interesting to me. It was not terribly difficult to stick to my plan, either. Of course, after 9 weeks I have no idea what I did; I could have started consuming multi-thousand calorie meals. I doubt that I did, but I just do not recall. I think I’ll consider doing something like that again, just to kick-start a healthier food-intake-lifestyle. I do not want to diet. I want to change the way I think about food. I want to look at eating as an attractive challenge: make meals that have the tastes and textures I love but that keep calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and processed ingredients to a minimum. I refuse to become obsessive about it, but I think a Mediterranean food lifestyle makes good sense; based on much of what I’ve read about it.

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My shoulders and neck seem to be slowly recovering from the strains I have felt during the past several months. I still feel like my shoulders hide steel cables beneath the skin sometimes, but the cables are loosening, bit by bit. I may yet treat myself to a massage, but not until I have a better sense of how I will need to structure my financial life; that’s a slow process. When I have a handle on that, though, I may put an N-95 mask on and visit a masseuse, assuming I can find an N-95 mask that’s not needed by healthcare workers. I may have to wait for a while.

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Whenever I have seen a photo of my wife the last several days, which has been frequent because I have been searching for them on my phone and my computer, I have been overwhelmed by grief. The emotion actually feels like a powerful wave is sweeping over me and I have to fight to stay vertical. I know it will not last, but I’m not sure I want the sensation to fade. Somehow it makes me feel more closely connected to  her. Sadness or grief or whatever combination it is seems both punitive and palliative. I am not sufficiently clear in my thinking or feeling to know just what takes place in my emotional center. It’s a little like a slow-motion tornado, I think; as if I know what a slow-motion tornado would be like.

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I want more coffee. Actually, I want a double espresso. I will settle for another cup of coffee.

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The Maritimes and More

Last night I awoke from a clouded memory—it was not a dream—and I wanted to ask my wife a question to help me clarify it. When I became sufficiently conscious to realize I would never again be able to ask her a question, I felt a sensation somewhere between terror and excruciating physical pain. The memory was not especially important, but the subsequent awareness of perpetual separation tormented me; it still does, several hours later. I wonder whether that sensation will ever fade?

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Yesterday afternoon, I invited a friend to come for a visit. During the time we sat and talked, we covered a variety of topics. Naturally, I suppose, many of the topics concerned my wife’s death and how I am dealing with it. I think I am dealing with it pretty well, though on occasion I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and grief.

I heard an interview on the radio a few days ago in which the person being interviewed spoke of grief having only, I think, two stages (not the five stages copied from Elisabeth Kübler Ross’s seven stages of dying). If I recall correctly, she said grief consists of the intense sadness and pain of loss (stage 1) and the never-ending evolution of recovery from that sadness and pain (stage 2).  I guess that answers my question.

The visit was cathartic. I think I needed, or at least wanted, to talk about the emotional turmoil that seems to surge through me in waves. Although I do not think I know any more now than before, I feel a little less compressed; as if a relief valve was turned, emptying a bit of pressure.

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I spent some time last night reading about Newfoundland; its climate, its cultural and social environments, and how one approaches becoming a resident. Having never been there, I suspect my interest is more of a fantasy than an actionable curiosity, but one never knows. It is most definitely an active fantasy, though. Before I would do anything rash, I would force myself to peel away the romantic images that dwell in my mind, requiring me to look at the place and its people with ample skepticism. I would insist on understanding more about it than the magical sketches I have allowed myself to paint in my mind’s eye.

My dreams of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and various other places in the Canadian Maritimes are just that: dreams. They are not new. I guess Newfoundland is not part of the Maritimes. It doesn’t matter. My dreams of the Maritimes and environs have been resting comfortably in the back of my mind for decades, along with fantasies about other places in which I imagine living a contradictory life, one of isolation in the midst of the powerful embrace of loving community. It’s a fantasy. A dream. An imaginary place that quite possibly does not exist. Somewhere in my fantasy world there exists a co-housing community that offers privacy, intimacy, community, and a passionate connection with nature. A place with rugged, rocky beaches and magnificent cliffs under constant attack by fierce waves. I envision a place where only pleasant memories are allowed; where painful recollections are kept at bay. It’s all make-believe, of course, but it’s a place I fervently seek, nonetheless.

But would I be satisfied to be alone in Newfoundland? Or anywhere else, for that matter? It’s far too early to even think about such things, but I cannot help it. Even though I’ve spent more than five months living alone in my house, while my wife was in hospital and rehab facilities, I’m not entirely used to it. And I am not sure I am suited for it for the long term, even though I love my isolation and my solitude. It’s hard for me to understand myself; how can I be so private and so comfortable with my own company, yet so susceptible to loneliness? I should not allow myself to even think this way.

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As I am wont to do from time to time, this morning I explored what I wrote a few years in the past. Among the words I recorded on December 29, 2017 (I did not post the day before) were these involving a character I created, Kolbjørn Landvik:

He and I share many attributes, which is natural inasmuch as we are the same person, just in different times and in different places. He and I absolutely love the taste of pickled herring. And we love feeling the salt spray on our face as we sail into the cold wind in search of good fishing spots and ourselves.

Kolbjørn Landvik and I share another attribute. We’re both enamored of the French phrase, “le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle,” and its English translation, “the game is not worth the candle.” Something about the phrase causes tears to well up in our eyes. Hearing or reading the phrase causes the deep sadness sleeping in our chests to rise from its slumber and overtake our consciousness. We weep, Kolbjørn and I, and we struggle to understand why it seems at times that we, alone, grieve for the world we wish for, the world that never was but should have been.

I’ve written and plagiarized myself enough to call it a morning, for now. The clock is racing toward 6:45 and my coffee cup is empty except for the gritty wash at the bottom. Time for more.

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More Thought-Skipping

Yesterday, a friend stopped by with some little gifts and a massive amount of solace and comfort. During our masked conversation, she mentioned a friend’s description of emotions at the loss of a loved one as something like shocked disbelief. That sounds familiar. That, and endless emptiness.

But, for me, it is not like that all the time. Those unwelcome waves—sadness and loss and vacancy that continue a week into the experience—come and go. Most of the time, I am fine. Except for those grief storms that attempt to uproot my sanity and send it flying in powerful gusts of raging sadness, most of my time is relatively peaceful.

It is odd, though; those periods of peace and calm usually end with feelings of guilt that I have allowed myself a respite from the pain. I begin to think I should not permit anything but darkness to invade my mind. I understand the guilt probably is a natural but unnecessary reaction to circumstance, on the one hand, but on the other hand it seems an insufficient price to pay for an unearned sense, however long, of solace.

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Yesterday, I napped early after a night of inadequate sleep. But it seems the two hour nap was insufficient. Later in the day, while playing Words with Friends with my sister-in-law, I found myself nodding. A lot. Later, I think around 4, I sat in a recliner and promptly fell asleep for two more hours. When I woke, I heated leftover  minestrone soup; it was exactly what I needed to fuel me through two episodes of the English language version of Hinterland, originally a Welsh language police detective drama series. The original title of the series is Y Gwyll (Welsh for “The Dusk”). I am enjoying it immensely, though I think it would be cool to see the original Welsh version with subtitles.

After two episodes, though, I could no longer keep my eyes open. I went to bed and fell fast asleep. And then returned to my regular cycles of waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, etc. The most recent cycle ended at 5 this morning, when I got up, folded and put away a load of clothes I had left in the dryer, added another load to the washer, made coffee, and made my way to the keyboard.

The letters have worn off several keys on my keyboard. Missing entirely are: a, s, d, o, and l. Barely visible are c and e. The left shift key, as well as the key once known as a, is badly scarred from repeated pounding by the fingernail on the little finger of my left hand. The blank l key, too, has been damaged by the nail of the finger next to the little finger on my right hand. As I tried to name that finger (instead of saying “the finger next to the little finger”), I wondered whether each finger has a unique name? We know what to call the thumb and the little finger, but are there other names? And are thumb and little finger really the best names for those digits? I suspect medicine has names, not only for the bones of those fingers, but for the fingers themselves. Even if the names are code, like L meta2 or R3, I suspect. Phalanges could be used, but if I remember correctly there are three phalanges in each finger (are toes also phalanges?), so the codes would have to incorporate all the phalanges in a given finger.  This is oddly of interest to me, but not sufficiently riveting to merit stopping what I am doing to explore and find an answer. Sometimes my interests are so shallow I would barely get wet if I immersed myself in them. But, then, even my deepest interests often summon only cursory exploration; I am the inverse of a Renaissance man. I’ll have to see if I can find an antonym for the term. Actually, I may be a Renaissance man wannabe; I’d like to have deep interest in and knowledge about an enormous array of subjects, but I don’t have the discipline or the capacity. I’ve said it before: “I know so very little about so very much.” There, now I’ve said it again.

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A local guy who’s much more of a Renaissance man than I could ever hope to be has made it one of his missions in life to visit the oldest bar in every state. I admire the dedication it takes to tackle such a challenging endeavor. I should identify such a goal for myself. I have no idea what it might be, though.

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I remember a time when I would sit outdoors, smoking a cigar and drinking from a snifter of brandy or a glass of Scotch. I very rarely smoked cigars; they were not necessarily for special occasions but for special or unusual moods, I think. I smoked cigars in celebration of life and happiness and free will and hope for the future. I doubt I would ever become addicted.

I rarely, if ever, intentionally inhaled cigar smoke. It is too harsh to comfortably take in an entire breath of smoke. But the taste in my mouth, smoky smooth vanilla and an indescribable earthiness, was delightful.

My wife loathed the smell of cigars, so I made a point of smoking them only when the smoke would not bother her. That has been years ago. I stopped smoking in 2004 and I suspect my last cigar would have been a year or two before that.

Would it be possible, I wonder, to get those celebratory moods back? Instead of celebrating by smoking a cigar, would smoking a cigar bring back the appreciation of life and happiness and free will and hope for the future?  I’ll have to think about that. It may be madness that it’s even entered my mind, but there you have it.

I equate cigar smoke with incense. Neither are meant to fill the lungs, only to tease the nostrils with pleasant aromas that somehow bring about a sense of comfort and peace. The other night, after dining with neighbors, the male of the pair lit a cone of incense and put it inside a German hand-carved wooden Santa Claus incense diffuser. I think that’s what made me think of cigars.

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It’s almost 7:30 and I haven’t showered or shaved or gotten dressed yet. But I have washed another load of clothes and finished two cups of coffee. For the umpteenth morning in a row, I have a strong hankering for a double espresso. Unfortunately, I have neither the appropriate coffee beans nor an espresso maker suited to the task. I have an espresso maker I bought when we lived in Chicago, more than thirty years ago. It never made the best espresso, but it made a pretty damn good cup when I used the coffee my Italian friend gave me. He had family in Montreal who he visited from time to time. When he did, he bought vacuum-packed bricks of super-finely-ground imported Italian coffee. Once, he brought a couple of bricks to me. That espresso was, by far, the best I ever made in my little Braun or Krups or whatever brand espresso maker. I never made cappuccino with that machine, but it has a milk steamer attachment. Once, there was a little stainless steel milk container for use with the steamer attachment, but the little container is long gone, I think. But I should try it again. And I should get back to getting showered and getting dressed. First, though, I am going to sneak out to the Post Office in my sweats and, probably, my flip flops. No one else would be at the Post Office picking up mail at this hour on a Sunday morning, would they? I’ll soon see.

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Wasted

Every two hours, like clockwork, I awaken. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been going to bed early that sets the mental alarm clock: 11:30, 1:30, 3:30. By 3:30, it’s almost pointless to go back to bed, because I know I’ll be up even before the next biological alarm goes off. But I try, only to hear the “beep, beep, beep” of a garbage truck backing up about an hour later. I get up to explore what is making the sound in the middle of the night. I look out the window to see a large cargo plane being pushed, backward toward me, by a compact truck. I am confused by seeing the plane and the tarmac outside my window. The confusion is interrupted when my arm gets caught in the sheet. The sound and the plane and the tarmac were elements of a dream that had no other components. I have no explanation for that dream. So I ignore it and get up. The clock says 4:13. I am up for the duration.

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If I close my eyes now, I think I will fall asleep at the desk. Though I’ve been getting sleep every night for the past week, sleep has come in packets of varying length, mostly shorter than I’d like. I’ve gone through almost two cups of coffee so far, which have enabled me to stay awake long enough to read and watch BBC.com and to read a few Aljazeera pieces. I’ve read the latest on the Nashville RV bomb, despite wanting to avoid knowing what happened. It’s almost 6:00 now and I don’t think I can keep my eyes open another minute. Time for a break or a nap or a lengthy sleep.

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I decided to take an early morning nap. I was awakened by the telephone nearly two hours later, around 7:45; my sister-in-law called to check on me because I hadn’t responded to her text message. It’s just after 8 now, and she’s on her way over. I will have another cup of coffee and attempt to restart the day. This is a completely new experience, waking to brilliant sun.  It’s like I have wasted half the day.

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About My Wife

I want people to know who my wife was, the brilliant woman whose intellect was far superior to mine but who sometimes concealed her superiority, to the extent she could, so I would not appear so obviously dim by comparison. I want people to know a little more about the extremely private woman who simply refused to have her inner-most thoughts dragged out of her, unlike her husband who randomly and wantonly opens up to strangers who stumbled across this blog. But I have to think long and hard about what I should or can reveal about the woman I’ve loved for so long. She valued her privacy, keeping many of her feelings and opinions and emotions and beliefs locked in a vault to which very, very few were given access. I respect her decisions to keep much of herself hidden.

The trappings of prestige meant nothing to her. Though she earned a Ph.D., she never flaunted it. It was extremely rare for her to mention she was a licensed psychologist or that she had an undergraduate degree in mathematics. Those educational credentials, in part, led her to gravitate toward research psychology, psychometrics, and statistics, areas in which she excelled. Those accomplishments did not define her; she would not let them.

Unlike so many people who define themselves by their professional roles, my wife refused to allow her value to be equated with her job. And she was not too proud to do work outside her “professional sphere” when necessary or appropriate. Years ago, not long after she was hired to do research into white collar productivity, the organization that hired her suddenly disbanded the entire department. My wife was quite particular about the kind of psychological research she wanted to do, which was quite specialized and limited in availability. So, instead of despairing of the absence of jobs locally in her field, she quickly learned a new field: geophysical mapping or coding or something like it; I could never quite understand it.  Then, a few years later, when I encouraged her to return to her first professional love, she found a job in Chicago. I followed her there when I found a job a few months later. She enjoyed that work, conducting research into correlations between measured aptitudes and job satisfaction and performance. But she readily followed me a few years later when I found a position that, after roughly a year in New York, took me back to Texas.

Later, when I formed a management company, she willingly took on the financial management role for both the company and our client organizations. The business was a team effort; it would not have survived without her dedication and long, long hours.

During all this “professional” time, though, she made a point of living a life separate from work whenever possible. We enjoyed weekend jaunts, day trips, film, theater, and cooking, among other joint endeavors. And she carved out time for herself, too. She was a voracious reader, wading through enormous volumes of books, from classics to thrillers and mysteries, especially mysteries with female protagonists. She watched television, allowing herself to get enmeshed in PBS Masterpiece Theatre series and foreign films while simultaneously watching “reality” shows that I found silly and wasteful of her intellect. She did not care a whit whether I approved of her television tastes. She was not one to be moved by the trappings of intellectual snobbery nor was she willing to be shamed by judgments based on that snobbery.  She was a real person, her own person; unmoved by the artifice of social convention.

This fiercely private woman was my foundation and my anchor for more than forty years. I cannot imagine how I will get by without her, but somehow I must. I wrote a poem, five years ago, that attempted to describe what we were together. I called it Armature.

Armature

You and I have lived this life for an eternity,
detritus of our dashed dreams serving as bricks
and the two of us as mortar, cobbling together
this fragile, monumental tower where we reside.

We have scuffed our emotions against sharp
sentimental objects so many times they have
shredded into strings like worn cotton,
as soft and ephemeral as clouds.

The scowls and snarls of daily battles
between us have become so comfortable
I know I could not live without them and
the easy fit between us they concede.

I would not last an instant without them or you,
sitting in your study behind a closed door, book in hand,
exploring fantasies and frustrations, by proxy, of writers
who know you without ever having met you.

I would crumple into the useless hulk I have always been
were you not there to inflate my emptiness into a
figure in which you somehow find substance,
a man only you, in your wisdom and courage, could love.

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Good People Abound

Life-altering decisions may be best made during periods of relative serenity. I have heard and read that suggestion many times, and not just recently. The advice is probably sound, so I will plan to heed it unless circumstances forcefully argue otherwise.  That having been said, I’ve been bouncing around, mostly alone, in a fairly large house for upward of five months. I am comfortable in the house and I love the view, but it was a lot of house for my wife and me. It’s even more house for me, alone. The idea of selling the house, though, brings up other matters that surround such a potential change. Do I want to trade in a large house for a smaller one in a blood red pocket of America where I’ve lived for almost seven years? Or might selling the house present an opportunity to look elsewhere for a place where my political and social views are not so out of step with the mainstream?

Aside from the political and social isolation (though, to acknowledge reality, I gratefully am part of an even smaller pocket of progressive thinking and friendly people in my church), I am spatially distant from my remaining family. That said, though, they are scattered all around…Mexico to California to Texas to Ohio. Perhaps I should consider an even more radical change, like heading out to our original first-choice of places to which we might have relocated: Oregon. Or another pipedream I’ve harbored for years: the northeast or, even more distant, the Canadian Maritimes. I do not know whether it would even be possible for me to move to Canada; I think the restrictions may be too great. Even more radical, but possibly doable, would be Scandinavia. The idea of living in a place where the concept of social responsibility is engrained in one’s mind is appealing.

I think I may be engaged in escapist fantasy; trying to erase or dull the reality of the present by dreaming about the future. I do not have sufficient financial resources to pursue several of the ideas rattling around in my head. And I probably do not have the courage, either. Yet is it courage that’s required to make such significant changes, or it is fear; fear that one cannot long tolerate unwelcome, externally imposed change? That question merits long, honest, and deep consideration. All these questions in my head warrant such examination.

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I just watched a video I recorded in July 2011, announcing the decision my wife and I made to “at least temporarily” shutter our business. I attempted to be funny in the announcement but I think I failed. I made some statements in the video about our plans that never came to fruition (growing enormous vegetable gardens, taking many long road trips, etc.).  The image of  me in that video seems, now, to be a much younger man. And I guess I was; about nine years younger. I think, perhaps, I should pay heed to that video and attempt to follow the plan I laid out.

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I just watched another video, this one about the world’s first happiness museum. An analyst with the Happiness Research Institute defines happiness as having three components: life evaluation (how satisfied is one with the course of her life); daily emotional experience, also known as affective happiness; and life meaning, our our sense of purpose.  Another reason to consider Copenhagen and environs as my next home.

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Yesterday, I was visited by a woman from church, who brought me a jar full of soup ingredients (along with instructions for making the soup), a table of contents for a church member/friend soup recipe book, and some other goodies. That sort of thing, the genuine goodness of such people who plan and execute such programs, gives me reason to look at where I am as a safe harbor. A neighbor also came by with a bag full of goodies. I spent about fifteen minutes on the phone with the minister of the church, a truly good and caring man who helps make the church the appealing entity it is. And I spoke to a friend by phone last night; he offered to travel to any Flying Saucer I choose, after the pandemic, to attend my “plate” party (I’ll write about this again one day, to explain). Good people abound.

 

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Different Times

As I went about my usual Wednesday morning routine—showering, shaving, preparing trash to take to the curb for pickup, making my first cup of coffee, etc., etc.—it occurred to me that this Wednesday is no different that most Wednesdays. Except my wife is no longer here. Yet that has been true for most Wednesdays, most days of every week, since July 15. I adjusted my routines to account for my wife’s hospitalizations and her times in rehab facilities. During the times I was able to visit, my routine included a trip to visit with her. When she was in isolation due to COVID-19, I spoke to her by phone, or tried to, and/or visited through a window when I could.

So this Wednesday is very different from past Wednesdays. And the past five months were radical departures from virtually all the months that preceded them. Every day going forward will be dramatically different; my life has changed in ways beyond my comprehension. My wife’s death last Saturday launched the remainder of my life in a direction I do not yet understand and do not want to. But I have no choice. At some point, I will have to come to grips with my new reality. That point is not here yet, though. I am unable to think of the future. It has been only three days. Three of the longest days, I think, I have ever experienced.

Several times each day, I catch myself wanting to tell my wife something. It’s natural; it’s to be expected. I can no longer make a mental note to mention something to my wife; at least I can no longer act on that mental note. I know that. And I know that desire to say something to her will diminish over time. Though I’ve never before lost a spouse, I’ve lost a sibling; I recall the experience. This, though, is different. And I know that, too. I just don’t yet know how the differences will affect me.

My ruminations sound so clinical, as if they are devoid of emotion. They are not. I am just thinking about how my life has changed. The most important person in my life, the irreplaceable anchor and guide, is gone. Millions, billions, of people have experienced what I am experiencing, but this experience is unique to me. I’m rambling. I’ll stop.

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Friends and neighbors continue to express their condolences and their concern in many ways. Notes, messages, telephone conversations, and properly distanced and masked doorway visits have shown me the compassion that resides in so many people. A friend from church delivered a marvelous, comforting, and nutritious dinner last night, with enough for another meal as well. A neighbor I know only in passing, a woman who used to play cards with my wife, brought a dish of sliced cinnamon cake. Oh, I failed to mention before that I have two nice servings of lasagna in my freezer, courtesy of another friend who, day before yesterday, also brought cheese cookies. I am in no danger of starving.

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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. My family’s tradition has always been to enjoy tamales and chile con queso on Christmas Eve. The best tamales, in my memory, are those made in the kitchens of Mexican and Mexican-American families. The tamale-making process is overseen by little old Mexican grandmothers (who, now, are probably considerably younger than I am). They teach the proper ways to make the masa, prepare the corn husks, slowly cook and shred the spiced meat (pork is best, in my view). Then, they demonstrate the proper techniques for smearing the masa onto the corn husks, ladling and spreading the meat filling, and folding the tamales. Sadly, I did not go out in search of homemade tamales. I could buy manufactured tamales, I suppose, but they are not the same as crafted tamales. Tamales made with love and skill and a deep appreciation of the culture from which they emerged.

Oh, well. I have some of the makings of tamales. All I have to do is buy the rest. And make my own. Maybe another time. I’m not in the mood right now. But maybe I’ll stop at the sign on Highway 7; the sign that offers tamales for sale for $20 a dozen (extremely expensive, in my opinion). Or maybe I’ll delay. Who knows? I don’t.

 

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The Shortest Day of the Longest Year

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of arguably the longest year. This year has been a monstrous beast, intent on testing humanity’s resolve to survive. I thought 2019 was a bit tough, beginning as it did with my chemo and radiation treatment following my November 2018 lung cancer surgery. But that year improved as time crept by; in hindsight, time sped by like a bullet, but it felt slow and laborious for awhile. This year, though, started slow and ugly and seemed to get worse with every passing moment. My wife’s weakness got worse and worse and, finally, her fall in mid-July triggered an awful degradation. This longest year is ending with a sense of crushing defeat and ruin. I know it will get better, with time.

I’ve contemplated time so many times on this blog. Even recently, I’ve mused about the seemingly molasses-like speed of time in youth and the blazing speed of time in latter years. But time has both crept and sped by this year, in fits and starts. Now, I wish I could accelerate time so it could hasten the softening of the pain of loss.

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It took almost all day, but around 4 pm I finally showered and shaved, just in time to don my evening apparel of sweatshirt and sweats. I spent my time until darkness fell sitting outside on the deck, sipping a Dogfish Head 90, a first-rate imperial IPA. I thank my sister-in-law for giving me the beer.

Bleached orange and brown streaks, accented by pale pink and white wisps of clouds against a darkening sky made for a peaceful sunset. While I love arrays of brilliant orange and red and purple and blue and black—swirling and stretching in stunning layers—yesterday’s more placid display better suited my mood. I watched until all the light in the sky disappeared, replaced by darkness. Some days, light from the setting sun seems to last for a very long time. Yesterday, though, it disappeared quickly, as if an opaque curtain hid the dim glow of the sun below the horizon.

I had eaten more for lunch than normal and snacked on cheese cookies a friend dropped off (and who gave me a much-needed hug), so I opted to snack for dinner. Almost an entire bag of corn chips and a jar of Pace Picante Sauce disappeared while I was watching the final episode of Mindhunters. That last episode was a disappointment in some respects; but it disappointed not in execution but in the reality reflected by the events upon which the series was based.

Someone I knew from my business in Dallas called and later stopped by with muffins and a couple of books, one of which she had written. The books are based on Christian philosophies. I was grateful for the thoughts that prompted her and her husband, who I also knew from my business, to stop by to offer condolences and support.

Another friend stopped by to give me some goodies and a much-appreciated hug. I haven’t had many hugs during the past five months. I appreciate them, both getting and giving. That’s such an enormous change in me. Until just a few short years ago, hugging and being hugged felt awkward to me. Now, I thrive on them. People change, long after change is expected.

Yesterday’s errands included returning a borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet and going to the post office to mail a check to the crematorium. I could have handled the crematorium matters online, including credit card payment, but my wife would have been disappointed in me if I had agreed to pay a $28 “convenience fee” for the privilege of paying by credit card. I asked whether they would accept a check; the response was that credit cards were the preferred method of payment, but they would accept a check. So I paid by check; my wife would have been proud of my principled frugality.

After the post office, I sat in line at the car wash. When I had finally gone through the high-pressure spray and soap-soaked brushes, the exterior of the car was moderately cleaner, though the back window needed, and still needs, to receive special care.

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As I read what I’ve just written, I realize I am thinking and writing in something like circular reverse order. I suppose that is how my mind is functioning at the moment. I told my wife’s sister this morning that my wife would have been proud of something else I did, aside from refuse to pay the credit card “convenience fee,” but I don’t recall what it was that would have made her proud. I need to write those things down so I will not forget them. The idea that I could possibly forget anything about her or about us is upsetting.

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My family and friends, both face-to-face and virtual, are scattered around North America and, indeed, the world. I am so grateful for their expressions of condolence and support. I hope I will say it enough, at the right times, and to the right people, so that they all really understand how important their words are to me.

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I just got a notice that my groceries are ready for pickup. So, off I go.

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After

All the sincere expressions of sympathy and messages of love and support I have received since my wife’s death have been immensely helpful and heartwarming. I plan to respond to every one—and I will—but I do not have the energy to do justice to how grateful I feel for each and every message. Comments here—responding to yesterday’s short message—along with emails, text messages, Facebook comments, etc. reinforce my sense that I am surrounded by good, loving people. But beyond that, the knowledge that my wife, a very private person who kept so much to herself, meant so much to so many emphasizes her impact on the world in which she lived.  To all who reached out and who read these words, thank you from the bottom of my heart. On day, and I hope it will be soon, I will have the strength to connect directly and express my appreciation personally.

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I spent the day yesterday inside my house. I wanted to feel the sunlight I could see from my windows and I wanted to experience the crisp air, but the idea of enjoying it for even a moment so soon after the death of my wife felt utterly wrong. The gloom of the previous day, with its thick fog and grey skies and constant drizzle, seemed more appropriate to the circumstance.

As if the weather somehow reflects our emotions. As if the texture of each day should somehow mirror the texture of our moods. As if the entire universe should somehow echo the chaos in the tiny space surrounding our brains.

We sometimes give ourselves more control and more credit than we are due. How many hundreds of billions of times has the universe proven that the world goes on without us? As important as we are to microscopic clusters of those like us in our “nanospheres” (I borrowed and adapted the term), the universe constantly and consistently disproves the butterfly effect, in spite of my multiple arguments in support of and to the contrary over the years. We’re too small and the universe is too big for any one component to have an impact on the entirety. But because we understand only the part we can conceive of, the butterfly effect is absolutely true in our experience. In my house yesterday, I controlled the weather; it was a gloomy, dreary, foggy day. I provided the rain and the mist.

I did not sleep well the night before and by mid-day the lack of sleep was getting to me. But I managed to call two of my wife’s high school friends to give them the news. I’d met both of them in years past and knew how close my wife had been to them, even though they rarely communicated any longer. Friends from church came by with food for my dinner (which I discovered later was a wonderful sausage-and-tomato-based soup). The morning telephone experiences drained me, so some time after noon I relaxed in my recliner to nap, where I slipped into a reasonably restful sleep for two or three hours.

My sister-in-law, who had come by for coffee early in the day, came by again in the afternoon. We chatted, played Words with Friends, and tried to emerge from the rain and mist I had created in the house.

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I tried to watch another episode of Mindhunter last night, but promptly fell asleep. I find the series quite interesting, but mental fatigue seems to hold sway over interest.  A half glass of wine could have contributed to my drifting off so early, but generally a half glass of wine only encourages me to finish the glass and pour more. Not last night. At 10:30, I awoke and put a half glass of wine in the refrigerator. Perhaps I’ll try wine for breakfast. Probably not, though.

Predictably, I awoke last night around 3:00 with a need to pee. Fortunately, the dream that preceded the waking did not have enough of an impact to ruin the night. My wife and I had parked in front of a small meeting venue on the waterfront. I wanted to look at the place; my wife opted to stay in the car. When I went inside, a woman asked if she could help me and I said I wanted to see the meeting rooms. She showed me two meeting rooms, both with a wall of windows on the waterside. I asked for rental prices. She pointed to five artificial trees in pots in one room and told me the cost was one hundred dollars per tree to rent the room. In the other room, there were six small trees in pots; the cost to rent the room was fifty dollars per tree, which translated to $300 for the room. I told her I would think about it. She asked for my name and contact information. I made up a name and address and spent quite some time drawing elaborate letters and numbers on a sheet of paper. I then asked to use the restroom. The room was tiny; when I tried to close the door (which was a wrap-around door), I had a hard time closing it because I had more circumference than the room. Just as I started peeing, some guy pushed his arm through the space between the door and the wall and laughed, causing me to list to the side, peeing all over the leg of my pants. Then, as I looked down, I could see that there was a hold in the floor where the toilet should have been and there was a man’s face below, looking up at me just as I let loose with a stream of pee. Somehow, I got out of there and to the car to drive away. The dream ended just as I awoke with an urgent need to pee.

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How can one’s mind mix such utterly disconnected sensations? Though the dream was not at all funny to me (I was quite worried that the men were going to try to hurt me), it was not in keeping with my mood during the day. I think our minds slip in and out of control; mostly out. We cannot corral our emotions and thoughts enough to make them acquiesce to our desires or expectations. Unless, of course, we have been trained to discipline ourselves to such a great extent that the natural expression of ourselves is bound and gagged and left to wither while the expectations of society are drummed into us.

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I should take a shower today and I probably will. But not now. This morning, I will be lazy and will not punish myself for it. I will try to relax for awhile. Later, after my possible shower, I will see about returning my wife’s borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet. I will finish my online grocery shopping. But I may do nothing of the sort. Time will tell.

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Permanent Emptiness

There’s a hole in the universe, an empty spot that cannot be filled.

My beautiful wife, the woman whose smile was more magnificent and more genuine than any other I have ever seen, died last night.

After I got the call, I called her sister to ask if she wanted to make one last visit to see her; she did. So we drove to the hospital and went to see my wife. It was the last time I will ever see her.

I have so much to say about my wife, but I am so empty that I cannot put words down.

One day, I hope soon, I will write about her. In the meantime, I will contemplate a permanent emptiness and the incredible beauty that once filled it. And the treasure inside me that my wife created simply by loving me and allowing me to love her.

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A Thousand Little Pieces

Just a matter of time. As if time were almost inconsequential; a byproduct of experience  rather than the framework within which experience is defined. It’s just a matter of time seems so dismissive, so insignificant, so brusque and crude. I prefer time will tell, though I won’t claim I have never used the harder, less sensitive phrase. Time will tell gives time its due; it inculcates time with more meaning and more power. More gravitas. The former phrase suggests predetermination. It robs circumstances of choice. But time does that, anyway, doesn’t it? Maybe I am making too much of a simple turn of phrase. But everything has meaning now.

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When I watch my wife sleep now, I have to acknowledge she’s not really asleep. She is in a coma. She cannot be wakened.  A nurse explained to me yesterday that the process of organ failure has begun. My wife’s kidneys are shutting down, her other internal organs are slowing their processes, her lungs are beginning to fill with fluids, and her extremities are cooling and changing color because her heart cannot pump sufficient blood to them. To the nurse, these processes are natural end-of-life occurrences requiring matter-of-face explanations. To me, they are excruciatingly painful reminders that it’s just a matter of time. Time will tell, indeed. No one can tell me with any accuracy how much time remains; no one wants to guess, I suspect, because a guess might trigger a response from me that neither I nor anyone else could control; an emotional breakdown uncomfortable for anyone in close proximity to witness. I cannot control my tears. I tried when my father died and when my mother died and when my sister died; I failed each time. There’s nothing wrong with tears, but their power can be shocking to people unused to seeing them shed in such volume.

I spend time writing about emotions in the hope my cold, analytical assessment will enable me to control them better when they inevitably come. But, really, I know better.

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I have so much to do at home; financial recordkeeping, filing, bills to pay, checkbooks to reconcile, etc., etc., etc. But, despite intentions that I will do that work each day when I come home from the hospital, I don’t have the energy. I received a long, thoughtful, and extremely welcome email from a church friend this morning, explaining her experiences when her daughter and her husband died. She described the same fatigue and the same assessment that, after a long day at the hospital, those important tasks no longer seemed important. That message made me feel like my lethargy, at least, is not unique and may well be natural. In my case, on some days (yesterday and today, for example), my lethargy started before I left the house; the bed remains unmade, though I might convince myself to make it before I leave this morning.

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National and domestic news is of no interest to me this morning. I feel a little like, if global thermonuclear war would break out before 8:00 a.m., that might be precisely the kind of stimulant I might need to just go back to bed. Just stop the scrapping and get to the meat of the fight.

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I had a conversation last night with a friend who is, like me, happy with her own company and the company of her spouse. I wonder what happens with such tiny units when one of the pair dies? I hate that I will find out. I am glad my wife did not have to find out, though five+ months in tiny hospital and rehab rooms probably gave her more of a taste of it than she ever would have wanted.

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I think my mind is splitting into a thousand little pieces, with nothing to connect them. More coffee may repair the rifts.

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Adrift

Over the years, my writing has made frequent reference to “context.” Understanding context, in my view, is absolutely crucial to interpreting experience. Without context, reality is experience seen and felt through gauze and vapor and smudges of translucent oil. That sounds suspiciously like a dream, doesn’t it?  A hazy mist revealing bits and pieces of recognizable elements against an utterly indistinct background of confusion.

Even dreams, though—their foggy images and sounds and emotions partially hidden behind layers of bewildering “meaning”—are contextual. Last night, the context of my dreams was clear to me ever time I awoke from one. In every one of them, I thought I could see my wife in the room with me or next to me, only to realize the vision was imaginary. And in every one of them the circumstances of the dream were somehow related to my wife being in hospice care. The details of the dreams, as ethereal as they were, are too complex and detailed to worry with here. My point is that the dreams emerged, in large part, from the context of the life from which they sprang.

The dreams were not extremely distressing, but neither were they comforting or reassuring. In the hindsight of wakefulness, they seemed representative of confusion and uneasy fear. God, why am I trying to interpret my dreams and their context? There is no value in that. Especially now. I should allow myself to dissolve into a flood of tears. But I am afraid if I did, I would never be able to reconstitute myself. No matter what I do, I will leave a million uncorrectable mistakes in my wake. I could spent the rest of Time trying to fix them; it would be pointless.

It is odd, I think, that I have absolutely no belief in a life beyond this brief one we have here on Earth, yet I feel an urgent need to eliminate the damage my foibles have done to her before my wife leaves this life. So that, just in case I’m wrong, my mistakes don’t stay with her after she goes. I would not have had these irrational thoughts a month ago. I am allowing myself to indulge in ridiculous ideas.

I spent part of the morning yesterday reciting/reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to my wife. She could not hear me read it, I fear. The reading was more for me than for her, I am afraid. My wish was that she could hear it, so she could close a chapter with a remembrance of eternal love. The words were read at our wedding 40+ years ago. I think they always gave me more comfort than she got from them.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

I hope she heard them. I hope she remembers all the times I read them aloud to her.

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Internal Conversations

When one’s thoughts seem unable to focus on anything but matters too difficult and unpleasant to accept, I think the brain reacts by pursuing the meaningless and mundane. That is the only explanation I can think of to explain why I began pondering this:

How it is that we like our coffee at 189 degrees when it’s brewed, knowing full well it will cool quickly to temperatures far lower? The same is true of casseroles, steaks, etc., etc. Some of us insist on beginning our experience with food and drink at precise temperatures, but subsequently accept previously unacceptable temperatures after initial exposure to our lips. Does coffee at 187 or 180 or 175 taste appreciably different than hotter coffee? Or is it the temperature that makes hotter coffee more appealing? If the latter, why not discard the remainder of the cup after a sip or two, replacing it with a new, perfectly hot coffee? Ditto steaks, casseroles, etc.

The more I ponder these matters, though, the more my thoughts begin to answer my own question. As I begin to sip my very hot coffee, I have to be careful not to burn my tongue. Still, I enjoy that hot liquid quite a lot. As it cools, the sips become larger and the taste fills my mouth more. But, at some point, it becomes cool enough that I realize I must hurry to finish the cup or it will be too cool to be appealing (iced coffee, of course, is another story). When it reaches that “too cool” point, I either microwave the remaining coffee in the cup (which yields a warmer but not as satisfying liquid) or replace the cup with a new one.

And with steak, as some point in the cooling process the delicious fat begins to congeal, trapping the most flavorful flavor components of the meat. Either I reheat the steak or save it for another meal in which the flavor of cold beef steak is appropriate; think a salad of some sort.

I think I went off on a tangent, as I am wont to do. Let me return to my original thought. We tend to reach out and grab anything that promises to anesthetize emotional pain. Drugs, alcohol…meaningless and mundane questions. But the problem with anesthetizing emotional pain is that it comes back after the anesthetic is withdrawn. In other words, the anesthetic masks the pain, it doesn’t eliminate it. It doesn’t excise it from the brain. But what will? What removes that pain? Some say time heals all wounds. Perhaps.  But consider a bullet wound to the abdomen; do we want to rely on time to take care of it, or would we prefer professional medical care in a sterile environment?

What might be an emotional equivalent? How about the death of a spouse or the sudden abandonment by a lifelong partner? Let time handle them? The victim of a gunshot to the gut needs immediate attention and aftercare that will help prevent infection and promote healing. What about the emotional victims? That’s the question. That. Is. The. Question.

But in all this consideration of the “survivors” of pain, both physical and emotional, do we forget the other end of the spectrum? The guy who accidentally shot his friend in the stomach? The dying spouse? The long-abused partner?  Life is complex. Simple answers work only with simple questions. Therefore, simple answers don’t work with life. I think I could write a dissertation on the complexity of human life. But it would be incomplete, because human life is far too complex to be analyzed or explained in even the most voluminous dissertation.

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Yesterday, as I was skimming Facebook, I came across what may be a bogus ad for WishDate, I think (or maybe a real one), advertising that it connects “Gorgeous young women seeking older gentlemen.” Yeah, right. Let’s make it more realistic, shall we?

“Gorgeous young women seeking older, balding, overweight, homely gentlemen.” Then, below the tagline, we could have an image of a gorgeous young woman with an air quote: “I’m so tired of men with six-pack abs and endless energy. What I’m after is a generous old fat man who can barely stand up but has boatloads of money.”

Does anyone ever fall for these ads? I am too much of a skeptic to ever entertain such obvious schemes. And I’m glad I am so skeptical.

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Overpowering guilt washes over me like a wave when I think about my pain and my sadness. I’m not the one whose pain and sadness matters. I will remain. I will continue to be able to experience the offers—or inflictions—of life. I am not the victim, though I wrote something a moment ago that suggested otherwise. Life is too complex to categorize and compartmentalize. I wonder whether our attempts to impose the logic of impossibly simple physical laws on the impossibly chaotic realities of life?

+++

Today, I will go to the hospital earlier than usual, in the hope of catching the attending physician on his rounds. I spoke to him late yesterday afternoon (he sought me out, which I deeply appreciated) and gave me assurances my wife would not be discharged to home hospice care. She had become nonresponsive, which I gather is one of the Medicare measures of eligibility for in-hospital hospice care. I want to be there when he examines my wife and evaluates her condition. I’ll leave within an hour or so. For now, my sister-in-law in on her way here for coffee and conversation. A very welcome respite from my internal conversations.

 

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Not Knowing What to Expect

After experiencing a strange blend of consciousness and dreams and, I suspect, side-effects from the Shingrix injection night before last, I feel reasonably stable this morning. My back still hurts and a new sensation—that I’ve been kicked in the kidneys—is bothersome, but over all, I think I am as “well” as I deserve.

The result of the bizarre incident is that I did not get to the inpatient hospice until just before noon. My wife was asleep and responded only briefly to my gentle efforts to wake her; she accepted a couple of sips of water before falling asleep again. The nurse told me efforts to give her breakfast were futile; she was awake enough to refuse the meal. When a meal was brought in after I arrived, my wife slept through my efforts to cajole her into eating; she remained asleep all afternoon.  The nurse suggested I eat the meal if my wife would not; I finally had the lunch of green beans, penne pasta with meat sauce, sliced canned peaches, and iced tea. I left the roll and the milk.

It is hard to sit next to my wife, watching what appears to me to be her restless sleep, while a nasal canula delivers oxygen to help her breathe more comfortably. Periodically, a nurse will come in to ask how she is doing. She does not respond, but the nurse senses by watching her grimace that she is in some degree of pain. So, she takes my wife’s hand and asks her to squeeze it if she wants the nurse to give her pain medication; I watch my wife’s hand squeeze the nurse’s. The nurse leaves and comes back a few minutes later with a syringe containing a small dose of morphine. She delivers the morphine and leaves. I have mixed feelings: does the morphine rob my wife of the ability to speak to me, or on the other hand is it enough to eliminate the pain? I decide she should be given as much as necessary to be sure to eliminate the pain.

From time to time, as I gaze at my wife and see her struggle, my eyes fill with tears. I feel guilty that I do not know whether they are tears for me or tears for my wife.

The social worker came in during the afternoon to ask if I had thought about “arrangements.” I deflected. She then said she had spoken to the doctor about whether my wife is likely to continue to qualify for inpatient hospice; unless there are requirements for her comfort that can be delivered only in an inpatient setting, she would not qualify. I brought up the morphine. There are under-the-tongue medications that dissolve and accomplish what morphine does, though not as thoroughly, she replied. The decision would not be instant; I would have a couple of days to arrange things. Later, I called the company that delivered the hospital bed and Hoyer lift. I need to be at the house on Friday to let them in to take the equipment. Although I may have to do it sooner. The hospice organization will provide equipment if she is sent home.

Periodically during the afternoon, I checked the weather forecast. Talk of sleet, snow, and freezing rain beginning early in the evening convinced me I should leave before darkness fell, so I left around 4:45. The drive home was uneventful. I have not checked to see whether the forecasts were correct. I may stay the night at the hospital tonight and/or tomorrow. It depends.

+++

During my morning perusal of news websites, a sentence from the AP website struck me: “For the first time in history, the U.S. government has carried out more executions in a year than all states that still conduct executions…” The article, based on a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, notes that 55% of respondents to a 2020 Gallup death penalty poll support the death penalty and 43% oppose it. But Americans, the report says, “had “nuanced views” and that even many who say they support the death penalty in theory don’t like it in practice.” Personally, I oppose the death penalty, though I think I can understand the emotional and intellectual arguments of those who support it. In my view, our justice system has too many flaws that can allow innocent people to be erroneously convicted of heinous crimes and sentenced to die; those errors, once carried out, cannot be corrected. And I understand what I call the “revenge reaction” to horrible crimes in which people are brutally murdered, tortured, etc. But, still, our own Declaration of Independence clearly states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I wonder whether the Federal government, under Trump and his henchmen, have altered the course of the arguments? I suppose we will see what we will see in the years ahead.

+++

I think I am withdrawing from everyone and everything. It’s a selfish reaction to emotional turmoil. For some reason, though, I think the withdrawal may outlast the turmoil; it would be different, I think, if I did not feel most of my interactions are fraught with uncomfortable formality. Formality inhibits a person’s ability to be open and unencumbered by social expectations. I think of the matter in terms like this: If I could choose between living as a member of a royal family in a spectacular castle or in a one-bedroom apartment in which I was utterly free of social expectations, which would I choose? I think I’d choose the latter. Keeping up appearances and being unable to exhibit the “casual me” would be nightmarish.

+++

Time for a shower and shave. If I had a hot lather machine, the shave would be more pleasant. But a hot lather machine is a luxury I do not want or need.

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Between Sleep and Its Companion

I spent another day at my wife’s bedside yesterday. She did not eat while I was there, from about 10:30 to just before 5. That worries me, of course, but the nurses say variations in appetite are not unusual. Relatively late in the day, she seemed to have some interest in a cooking show that her sister had been watching (the sound muted and captions activated). When I got home last night, darkness had begun to fall. I changed into my evening attire (sweats, sweatshirt, and flip-flops). I reclined on the loveseat and watched episode 3 of Mindhunters, a series based on book about the work of two FBI agents and a psychologist whose efforts transformed the agency’s behavioral science philosophies and processes. I’m enjoying it.

Yesterday morning, I took the time to get my second Shingrix vaccination. Very early this morning, I think I experienced some of the more common side effects of the vaccine: shivering, muscle pain, headache, tiredness, fever, etc. About 2:30, I woke up shivering. No matter how I piled on the blanket, I felt cold; I was shivering so much that my teeth chattered. At about the same time, I experienced rather intense pain in my lower back; the kind of pain that intensifies with any physical movement. Every time I turned over, the pain got worse; but unless I moved, the pain seemed to get amplified in one spot. The muscles in both arms felt achy and I had a headache.

Also, I thought I was having hallucinations last night. When I exhaled, I saw a rectangular “tube” arise from my mouth and go up, through the ceiling and into the sky. Inside the tube were barely visible earth-tone translucent shapes that I thought looked architectural in nature; those shapes were normal, I thought. But suddenly the shapes became colorful, though still barely visible, and transformed into animals, including unicorns and elephants and tigers. Then, the tube emptied. Finally, it disappeared. Somehow, the tubes were related both to my breath and to computer controls connected to my chills. As I try to remember the experience, I think the weird visions were not hallucinations but, instead, odd components of a dream that stayed with me for a few moments after I awakened; one of those strange incidents between sleep and waking that merge elements of both.

I tolerated these experiences until about 5:30, when I called my sister in law to ask whether she, if the streets were safe, would come over and look for blankets and pile them on top of me. I did not want to try to get out of bed for fear of being unable to stand up or get back in bed because of my back. She said she would do it once she could be sure the ice on the streets had begun to melt. Later, she wisely suggested the symptoms I was having might be COVID-19 or the flu and, therefore, she felt uncomfortable being in the house. She asked if I had taken my temperature; naturally, it had not occurred to me.  Later, I took my temperature with three difference thermometers: 97.5, 99.1, and 101.8.

I fell asleep shortly after the phone conversation. Finally, sometime after 8:30, I got up. My lower back still hurts; the pain feels just like the pain I’ve had before when my lower spine got out of alignment. Otherwise, except for muscle aches, I feel fine. To my knowledge, I have not been around anyone who has/had COVID-19. The fact that my nighttime “symptoms” seem to have diminished quite a lot suggests to me I am fine.

The blinds in the kitchen usually are up by the time the sun begins to rise. Not this morning, though. It was nearly 9:30 when I pulled the cord on the blinds. Immediately, I saw a box sitting at the front door. I suspect it had been sitting there all night; I just hadn’t noticed it when I got home. Once inside, I opened the box to reveal all manner of goodies; my nephew, his wife, and his mother sent us a fabulous assortment of chocolates, baked goods, canned goods, candies, and more. I was delighted when I saw that one of the packages was biltong, a dried meat product that originated in South African countries. I’ve been wanting to try it for months (maybe years), so that was a wonderful Christmas gift!

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Commencement

I did not expect to wake up this morning to snow, but there it was. The car sitting in the driveway was covered with the stuff. Not a lot, but there was a dusting sufficient to completely cover the front windshield. The solar lights along the driveway, capped with white smudges, offered more evidence of snow during the night. And so did the bushes on the far side of the driveway. The snow was visible only because something triggered the motion sensors that turn on the exterior porch and garage lights; the unusual brightness of those lights prompted me to raise the blinds. That’s when I saw the snow. As soon as the lights went out, all I could see was darkness. I had to walk outside, my motion setting off the lights, before the white blanket became visible again.

According to Alexa, who lately is prone to stretching the truth and randomly blurting out comments in Spanish, the temperature is 32 degrees. The app on my phone claims it’s 30 degrees. And the temperature sensor inside the screened porch registers 33 degrees. I know with certainly only one thing: it’s cold outside.

+++

My intention to get my second shingles shot yesterday went unfulfilled. Rain, slick roads, and cold temperatures conspired to send me directly home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. And I did not have the patience to wait for weekend opening hours yesterday morning. So, today I hope to get the second shot. We’ll see. I need to go shopping, too, but I’d rather spend time with my wife at the inpatient hospice. My sister-in-law offered to do shopping for me yesterday, but I can be rather picky about brands and the like (and slow to decide what, exactly, I want), so I declined her kind offer. I may opt to shop online again and pick up my order in the parking lot.

Shopping for groceries online is considerably easier than shopping for clothes online. To my knowledge, there are no reliable standards for clothing sizes for men. Inseams, for example, advertised as 29 inches (I have short legs) can range from 27 inches (a good length for me) to 31 inches. Waist size claims have even greater variations. And I’ve never fully understood the concept of “rise,” which seems to vary by manufacturer. So does the description of where pants should “sit,” often presented as “at the waist,” “below the waist,” “slightly below the waist,” etc. Inseams and waist sizes seem almost random. The common advice for men’s trousers is that their length should be such that there is a slight break at the shoes, but the pants should not “puddle” above the shoes. I would very much like to have pants that do not puddle, but they do not make inseams short enough (or, if they are short enough, the waist is not large enough). I suppose my girth is larger than it should be, which may account for the improper ratio of inseam to waist size, thereby causing puddling or, in some severe cases, deep pooling. I attribute part of my problems with pants sizes to my lack of a discernable butt; another part is the abundance of excess body size with respect to circumference of the waist.

But it’s not pants that I’m most interested in at the moment. Facebook reminds me, regularly, with photos of years past, that I am wearing the same shirts today that I wore ten or more years ago. Some of them, anyway. I still have a few shirts that no longer fit, probably because I used the wrong laundry detergents, causing them to shrink by a factor of 25 percent. But I wear at least four long-sleeve shirts that have maintained their sizes or, perhaps, have always been more than a little big on me. I can tell by the brand name tags sewn into their collars and the extreme similarities of pattern and style that I bought them at the same time.  I think it’s time to, if not replace, augment them with new shirts. Ideally, all of my clothes would be “bespoke.” I like that term. Custom tailored. I would not pick fabrics that require any special care. I would select durable material that does not wrinkle. That’s true of both shirts and pants. I’m getting a little tired of jeans, but that’s almost all I ever wear. I’ve been dissatisfied with other fabrics; perhaps my dissatisfaction has been more with fit than with fabric. Jeans can be forced to conform to my shape, or vice versa. Fabrics with less density and strength tend to make me look lumpy and frumpy. Or perhaps it’s me that makes the fabrics look that way.

+++

I want to have long conversations with my wife. I want to hear her talk about what’s on her mind; what she is thinking. But she has never been one to share her thoughts. Her thoughts are private. She defines introversion as clearly as anyone I’ve ever known. I am introverted, as well, but in a completely different way. I open up to the computer screen when no one is looking over my shoulder. She does not.

Now, though, her voice is weak and her energy is very low. She does not have the capacity to talk to me at length at the moment, even if she wants to. Much of our communication over the years has been nonverbal; we’ve known, to some extent, what was on one another’s minds. But her condition makes even that difficult for her. She sleeps much of the time. When she is awake, her thoughts often are far away, hidden in the distance of her eyes.

+++

I am close to no one. The isolation I’ve always coveted surrounds me like a shroud. It’s odd, I think, that I tend to express so much through my fingers and so little through real, honest, intimate conversation. I’ve always been afraid of revealing, verbally, my weakness and uncertainty; as if refraining from saying the words in favor of writing them will shield me from judgment.

+++

I had a brief online conversation this morning with a high school classmate, a woman I have not seen in roughly fifty years. She lives an isolated life in the desert of west Texas. Reading her words made me think of how life often is so very different from the way we imagine it to be. I think she envisioned that she would live a romantic “wild west” experience in the desert but, in fact, it seems to be more of a gritty, hardscrabble life among people whose softer sensibilities have been erased by smothering sand and inescapable poverty.

+++

One year ago today, I wrote about how it is almost impossible to relive, precisely, physical pain but recollections of emotional pain can be just as vivid in memory as they were in fact. My feelings on that matter have not changed. And, now, it’s time to commence the day.

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Floating

My sister-in-law and I spent much of the day in my wife’s room at the inpatient hospice yesterday. Before heading to the hospital, my wife’s nurse called to give me an update; she said my wife had refused breakfast, but responded to questions with short, one-word answers or nods. She wanted to sleep, the nurse said. After we got to the hospital, my wife developed a good appetite, asking for an omelette with “everything.”  Her monstrous omelette came with ham, spinach, turkey sausage, green peppers, cheese, onions, tomatoes, and more. Though she ate only a relatively small portion of it, she enjoyed it. When she was awake and she seemed to be in good spirits, off and on. She was happy to see her sister, who had not been able to visit her since my wife went to the ER on December 6. Most of the day, my wife was asleep, though she spoke to us a bit and she wanted me to continue reading to her from where I stopped before (but my voice tends to send her into slumber, so I don’t know how much of what I read she hears). Lunch, which came only a couple of hours after the omelette, consisted of Dijon pork medallions, cole slaw, and pinto beans. The pork medallions were large and thick; my wife finished every bit of them, as well as most of the cole slaw and all of the beans. Her appetite is better than it has been in weeks. The nurse is very caring and tender; she generally is not rushed like the nurses on the regular hospital floors, though they, too, seemed to spend as much time as they needed to ensure my wife’s comfort.

+++

When I left my wife’s room sometime after 4:30, I felt selfish and guilty for leaving her. I had walked with her sister to the elevator when she left and, when I returned, the nurse said my wife had asked for pain medication. The pain was not site-specific; it was a generalized pain. The nurse gave her a shot with a small dose of morphine to relieve her pain. The nurse advised that it could make my wife sleepy; I thought to myself she could have been getting morphine shots all day, then. But, obviously, she had not. I could have stayed the night, but I was exhausted, even though I had done nothing to bring on the exhaustion. I returned a call from a friend from church, who has regularly called to check on my wife and who has offered to help in anything I might need. Later, I sent a message to another friend from church, another person who has made a point of checking in with regularity. Neither of them overdo it; they keep in touch enough, though, to let me know they are thinking of us and are available to help. That kind of compassionate outreach makes me glad that, after roughly fifty years of eschewing church in any form, I finally found the right one. I hope and think they know I will gladly reciprocate if ever the need were to arise. That is true for anyone as kind and thoughtful, which is true of everyone in the church who I’ve gotten to know.

+++

After I got home, I opened three cans—pinto beans, corn, and diced tomatoes—for dinner. With some chile powder, cumin, oregano, and pepper, the beans made enough spicy goodness for two meals. But, with two large helpings, I emptied the pan, consuming three cans of vegetables.  I followed that with a glass (or two?) of red wine as I watched the final episode of Unforgotten. I hated seeing the series end. It was early in the evening, probably 9 or so, when I decided to go to bed. I awoke several times during the night, my arthritic elbows and wrists and knees punishing me for my sedentary lifestyle.

During the night, I had a disturbing dream in which I was about to participate in a board of directors meeting for the first association that employed me. I had forgotten to bring background materials for the board in support of my proposal to radically change the association. I was to recommend eliminating the board, replacing it with an advisory board comprised of members of the general public. In addition, I wanted to recommend the association abandon its narrow focus on corrosion control; instead, I was to recommend broadening its scope to include “everything.” I do not recall what possessed me to suggest that. Before I was to speak, though, I had to leave the huge board room in search of a bathroom. Once I left the room, I found myself in a huge convention center hallway, crowded with convention-goers from several other organizations. And, then, I could not find a bathroom, nor could I remember where the board was meeting. There was more, though I am not sure if it was part of the same dream. I followed a little girl and her mother into a big field, empty except for a single tree, tall and thin, in the distance. As we neared the tree, the mother said, “We were here yesterday. You have to watch out for the snakes. They are everywhere.” I do so wish I could electronically record dreams, both video and audio, and play them back; it’s frustrating to remember snippets of dreams that obviously were far more complex and longer.

+++

One of these days, I should go through the 429 posts sitting in my drafts folder and decide what to do with them: revise and post, revise and save, abandon and discard, or wait a while longer—leaving them for later, and returning to them with the same plan of action. “One of these days” is not really a plan of action, though, is it? It is procrastination, delaying a decision that, apparently, I am not ready to make. All my life, I’ve been advised to make the hardest decisions first, leaving the simpler ones for later. The rationale is that hard decisions tend to require more of one’s energies. Better to make them when one’s mental and physical energies are at or near their peaks, rather than wait until energy has been spent. Decisions made when energy is low are more apt to be sloppy. Important aspects of the decision-making process are too easy to ignore when tired, fatigued, or mentally worn.

It’s silly to place any appreciable importance on decisions about what to do with blog posts that, for one reason or another, failed to make the first cut for publishing. Blog posts are insignificant. When measured on a spectrum ranging from critically important to utterly inconsequential, they fall somewhere near to latter end of the scale. That notwithstanding, draft posts tend to command greater attention in the writer’s mind than the importance they would take on in the prospective reader’s experience. Readers, after all, usually do not even know that drafts exist; certainly, readers know nothing of their content. Only in the author’s brain do hidden drafts seem to merit consideration and procrastination.

+++

In a while, I will head back to the inpatient hospice in the hospital. I may leave early so I can go get my second Shingrix injection; having had a mild case of shingles even after I had the original vaccine, I feel absolutely compelled to get the follow-up injection; I got the first Shingrix shot about twelve weeks ago, I think. Yesterday I got a couple of reminders calls to get the follow-up. So, as much as I want to spend the time with my wife, I think I had better get the vaccination. It won’t be terribly long, I suppose, before I get scheduled to take the two-injection vaccine for COVID-19. I am floating between vaccinations.

+++

I feel like I am sitting in an idling car. I have been sitting in it for a very long time and I do not know how much longer I will need to sit there. The road where it sits is full of ruts and potholes and new, replacement roads are being constructed all around me. Busses and trucks and cars and motorcycles and bicycles are whizzing by me in all directions. When I try to put the car in Reverse, its engine sputters, so I quickly return the gear shift to Neutral. I cannot get it into Park. I cannot move the shift to Drive. I should just sit patiently, but I can’t. I try, repeatedly, to get the car off the decaying roadway. Suddenly I am at ease with my dilemma. I do not need to move the car, nor do I need to exit the vehicle. I realize that whatever happens with the car happens with me. I will stay with the car, even if the road collapses beneath us.

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Stop

Sitting in her hospital room yesterday while my wife slept, I occupied myself with my smartphone, playing word games and reading snippets of the day’s news. “The news.” The words suggest factual information, but hidden within them are layer upon layer of bias. Regardless of the media outlet, reporters and writers and editors busily craft messages that cleverly convey a soft chauvinism; opinions disguised as data. I suspect most of the people who manipulate their messages are guilty only of what they consider defensible prejudice; progressive perspectives on one end of the spectrum, conservative outlooks on the other. Regardless of the relative merits of their opinions, though, they are engaged in subtle (or not-so-subtle) attempts to sway media consumers’ thinking in support of specific viewpoints. Editorial pages once were reserved for such endeavors. Today, it seems editorials and raw reportage have merged into a form of propaganda. Not “fake news,” but predigested information. I try to find information untouched by presentation bias. It’s rare. A few media outlets, like the Associated Press and, to a lesser extent, the News Hour on PBS, seem to work diligently to remove bias from their reporting of the news. Most, though, no longer even attempt to hide their bigotry.

The news media is not alone in its innate biases, the ones that arise from philosophies of life that guide beliefs and behaviors. I think medicine, too, is rife with opinions that sometimes masquerade as facts. I am more forgiving of medicine’s opinions, though, because usually they seem to be guided by carefully evaluated experiences, coupled with (almost) universally accepted facts. Still, though, doctors present patients and their families with options filtered through the lens of the physicians’ experiences. I prefer hearing doctors’ specific options as recommendations, rather than as menu items, all of equal merit. That is, I want to hear a doctor to say, “Based on the options available to you, if I were you I think I would…” The recommendations can be argued and questioned, but the doctor’s point of view is clear.

That was true yesterday when the medical director of the hospice suggested my wife be moved to inpatient hospice care, versus being discharged from the hospital for home hospice care. My gut tells me the doctor could read the fear in me, fear that I would be unable to provide the quality of care that would ensure my wife’s comfort. In recognizing my concerns, he assessed the situation as one in which a recommendation from a physician was warranted. He clearly felt inpatient hospice was preferable, given the circumstances. And he said the decision could be reversed at any time my wife and I felt it appropriate. And, of course, he and his team could determine if my wife were no longer qualified for inpatient hospice care, in which case we could opt for home hospice, palliative care, or traditional home health nursing services.

For me, the difference in bias between news organizations and physicians comes down to accountability. News organizations can retract comments or stories and can explain how changes in the external environment can influence the reliability of “facts.” Doctors, though, tend to qualify their recommendations (biases) before making them; not after the fact.

I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning around 7:30. My wife was fast asleep. An untouched tray of food sat on the overbed table. When a nurse came in a while later to administer some medications, my wife roused briefly but did not open her eyes. She expressed with a shake of her head that she did not want to take medications and that she wanted to be left alone. A couple of hours later, the tray of food was removed and, later still, another tray was brought in. My wife remained asleep. It was not until about 2:30 that she opened her eyes and communicated with me, mostly with whispered words and barely-noticeable gestures. She was thirsty and hungry. I gave her tea. She ate an entire helping of penne pasta with meat sauce and made quite a dent in a scoop of whipped potatoes. Then, she went back to sleep. It was during those hours of sleep that the doctor spoke to me and made his recommendations.

My wife was moved to inpatient hospice around 4:00 pm. Not long after she was settled in, another plate of food was brought in to her and I helped her with the chicken and potatoes.  I left for home around 5:30.  I can visit her again this morning beginning at 9. If I leave after 8 this evening, I will have to exit through the emergency room. But I can stay overnight, if I wish and my wife is agreeable, sleeping in what I know to be a beastly uncomfortable chair. I suspect I can manage it, though, with pillows. I know I need to get things done around the house, but I may opt to stay there on occasion, if for no other reason than to let my wife know I’m there.

I’ve wandered away from a topic I hoped would distract me. I tend to do that. I guess I’ve always wanted or needed to be distracted from life itself but have, so far, failed to stay the course.

The clothes in the dryer will be ready soon and my coffee cup is in need of a refill. Good time to stop.

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Time Cannot be Captured

Some hours and minutes speed by, while others have the earmarks of extraordinarily slow motion, inching along as if time were trapped in a viscous jelly. The difference between the two sensations of time is impossible for me to capture in words. Only by imagining how it might feel—to quickly empty the air from one’s lungs and then slowly fill them again with congealed air—can one get a sense of how such days unfold. The excruciating, impossibly slow moments feel like one must gasp for oxygen. When moments alternate between the fiction of warp speed and the reality of geologic time, the experience defines fatigue in physical terms.

The casual observer, watching someone else experience time in these ways, does not notice the wear and tear taking place. Everything is normal; nothing seems out of the ordinary. For that reason, I think the experience must not be real. But on the inside looking out, the experience is as real as an experience can be. Two distinct dimensions must be at play, although they intersect only in one direction.

Clearly, on reading what I have written, a description of the passing of time at radically different speeds is impossible for me to accurately record. The closest “normal” experience that mirrors it must be childhood versus old age. Seconds and minutes in childhood are equivalent to decades in old age. “Old age” sounds so ugly and used up; there is no attractive term for it, though. “Golden years” is a trite expression. “Senior” is the same. All in all, though, it’s about equivalent moments, taking place at different speeds in the same spans of time.

Speaking of time, I must use mine wisely. Time to shower and shave and get dressed. Then, off to the hospital. One of those slow experiences taking place at the speed of light.

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Maybe Not

I spent an hour or more this morning writing what I had intended to publish here online, only to decide a few minutes ago that it was too personal and too private to post. Too often, in the process of exposing myself to the world, I expose others as well. I have no business doing that. It is insensitive and selfish. Instead, I will write something else; something brief and mundane that does not infringe on others’ privacy.

My plan today is to visit my wife in the hospital. I am taking a book to read to her. Neither of us have read the book, as far as I know, though I have been intended to read it for well over a year; maybe two or three years. The title is The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. I have no idea how far I’ll get, nor whether my wife will like it. We shall see. If she likes it, I will continue reading; if not, I will put it aside to read silently on my own.

It is possible that my wife will be released from the hospital today. Or it could be several more days. I have no strong sense of what to expect. On the chance that it might be today, I will take a bag of some of her clothes. I wish she could pick out what I am taking to her, but that’s impossible, so I will do the best I can.

+++

I’m having a hard time focusing on what I am writing. My eyes are drawn to dozens of birds darting between naked tree branches outside the window. Groups of tiny birds flit from branch to branch. I would call them flocks, but I don’t think that’s the proper term; there aren’t enough birds to merit the use of “flock,” so I use “group,” instead.  I wonder whether collective nouns vary across a spectrum, depending on numbers in “groups?” Among these groups of flitting birds are larger woodpeckers that seem to pay no attention to the tiny gatherings. The woodpeckers simply want to get at food buried in the trunks of trees. The little birds seem to ignore food and, instead, focus on playing games.

+++

I can’t do this. My mind is on what I wrote before, the stuff I should not post. Maybe I will write more later. Maybe not.

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A Skeptic’s Brain

Finally, yesterday morning, I put air in the tires of the Subaru—not precisely the proper inflations, but enough air to cause the tire pressure alert light to go out. I bought gas from the gas station so I would not feel guilty for using their air compressor. I wonder whether that’s the point of the air compressor situated next to the fuel pumps. That thought, I think, emerges from a skeptic’s brain.

I wrote yesterday about my “issues” with the hospital. No need to go into them again; except to say the nurse manager from two west sought me out in the ICU and offered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology. She then handed me a preprinted “we’re sorry we failed to meet your expectations, we hope this token of appreciation for sharing your experience will be meaningful” (or some such words) apology card, along with two $5 Walmart gift cards. Though I thanked her for the “gift” and for seeking me out, I felt the preprinted apology card and Walmart gift cards represented the epitome of “cheesy.” Again, the full-throated skeptic in me emerges.

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This morning’s schedule deviated dramatically from usual. Instead of getting up and having coffee, I got up and immediately showered, shaved, and got dressed. Then I took the trash to the garage in preparation for moving it to the street a bit later. And then I gazed at the budding sunrise: bright coral and salmon layers at the horizon underneath  blends of the two colors and, higher still, orange fading into blue. The sun still remained hidden, but the bright edge of the horizon announced its impending arrival. Clear blue skies and sunlight should welcome days full of gladness and cheer. They should. And then I sat at the dining table for a while, contemplating the day. I cannot visit my wife until 1 pm because she is in the ICU, where visiting hours begin at 1. Until then, I will contemplate the future and my place in it.

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Little of what I have just written—neither the tire pressure nor the hospital’s programmed behavior nor the morning’s show of colors—holds any special significance for me this morning. These events and visions do no represent good or bad, they just are. I am in a state of disturbed confusion, I think, because my wife was home from the rehab center for only two nights before going to the hospital. One of the ICU nurses told me yesterday she likely will remain there for at least several days because, as he said, “She is very, very, very sick.” Later, my wife’s attending physician, during a telephone conversation with me, verified that. I expect return calls today from my wife’s cardiologist and from the administrator of the rehab facility from which my wife was recently released. But I expected a return call from the administrator two days ago, so my expectation may again go unmet. I want to express to her my anger at the quality of the treatment my wife received at the hands of the facility. Expressing my anger may do no good; maybe all it will do is exacerbate the guilt I feel for having failed to better investigate the level of care the facility provides to its patients. I recognize, of course, that my wife’s underlying condition is at fault for the challenges she has faced and continues to face. But I cannot help but wonder why I, and some medical professionals, did not recognize symptoms earlier and help her seek treatment.

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There’s no chance my writing will do anything but ramble this morning, so I will stop for the moment. I need to write something private for myself, later, so I’ll preserve what’s left of the energy in my fingers so I can do that.

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Twists and Turns

When I attempted to check in as a visitor at the hospital, I was told someone else had already signed in to visit the room. A quick check revealed someone else was in that room; not my wife. Through more checking, the screening staff discovered that my wife had been moved to ICU overnight. No one had called me. ICU visiting hours would begin at 1 pm, three hours later.

I called the ICU and talked to my wife’s nurse; low blood pressure and breathing difficulties prompted the move. She might be moved back to a regular floor if IV meds stabilize her blood pressure at acceptable levels.

I tried to call the charge nurse on the floor where my wife had been. I left a voice message. I want to register concern about the lack of notice, but also to address multiple occasions of staff attempting to take blood pressure or draw blood from her right arm, which is forbidden and is clearly noted in her records. And I want to know if my request that a doctor order tests to check for UTI has been addressed.

I am so appreciative of competent healthcare professionals, but so intolerant of sloppy or dangerous or insensitive work by others who should not be allowed in medical settings.

Only 40 minutes until I can go to the ICU to see my wife. It seems more like 40 hours.

The twists and turns of health and illness are labyrynthine.

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Skating is a Choice

Vague memories of my childhood and teenage years include fierce encounters with the hard surfaces of roller skating and ice skating rinks. Slamming face-first onto the concrete floor of a roller skating rink, while in the midst of an adrenaline-fueled high involving speed and freedom, taught me about the random intersections of joy and gut-wrenching pain. The thrill of a fast turn on a sheet of ice instantly turned to terror when my skates sprayed ice chips on the surface where I would land on my back, spinning, thanks to a sudden fall. Another lesson in how quickly elation can disappear, replaced by torment or misery.

Those memories, buried for decades, surfaced again yesterday. They did not arise randomly. They emerged from the fact that the emotions I felt during those experiences are so similar to the ones flooding my mind during the last few days. Watching the spikes and valleys of the rhythms on a heart monitor, I remembered the sharp differences between the joy and agony from one second to the next while I was immersed in the thrill of skating.

Experience changes so fast. Thrills become terror. Joy becomes agony. Elation becomes misery or anxiety or depression or worse. Skating, though, is a choice.

Resting on a hospital bed, leads from machines attached all over the body, with blood pressure monitors and needles restricting movement, may be a choice, but it is not a welcome choice. It is not a choice like skating. Neither is watching the monitors report low blood pressure or deviations in oxygen saturation. It is a choice akin to obligation; obligation with no alternative. It is a lonely choice, too, especially in these times of pandemic with severe limitations on hospital visits. It is a lonely choice when the watcher can only watch the patient sleep, interrupted only briefly by foggy recognition and, then, more sleep.

I remember feeling terribly fragile after tumbling on the ice skating rink, as if inside me a thin sheet of brittle material sustained a thousand cracks in the fall. I was afraid of moving for fear that the damage might get worse, causing me to shatter. Today, I am afraid of making wrong choices when only the right choices will do.

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Too Familiar with the ER and ICU

Sometimes, I feel like I am using my blog as a daily journal and little else. So be it. The blog is as good a place as any to capture experiences and thoughts and emotions that, otherwise, might disappear into the mist of a flagging memory—or become muddy and unreliable recollections.

Yesterday’s experiences will remain sharp in my memory, I think, but I will document them here just the same.

Things went haywire.

I had not expected my wife would be able to enroll in an at-home care program because we had explored hospice. I was wrong. I got a call yesterday morning from a nurse who wanted to visit to arrange for my wife’s enrollment. We set up an early afternoon meeting. The nurse who came, Katie, went through the normal enrollment process during the initial period of her visit. But when she began evaluating my wife’s medical condition, she encountered several issues that were of considerable concern to her. Ultimately, those concerns led her to recommend that my wife be taken by ambulance to the ER.

My wife’s blood oxygen saturation level was considerably below 90%, versus acceptable low normal levels of 92% and higher. The “weeping edema” in her arms, hands, legs, and feet had the linens to be soaked under those extremities. Unlike the staff at the rehab center (but like me), this nurse was highly concerned with the fact that my wife’s arms, hands, and legs were extremely swollen and filled with fluid.  We agreed that Katie’s concerns warranted her to call an ambulance, which she did. I wish Katie, or someone like her, could stay with my wife around the clock; she was so incredibly thorough and caring.

The ambulance arrived in short order and the EMTs quickly moved my wife from her hospital bed to the stretcher and into the ambulance. I followed the ambulance to the ER. No lights and siren, as the issues were not immediately life-threatening.

New procedures and protocols required my wife to be placed in isolation for a period; before I could see her, she had to be evaluated for COVID-19 symptoms and judged unlikely to have the infection. When I finally was allowed to see her, three hours after arrival at the hospital, she was in the ER, attached to a machine much like a CPAP machine to help oxygenate her blood and get fluid out of her lungs. While at the rehab center, my wife was on oxygen for the last two days, but I was not told on her release to arrange for oxygen for her; they did not tell me it was needed, nor did they even mention oxygen. The ER medical staff also gave my wife lasix by IV, with four times the lasix that she takes orally.

My wife drifted in and out of consciousness while I sat with her in the ER. Before I was allowed in, technicians had X-rayed her lungs, drawn blood, taken her vital signs, given her lasix, and hooked up the CPAP-like machine. After I arrived, other technicians came in to take arterial blood (which I did not know was any different from blood from veins, but which is somehow related to pulmonary function measurements) and perform a sonogram on her left arm. The ER nurse, Carmelita, was extraordinary; she kept me informed throughout the process while I was there. I left for home just after 7 pm.

At any rate, while I was there, my wife was admitted to the ICU, but because the hospital had run out of ICU beds, she will remain as an ICU patient, but in an ER room, until a space opens. Normal visiting hours for the ICU are 1 pm to 7 pm, but I could have stayed longer, since my wife remained in the ER, though formally was an ICU patient; I was tired, though, and she was asleep, so I thought it best to go home, eat some dinner, and rest.

I called and spoke to Carmelita just after midnight (her shift was to end at 1 pm) and she told me an ICU bed still had not opened up.

I will call after a while to learn whether my wife has been moved to an ICU bed. If so, I will not be able to visit until after 1 pm. If not, I will stop to see her after my 10 am follow-up appointment with my oncologist.

Each time I witness committed, well-trained medical professionals do their work, I become more and more impressed with them. But though doctors, like Dr. Jensen who was in charge of my wife’s care in the ER, are impressive, the people who really amaze me are the technicians and, especially, the nurses who are all business while simultaneously are incredibly compassionate. I am so very grateful that so many people view healthcare as a calling. As angry as I get at the medical bureaucracy, I am in awe of the truly exceptional medical professionals who treat patients in spite of the constraints placed upon them by bureaucrats.

Although I do not want my wife to spend a minute longer than she has to in a hospital setting, I wish I could sit and observe an ER and/or an ICU for a 24-hour period. I am certain my faith in humanity would receive an enormous boost by watching people work. But otherwise, I do not want to become too familiar with the ER and ICU.

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Tales from My Split Personality

Medical Bureaucracy

I spent too much time yesterday morning battling medical bureaucrats. That’s not fair; I spent much of the morning battling medical bureaucracy. The facility from which my wife was discharged on Friday goofed and returned to the pharmacy (instead of giving to me) a medication to treat an infection. The facility claimed it could not correct the error. The pharmacy originally said it could, then said it could not, provide the medication.  I argued, was put on hold, then handed over to someone else who claimed the law prohibited them from providing me with the prescription. I argued that the rules, whether law or not, were costing my wife’s treatment and that, if they insisted on following the rules rather than finding a solution, their claims that their first priority is the patient are patently false. She promptly hung up on me. I called back and explained the situation to someone else. He said he would have to call the facility, but if the facility had returned the pills by mistake, he would fix the problem. Thanks to his efforts to find a solution, rather than an excuse, before 3:30 I had administered the  medication to my wife.

A Good Day, a Hard Night

My wife spend quite a bit of the day yesterday watching a holiday special of a British baking show on TV. She had a nice breakfast, courtesy of her sister, and during the course of the day engaged in conversation quite a bit. It was a good day, all in all, despite my run-ins with the rehab facility and the pharmacy.

Unlike the night before, last night the caregiver support person showed up as promised by 8:30. She seems to be a very competent, very nice person. She changed the bedding, washed and folded sheets, got my wife situated for the night, and otherwise did all I expected and more. When I went to bed, I was confident she would take good care of anything my wife might need during the night. And I was right; she is extremely capable and very pleasant.

All was going well until sometime before 2 a.m., when the woman woke me to tell me my wife was agitated and calling for me. The agitation lasted for quite some time and involved other odd behavioral issues. This morning, though she is better, my wife is out of sorts. I believe the behavioral evidence suggests a UTI. A nurse will be here around mid-day today to establish a home healthcare regimen; I will ask her for advice.

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If I were able to give one bit of advice to the developers of Zoom, it would be this: when someone attempts to join a Zoom meeting, the host should be alerted with an audible tone or an intrusive visual alert. The existing system does adequately alert that new participants are awaiting admission, leaving them waiting to be admitted by a host who does not even know there are people waiting to join the event.

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Prepackaged frozen one-portion or two-portion one-dish meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—are growing more and more appealing to me. Meal preparation can be extremely distracting when one is trying to do four things at once. Quick-prep meals that include everything in a single dish make life a little easier at such times. I believe there is an enormous market for such frozen foods. If I had the money, I would invest in such enterprises.

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I finally checked the air in the Subaru’s tires. Two tires (the rear) have 28 pounds, one (front right) has 27 pounds, and one (front left) has 17.5 pounds. The latter tire is the culprit, I am sure, that caused the “low tire pressure” light to display on the instrument panel. All of the tires are low, though. The recommended pressures are 35 in front and 33 in back.  Some day, I will drive the car to a station with an easily-accessible compressed air hose; I hope that days comes soon. Maybe today, but not likely.

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I mentioned yesterday to my sister-in-law, who is in the throes of an incredibly healthy lifestyle, that I miss chicken-fried steak. Ever since making the mistake of making that offhand comment, I have had an intense hankering for a chicken-fried steak from Mary’s Café in Strawn, Texas. Strawn is about three miles west-northwest of Mingus, which is about two miles north of Thurber. I don’t know whether Mary’s is open these days. Even if it is, it’s roughly six hours and change from my house, so the chances of me going anything soon are slim to none. Having mentioned frozen foods a few paragraphs back, though, I wonder whether I could have Mary’s (if it is open) FedEx a few large frozen (cooked) chicken-fried steaks to me? It’s worth exploring. Maybe. I doubt my wife would want to try to eat a chicken-fried stead, though. So that’s probably not really worth exploring, after all.

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Some days, my writing seems to emanate from a cheerful extrovert. Those are the days that cause me to believe in demonic possession. I have never been an extrovert. I have rarely been cheerful. So when I read words that could mistakenly be assume to come from the fingers of a cheerful extrovert, I cringe and seek out a protective crucifix. Not really, of course. But even when I feel somewhat depressed, my writing can conceal my emotional state. Perhaps that represents an attempt to shield myself from sympathy, pity, and compassion (if I were to consult a thesaurus, I could come up with even more near-synonyms).

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Birds tend to be more visible in the dead of winter because of the absence of leaves to conceal them. Yet maybe the birds I see in the dead of winter are not resident in this part of the world during summer and spring, so they would be invisible during those seasons, anyway. If I had enough interest in knowing the answer to that implied question, I would explore it further. But my interest is not sufficiently strong to warrant the effort. That’s true of so many things, though. Weak curiosity rarely leads to education or to knowledge. Weak curiosity is evidence of a lazy mind. I wonder whether there’s a term for weak curiosity? I don’t have enough interest in the answer to look it up. That reminds me of a joke I retold a few days ago:

Job interviewer: What do you think is your most significant weakness?
Job applicant: I think my honesty is my most significant weakness.
Job interviewer: I don’t think honest is a weakness.
Job applicant: I don’t care what you think.

But when I told the joke, I used vulgarity. It’s funnier that way.

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I had two eggs for breakfast. Nothing more. I have thus far been unable to convince my wife to eat anything at all. Isn’t life peachy?

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Krampusnacht

This lovely bit of dance and music is, I assume, in celebration of Krampusnacht (Krampus Night). But it could be a Halloween celebration. Whatever, enjoy the video, then read what I wrote about December 5, Krampusnacht.

Wikipedia says Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic half-goat, half-demon creature who punishes children who misbehave, in contrast to St. Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved children with gifts. I find the Central European folklore of Krampus fascinating, though developments in recent years, turning the menacing figure of Krampus cuter and less frightening, goes against the grain as far as I am concerned.

Krampusnacht is “celebrated” in various (mostly) Central European countries on December 5, the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas. I assume the dance shown in the video above was from a December 5 celebration, but that’s an unverified assumption.

Speaking, as I was, of Wikipedia, despite the fact that the resource can be hijacked by people who either mistakenly or intentionally post erroneous information, I find Wikipedia invaluable. For that reason, I donated $20.80 (the 80¢ to cover credit card processing costs) to help defray the costs of keeping the site operating.

The film, Krampus, is a Christmas horror story (I guess I’d classify it that way), produced in 2015. It is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video. I may splurge and watch it tonight. Anyone want to join me? My treat.

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Unskilled and Bumbling

My wife’s first night home from another rehab center was uneventful, more or less. The event I was expecting—the arrival of a person to look out after my wife from 8 pm last night to 8 am this morning—did not occur. A no-show. So, the duties fell to me. I remain unskilled and bumbling.

Earlier, though, shortly after my wife arrived home, I was able to transfer her from a wheelchair to the hospital bed. That was despite the fact that the sling was poorly positioned in the wheelchair. I managed to adjust the sling (which had been effectively “tied” to the wheelchair with the straps of a purse and an overnight bag) enough to attach it to the Hoyer lift. Though the process was neither pretty nor smooth, I got it done. For the sake of safety, the process is and should be a two-person job.

A few hours later, a representative from a hospice visited with us for an hour or two. I was ready to sign up until I learned that some of the medications my wife takes would not be provided to her. Though hospice would provide medications and medical equipment, the provisions would be made under some Medicare per diem limitations that make it impossible to cover more expensive medications. I also learned that she would no longer be cared for by her cardiologist and her primary care physician. So, we opted to think about it over the weekend. In the meantime, she will not have access to nurses, etc.

In spite of the rather unpleasant surprise of a no-show caregiver and the reality of hospice, a pleasant surprise saved the evening (more or less). My wife’s friend/our neighbor called earlier in the day to offer to bring dinner. I gladly accepted. She brought us baked potato soup with condiments of cheese and bacon bits, toasted baguette, and superb chocolate cake. I had scrambled, earlier in the day, to buy frozen microwavable dinners. The homemade soup was so, so much better than what we otherwise would have had.

After dinner, my wife wanted to sleep and I wanted to relax a bit until the caregiver showed (or didn’t). My wife was not interested in having me take care of getting her ready for the night’s sleep, opting instead to wait for the caregiver. So I sat in front of the television to watch an episode of Unforgotten. As has become my custom, I fell asleep shortly after beginning to watch the second episode of the evening. When I awoke, it was too late to call to complain about the no-show. Instead, I roused my wife and went through the process of readying her for a night’s sleep.

I decided not to sleep in the twin bed, whose sheets I had changed earlier in the day, because I might need those sheets for the hospital bed today. Instead, I slept in the recliner. My neck and shoulders may never forgive me.

What today will hold I do not know. I know only that it will be unlike the days leading up to it.

Later today, at a time (but do not remember exactly when) I selected earlier, another post will magically appear on this blog. Its primary content is a video of an intriguing, oddly-appealing dance. I hope it is as pleasing to others as it is to me.

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Unfettered Changes

Today may mark a new experience. I spoke to my wife last night (she called me, quite unusual of late). During the conversation, she confirmed that she wants to come home. Today. So, soon after the regular workday begins for the rehabilitation center, I will contact them to learn what steps I must take to make that happen. I had plans to make changes to the physical layout of furniture in my house before my wife’s return, but I do not have the necessary time nor the required physical labor to make those changes, so they will have to wait. And, of course, I’ll need to make arrangements for assistance on an ongoing basis. Before I launch into this, though, I will double check with my wife to make sure last night’s conversation was not an aberration. So much to do. But it doesn’t all have to happen at once.

As much as I look forward to her return, I am concerned whether I will be able to care for her the way she needs to be looked after. The rehab center has no confidence it can draw blood when necessary; how will I know when to draw blood and how to get it done? Will I have to send her to the hospital in an ambulance if she needs a blood draw? How will I know if she needs medical attention? Before her most recent trip to the hospital, I had no idea she was in such danger; how can I prevent that from happening again? I don’t just feel fragile about this whole process, I feel grossly incompetent. I think I need to talk to the palliative care doctor I met during my wife’s most recent hospital visit; he may be able and willing to offer good advice.

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I read an article yesterday in the Santiago Times (a Chilean English-language newspaper) that piqued my interest. The article, originally published on November 5, covers a segment of the work of Dr. Andres Herane-Vives, a respected Chilean psychiatrist. Dr. Herane-Vives and his team have created a device that extracts ear wax and measures the levels of the hormone, cortisol. Certain aspects of measured cortisol seem to correlate with levels of depression, so accurate measurement of cortisol could be used to diagnose and help direct treatment levels for depression.

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The change in circumstances brought about by my wife’s desire to return home may bring about some additional changes in my calendar. I am scheduled for an appointment with my oncologist on Monday and an appointment in Little Rock for a 72K mile vehicle service on Tuesday. Fortunately, today’s expected telemedicine follow-up visit with my surgeon’s staff was pushed off a week because the films from the CT scan earlier this week won’t be in their hands until early next week. My plan to end my procrastination on 2021 Medicare drug coverage before the December 7 deadline, though, has been thrown into turmoil. That’s the price I pay for putting things off. Dimwit!

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When I read assessments that call China or Iran or Russia or name-your-country “the greatest threats to America,” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. No, I say to myself, Americans constitute the greatest threat to America. Our failure to recognize our own faults and to then correct them represents the greatest threat. And our attitude of always looking for an enemy and, if we can’t find it, creating one represents the greatest threat. And our refusal to attempt to build alliances with countries whose cultures differ radically from our own represents the greatest threat. It’s as if we are not as secure in our own skins as we claim to be. It’s as if we need to demonstrate our strength so we can deflect attention from our weakness.

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I should be busily preparing for my wife’s return home. Instead, I am writing and reading and drinking coffee. Despite my sense that I need to be getting so many of those things accomplished, I think my need to calm myself may outweigh the need to be productive. As usual, I did nothing to alleviate the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck. This morning, my shoulder muscles, especially, feel like braided wire stretched close to the breaking point. That’s why I need to sit and relax and enjoy my coffee and my reading and my outpouring of whatever is on my mind. That might mitigate the tightness of those wire braids. I certainly hope so.

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I wonder what caused my wife to say she wants to come home? Did my words during yesterday’s visit, spoken through tears I could not hide, prompt her to say it? I told her I really, really wanted her home. Did I give my wishes more weight than what she needs? Sometimes, she says she thinks she is getting stronger, though I see no real evidence of that. Other times, she says she is not sure or she doesn’t feel like she is. But have we given it enough time? I do not know. And I do not know how much therapy she is getting. Is it adequate and it is its frequency enough? I do not know. I know I am not equipped to ensure she gets proper therapy in the right quantity at home. But therapy may not be what she needs; she may need human contact more than she needs therapy. Ach!

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Enough whining. I have things to do and little time to do them.

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The Autobiography of Fire

If this moment were a few weeks later, I would sing words from Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.” But it’s early December and I’m not on Clinton Street. I’m not in New York. I am alone in the woods and there is no music; just silence, interrupted by the sounds a twenty-five year old house makes under the combative influences of Mother Nature’s low temperatures and a heat pump striving to strike a comfortable balance.

The wee hours are well-suited to introspection and writing. If I were more energetic, I might take my computer and sit in front of the fireplace, letting the flames mesmerize me into writing the autobiography of fire. But I am not warm enough to be energetic. I am unwilling even to search for a sweatshirt to warm me; the search would expose me to the chilly confines of a closet. And my search would remind me that, as much as I might enjoy a fire, I have done nothing to make the flames dance. I’m not doing much writing, but I am thinking about my tiny place in the world, hidden from everyone but myself.

I like the idea of writing the autobiography of fire. The concept suits me. Fire draws us in, pulling us closer. But fire refuses to let us get too close. We cannot be close enough to safely understand the rage of combustion; we can only guess at how fire feels, what occurs at the precise moment when something solid becomes a superheated gas that disappears into smoke. Fire embodies passion. Raw, unbridled passion.

But, if I were walking on a deserted beach this cold and unforgiving early morning, I would ask the waves, “what the hell I am doing here? Why am I alone on this beach when the sky is just as empty and far more inviting, in spite of its rain and clouds? What possessed me to wander aimlessly on wet sand that captures my footprints, when I could have gone aloft in a hot air balloon that leaves no traces?”

That balloon would have let me disappear into the sky for a time before plunging me into a hungry ocean ready to consume me and my remains. Some would have us believe beaches are romantic places. The sky is desolate, but it’s full of free passion. The sky’s hunger is raw and unforgiving. The sky is like fire in that sense. Both are mysterious and attractive, yet dangerous and sinister. Yet they are pure and unmuddied; unlike the way beaches often are.

The beach pretends to be tender and caring, but it is too close to humanity to care. The sky, though desolate and awash in passion, is an enigma. The sky is love in another form. In this cold predawn darkness, I feel the sky’s tender but passionate embrace. And I feel the beach spray sand into my eyes, too. The beach and its watery witness holds us for a while, but eventually we transform into vapor. The beach is, in that way, the edge of the sky. Water, then, is kin of fire. I may one day write the autobiography of fire. Water will factor into the story. How could it not?

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Back in the real world, I curse myself for ignoring my intent to visit a chiropractor or buy an electric muscle stimulation (EMS) therapy gadget. I feel the tension in my shoulders and back pulling my muscles in directions they were not meant to be pulled. The tightness is not necessarily painful all the time, but it is most assuredly uncomfortable. I’ve been advised to use a heating pad, a cold press, and to take a hot bath. I do not take baths (unless I am provided with a hot spa in which to bathe). I’ve been told I should invest in an EMS, go to a chiropractor, or stop complaining. All good advice, I’m sure.  For the time being, though, I will gripe and moan, giving air to my grievances.

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Words with Friends kept encouraging me to play against someone (I forget his name) whose “skill level” mirrors mine. I finally relented and started a game with him. I got a message this morning saying he had declined my invitation. What the hell?! WWF tries to hook me up with someone who has no interest in playing with me? I get rejected by an unknown stranger, with no explanation. The unstated message, obviously, is this: “I don’t play with riff-raff like you. Bug off.” I feel rejected on so many levels.

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My wife’s phone was out of power when I went to visit her yesterday, so I did not get to talk to her during my visit. I did drop off additional some clothes, though, as requested by the nurse. And I asked that her phone be charged so I could call her in an hour. Which I did. But when I called, the nurses said she was sleeping very soundly, suggesting I not insist on waking her. So, I did not speak to her yesterday. Today, the nurse told me, the Nurse Practitioner will try to draw blood again. If she is unsuccessful, they will have to send her to the hospital again. Before they do that, I will speak to someone who can explain their plans for dealing with this issue in the days ahead; a trip to the hospital every time a blood draw is needed is unacceptable, in my view.

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Several days ago, I cancelled my Little Rock follow-up appointment with my surgeon’s nurse practitioner, scheduled for tomorrow morning and asked whether I could do it by phone, instead. I got a call yesterday, telling me the appointment has been rescheduled as a telemedicine visit at the same time as the original appointment. I like those kinds of appointments.

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Yesterday, I did not have breakfast because I was instructed not to eat or drink anything for two hours before my 8 a.m. CT scan. The day before, I had bran flakes cereal. This morning, I will exchange those two days of good behavior for a few strips of bacon. If I hurry, I can finish breakfast before 5:30.

And I did! But not just bacon. A full-scale breakfast sandwich.

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Unnoticed

Six years ago, I wrote the following “thought for the day” in response to my own question as to whether—if a month will be lost and forgotten under the weight of the sands of time—a month ever mattered at all.

Ten thousand years from now, if humanity still has a place in the universe, Plato and Pythagoras and Abraham Lincoln and Copernicus and Martin Luther King will be no more than footnotes to history, but they will have mattered. The world would not be the same without them. So, too, November 2014.

My question now is whether that month, or the one just ended, still matters. I suppose so, for the world would not be the same without them. The next question would be whether the absence would have a positive or a negative impact on the world. The question, of course, is rhetorical; we would have no way of knowing the effect of a missing month. Its absence would go unnoticed.

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I have nothing more to say. The absence of words goes unnoticed. We can’t miss what was never there. People are like that. I mean people who don’t exist or who were treated like they didn’t exist.

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Withdrawal

Two nights in a row. I awoke at 3:30, decided to try to get back to sleep, but failed. I finally got out of bed around 5:30. Spending two hours on two consecutive nights, thrashing about trying to get sufficiently comfortable to sleep, indicates either excessive patience or madness. I’m inclined to go with the latter, as that explanation might make me seem edgier than I am. What do I care, though, how others perceive me? I’m 67 and should no longer need to worry about my image. Actually, I suppose the fact that I’m posting about my sleeping habits and insomnia on a publicly viewable blog confirms I am not particularly concerned about my image.

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This morning, I read a riveting but terrifying article (with photos) about conflicts between wild animals and humans in parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir. This excerpt from the article summarizes the issue:

According to official data, at least 67 people have been killed and 940 others injured in the past five years in attacks by wild animals in the famed Kashmir Valley, a vast collection of alpine forests, connected wetlands and waterways known as much for its idyllic vistas as for its decades-long armed conflict between Indian troops and rebels.

Most of the attacks (around 80%) have been by Himalayan black bears. The article suggests that human incursion into the animals’ territories have had the effect of changing the bears’ habits. The bears used to hibernate in winter, but with the ready availability of food, thanks to human populations and their trash, etc., they no longer hibernate. Military camps, barbed wire, and other changes in uses of the land have changed the bears’ habitat, resulting in more interactions between humans and animals. Fascinating stuff that highlights the negative impact of population growth and changes on both humans and the creatures we are crowding out.

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Public conversation of late have called attention to the fact that the growth and success of the United States has depended, in large part, on the early enslavement of Black people, who did much of the work required to build this country. While enslavement finally ended, reliance on Black labor through unfair and inhumane practices continued. Many of the public conversations rightfully (in my opinion) call for White Americans to recognize and to apologize and to provide reparations in some fashion for those abuses.

While thinking about these matters, my mind has drifted to another set of dependencies, dependencies that are less visible but, I would argue, equally as inhumane and inexcusable: the reliance on Chinese and other Asian labor to provide too affordable products we use in our everyday lives. Though we see plenty of posturing about companies relying on cheap foreign labor (essentially equivalent to slave labor), actions seem few and far between. It is, in reality, only posturing. In the meantime, we buy cheap clothes, cheap computers, cheap food, cheap furniture, and thousand of other categories of cheap consumer goods that rely on the labor of people who may well be surviving on below-subsistence-level wages. But we’re not guilty, because we do not employ them, right? B.S. We should not get away with it that easily. We should look at the labels of every product we buy and think long and hard about who sews or assembles or manufactures it. If we were as morally indignant as we should be, we would insist on paying more for products so people around the world could live less stressful, less impoverished, and more comfortable lives. Would I insist on that, though? Would you? Or can we somehow continue to pretend that we are blameless?

I think this quote from Thomas Henry Huxley states the matter clearly:

“The practice of that which is ethically best…repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence. It demands that each man who enters into the enjoyment of the advantages of a polity shall be mindful of his debt to those who have laboriously constructed it; and shall take heed that no act of his weakens the fabric in which he has been permitted to live.”

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Morals change. That may not please some of us, but it is true. I think a quick review of history would reveal the veracity of the claim. Within the last few days, I’ve dabbled in reading about philosophy (not philosophy itself, so much, as discussions of what constitutes philosophy). I’ve come to the conclusion that philosophy is equivalent, in many respects, to mathematical equations. Yet we know that mathematics is precise and (we think) unchanging. There exist unwavering “laws” of mathematics that do not rely on context. But morality (and the philosophies that underlie morality) is not a stable, static “thing.” Take marital fidelity, for example. In our society, marital fidelity is generally viewed as a moral obligation (though belief and action differ significantly). But in other societies, marital fidelity is not seen as an obligation at all; in fact, in some societies the practice of having multiple spouses argues that marital fidelity is an irrelevant concept. It’s a matter of context. But get into a discussion of contextual ethics and sparks fly. “Murder is wrong, no matter the circumstances!” “Abortion is wrong, no matter the circumstances!” But, wait. Even those “absolutes” are contextual, aren’t they? Just like marital fidelity. If we were to take any moral “absolute” and dissect it, I think we’d find circumstances in which the ethics of a behavior is not necessarily clear. What is the rationale behind marital fidelity, for example? Aside from protections against jealousy, what purpose does it really serve? That question is valid not just for marital fidelity, but fidelity in general. Fidelity is a relatively easy subject; abortion is much more difficult, thanks to the incorporation by people on one side of the argument of yet another moral absolute: murder. That’s where mathematics and philosophy differ: in mathematics, we all agree that A + B = C. But in philosophy, we sometimes can agree that A + B = C, but B has a different definition in philosophical arguments, whereas in mathematics, B is B is B.

Even within a society, morals are not universally accepted. Yet we base our laws on morals, don’t we? Stealing is against the law. Situational ethics do not have a place in the law, but in passing judgment on someone caught stealing, the penalty may well rely on situational ethics.

“She is guilty of stealing, but she stole milk for her baby, so her action was understandable; she is sentenced to time served.”

“He is guilty of stealing a motorcycle. He already has three motorcycles. He is sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.”

I have no good reason for writing about morality and ethics and philosophy this morning. It’s just a set of topics I find fascinating. If I were younger, I might spend more time delving into philosophy; it’s such a fascinating subject.

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Back to the real world; the mundane, gut-wrenching real world. My coffee is cold and my elbows ache from arthritis and my neck and left shoulder are punishing me for my immoral thoughts. I must put an end to this. I feel a need to withdraw from the world for a while.

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Fragile

When I was in high school, I had a crush on a well-liked cheerleader, Jane. I never watched her cheer on the teams, though, because I eschewed sports. But we were in a few classes together; and had been since junior high, including one or two art classes. I found her beautiful and outgoing. And she was extremely popular. I was plain and introverted and invisible. It would have been madness to have revealed to her that I found her interesting and attractive. I was certain she would have laughed at me, had I asked her out on a date.

Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet her for coffee while I was on a business trip that took me back to my hometown on the Texas coast. I had overcome much of my shyness by then and I told her about the crush I had on her and how I had wanted to ask her out but dared not, for fear of painful rejection. She did not know of my interest, she said. But she revealed that she felt isolated and lonely during her cheerleading days.

Her comments were something like this: “Nobody asked me out. I think they felt like you did. They thought I was unapproachable. I was not as outgoing as everyone thought. I was lonely.”

My wife and I had occasion later, during a pleasure trip to South Texas, to visit with Jane. I think I introduced Jane as someone “I had a crush on in high school.” We laughed about it, but my earlier conversation with Jane was on my mind. I felt some responsibility for her loneliness forty years earlier.

Those memories surface from time to time. When they do, I wonder whether I have ever been the subject of a “crush.” I rather doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible that, like Jane, I was simply unaware of it.

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My wife seemed more alert and lively during yesterday’s visit than the day before, but she was not bubbly. She was watching a soccer game on television; the day before, she had been watching football. She has no interest in either, but I think she has trouble changing channels, so she watches what is on the screen.

I will visit her this afternoon after my scheduled blood draw and port flush at my oncologist’s office.  One of her nurses asked me to bring my wife’s compression sleeve, so I put in in the car last night, along with a couple of magazines my wife wants. I hope to have the opportunity to speak with the administrator, the director of nursing, and the director of therapy today; I want to hear about, if not see, a plan of treatment and a timeline.

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One of my brothers recently developed an interest in tasting a mixed drink he had never before had, a Sidecar. He tried it and was not impressed. I had not had the pleasure of drinking a Sidecar, either, so I decided to make one yesterday. Though the recipes call for cognac, I decided an inexpensive brandy would have to do (inasmuch as I had no cognac in the house). Whether such a brandy-based drink still is called a Sidecar, I do not know, but until I am told otherwise, I will say it is. I made the drink using the following recipe:

  • 1 ounce brandy
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass

I liked it quite a lot! So much so, in fact, that I can imagine letting myself become attached to it, so I had best be careful.

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Yesterday, I learned that the “agreed” point at which a person becomes “elderly” is age 65. That’s according to Elizz. This morning, I decided to explore further. An article on NPR.org says this:

In the same way other words have morphed into widespread acceptability–handicapped to disabled; Oriental to Asian; retarded to mentally challenged, and even though words are in flux–elderly is becoming politically (and politely) incorrect. Certain terms apparently have term limits.

The article continues:

“Nobody likes to think of themselves as old, let alone very old,” says Michael Vuolo, co-host of Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast. “Elderly often carries the connotation of feeble and dependent. Which is offensive if you’re not and condescendingly euphemistic if you are.”

So, I propose we begin to use these terms, as appropriate: “energetically old” and “fragilely old.” But I bet someone will object strenuously. In fact, that someone could be me. 😉

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The crick in my neck and my very sore shoulder have not departed. I must find a masseuse or one of those electric devices that shock the muscles into cheerful compliance with demands for comfort. I might call the local chiropractor for a “fix.” This is getting old fast. I do not want it to get fragilely old, either.

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My sister-in-law just texted me; she will soon deliver, courtesy of a neighbor, sausages, biscuits, and gravy. I must prepare for this feast!

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Brevity is Not a Personality Flaw, I Say

I wrote some fiction last night, the first time I’ve attempted truly creative writing in a long time. I did not get much done, though, because it became clear to me early on that the characters and their experiences were much, much darker than I needed to go. Their stories arose from the intersections of their two very different childhoods; one was exceptionally fortunate in terms of material possessions and the other lived in extreme poverty. Their emotional and intellectual experiences were diametrically opposite, too; the well-off child learned to equate love with material gifts and surroundings, while the poor child learned to equate love with the tenderness and safety provided by a neighbor, in the extended work-related absence of the child’s parents. The outcome, which has yet to be written (as has moist of the actual story surrounding what I’ve just written), will be dual tragedies visited upon both of the children when they reach adulthood. I did not need to write that story, nor to think more about it. So I abandoned it in favor of a little Evan Williams over ice and some mindless channel surfing. Apparently, neither the channel surfing nor the bourbon was sufficiently engaging to keep me awake. I opened my eyes around 10:30 to view a television commercial and see an almost untouched rocks glass half filled with diluted whiskey. What a waste.

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Before my failed attempt to watch television, I spoke to two of my three brothers and to my sister by telephone, the first time I’ve spoken to them in several weeks. I intended to call my other brother and his wife, who live in Mexico, but I decided to delay that call and make it a Zoom conversation, instead, with another brother and my sister. The third brother cannot seem to get his computer to connect to Zoom. It’s interesting how vastly different the lives of the remaining five siblings have evolved since childhood. As the youngest of six children, I remember very little about my oldest siblings until I was in high school and beyond. They had gone on to college and/or other pursuits by the time I became fully conscious of how different my family seemed to be, compared to other families. The difference was, again, the absence of siblings. Most of the other kids around me in school, etc. had the full complement of family present during their formative years; I spent my formative years with one brother, the one closest in age to me at five years my senior. As I contemplate my siblings’ formative years, their formative familial experiences were much more in line with other families, whose full families remained intact until late teenage years in most cases. I believe the children of considerably older than average parents experience a very different experience than do their peers. And I think other people who have not had that experience are unlikely to understand how vastly different the experiences are. I hear stories, for example, of my father taking my older siblings hunting or playing ball with them. I did not have that experience. My memories of childhood are sketchy, at best, so I cannot clearly recall all the differences, but I’ve always felt them. One of these days, I may try to piece together recollections of my formative years and try to compare them with what I believed with more traditional experiences of my friends and older siblings. I may be all wrong; but I think not.

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There is little to say about my brief visit with my wife yesterday. She was sitting up in a wheelchair, her eyes fixed on the television most of the time. Occasionally, she turned toward us (her sister and me), responding to most questions with a nod or a weak, one-word answer. When I asked whether she would like me to call her in the evenings, she said she would rather I not.

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The sky is overcast and the current temperature is 40 degrees. Today’s high is expected to to reach 43 and tonight’s low should drop to around 30. The weather futurists expect rain to develop this morning. Sunrise should take place in about an hour. That is the extent of my understanding of today’s microclimate.

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The pain in my shoulder migrated to my neck (becoming a full-on crick in the neck) during the course of the day on Saturday, reminding me that the body is capable of taking revenge on its host for myriad transgressions. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that, but there’s no doubt about the sincerity of the statement, even in its mysterious befuddlement. Let me try again: my body is exacting retribution for my actions and omissions that caused it to experience discomfort. The pain I feel, therefore, must be deserved. Punishment, pure and simple. A penalty for living as I do. The body knows when infractions take place, whether physical or mental, and responds accordingly. Hence my now dormant (knock on wood) Crohn’s disease, the intestinal resection, my double bypass surgery, the missing lobe of my right lung, and every other illness or damaging incident visited upon me. The body, as an educational experience, takes revenge. There, I’ve explained myself, against my will and better judgment.

Yesterday, around midday, another example took place. I was in the midst of swallowing a bit of smoked turkey (delivered to me by a very nice neighbor) when I took a sip of water. Suddenly, I was in the midst of a convulsive cough, thanks to aspirating a bit of water combined with chewed turkey. The cough triggered an intake of breath that  exacerbated the aspiration and prompting me to choke. Though I probably was in no danger of choking to death, I felt like I was. I could not control my breathing nor my coughing. I made my way to the kitchen sink, where my coughs led me to begin to expel previously swallowed turkey and water. Tears flowed from my eyes, my sinuses filled with God knows what, my nose began to spray like a torn fire hose, and I could not catch my breath. Bottom line: this experience lasted what seemed several minutes until, finally, I seemed to be reasonably close to “normal.” That is, if normal involves, when  blowing one’s nose repeatedly, releasing pint after pint of unpleasant-looking whitish goo. That’s all behind me now, though. My body pronounced judgment on me for what it considered apparently gluttonous consumption of smoked turkey.

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It’s 6:30, time to replenish my coffee and think about something to eat that will not choke me to death. Let’s see, apple sauce or bacon & eggs? I have no apple sauce, so bacon & eggs it is. Whatever happened to my passion for international breakfasts? Whatever happened to my passion in general? Passion keeps people alive. I need to ignite some passion in my life; these cooling embers are unable to provide adequate warmth. Perhaps congee flavored with harissa paste. Time will tell.

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Before 7 in the Morning

The ache in my left shoulder has matured into pain. Are cricks restricted to the neck, or can one have a crick in the shoulder? If so, I think that’s what I have. A crick in the shoulder. I do not know whether to blame the mattress or the horizontal posture of the guy sleeping on it. Maybe the two unknowingly conspire to contribute to the pain. Yeah. That’s it, an inadvertent conspiracy. Whatever the etiology of the discomfort, I think I could be made more comfortable with a form-fitting heating pad or a 10mg injection of morphine. As I have neither laying around the house, I will plan to soldier on. Coffee may help. Maybe holding a mug of hot coffee against my shoulder will help.

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Yesterday afternoon, at the regular time, I drove to the rehab facility to visit my wife. Her sister came along. When we got there, we looked through the open blinds to see my wife sleeping soundly. I tried calling her. Her phone, sitting on the overbed table, lit up when I called; I could barely hear the phone sound through the window. But my wife did not awaken. After a few minutes, I called and spoke to the nurse, who said my wife had eaten both breakfast and lunch. We decided not to have the nurse wake my wife; I asked the nurse to let her know, when she waked, that we came by to visit. There was no point in rousing her from a sound sleep, only to spend a few minutes with her and leave. I will be back this afternoon. Today, I will plan on waking her if she is asleep; I don’t want her to think my visits are imaginary.

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My sister-in-law brought DVDs over the last two days. Day before yesterday, we watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; yesterday, we watched The Big Lebowski. I had seen the latter, but I had seen only trailers of the former. Both of the films were good diversions, transporting me for a while from the combined sensations of stress and boredom. Lasts night, I began watching Unforgotten, a British drama series originally recommended to me by my other sister-in-law. I had looked for it on Netflix, to no avail, but discovered it is available on Amazon Prime. The Unforgotten character of Cassie Stuart is played by Nicola Walker, who I was sure I recognized from other British film and television; the only other television and film I have watched, in which she starred, though, were Collateral  and River. I know she was in Last Tango in Halifax (I’ve seen trailers but nothing more), but I felt sure I had seen her in other parts; I cannot seem to figure out what, though. I am not sure why I am interested in knowing more about her acting career; I have never had much of an interest in knowing who is playing a part…only in the character being played.

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I am not particularly enamored of the idea of driving into Hot Springs to go to Kroger this morning, but I may do it anyway. I want to buy more Kroger brand diet tonic, which I drink straight out of the container when I am the only one in the house, and medium-grind black pepper. I really like the store-brand diet tonic much better than the more expensive brands like Schweppe’s and Canada Dry. It’s nice to prefer the cheaper stuff sometimes; I feel an undeserved sense of superiority for my innate frugality, the same way I feel when I buy the cheaper versions of Argentinian malbec wine because I like them better than the pricier stuff.

I’m sure there’s more on my list (if I had a list), but other wants escape me for the moment. Driving 30 minutes more more, one-way, to buy tonic and pepper seems absurd and wasteful. If I can’t come up with more justification than that, I will delay the trip. I use this blog, sometimes, to talk myself into (or out of) taking action. Better beforehand than after-the-fact.

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Last night, for a time, I felt emotionally empty. Not emotionless. There’s a difference, though I cannot seem to adequately describe it. When I try to find other words to capture the sense of how I felt, I keep latching on to phrases that are equally inadequate. Painfully hollow. A balloon encased in plaster of paris, no longer able to either expand or contract. I was quite conscious of the sensation of emotional emptiness. It felt to me like I had entered a perpetual state of extreme emotional discomfort that had no anchors; it would leave me forever unable to become untethered to a vague sense of guilt and longing.

I should have written, then, about how I felt. Probably I would have been better equipped to put into words my emotional senses while I was feeling them. This morning, it seems close, but still too distant to fully comprehend.

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Accidental loneliness can be a byproduct of intentional isolation. Maybe “intentional” is not the right word. Maybe “safer” fits better. I wrote, just a few days ago, of my general preference for the company of women to the company of men. (That’s not absolute, of course; there are plenty of men whose company I find extremely gratifying.) At any rate, that general preference can present difficult challenges. I do not intentionally isolate myself from women whose company I enjoy, but it’s safer to avoid inviting them over for drinks or conversation, especially when the expectation is that they will come alone, without their husbands or boyfriends or whoever (that is, people whose company I do not necessarily think I would enjoy). Given the propensity of some people to be jealous and distrustful (there I go, being judgmental), the safety of avoidance should be understandable and obvious. This is a very strange discussion. It’s the sort of discussion I might expect in a group counseling session (though I’ve never been in a group counseling session, so my imagination is working overtime, here), not the sort of thing I would expect to find on a publicly available blog. But here it is. These are the sorts of topics that can cause cricks in one’s neck.

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I just scared the hell out of myself. Feeling the need to stretch, I held my elbows out to the side of my body and slowly raised my arms. Suddenly, I felt someone gently touch the underside of my left forearm, halfway between my elbow and my wrist. To say I was startled is a gross understatement. I did not scream, only because the sound would not escape my mouth. In less than an instant, though, I realized it was not someone’s touch I felt; it was my arm coming into contact with the metal shade of a floor lamp next to the desk. One of my brothers would jokingly say my startle reflex was the result of feeling an intense sense of guilt. I would say the reflex was the result of stark fear that someone had quietly broken into my house and was about to kill me. I can breathe again, thankfully.

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I just read a blurb about a new film set to be released in early December: Nomadland. I want to see it. Here’s a snippet describing the film, from the BBC.com, referring to the main character, played by Frances McDormand:

When Fern is widowed, she can’t afford to live in a house of her own, so she packs her few belongings into a camper van, and drives off into the Nevada desert. She soon discovers that she isn’t alone: there is a large community of senior citizens who have been forced to live on the road, supporting themselves with short-term jobs along the way.

One appealing aspect of the film, to me, is that nearly all the people McDormand meets are real nomads who recount their own real experiences. The film is called a “hybrid of documentary and fiction.” I wonder when it will be available online?

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I believe small groups of people could, if they let themselves do it, change the world. They could do it by making radical changes to their own neighborhoods or towns, then sharing what they did with other small groups of people in nearby neighborhoods or communities. Tiny efforts could spread like a virus, transforming cities, counties, states, countries, and continents. But we give ourselves reasons that such efforts would be pointless; they would fail, we tell ourselves, so we don’t take action. I get angry with myself when I think such things. Rather than try to change the world, we should try to change the block on which we live or the strip center near us. So says me.

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A Different World

A year ago, our lives were what we would now call normal. We planned our days around mundane things, like shopping for a stove. I spent my early mornings exploring the universe from my computer screen. A year ago, for instance, I was awestruck at an estimate by astronomers, appearing in a 2003 article in The Telegraph, that:

“There are 10 times more stars in the night sky than grains of sand in the world’s deserts and beaches, scientists say. Astronomers have worked out that there are 70 thousand million million million – or seven followed by 22 zeros – stars visible from the Earth through telescopes.”

This morning, I tried to read that article again. It is now hidden behind a paywall. Newspapers are attempting to survive a new reality in which the world’s population seems to think vetted information should be just as readily available—and free—as the opinions of “citizen journalists.” Competent journalists face the dissolution of their careers because we are unwilling to place sufficient value on their work to merit paying them for their time and expertise.

Yesterday, as I waited while emergency medical technicians and nurses and doctors looked after my wife, it occurred to me those people were working on Thanksgiving Day just like any other day. Their lives, too, have changed from a year earlier. Like journalism’s paywall, healthcare’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a reaction to an unplanned intrusion into our collective world. Journalist managers are attempting to cope with the public’s fickleness about the value and nature of verified information. Medical administrators are attempting to cope with unknowns of even greater and more immediate impact.

How would society react to “citizen healers” who offer to transport patients to alternative care clinics staffed by well-meaning people who, thanks to readily available information technology and medical equipment, compete with trained and vetted medical professionals? It’s not as far-fetched as it may sound. Rabid opponents of governmental “intrusion” into our lives might gladly grant such inadequately trained people authority to compete with medical professionals. Would we willingly take risks with our lives and the lives of loved ones to save the expenses of engaging trained and tested specialists? We’ve been perfectly willing to accept “journalists” without credentials to supply information critical to our decision-making. So why not opt to rely on WannaBeWebMD.com for healthcare?

During the last four months and then some, I have grown more and more appreciative of the competent medical professionals who treat my wife. Thinking back, I am extremely grateful for the doctors and nurses and technicians who have cared for me through extremely intrusive procedures like surgery and chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Healthcare is expensive; more expensive than it should be, in my opinion. But slashing healthcare costs by cutting corners would be even worse than relying on volunteer journalists to report on nuclear nonproliferation treaties.

But there is room for improvement, both in medicine and in journalism, that would cause me to feel better about paying more when necessary. Lately, for example, on several occasions I have had to intervene when technicians (and even nurses) attempted to draw blood from my wife’s right arm or to use that arm to measure her blood pressure. Despite “right arm reserved” notices on the walls and on charts, people rushing through their tasks have overlooked those instructions. I discovered, after the fact, blood draws were done on her right arm in the rehab facility where she presently is housed.  Anecdotally, I seem to see more and more  corrections printed in newspapers and in online news websites; again, rushing through the process of journalism seems to have led to mistakes that probably would not have been made had speed and cost control been given equal value.

I feel incompetent to investigate the issues I’ve raised here. But I am growing more willing every day to pay more to ensure competent people conduct investigations and report the results of their exploration. I don’t know that I’ll ever be willing to pay for individual subscriptions to The Telegraph, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc., etc., but if those news sources would collectively determine a way to share paid access, I might pay for that. The same is true for healthcare information and medical services. I’d love to be able to go back and read the article that left me awestruck as I contemplated the size of the universe. But, now, as I think about paying for access, I wonder if I would ever have seen it had I been required to pay for it to start.

Solutions. We need lots and lots of solutions. It is a different world today, after all, than a year ago.

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ER Again

This morning was harder on my wife than on me, I’m sure. She’s the one whose veins nurses could not find to draw blood. She’s the one who ambulance paramedics loaded onto a stretcher and, after the in-ambulance, pre-trip protocol they follow, took her to the emergency room. And she’s the one who sat in the ER hallway while hospital staff drew blood, had lab work done on it, and determined the rehab facility nurses’ concerns about the possibility of a critical deficit of potassium were unfounded. She’s the one who was spirited back to the rehab facility without being given the opportunity to see or speak to me. But I can still feel the stress and the fear, even after watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and drinking the better part of a bottle of Spanish wine.

I got a call around 9:30 this morning, Thanksgiving morning, from the rehab center, telling me the staff could not find a vein to draw blood to compare current labs to an earlier set. An earlier set of labs, they said, suggested the possibility of a drop in potassium. And they thought the labs might indicate other issues; they needed current labs to make a determination. So, I was told, they were calling an ambulance to take her to the hospital. They asked, to which one did I want her sent? I told them, then said I was on my way and would call when I arrived to check to see if she had already left for the hospital.

I rushed to the rehab facility, arriving just before she was loaded into the ambulance. I drove ahead to the hospital; the ambulance arrived about 20-30 minutes later. I was told to wait outside until she was in an ER room; they would call me. Finally, I went inside to inquire. “Just a few more minutes. You can wait by the doors; you don’t have to wait outside.”

A few minutes later, as I waited, I got a call on my cell from a California number I did not recognize; I answered it, just in case. It was one of the paramedics I had spoken with as they loaded my wife into the ambulance. He said the hospital staff had determined her lab work checked out and she was okay; she was being sent back to the rehab facility.

When I received the initial call, my sister-in-law and I had begun initial work on readying the kitchen to prepare our tapas meal; the non-traditional meal. She went home when I headed to the rehab center. When I got back home around 11:15, I called my sister-in-law and she returned. We sped through the process and ate our tapas. We packed samples of the dishes made and took them to the rehab facility, arriving around 2:30. My wife was asleep when we got there, but the staff woke her and helped her connect with us by phone. Because she had been sleeping after a grueling morning, we opted after a very brief conversation to leave the tapas and let her sleep, hoping she would be able to try them later. I told her I would try to call her later.

I called the rehab facility around 6:30. The staff said she was resting. I told them to let her rest, but to let her know, when she wakes, I called to check on her.

One of many unfortunate realities of my wife’s illness is that she finds it harder and harder to use her cell phone, thanks in large part to issues of edema (fluid retention) that makes it hard to use her fingers. So, she is rarely, if ever, able to make calls; nor can receive them without help. And she can’t write email messages and cannot easily retrieve them. And, of course, I cannot be with her to help. Facility staff is overburdened and can only rarely offer assistance to her. She increasingly is cut off from most of the outside world. May daily visits are, in my view, inadequate (in large part because she is so weak and tired she often cannot stay awake for long).

I would bring her home immediately except for the fact that it is difficult, if not impossible, to monitor, at home, her physical condition for several issues that are increasingly common and likely. Yesterday and today, when the facility could not draw blood for labs, gave examples of the challenges; those issues demonstrated that even facilities equipped with medical equipment and staffed with professional cannot always do what is needed.

I am frustrated, but almost certainly not nearly as frustrated as my wife. She has spent the majority of four-plus months in hospitals and rehab facilities.  In spite of my frustration, I am glad the hospital ER visit today was a false alarm. How much more, though?

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What Celebration?

On Thanksgiving Day, it is not uncommon for me to write a bit about the holiday. I write either from my personal perspective or about the holiday’s emergence and evolution. Seven years ago, I wrote a rather long treatise that included lengthy direct quotes from several official governmental proclamations proposing and recognizing a “day of thanks” to “Almighty God.”

As I re-read some of those proclamations, I began to consider what the term “religion” meant to our forefathers. I think Christianity, in its various flavors, was on their minds. Though I would like to think they were more open-minded than that, my reading of their proclamations suggests otherwise.

Today, though, I will not get deeply into Thanksgiving. Instead, I will ruminate on whatever happens to cross my mind, travel through my fingers, and spill onto the keyboard. That is to say, today will be no different than most days.

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Yesterday’s attempts to find Spanish chorizo were unsuccessful, so I’m adapting a shrimp/chorizo recipe (using a German-style smoked sausage, instead) and abandoning the recipe for poaching Spanish chorizo in red wine.  Suddenly, this morning, I’m no longer especially enthusiastic about making tapas, but I won’t let that alter my plans. Once I smell the food, I’m sure I will recover my interest in another non-traditional celebratory holiday meal.

Two years ago, I was in the hospital over Thanksgiving; having just had surgery to remove the lower lobe of my right lung. Last year, we abandoned plans for a non-traditional meal at home in favor of going out for an Indian buffet. This year, my wife is the one unable to enjoy our non-traditional meal at home. I hope she will eat and enjoy the tapas I deliver to her.

While COVID-19 is forcing many people to experience a rather lonely Thanksgiving, my wife and I have a long history of just the two of us or, more recently, fragmented holidays. We are used to being alone.

Perhaps it’s those recent experiences with Thanksgiving that lessens my enthusiasm for the holiday. Or perhaps I am recalling a recent conversation about “giving thanks,” and the question that followed: “Thank to whom?” That conversation led to more discussions about gratitude and whether it’s gratitude “to” or gratitude “for” and, in either case, whether an external entity of any kind deserves credit for one’s appreciation. It’s so easy for people to dismiss these simple but ultimately crucial questions; do people dismiss them because they are too obvious or, instead, because they are too hard to answer?

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Tomorrow—the day called Black Friday—begins in earnest a seasonal celebration of naked greed, an orgy of materialism I find appalling. While I understand and appreciate that businesses depend on Christmas sales for a significant portion of their annual revenues, in my opinion the encouragement toward unchecked avarice erases the importance of compassion and goodwill. Those attitudes have been diminishing for years; every year, it seems, they become less and less important, replaced by want, want, want. I am guilty, though, like so many others. I could get by quite well without so many consumer goods at my disposal. But I don’t.

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I wish I could visit my wife this morning; not just go to her window and talk to her by telephone, but go inside her room and do whatever she needs to be comfortable. It is not fair that she is alone. Yesterday, just before I left the house to visit her, a nurse called to tell me the staff needed to draw blood to check my wife’s potassium levels, but had been unable to do the draw. They called the EMTs to do it (“they do it all the time, so they are really good at it,” she said), but they could not do it, either. So the nurse in charge directed the staff to hydrate my wife overnight and try again today. If they cannot get a good draw, they will have to send her to the hospital to have the draw done. I hate this. I absolutely hate this. If the nurse calls to tell me my wife must go to the hospital, I will abandon meal preparation and will join her there. At least in the hospital, I could be at her side.

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Well, I can go peel shrimp and make meatballs. That will give me something to do.

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Shemomechama

Fundamental philosophical differences separate me from the thinking of virtually every world leader, I think. And, perhaps, everyone else. For example, I do not agree with Joe Biden that America should be “back,” aggressively assuming the mantle of “world leader.” I do not buy into China’s fierce pursuit of leadership in the world of artificial intelligence. I disagree vehemently, of course, with Trump’s childish psychopathic attempts to bully every country and everyone into submitting to his delusions of American exceptionalism. In every case, control is the objective, in which a nation can flex its superior muscle in specific endeavors, thereby exerting influence beyond the immediate realm of superiority. What a waste of energy and talent!

Leadership should emerge naturally and should ebb and flow depending on context and circumstance. Maybe the most distinctive difference between my philosophies and those I see on global display revolve around my desire to see collaborative solutions to world problems, with each nation’s (and their citizens’) most valuable attributes being put to best use. Synergies, in which collective efforts produce effects that outweigh the sum of individual parts, should be sought. I think international efforts to develop vaccines for COVID-19, as collaborative as they might be, should be even more cooperative, with no single company nor any one nation attempting to be “first” to come up with a solution, thereby securing influence and control over solutions to a global pandemic.

The same is true of local issues. Political factions waste enormous amounts of time and resources fighting for superiority, rather than for solutions. It’s easier said than done, of course, but conceptually it seems so absolutely obvious! Fierce arguments involving name-calling, spending money on political favors (and bribes and worse), etc. are remarkably counterproductive.

If, instead of focusing on fighting over our differences of opinion and our philosophical stalemates, we focused on how we might collaborate on matters about which different “sides” can agree, we might find that reasonable solutions emerge to the larger issues. For example, let right and left step away from abortion for a time and, instead, focus on solving the problems associated with unwanted pregnancies (without addressing abortion), adoption, and related matters. Yeah, it’s a pipe dream.

I realize my philosophies are utopian fantasies. They need not be, though. Charismatic leadership that arises naturally can change cultures. Then, again, maybe today’s cultures are too deeply steeped in thirst for power to change. Change might take many generations. And I’m afraid we don’t have many generations left if humanity continues to sully the planet, engage in genocide, and starve entire continents.  With that cheery thought, I embrace Wednesday morning. It’s appropriate, I suppose, that today is trash day.

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Yesterday was better than the day before. Despite starting out in much the same way the visit a day earlier began, yesterday’s short visit with my wife was more pleasant. It might have been because her sister was present. Whatever the reason, it was better.

I asked my wife whether she wants me to take to her some tapas from the non-traditional Thanksgiving meal we will have on Thursday; she said she would like that. So, if all goes according to plan, tomorrow I will take to her a plate with a small sample of at least some of the following items I plan to prepare (it sounds like more food than it will actually be):

  • Chimichurri meatballs (pork & beef, with a cilantro based chimichurri sauce)
  • Shrimp and chorizo bites (assuming I can find Spanish chorizo today)
  • An assortment of olives (kalamata, black, garlic-stuffed green, etc.)
  • An assortment of Spanish cheeses (iberico, manchego, and cabra al vino)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Tilapia ceviche “cooked” in vinegar
  • Assorted almonds
  • Garlicky shrimp with crusty ciabatta bread
  • Classic olive tapenade
  • Spanish chorizo poached in red wine (again, assuming I find Spanish chorizo)
  • Celery sticks
  • Skirt steak with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and fig preserves
  • Prosciutto with peach preserves

I wish I could take her some Tio Pepe dry sherry and some dry red Spanish wine, but that may be stretching it a bit. I will plan to enjoy a bit of both, though.

This morning, between 8 and 9, I will pick up my grocery order from Walmart. With luck, all the items on my list will be delivered to me; otherwise, I’ll have to add the missing items to the Kroger shopping list. All I have left to buy (unless Walmart doesn’t come through) is Spanish chorizo. I was planning to try to find quince jelly, but I’ve decided to forego that and use something else, instead. And, of course, I forgot to buy Spanish wine yesterday, when I could have bought it at the Tuesday 15% discount at Cork & Bottle; so I’ll have to stop and buy something at full price. Maybe I’ll pick up a bottle of garnacha or  tempranillo or a generic dry Spanish table wine blend. I’m not picky, nor am I able to tell one from the other; but I can differentiate sweet from dry.

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Last night found me in bed extremely early, probably around 8:00. I had no interest in watching television and I’d read what I wanted to read, so I decided to turn in. I wanted to erase things on my mind at the time, too, and it seemed that sleep might be the best way to do it. I woke around 12:30 to brilliant flashes of lightning, crashes of thunder, and pounding rain. I had not closed the blinds on the doors that lead from the bedroom to the deck, so I was treated to the full lightning show. By 2:30, I had slipped back into a middling sleep and back out again, awakened by my aching back and shoulders. I MUST get that mattress replaced! I drifted in and out of semi-consciousness until 4, when I called it a night.  I actually spent more time in bed than usual; it was just that some of that time was during hours I would normally be awake.

This morning, at least half an hour after I awoke, I remembered pieces of a dream I had last night. I was inside the headquarters building of the first association I ever worked for. The carpet, which had been deep green when I worked there, had been changed to a muted brown and other earth tones, imprinted with architectural abstract images. The walls were no longer white; I can describe them only as modern wood panels. All the door hardware remained as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s; polished chrome door hinges and handles. The executive director at the time I left, a man who has since died, walked with me down a hallway and talked to me about changes to the building. Another guy who also has since died—he ran the print shop which produced books and magazines—gave me a tour of the offices. The middle of the building, in the section where my secretary had her office, had been removed and opened up to the outdoors. It had been replaced with a tall-grass prairie, which now separated the two long wings of the building. I asked whether an empty lot across the street had always been empty. There was some disagreement about that. Finally, the people with me agreed that a multi-story office building had once stood there, but had been removed.  And that’s all I remember. That was bizarre.

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Shemomechama. It’s an untranslatable Georgian word that means you did not intend to eat so much but you accidentally did. I came across the word while reading an interesting article on BBC.com this morning. It’s an interesting read. I recommend it as a diversion. I have had the experience of shemomechama; not in Georgia, but in several other places. I suspect many people will experience it with their traditional Thanksgiving Day meals tomorrow. Even though my tapas meal should not be terribly filling, it might produce shemomechama.

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