Second Round

Except during rare periods in which I purposely post at least twice a day, I infrequently post twice in a day. So, this is an infrequency. Maybe it’s because I suddenly realized half of 2021 has evaporated into the mist of history. Maybe it’s a response to the speed with which my life seems to be accruing memorable moments. For whatever reason, here’s a second post, made just a day after the first half of this year disappeared, never to be recovered and lived again. The first half of this year was our one and only opportunity to experience the six initial months of 2021. I look back and wonder whether I made the most of it. No, I don’t really wonder about that. I know I did not. I wonder, instead, whether that recognition and realization will spur me on to make the most of the second half of this year. Time, alone, will tell.

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I made something of the first morning of the second half of the year. In the absence of a housekeeper for a few weeks, I decided to do a bit more than the organizing and sorting I normally do during the housekeeper’s “off” weeks. So, I dusted and vacuumed the living room, kitchen, dining area, guest room, guest bath, and study. I left the master bedroom for the Roomba; the creatures does a nice job without supervision in that one room. And I cleaned both toilets and did a bit of sprucing up around the sinks. I could have and should have done more, but I felt the need to be moderately lazy for while.

After doing the light housekeeping, I drove to the dump on Minorca, where people like me (who forgot to put out their trash on the day it was to be picked up) can get rid of bags of trash. When I got home, I felt the need to do a bit of “cooking,” so I made a salsa consisting of roasted tomatillos (which left quite a mess on the parchment paper on which they sat while broiling), blackened serrano peppers, a bunch of fresh cilantro, a touch of Kosher salt, and a splash of vinegar. It has a significant afterbite, which I like; foods should feed the fury we attempt to starve into submission, all the while knowing we have neither the mental nor physical wherewithal to do it; all we can do is to let them know we enjoy the rage they foment.

My yard guy arrived just before I left for the dump. While I was away, he did quite a bit of work, despite heavy rain and significant amounts of thunder and lightning. Between squalls, though, he got the work done. After I returned and when he finished, I offered him a beer while I wrote the check in payment for his work. Nice guy. We talked a bit while he gazed out the back window at the black clouds of an approaching storm. He has a three-year-old son who he’s taking to Padre Island in Texas in a few weeks to introduce the boy to the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. I think he’s a guy I could enjoy conversing with, over a beer and a joint.

I barely heard him knock on the door to let me know he was finished and ready to be paid for his efforts (I drank a beer for lunch which, along with some salsa-doused chips, made me a bit sleepy.  I answered the door and invited him in while I wrote the check. He made a complimentary comment about the aroma of the dragon’s blood incense I was burning. That’s when I mentioned to him that I had been drinking beer and chilling to the scent of the incense and offered him the beer. He took the beer with him, planning to drink it in the cab of his truck while he at lunch in advance of his next job.

After he left, I instructed Alexa to play music by Andrea  Bocelli. She obliged. I love Bocelli’s voice and much of the music he sings, but some of it leaves me absolutely cold. Such is life, I suppose. So, I then instructed Alexa to play some Dire Straits. I love me some Dire Straits.

Eventually, both Dire Straits and opera left me ready to scream, so I made a radical shift. I am, as I write this, listening to Gregorian chants. At the moment, I am listening to Introit Benedictus Sit. performed by the Monks of the Abbey of Notre Dame. I wonder where they gather today, in the aftermath of the horrible fire that destroyed so much of Notre Dame? Oh, the next piece is underway: Kyrie Eleison, performed by the same group.

Gregorian chants can be incredibly calming. But after awhile that calming effect morphs into a desire for the music to stop. And when it does not, the serenity that flows from the sounds begins to change into an angry rage, putting the listener (me, in this case) in the mood to strangle chanting monks and throw their corpses into a fire fueled by wooden church pews and ecclesiastical vestments. Not really. Just kidding. I probably would not strangle the chanting monks.

I have been alone for most of the day so far, as my IC opted to go clothes shopping, something she insists she will not do in the presence of a man, When she left, I decided to wade through various chores alone. Which I did. I should have taken a shower long ago, but I have not done so. I will, though, because tonight is the night for trivia at Beehive. Even though the Beehive is an informal venue…a pub…exercise shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt worn over a sweaty body is inappropriate bar-wear. Real clothes are expected. And a reasonably clean body under said clothes probably is desirable. So I’ll shower, shave, and otherwise try to make myself look and smell presentable. This discussion of appropriate bar-wear gives me another opportunity to advocate for public nudity. We should all wander around without clothes. Soon, the titillation and embarrassing erectitude would melt into normal adult acceptance of the desirability of pure, unadulterated comfort.

Twice today I have felt the need to record the meaningless drivel that escapes through my fingers. I’ll stop now, happy that my second post has not yet prompted someone to murder me. I’ll do the drill now; wash, brush, comb, and clothe. And then I’ll drive to my IC’s house, where she’s visiting following what she apparently thinks was a too-long absence.

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More Madness

Yesterday was a lovely, leisurely day, despite being unnaturally hot. But I do not feel like writing about it, so I will look elsewhere for something to inspire my fingers to express themselves. Damn! I cannot ignore the impact yesterday is having on my thinking this morning, so I’ll have to accept that experience molds thought. So, let it begin.

Although my fascination with a motorized, drivable RV had returned, my certainty of my mental choices had not. So, when I rode in the quiet comfort of a four-year-old Honda Odyssey van (with only  15,000 miles on its odometer), my mind took advantage of the opening to think again about the practicality of getting an RV.  The cons began to outweigh the pros: costs of storage; gas mileage; unwieldiness in traffic; costs of insurance; need for modes of  supplemental transportation; etc., etc., etc. The reason those thoughts entered my mind can be traced directly to the four-year-old Honda Odyssey. It felt comfortable. Its space behind the front driver’s/passenger’s seats could be used for sleeping in a pinch (and in not so much of a pinch). The Honda seemed designed with long road-trips in mind. Whereas the Subaru in my garage seems designed for moderately comfortable treks through an off-road trail in a National forest. Not uncomfortable, but not the lap of luxury, either.

Okay, I’ll get to it. Maybe driving a comfortable vehicle for travel, along with sleeping in motels, would be more appealing and more practical than driving around in one’s bedroom/kitchen/living quarters combo. Maybe, if the “camping” bug struck, staying in a cabin in a KOA campground might scratch the itch in a more practical and considerably less expensive way than going all in for a fancy RV.  So, here’s what I am thinking about today: replacing the Subaru with a somewhat luxurious minivan vehicle like a Honda Odyssey or a Toyota Sienna. The minivan would be a more comfortable road car than the Subaru. The cost savings from not having to park it in an expensive storage shed might offset the cost of staying in motel rooms while road-tripping across the USA.  I’m a target for a mark; this conversation is swaying me in the direction of the minivan and away from the RV. I’m easy. I can trade my principles for a night in paradise…sort of.

We’ll see. I may get over this sudden appreciation for minivans. Or I may not. Probably not. I may decide the old paid-in-full Subaru represents the lap of luxury. I may simply need something new and different and completely unconnected to my past.

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I can barely keep my eyes open. I’ve drifted off several times as I sit in front of the keyboard. This is not the normal me. Nor is the blood in my urine normal. Fortunately, I have an appointment with a urologist about a week and a half from now. Not that a urologist is apt to address this morning’s narcolepsy. My IC suggests I have a sleep study done to address the oddities associated with my patterns of sleep (and lack thereof). I just woke up again.

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My state of mind and the state of my body’s reaction to the world around it seem strange this morning. As if I’m in an alternate universe, one created by blending alcohol with mind-altering drugs to form a fabric heretofore unknown by humankind. A fabric that Leonard Cohen might say was woven from “smoke and gold and breathing.”  I love those old Leonard Cohen songs; the one from which I quoted is called “Winter Lady,” I think. “Traveling lady, stay awhile, until the night is over. I know I’m just a station on your way, I know I’m not your lover.”  Ah, the old days. The days when everything was a beautiful mystery to be unraveled and then carefully stored in a box hand-crafted from love and wax and wood and truth. Oh, for those old days when life was eternal and illness belonged in story books with lessons laced with compassion. Craziness is the last refuge in a world gone mad. There’s nothing funny about insanity, really. Except insanity might dull the pain of sanity mixed with raw reality.

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Enough madness. More later. Maybe. Perhaps. But probably not.

 

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What Wonder!

Four hours from now, we’ll get in a van (or, maybe, an SUV) belonging to neighbors and head into Little Rock for shopping at Trader Joe’s and lunch at Ya-Ya’s. There’s nothing in particular that I require to justify a trip to Trader Joe’s, but I’m sure I will discover many things I want. So, the jaunt will force me to confront need versus greed; desire in the face of hunger-capitalism, tinged with guilt for craving things my money can—but probably should not be able to—buy. Armed with sufficient guilt, though, I can atone for my participation in a greed-fest. It may sound like I’m poking fun at myself for giving in to an appetite for things I do not need. In reality, though, I seriously question the point at which it becomes morally “okay” to cave in to yearning, when the same money I might spend could buy a meal for someone on the cusp of starvation. Maybe that idea gives too much responsibility to my individual actions; I cannot save the world. But, as many have said in many ways before, one act of altruism may not change the course of humankind, but it might change the course of life for one human. And, so, perhaps a charitable contribution to a homeless person on the unforgiving streets of Little Rock will be sufficient penance for my gluttony. Somehow, that seems a little too much like fee-based redemption. If this sounds a little too “religious,” forgive me for unintentionally comparing and contrasting “Christianity” with human decency; they most assuredly are NOT the same thing.

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Try as it seems I might, I cannot supplant my overwhelming joy with devastating guilt. Yet somewhere in the midst of compassion and elation, there must exist a happy and justifiable balance. Or, maybe there’s not. Maybe our only option is to compartmentalize our emotions, taking care to seal the pathways between compartments so neither bliss nor torment are tainted by the other. I think the most likely reality is this: we must simply dedicate ourselves to milking experience for the sheer joy of everything it’s worth, while acknowledging that there are times—many times—when we are obliged to “pay for” our happiness with active, productive, meaningful compassion for others. Absent that real or imagined balance, we’ll go mad.

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And all of that brings me to this: I deserve to be happy. I do. So do we all. The fact that happiness is not a universal state of being, though, does not mean that my happiness is not due me. I deserve my happiness as much as anyone else deserves theirs. I’m learning this from a teacher who helps me unlock what I already know and who also is so imbued with wisdom that I am stunned by her appreciation of life’s lessons.

Do good. Be good. And when doing good becomes overwhelming or too hard, enjoy the fruits of experience without remorse. I think those are among the lessons I am learning and teaching myself.  Now, my job is to implement those lessons in the course of living my life. When I do, I will hear her say, “Good job!” I smile at those words and I embrace her for uttering them.

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I eagerly await the results of my AncestryDNA exploration. While I doubt I will be surprised (I expect my ancestry to be almost entirely (if not totally) based on a history in and around England), I am more than a little curious to know whether I will presented with possibilities I had never seriously considered. Like, for example, what I wrote some time ago about having African ancestors or even African relatives today. If the world were truly just, I would learn with certainty that I am a child of the universe, with strands of my DNA traceable to the birth of the most distant stars and galaxies. But justice is a Homo sapien construct. So I’ll have to be satisfied with amoral reality, whatever that proves to be. Existence is neither good nor bad; it simply is. My Intimate Companion will help me interpret the results of my DNA evaluation in the context of my discoverable ancestry (she is extremely well-versed in how to do genealogical research).

Fortunately for me, scientists have not yet successfully linked DNA attributes with a propensity for being a serial killer or a political assassin, so I need not fear learning horrible things that might explain my most fearful thought processes. I’m really looking forward to learning what I can learn, though. I realize, of course, that I am not going to get earth-shaking news. I know the results of the DNA assessment will only add bits and pieces to an impossibly complex puzzle about which I will never had all the answers. But it will be fun, nonetheless.

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I am a luck man, indeed. While I understand the depths of depression and the pain of loss and the awful knowledge that knowledge is always incomplete, I feel so incredibly fortunate that, suddenly, the sun is bright again. Oh, what wonder!

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Leftovers

Sleep sometimes eludes me. I feel it getting nearer, but it fails to fully express itself. Only scraps of sleep find me, pushing me into a state of semi-consciousness but refusing to fully embrace me. Dreams enter my semi-conscious state during these inadequate periods of rest, torturing me with fragments of fantasies and incomplete thoughts that slam me against hard surfaces. I awake covered in imaginary scrapes and scratches and bruises, as if I had been pushed from a speeding car. But how do I know how it feels to have been shoved from a car? How can my imagination fill in the awful gaps between feeling the road rash form on my cheeks and hearing the pieces of gravel dig into my skin?

Anxiety, purely a psychological sensation, feels physiological. It feels just as physical as the abrupt removal of a partially healed scab, emphatically expressed by an alcohol bath. There’s a reason we think of anxiety as a form of pain; because it is. Anxiety gnaws at the synapses  just as surely as does the edge of a sharp piece of torn, rusted steel rips into sensitive skin. Unlike a physical cut, though, anxiety carries with it a sense of responsibility and blame, as if the pain could have been avoided with the right combination of mental strength and stamina. Anxiety feels like an affliction of the weak, a condition affecting only the feeble or insecure. The more anxious one feels, the less one feels in control.

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When I took the small, friendly dog out for his morning romp, the high humidity tricked my skin into believing the day was starting warmer than its actual 72°F temperature. Humidity misleads us into feeling sticky and sweaty and clammy, despite cool and comfortable temperatures. Returning to a much warmer, but less humid, house, 77°F feels almost chilly, as if my body were in the midst of adjusting to a new climate. I suppose that’s exactly what happens; the climate inside the house approximates Oahu, while outside the house it attempts to recreate New Orleans during a rare September cold snap. We can travel great distances simply by opening and closing doors, provided we properly tend to our microclimate machinery. The sun, alone, powers it all. Some claim that we rely on petroleum products for comfort and transportation and eternal forms of pollution, but I know better. We can trace it all back to the sun. The sun, ultimately, is responsible for hydrocarbons and oxygen and water and the flesh of plants and animals we consume as fuel. I blame the sun for all our troubles and the solutions thereto. If I were to worship a god, I would worship Ra or Aten or Aton or Atonu or Itn or Apollo or Nanahuatzin or the same god who goes by any number of other names. Only he, and his female companions, whose power exceeds all the impotent frailties humans claim as their own, warrants my unending adoration. Well, there’s someone else who merits my unwavering adoration, but that’s a conversation for another time.

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I am unable to think this morning. At least not clearly. My mind is a jumble of broken pieces of tomorrow, littered with scraps of yesterday. For some reason, I remember more of my childhood this morning that I ever did before. I remember moments that, heretofore, have eluded me. I do not have time for this. I have people to be and things to see. But I should record those recollections on magnetic media so those memories do not disappear into the mist. The mist is waiting to claim them, too. Enough of this pointless endeavor. I should attempt to sleep, but I won’t. I think I may indulge myself in leftover spaghetti this morning. Or I may not.

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From the Start

I have begun, again, looking longingly at RVs. I had essentially given up on the idea of an RV because I felt like I would feel especially lonely in an RV on the road, by myself, But now I have a willing partner who will gladly accompany me on RV adventures. So, I’m back on the prowl. I’m focusing my attention on a smaller drivable RV that is easy to maneuver, simple to set up, and can be ready to roll quickly. Something that can accommodate a couple of bikes (or something like them). I can feel the excitement growing in me again. Life is, indeed, a nice roller-coaster ride from time to time.

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Last night, I thumbed through a Tim Ernst book that’s full of photos he took of Arkansas night skies. Though the real thing is more awe-inspiring, the Ernst book is a treasure.

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Have I already posted this quote from my little book of Zen-inspired quotations? It doesn’t matter. The sentiments it expresses and the feelings I have when reading it have not changed.

I think these difficult times
have helped me to understand better
than before how infinitely rich and
beautiful life is in every way,
and that so many things
one goes around worrying about
are of no importance whatsoever.

~ Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) ~

One’s core personality must be fully understood and acknowledged before he steps onto even the safest emotional tightrope. That core—the element of oneself that defines his beliefs, guides his behavior, and establishes the degree to which he is compatible with another person—offers protection against missteps that could plunge him headfirst into the rocks below. Unless acceptable levels of compatibility with another person are assured and guaranteed, stepping onto the tightrope is enormously risky. But it is easy to assume compatibility exists, especially when connections have long been lacking. In fact, it’s not just easy to assume; it’s almost impossible to assume otherwise in such circumstances. The need for companionship is so great that even a casual misfit seems perfect and impossible to improve upon. But suddenly that fit can seem utterly incomplete and tangled, as if problems existed from the start. Which, of course, they did. They always do. Yet if partners to a powerful attraction accept the reality that “perfect” fits sometimes require the shapes of certain pieces to be forced into spaces that do not quite suit the configuration, problems can actually improve cohesion. One’s feet can be attached to the tightrope with safety netting. And, of course, the quality of the netting can be enhanced when both partners accept that allowing tensions to mold and shape certain pieces can enhance the fit.

Both the dangers of incompatibility and the beauty of readily and agreeable reshaping discordant bits and pieces are on my mind this morning. The willingness to bend and flex so the pieces fit most comfortably, especially, is on my mind. I have seen and felt that flexibility; it is a beautiful thing to behold. Perhaps most surprising to me, though, is how comfortable my own flexibility and willingness to bend feels to me. Maybe it’s not the fact of flexibility and bendability that’s so surprising, though; it’s the speed with which it has become so comfortable that has taken me a bit by surprise. I have not become another person by stretching myself to ease a fit; I think I have become a better version of the same man. I feel like I am casting off inflexible pieces of metallic armor and replacing them with adaptable sheets of protective silicone. By reshaping and reconfiguring, I feel like I am improving on the underlying person whose value I had come to question. Maybe, I think, I’m lovable after all. And, as I realize I am not alone in reshaping bits of myself, I am not at all alone in being lovable. Life can be a remarkably transformative experience.

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Today would have been my late wife’s birthday. I grieve for her loss and I mourn her absence, but I feel certain she would be happy for me as I rediscover my life. The guilt I sometimes have felt in response to the development of a wonderful, but unexpected, relationship is dissipating quickly, replaced with love. I miss my wife, but I have begun to love the life that’s replacing the one I had before.

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My intimate companion and I were treated to a nice afternoon involving wine and healthy hors d’oeuvres yesterday afternoon. My late wife’s sister, to whom I have grown increasingly close during the past seven years, invited us over to visit and to introduce my IC to the cat my sister-in-law calls “Junior.” We saw very little of Junior, but we marveled at my SIL’s lovely pollinator garden and at the art that adorns her walls and backyard. ’twas a glorious afternoon that followed a glorious morning. Normally, my IC would have joined her friends who swim in one of the Village lakes, but I think she sensed that I really needed time with her yesterday, so she opted to spend it with me.  I am among the luckiest people alive, I think. I hope I always am able to provide the same comforting presence for her that she provides for me.

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I have begun to revisit and revise my “to-do” list. The degree of productivity I will feel as I plow through the list will be nothing short of remarkable. I feel it in my bones already.

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Though I will spend part of today alone (my IC will join her swim-mates in the lake), I will relish what goes through my mind. Whether happy or sad thoughts occupy my mental space, I have someone waiting for me later in the day who will absorb me and allow me to do the same, making a perfect sphere out of a perfect sphere.

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Strange Connections

Disappointment. It’s a symptom of misunderstanding, I think. It emerges from unmet expectations that take their shapes from molds designed for other purposes. And it lingers, even after it is explained away as an aberration. Disappointment and depression go hand in hand. They might as well be twins, except that their mothers might have been raised in different centuries and in different countries and under the influence of radically different cultures. Disappointment arises from conversations spoken in languages suitable only for competitions and wholly unsuited for communication.

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Several years ago, I was a judge for a very large barbeque contest in Kansas City, Kansas. The details of how I got to be a judge have long since degraded into smoky memories, but a few of the high points of the experience remain with me. One such memory involves stopping for gas in little towns off the interstate highway. The big, four-lane highways bypassed a lot of places, throttling back in those places what little traffic there had been. I remember getting off the interstate to investigate a few of those little towns, many of which had tiny cafes that served as the gathering places for farmers who took an early morning break from the previous day’s hard physical labor in preparation for a day designed to surpass expectations, which always were lower than the day before.

The slow demise of those little towns weighs on me in complex ways. Their slow decay sometimes seems to me punishment for the towns’ deeply conservative world views. Their monstrously limited capacity for compassion and their failure to recognize and reward inquisitiveness and genuine exceptionalism triggered their own demolition. Their own deterioration. They sowed their own seeds of extinction, I suspect.

But it’s not them. It’s the rest of us. Those of us in a hurry to exceed our wildest dreams, hopes, and expectations. Small towns apply brakes, rather than stepping on the accelerator. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. We say they are slow, dull, and unable to accommodate the fierceness of our cutting-edge thinking. They say, on the other hand, we are quick to make bad decisions. They say we apologize for our failings by casting aspersions on the tortoise and praising the inebriated rabbit, high on broken dreams.

These small-town memories and the judgments they sparked arose from an email I received from a friend I’ve never met. It is one thing to read about the experiences of an author with whom one shares nothing but an assumed interest. It’s another thing entirely to read about the experiences and recollections of a person with whom, despite having never met, one feels inexplicably close.

I learned this morning that Whitewater, Kansas is about one and three-quarters of an hour from Manhattan, Kansas; the latter is one of the principle settings of a story I have written (only partially). Another synchronicity. Of sorts.

All of us live within an invisible sphere in which proximity is contextual; a distance of ten miles presents a challenge to the walker, while a distance of 100 light years may require only a slightly deeper breath to meet the challenge of distance. We can keep proximity secret if it fulfills our dreams; whether ten miles or 100 light years. It is within us, to share or keep close, at our discretion. I am not writing in code. I am writing in a language that, perhaps, I am the only one who can understand, because it is a language of hidden passion and raw curiosity.

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Wonders and Wondering

I knew little of the Bluebell Café and Country Store until yesterday, when my girlfriend (also known as IC and other such terms of endearment) and I went for a not-terribly-long, leisurely drive. We drove Highway 298 from Blue Springs, Arkansas to Story, Arkansas, the latter community which is home to the “storied” café. My beautiful girlfriend knew of the place, but it was new to me. We got there around 2:00 p.m., late for lunch, but the staff happily accommodated our desire for a couple of hamburgers and tater tots. And I was delighted that my request for jalapeños for my burger was met without as much as a moment’s hesitation. The woman who accompanied me to lunch knew even more; she knew the place hosts jam sessions late Saturday afternoons (which she verified by asking). I learned through yesterday’s experience that the Bluebell Café and Country Store is a tiny place at the intersection of Highway 298 and Highway 27. And I learned, this morning, that The Hiking Life‘s website calls the place “equal parts restaurant, grocery store, gas station, live music venue and de facto community center all rolled into one.” Located about halfway along the Ouchita Trail, the spot is one I would not mind visiting again.

Following lunch, we drove down Highway 27 to Mount Ida, where we stopped in at the Ouachita Artists Gallery and Studio. Despite the fact that we arrived after 3:00 p.m. closing to a locked door, we were allowed inside, where we spent a few minutes viewing a variety of pieces of art created from various substances including oil, wood, watercolor, and other media. We saw several pieces of art formed from wood turned by the “artist formerly known as husband.” That is, my lovely companion’s ex, who I met a day or two ago. In appreciation that we were allowed to enter the gallery after closing time, we purchased a bar of lavender-scented soap created by one of the artists whose work was on display.

Before departing Mount Ida, we stopped to gaze at the exterior of a small house that was for sale. It would have been more interesting and intriguing, had it not be situated next to what might have been a hillbilly meth lab, complete with a bunch of guys sitting outside, looking at us with suspicion as we drove by the “no trespassing” signs warning outsiders to steer clear. Then we drove on Highway 270 past liquor stores and barbecue joints and touristy spots (including Shangri La Resort, where I recalled I once ate pie at the resort  while speaking on the phone with my friends who live in Fort Smith), to Hot Springs, thence home.

Yesterday’s drive was good practice for a much longer road trip we will take later, when I drive west to pick up my companion for a long, leisurely excursion through a large swath of the country. I can hardly wait!

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For many years, I have considered the display of Confederate battle flags as overt expressions of racism. Generally speaking, I still consider it to be so. But yesterday, while sitting in the little café where such a flag was on display, I began to wonder whether the claims  that the flag is simply an homage to heritage, made by those who display the flag, might be at least partially true. Why I started to question the certitude of my heretofore unquestioned belief in the righteousness of my opinion is hard to explain. Regardless of why, though, I just started wondering whether the label of “racist” I had applied to people who proudly display the flag might be wrong. There’s no doubt that the Confederate battle flag is steeped in racism. But the possibility exists that it may also be steeped in pride of heritage; pride that is not limited to racist beliefs. The problem I still have is that southern “heritage” is almost impossible to completely divorce from southern racism. Of what, exactly, is southern heritage “proud?” Hard to say; but I think it may be more than racism and subjugation. I wish I could wrap my head around it. Maybe, if I could find a way to understand southern heritage and pride, outside the framework of slavery and a plantation mentality, I could find a way to begin reconciling north versus south and slavery versus abolition. I’d rather be forgiving and tolerant than judgmental and bigoted. Somehow, I might need to find at least a shred of legitimacy in the “states’ rights” arguments that pervade arguments in honor of the Confederacy; but those arguments are so riddled with holes that is going to be damn near impossible. But, still, I must try.

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Philosophies are hard to argue against; beliefs based on the indefensible grasping of mind-numbingly stupid ideas cannot be changed through the application of logic. If such change were possible, I suspect evangelical Christianity would have long since disappeared from the face of the earth. But there I go again, throwing matches on my incendiary bigotry. I should not be so judgmental about religion. I have no argument with the majority of the underlying principles upon which human decency are based; it’s just the quackery used to justify the principles. Resurrection. Transforming water into wine. Miracles. Epic floods and snakes and forbidden fruit. Comic books frequently are more believable than the swill embraced as the word of the Lord. Ach! I’m doing it again, am I not? I just cannot abide the idea that magic has any place in human philosophies. But perfectly rational, reasonable, decent, intelligent people accept on “faith” that the impossible is or has been a common occurrence for millennia. I’ve gotten better over the years; better at hiding my smirking mockery and skepticism. What I’ve not gotten better at is withholding my snide judgments. I’m still working on it. If I have any hope of being a genuinely good person, I have to figure out a way of accepting even the unacceptable, believing he unbelievable, or tolerating the intolerable. Hmm. It’s not working for me, is it?

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It’s odd, I think, that I feel like I know some people I’ve never met better than others with whom I’ve spent many hours (or, collectively, days or weeks or months). It boils down to the level of comfort one has with someone else. How a remarkably significant level of comfort can develop without ever having laid eyes on another person or spoken to them or otherwise engaged, except by way of the written work is extraordinary. Now THAT is a bit of magic; far more so than the story of forty days and nights of epic rain and the ark awash in animal pairs. Why, I wonder, am I so insistent on flogging religion and its thousands of faults?

The same question, but in a different context, haunts me as I try to understand the absence of childhood memories. Are there long, empty stretches of time from my childhood that I’ve blotted out for reasons I do not understand? Was I privy to conversations between family members that revealed I was unwanted? Did I inadvertently learn that I was traded by my real parents for a bushel of papayas? Was I purchased on a lay-a-way plan, rather than born to the people  I’ve always considered my parents? Am I actually the world’s first low-functioning clone? How can all these questions come out of the same head as the ideas for ceramic mask art?

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All right. I’ll stop now and wait for my opportunity to engage in a wonderful conversation I did not even know, and month and change ago, awaited me.

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Pairings

Last night, the World Tour of Wines dinner and wine tasting delivered samples of some very nice wines and a meal far superior to all previous offerings. Perhaps because of recent history, especially the horrors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd was considerably smaller than other dinners in the series. Those who attended, though, were treated to an array of Chilean wines and a very tasty meal that began with a tomato and onion salad (marinated, I think, in a mixture that included oil and lemon juice). Three baked clams with cheese and a hint of a butter sauce came later, followed by a baked chicken thigh. Dessert was a delicious flan. The wine and the meal were secondary; the primary source of the evening’s enjoyment was the fact that I experienced it in the company of a beautiful woman, along with two other couples. I read a poem the emcee had asked me to write (well over a year ago, when the meal was first planned). In my role last night as the evening’s Poet Laureate of the World Tour of Wines, I was asked to draw names from a bowl; the names I drew were awarded bottles of wine. One of the winners was a woman at our table. It may have seemed rigged; it was not. A nice evening, I think.

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The remnants of Spring lately teased us into believing the late June climate of Central Arkansas might have changed. Yesterday, though, Summer disemboweled Spring; he tore  out her hair and burned her at the stake. Today, he promises to add fuel to her still-glowing embers and spread her ashes in the hot, dry wind. Summer is a miserable beast; he should be drowned in an Olympic-sized pool of iced tea as punishment for his cruelty and his disregard for our desire for cool comfort. The bastard.

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What is the proper terminology to use in describing the woman with whom I am deeply and happily involved? Girlfriend? Lady friend? Oh, there are plenty of other terms, but most of them seem to describe a vaguely inappropriate relationship involving inequality. A blog follower and friend suggests that “girlfriend” sounds teenagerish and “lady friend” sounds stiffly Victorian and “partner” implies a permanence that may not yet be established and “acquaintance” sounds trivial. So what word describes our relationship? And what term describes my role in it? Am I a boyfriend? Or does the term suggest that I am considerably younger than I look?

This dilemma calls on me to take action, creating or selecting the right words to describe our respective roles in this blossoming relationship. I suppose we could say, respectively, “she’s my woman and I’m her man.” But does that suggest ownership or control? Ach! There must be a word that neither diminishes nor exaggerates and doesn’t mislead.

Companion. Flame, Intimate. Sweetheart. Steady.  Perhaps a combination, shortened to initials: I.C., for Intimate Companion. “She’s my IC. I’m her IC. We are ICs” That could work. Ultimately, though, the terminology doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is the underlying connection, the relationship. I tend, sometimes, to overthink.

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I wish I knew more than I know. But that’s not an unusual desire, is it? Don’t we all long to have answers to questions we may not have asked yet? Questions that pop up unexpectedly in the course of living our lives?

“Will the horror of COVID-19 ever be behind us and, if so, when? And if not, how can we cope…how can we return to some semblance of the lives we lived before?”

“Will efforts to make possible human travel to Mars yield as much value to humanity as did efforts to make possible human travel to the moon?”

“When Earth’s supply of rare-earth metals is depleted, will technologies that depend on them disappear?”

“What is the optimum human population of our planet with respect to achieving or maintaining a balance with nature?”

There are billions more questions. Probably exponentially greater even than billions. Maybe so many more that we will never run out of them. It’s the answers that seem in short supply. No. The “correct” answers are the ones in short supply.

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Self-confidence and egotism are not one and the same. But self-confidence can feel oddly overblown. Similarly, a lack of self-confidence and humility are not synonymous, but the latter can look like the former in the right (or wrong) context.  I think we tend to judge people on the basis of extremely limited understanding of mere slivers of their behaviors or blurry snapshots of their personalities. The quality of being judgmental is rarely a positive trait, yet we tend to admire certain people whose only “redeeming” qualities seem to involve being judgmental. Take, for example, television political commentators; Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow earn their keep by honing their judgmental expressions to a fine, razor-sharp edge. We forgive judgmental people for their flaws only when their flaws resemble our own; possessing the “wrong” flaws is akin to classifying one as demonic in the extreme, while owning the “right” flaws is akin to sainthood. For those reasons and many more, I am skeptical. Very, very skeptical. But not always.

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What would someone who knows me, but not extremely well, say about me if asked to write a few paragraphs describing my appearance, my personality, and my place on Earth? What would they write if required to expound on my flaws? Do we all wonder about such things? Or is it just me? I know some people would say “I don’t really care what they would say.” Really? On one hand, I would admire that dismissive attitude. On the other, I would question its legitimacy and veracity. We are trained to care what others think. That caring may be genetic. And if we were required to write about others, I suspect most of us would tend to be gentler in expression than we might actually think. Because we care not only what others think of us, but because we care about others and do not want to hurt them; not even those we find distasteful and uncompassionate. This is the stuff that contributes to the creation of psychological experiments. Sometimes, psychological experiments are superficial; sometimes they are profound in the depth of understanding they can provide.

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The next few days are laced with social invitations and obligations; all promise to be interesting, intriguing, and enjoyable. I am, these days at least, a very fortunate man. Lucky is not too much of a stretch. But it’s after 7:30, so I need to explore how lucky I am in finding food that is both satisfying and healthy.

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Striking Out on a Philosophical Journey

From time to time, we need to step back from ourselves and look at the world through a different set of eyes. We must consider that our certainty may be a symptom, not a solution. If we examine the world through another’s perspective, we may realize that our lenses could be tinted with a miniscule drop of blood or a tiny smudge of soot.  We may discover we see the world in reverse, as if our lenses were placed in our eyes backwards; the smallest image enlarged to give the widest view and the largest image shrunk to the most microscopic.

Be soft in your practice.
Think of the method as a fine silvery stream,
not a raging waterfall.
Follow the stream, have faith in its course.
It will go its own way,
meandering here, trickling there.
It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.
Just follow it.
Never let it out of your sight.
It will take you.

~ Sheng-Yen ~

I love the admonition, “Be soft in your practice.” It covers such an enormously wide spectrum of behaviors, yet it is such an amazingly precise piece of advice. If I could successfully live by a single phrase to guide my actions, day-by-day, “Be soft in your practice” would be the one. It would guide my reactions to disappointment and to good fortune. It would steer me through my mental and physical responses to fear and bravery. The counsel to “just follow it” and the assurance that “it will take you” seem contrary to my earlier advice, in the introductory paragraph, that our certainty may be a symptom rather than a solution; but I think not. Sheng-Yen‘s advice is to follow the course through uncertainty.

Some mornings—and this obviously is one such morning—I think philosophically. My thoughts on such mornings do not center on the enduring but, rather, on the ephemeral. On these mornings, I wander aimlessly through translucent mental forests whose trees are ghosts of thoughts I had a thousand years before. I question whether I am real and whether the thoughts in my head are simply figments of a fictional imagination. Those mornings call into question the legitimacy of matters that usually command my attention. Does it matter whether the sheets were washed? Will their relative degree of cleanliness matter in a million years? Or even later today? Or now?

What time is my appointment with the doctor? Will she wait for me if I am late? Will the lives of all the patients that follow me, from this moment and into the next millennia, be altered by my tardiness or my punctuality?

No, on these mornings my mind leads me along dangerous trails on steep mountain ridges, where a misstep in any direction can result in my plunging headfirst into raging rivers full of ideas in which I would almost certainly drown. Here, on these precarious pathways, ideas become both weapons and protective cocoons. Experiences, here on these footpaths so high above the clouds, are impossibly complex. They are both sensually alive with overwhelming ecstasy and painfully dull and dreadful, as if an eternity of dry sand and howling, hot winds awaits.

My descriptions of where I am on these certain mornings may seem awful, but the reality of thinking philosophically—about things that matter and those that don’t—is that it tends to heighten my senses. It makes me more attuned to the sublime. It takes my hopes and my desires to levels I rarely encounter, levels from which I can look down and barely see the tiny peak of Mount Everest miles and miles below.

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Togetherness after being alone and loneliness after being together give the taste of their opposites a unique, appealing character. Solitude feels different when contrasted with the joy of intimacy; solitude is no longer as alluring. Yet even intimacy can seem invasive if it is permitted to enshroud solitude in an opaque cloak, making solitude inaccessible. Given enough dedicated contemplation, one begins to understand that solitude and intimacy (or, loneliness and togetherness, to use different terms) are necessary and complementary points along the same strand of experience. Or, to use another favorite term, along the same spectrum. Desire applies to both ends; we all want and need both time alone and time in which we are deeply intertwined with one another. The trick to avoiding the pain of too much or too little of either is to mix them together within small pockets of time; just enough of both to keep one’s soul intact.

I do not believe there is a soul. But of course there must be one.  But it is not what we commonly think of; instead, it is the fire of connection that keeps us in love and keeps love growing ever greater, even when love seems too strong, too soon, too overwhelming, too necessary. And it is the ember that keeps us in love when the strength and length and power and necessity of love mature and change over time, filling in the gaps and making life comfortably full. That’s what the soul is. It is the fire and the ember and the contents of the furnace.

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Usually, when I am in this philosophical mood, I tend to stoke it with emotions to keep it from drying up and becoming a little like bitterness on steroids. But this morning I don’t feel the need to shore it up with an overabundance of emotion. That’s a good thing, I think.

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Tonight is the World Tour of Wines. I’ll read a poem I wrote on request for the event that was to have taken place more than a year ago. I will be accompanied by my girlfriend, who, in such a short time, has become so much more than that term can begin to describe. The rest of the day will be divided between what I have begun to call “A gathering of geezers,” and a church board meeting. The “gathering of geezers is simply a group of guys who get together each week, as availability and weather and circumstances permit, to chat and develop bonds that otherwise would either not exist or would wither. I think today will be a good one. I feel it in my bones.

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More coffee will help ensure the day progresses as I wish. And so off I go.

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Invisible Sky Things

We had planned on having Indian food for lunch last Friday, but instead we at at Brood & Barley. Though Brood & Barley was, as expected, wonderful, the fact that we missed out on an opportunity to eat Indian food weighs on my mind. My girlfriend either has never eaten Indian food or does not recall the experience (which would have taken place many years ago). I feel an obligation to address that deprivation. But our respective schedules are so damned demanding! For a couple of retired folks, the obligations we face (and accept) seem almost overwhelming. Our calendars may require some joint attention.

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Today, if the stars align properly, I will do a bit of pressure-washing. Nothing crazy, you understand, but a little. Just a tad. Maybe. If the stars cooperate. But, since I cannot see them, how can I possibly know? What can I do to ensure that my day is in proper alignment with invisible sky things? It’s pointless. I will just have to trot headlong into oncoming stellar traffic, hoping meteors and other celestial objects will miss me.

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Fear and guilt and a host of other intractable emotions can intercede on behalf of what one might have thought was a defeated depression.

Excuse me,” the fetid emotions might say, “your emotional comfort and well-being are putting your sense of self-doubt and angst at risk, so—in an attempt to crush your spirit and your dreams—I’m going to have to step in to drown your joy in a flood of tears.

Those might not be the exact words, but they are close enough to get the message across.  Those wordsand the sense of insecurity they attempt to insert in place of self-esteemare like torn arteries spurting blood. If allowed to hemorrhage for long, they will rob one of his life, whether metaphorically or actually. Yet handkerchiefs and tourniquets can choke off necessary supplies of life-giving fluid, doing as much harm as leaving the experience to attempt to heal on its own. There is a point at which pressure is just enough, but not too much, to stem the flow of blood or cut off the supply of tears. The trick, of course, is to acquire and apply the skills of a surgeon and a psychiatrist.

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Loving oneself involves forgiving one’s faults or, at the very least, accepting them as flaws in need of repair. That concept is hard to embrace, but it’s necessary if one is to overcome obstacles to happiness. Insistence on perfection in others, I’ve discovered, is a form of projection; disappointment in others’ failure to achieve perfection is a projection of one’s own failure to meet expectations. It’s a self-feeding parasitic monster that must be starved or otherwise slain, without killing the host in the process. Human mental chaos resembles masses of fishing line clotted around treble hooks.

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A hot shower, a shave with heated shaving foam, a full-body massage, and a haircut. That’s an incomplete sentence wrapped around a complete thought. Full-on delight bathed in a soft, comfortable robe, that’s what that is! If I were willing to invest the time and money and if I were able and willing to accept the awkwardness involved, I might pursue all the above this morning. Alas, I have neither the money nor the ability to deal with awkward discomfort. That does not mean I will not shower and shave. I will do both, just not as precursors to a full-body massage and a haircut. But I may get a haircut. Maybe.

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I forgot to tell Alexa to add bran flakes to my shopping list; not that having it on the list would do any good if I didn’t go grocery shopping. And I forgot to tell her to add Bombay Sapphire gin, as well. But both are on my list now. I should add a bunch of other “stuff” to my list, too, but first I should plan some healthy menus. And I should stick to them. My lethargy should not stand in the way of eating healthy meals. Really. I need to pay closer attention to eating well. Chips and cheese and bread do not a healthy diet make. More veggies, please. That’s what I’ll put on my list. And protein in small doses. I don’t need as much protein as I seem to think. But all that healthy eating does not preclude cooking a very nice one-pound ribeye or New York strip steak on occasion. All things in moderation, including beef,

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My mind is racing this morning. I can’t seem to stay focused long enough to finish a sentence. I would not accept advice from me this morning. I should shave. That would give me a head start on the day. But that’s advice, isn’t it? So I better steer clear of that.

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Experiences of the Most Glorious Kind

Euphoria is an exaggerated sense of well-being; a state of intense happiness and self-confidence. The state of being—I’ll call it an emotion, though some might quibble with that characterization. saying it amplifies an emotion but is not one of its own—is at least moderately irrational. It is an emotion created entirely in one’s mind in reaction to a stimulus that prompt one to feel jubilation; but the stimulus probably does not warrant a sense of “over the top” joy. Euphoria is addictive, I think; morphine without the needle.

Rage exaggerates anger in much the same way that euphoria inflates happiness. Like its much more pleasant kin, rage grows from an internal seed. The stimulus that triggers rage might just as easily provoke euphoria, and vice versa.

Odd, the ways emotions and their allies manipulate us as we obediently comply with the directives launched by their twisted logic. Yet, even after years of acquiescing to their demands, we have the capacity to reject their prescribed responses to the world around us. We can override their instructions, thus taking control of our reactions to the taunts thrown at us by an emotionless universe.

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Yesterday was a good day. My girlfriend and I joined a friend for a visit to the “candy store,” followed  by a stop in a favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch. We then picked up an order of pulled pork to serve as the centerpiece of an informal dinner last night. Last night, we had a great time visiting with friends over dinner. Two of them, a couple who live here in the Village, came over with the explicit intent of visiting with my former sister-in-law, who stopped here with the explicit intent of visiting with me on her way home to Ohio after visiting with her daughter/my niece.

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Conversations of late tend to gravitate toward travel of one kind or another. Whether long road trips in camp-ready RVs or flights to exotic foreign lands, moving out of one’s immediate comfort zone seems to be on almost everyone’s mind. It’s certainly on mine. And my on-again, off-again love affair with the idea of RV camping seems to have flared up again, fueled by talk of nice camp sites, fresh air, and freedom from the humdrum drone of daily life. The long period of near total self-confinement caused by COVID is essentially over, allowing our thirst for breaking free to take total control. I’m now mulling over the idea of an oversized van-style vehicle with all the amenities one might expect from such a vehicle. I cannot afford to spend the money, I tell myself; I rebut that argument by pointing to the fact that I have no kids to whom I might provide an inheritance. I have yet to determine who is winning the debate. It might be the frugal me, the one whose allergies to overspending cause waves of hallucinations in which I see myself as destitute, sleeping in a decrepit old vehicle. Or it could be the adventurous me, the one who dismisses frugality as a sickness that can be cured only by accepting the risk of destitution. There’s yet another potential winner of the argument, but he is only half-way invested in the debate, focusing his attention on rebuilding himself from the scraps left over from a raucous self-intervention.

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The cooling weather yesterday afternoon and last night capped off an excellent day. My computer tells me it’s 57°F, while the indoor-outdoor thermometer claims it is 62°F. Either one is perfectly fine with me. I would welcome a radical change in this microclimate in which I live; transforming from the tendency to serve as a furnace and chigger manufacturing environment for much of the year (alternating as an blindingly cold bit of inhospitable tundra). Yes, I’d like the typical daytime high to hover around 73°F, give or take a degree or two, with nighttime lows dipping into the middle-fifties or so. That’s what I was meant to experience every day since birth. Something has gone horribly awry.

But for the moment, I will relish the happy weather. The high today is expected to reach on 79°F. That’s close enough to my ideal to cause me to do a little dance of appreciation. In private, of course, because my dancing is a spectacle that can damage the eyes; once witnessed, it cannot be unseen. I’ve expressed a willingness to learn, though. It’s my understanding that “it’s the thought that counts.”

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I think I should take the dog outside for a morning pee. The dog, not me.

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This Day’s Positive Energy

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; the total amount of energy in the universe is—has always been, and will always be—constant. Energy simply is converted from one form to another; it does not cease to exist. The various forms of energy, e.g., heat, light, electrical energy, chemical energy, etc. dance together in unison to fulfill the “purpose” of energy, which is to carry out its ability to bring about change; to do work. At least that’s what physicists and their accomplices would like us to believe. And, because I have no reason to believe otherwise, I’ll buy it. Considering the assertion of the Law, that energy is conserved, I find myself wondering what form my energy takes following the conversion process. Where does all my energy go when it seems to just vanish?

I’ve got it. It is converted to stealth energy, also known as potential energy. Also known as padding or, the use the crudest term, fat. But, wait. It’s not “my” energy that gets converted to fat. It’s the energy stored in bacon and porridge and bottled beer and mounds of mashed potatoes and pretzels and beef jerky and so on that gets converted. What about “my” energy? Where is it now that it seems to have vacated my human form?

The more I contemplate this matter, the clearer the answer becomes: the earlier form of my energy, youth, is converted to geezerhood, also known as “spent energy.” While energy cannot be destroyed, it can be spent, like money. So, I reason in my early morning fog, the conversion of energy is transactional, like the exchange of currency for a new shirt or a diamond watch or a liter of distilled spirits or a box of coffee pods to satisfy a thirsty Keurig coffee maker. Energy conversion adjusts itself to evolutionary and revolutionary change, too. For example, transactional conversion now willingly accepts the promise that a debit card or credit card conceals sufficient invisible value to convert money into a chocolate bar or a motorcycle. I realize, of course, my words here seem to confuse energy with economics; that’s yet another aspect of the transformation of the First Law of Thermodynamics into the Principle of Incessant Greed, or PIG. My earlier mention of energy stored in bacon was simply a hint. I hope it’s clearer now: energy is equivalent to power and, with enough money, power can be accumulated and stored. Greed is simply part of the thermodynamic equation. Greed is as natural as petrochemical processing plants and crypto-currency.

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Irrational behavior can become rational. Or, like a car without headlights driven at high speed on a narrow mountain road at night, it can become deadly. The difference between rational and irrational is that one is endowed with the faculty of reason and one is not. An otherwise intelligent person can find himself in the midst of irrational thoughts and emotions simply by discarding his sense of reason in favor of the ecstasy of thrill. Yet irrational thoughts and emotions are not, in and of themselves, dangerous. It’s what one does with them; the risks one takes in service to nurturing and feeding an alluring chaos. Chaos can be channeled into positive, powerful experiences, if monitored and maneuvered carefully. Chaos can burst into beautiful fireworks, with care. But left untended or tended recklessly, it can explode into firestorms capable of leaving nothing but acrid smoke and ash.

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The sensation of feeling wanted and loved is, perhaps, the most comforting of all experiences. It delivers warmth and contentment; a sense of well-being that transcends physical experience but that melds with it. Yet feeling wanted and loved is not enough to yield happiness; those feelings must pair with a reciprocal set of matched feelings of wanting and loving. Pairings that fit together like a precision-cut jigsaw puzzle are the stuff of love stories that survive a hundred generations and more.

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The clothes dryer has signaled me that I have ample clean and dry clothes, so it’s time to take my shower and get on with the day. And the day will be another extraordinary one, laced with happiness, joy, and experiences that will etch their way into everlasting memory. How’s that for a positive attitude? I can feel it coming.

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Adjustment

So many things on my mind, yet so few of them are compatible with thinking with my fingers. I can’t figure out how to write them to solution or resolution, so I’ll have to depend on my brain, with no help from the keyboard. Perhaps we all should learn to think without depending on external devices to trigger, smooth, shape, or otherwise create and mold our thoughts. I certainly should. My fingers have become something of a crutch; I can’t seem to articulate my thoughts or emotions without filtering them by beating mercilessly on a keyboard.

When I fail at writing an issue to solution, I generally find it’s not my problem to solve.  No matter how I tried to eliminate my concern about the potential results of my recent biopsy, I could not write my way to serenity. The only solution was external; medical professionals had to examine the biopsied tissue and make the call. I probably face dozens, if not hundreds, of similar issues every week. In most cases, I recognize them as external and move on. But some of them seem too intimate or personal or unique to me in some way to expect or even consider permitting an external solution.

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I read something this morning that I think will stay with me for quite some time, if for no other reason than it demands reflection.

God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter — they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship — but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness, is horrible and overpowering.

~ Sylvia Plath ~

Those words, while depressing or demoralizing on their surface, provide solace in a way because they offer evidence that, no matter the depth of loneliness, we are not alone; someone else shares that terrible sense of aloneness.

I came across that quote in an article from Brain Pickings, a weekly newsletter dedicated (in my estimation) to spurring intellectual exercise. In that same article, I came across this:

…relationships are especially fertile ground for growing the twin roots of the stable soul: love and trust.

I loved the language: twin roots of the stable soul. But I was especially intrigued by the suggestion that love and trust are separate elements. I consider them variations on the same theme. Without trust, love is a fragile artificial construct that collapses on itself. And trust cannot exist in the absence of at least a thin sliver of love to serve as a foundation. Trust, though, can be as thick as cold molasses or as thin as hot alcohol. The viscosity of trust is the primary contributor to the density of love. The thicker the trust, the denser the love. Dense, incidentally, in the sense of heaviness of mass.

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My old bigotries are breaking down, bit by bit. I’ve invested a lifetime in deriding professional team sports as the equivalent of a money-making opiate delivered to the masses by obscenely rich people whose mantra is “more, always more.” But a few years ago I admitted that, on rare occasion, I enjoyed watching an open-air baseball game under the bright lights of a baseball stadium (despite my utter lack of understanding of the rules of the game). I feel that old baseball bigotry melting even more of late. While I cannot imagine the same thing happening with football or basketball, it’s not impossible. And further evidence that my bigotry is cracking can be found in my willingness to even enter a sports bar. My girlfriend and I stopped in at a new sports bar a couple of days ago. Though I wasn’t especially enthralled with the place, I was surprised that a staff member adjusting one of several televisions was willing to put the “competitive swimming channel” on for viewing. I’m still up in the air on golf. I would love to know how to play, but I am absolutely opposed to getting “serious” about it. And I am absolutely opposed to spending a lot of money on it. “Free time” should be as close to free as possible, in my book.

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We’re planning a trip to Tulsa soon. We’ll visit several museums and probably will stop in at Costco while we are there (just before we head home) to stock up on who knows what. Despite the fact that Costco will open a store in Little Rock next month, we will wait to go there. I expect the place to be crowded from day one, with lines stretching for several miles and several months until the novelty wears off. So the Tulsa store will do until then. I’ve wanted to visit the Woodie Guthrie Museum ever since I learned of it. And I’ve heard the Gilcrease Museum is outstanding. Ditto the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. I suspect Tulsa has some pretty decent restaurants, too, so that will be another priority for the visit. And maybe I’ll look up an old colleague/friend who lives there. But my time will be devoted to enjoying the company of my companion.

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Today is Father’s Day. I wish all the fathers out in the world a very happy day and I salute all the fathers who dedicated themselves to rearing healthy, happy, well-adjusted children (regardless of whether the kids turned out as intended).

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I have a full day of “things to do,” but I already know that it will feel a bit empty because I will be alone for most of it. Such is life. I will adjust if I can.

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Almost Choosing to Believe Everything is a Miracle

Yesterday, as we drove down a major thoroughfare in Little Rock, we commented to one another about the beautiful houses that lined both sides of the heavily-traveled street. When those houses were built, we speculated, the street would have been a quiet lane lined with trees. I suspect the large lots on which the houses sit today were sized to suit homeowners’ desire for a bit more privacy than the more common quarter-acre lots in less affluent subdivisions. But regardless of their affluence, the homeowners of these large, gorgeous homes did have sufficient sway to protect their homes from urbanization. Quiet lanes transformed into east-west arteries. Heavy traffic—complete with buses and lines of single-passenger stop-and-go commuter vehicles—today clogs four-lane roads in both directions. Attempts to enter and exit driveways on either side of the street must be nerve-wracking, especially during times when traffic is not slowed by volume; speeding cars must make difficult the task of backing out of a driveway onto the once-quiet street. We noticed that many houses sport big circular drives; I imagine they were installed long after the houses were built, after heavy traffic began to make life difficult for residents. The residents’ lives, in this new high-traffic environment, could be eased by taking the bus instead of driving (the distantly-spaced bus stops along the street might require a bit of walking, too), but my guess is that those bus stops do not serve residents directly, but the “servants” employed by residents.

Lots of assumptions on my part. Hmmm. I wish I could simply do a Google search to uncover all the facts about my suppositions. I would like to know whether my assumptions are valid or not; and, if not, what is reality? That is an interesting question, isn’t it? What, exactly, is reality? Are our lives governed by the “reality” of the external world, or do we exist under the control of our responses to a “reality” created in our own internal worlds? In other words, is “reality” the way things are, or is it, instead, the way we think things are? Both could be true, I suppose.

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After we returned to Hot Springs Village yesterday, we decided to check out a new bar, Sand Trap Sports Bar, which took over and remodeled the space operated by The Village Pub. The new bar, much brighter, lighter, and smoke-free, is located in the shopping center directly across from the main entrance to the Village. The place was packed. We found an empty six-top, probably the only remaining place to sit, and ordered a drink. As people continued to stream in, we discussed offering to let newcomers sit with us. “Only if they’re vaccinated,” my lovely companion said. Finally, when we saw a bar staffer speaking to a couple standing near our table, waiting for a place to sit, my companion called the staffer to our table. She said we would gladly let them sit at our table, provided they had been vaccinated. The staffer conveyed the message to the couple. They gladly joined our table. We moved toward the wall, putting a chair between us and our table-mates. After we exchanged a few pleasantries, we all returned to our private conversations. I like being hospitable and friendly, especially when the recipients of kindness simply express appreciation and remain “at a distance.” These people did exactly that, for which I was grateful. I do not appreciate more intrusive expressions of appreciation; that is, when the recipients take a generous offer of assistance as an invitation to engage in long invasive conversations.

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This morning, as I breathe in and out in almost stunned silence at my good fortune of late, I consult my little black anthology of Zen-related quotations. The one that jumps out at me on this cool morning is this one from a widely-known contributor to humankind, but who is not widely considered a follower of Zen:

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything
is a miracle.

~ Albert Einstein ~

Now, in my way of thinking, miracles do not exist. Happy coincidence (also known as good luck or good fortune) exists. But “miracles” try to give give causation to happenstance. It’s sometimes hard, though, to accept that there’s no propellant behind good fortune. And, then, I realize the propellant often is simply equivalent to rolling with the punches or riding with the tide; just living one’s life in the knowledge that experiences of every kind must be confronted. The “miracle” is that the worst circumstances probably are survivable and the best circumstances should be seized and given the gratitude they merit. I’m not talking about thanking a supernatural puppet-master for one’s good luck but offering thanks to one’s own brain for the ability to understand and appreciate when good things happen. Though sometimes it’s hard to take a wave of good fortune without fear that it predicts a steep fall, it’s important to soak it in without worry about the future. Now is the best moment I’ll ever have at this instant in time.

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I like cute little dogs that trot about beneath my feet, their smiling faces conveying happiness for the simple things like a bowl of water. I enjoy watching their sense of appreciation at being given a special treat or an opportunity to go outside to pee or poop. Cute little dogs have a way of erasing the scuff marks from a hard day. They can melt away the anxiety of a difficult experience just by playing with a squeaky toy or snuggling in their little dog beds.

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My gut tells me the housing market bubble, currently in the midst of a flash fire triggered by an extraordinary series of coincidences, will not survive for another year. My crystal ball cannot predict whether the bubble will burst in cataclysmic fashion, with prices spiraling downward in a way that will erase billions and billions of dollars in assets. Maybe the bubble will simply shrink and fade away. But I feel relatively sure it will not continue indefinitely. There will be, eventually, a retrenching and backtracking. On one hand, I would hate to miss the opportunity to pad my retirement nest egg. On the other, if I were to do that, I would have to place my eggs in another basket. So, for now anyway, I will sit tight and contemplate. Money is not the only motivator for action and/or inaction. Emotions play a big part. Certainty, or the lack thereof, plays a big part. So many factors that none of us can predict with any degree of reliable accuracy. We just watch and wait and try not to worry, don’t we? We do, indeed.

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Patience and desire do not play well together. They compete for primacy. Patience is a better ally to acceptance than desire. And desire is embraced by impatience as if the two were bred for the immediacy of passion. Weaving the strands of competing emotions into a comfortable fabric is damn hard. But if the process of making whole cloth of unmatched threads is allowed to play out, the garment ultimately sewn from the material will be stronger and longer-lasting.

I sometimes think in metaphors, as if metaphorically creating the future will somehow create an environmental destiny that will better withstand the tests of time. That, of course, is madness on steroids. But madness on steroids can break the constraints of mental chains as if those confining conditions were fragile needles of hoarfrost. Creativity need not involve art or architecture or writing great literature. Creativity can arise from shaking the dust off of layers of unused brain cells. And it can bubble up from the skeletons of imaginary ships sunken during the transition from the magic of childhood to the tragedy of adulthood. Adulthood need not be tragic, though, even during its darkest moments. When the armor of age is peeled away from experience, adulthood can begin to shine again with the sparkle of youth. Burnished with wisdom, the remnants of youth can shimmer anew in an old body that carries an old but experienced brain.

I’m just full of…it…something…this morning.

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Speaking of miracles (and I was, if I remember correctly from a paragraph or two above), here’s a thought. I think the way I feel right now (and have felt for a little while) may enable me to better understand how some people find themselves enmeshed in religious fervor. When the “impossible” becomes indisputable reality, the world seems magical and awash in miracles. Almost. So, though I’m permanently affixed to my belief in the universe as a simple matter of fact, I think I can better understand those who think it a miraculous expression of the wishes of a superior being. Well, not “understand,” so much, as tolerate. I try to be open-minded about such stuff, but there’s a limit.

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It’s time to drink more coffee. I’ll step out into the house in my bare feet so as not to upset the serenity I feel throughout every room.

 

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Today’s Follow-Up: A Celebration!

My visit to the surgeon today, following my pulmonary function test, was good. The results of my lung biopsy were negative! The surgeon called for the pulmonary function test “just in case,” so I would not have to return to Little Rock for more tests if the biopsy had been positive. I like the surgeon. His name is Jason Muesse, M.D. I recommend him, if you have to have lung cancer surgery (or any thoracic surgery). I like his demeanor and his follow-through. And, of course, it seems his surgical skills are excellent, as well.

My extraordinary girlfriend and I celebrated today over lunch at Brood & Barley in North Little Rock, followed by a beer at Flyway Brewing. We tried to send positive mojo last night by having dinner at Cantina Laredo, after which we went to Colonial Liquors, where we bought a very expensive tequila to sip on after dinner in anticipation of causing good news today…well, ach!  Of COURSE we did not send positive mojo and attempt to control the universe through woo-woo manipulation! But we figured some good old fashioned celebration of our time together was in order. And it was. I recommend Cincoro anejo tequila. We would have bought a bottle of Don Julio 1942, but it was out of stock. We can both recommend Cincoro. It is a very nice sipping tequila that does not leave its mark through a monstrous headache the following day. Just to mention.

Back to lunch today. Appetizers of fried olives (absolutely out of this world) and bleu cheese chips, followed by our respective lunches of pork & polenta (hers) and tuna & tenticles (me). It was an expensive and filling lunch, but after receiving news that took an enormous burden off my shoulders, we felt it was worth it! Though I had tried to feel and behave as nonchalant as possible, I have to admit feeling afraid that of the potential that my cancer had returned. That possibility really blew a hole in my belief that the wonderful turn my life had taken would last. Today’s announcement, and the celebrations and conversations that followed, permanently repaired that hole.

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I think I am becoming a better man, possibly for no other reason than I want to be a better man in honor of the woman with whom I have developed a “sudden” and absolutely overwhelming relationship. That’s not a bad reason, is it? And the fact that it took me so damn long to recognize the need for the change is not a matter for discussion. It is what it is, someone once said wisely.

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It’s nearing 8:00 in the evening and I feel the need to take a deep breath and ponder my incredibly good fortune. I am not forgetting my pain. My loss and my grief remains. But the world is a healing place. I feel that healing feeling. I don’t know whether it’s in me or in the world outside my window. Who knows? Who cares? I am happy and deeply in love at this moment and the world seems to agree with me. I should just relish my good fortune and forget that tomorrow could be a less than stellar period. Forget that!

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Caught in the Health Care Machinery

We finally found the pulmonary function lab. Signage, none mentioning the lab, did not help. People did. So here we are, waiting for my test, the scope of which is not clear to me. I will know soon.

In the interim, I contemplate the size and scope of the health care apparatus in this country. Little Rock is just a tiny, dim dot on the health care landscape, but it seems big, bright, and mind-numbingly complex as we try to wade through just a small segment of it.

I am still hours away from my visit with the surgeon or his assistant, who I hope will give me the results of the lung biopsy. I am more than grateful that my girlfriend is here with me; no matter what the results of the biopsy, her presence will make the experience not only tolerable, but precious.

I may write more later or I may not. One-finger blogging tends to minimize my verbosity.

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In Bondage to the Unknown

We tend to gravitate toward what we believe with absolute certainty and toward the absolute unknown. Don’t we? We have a strange bondage to the unknown that parallels our comfort with what we think we know (but often don’t). I could go on about that, but I won’t.

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I had a very nice afternoon yesterday with two friends. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant, followed by dessert at a bakery. Though the food was good, the conversation was by far the most enjoyable aspect of the afternoon. Exploring ideas by way of discussion is a gratifying way to spend time. Conversation generates feelings of both intellectual and emotional satisfaction. One of the topics of conversation, which I raised, dealt with the reticence of males to engage in conversation on topics that have even the potential of broaching matters of emotion. One of my friends said men are trained from an early age to bottle up their emotions and to be embarrassed by the revelation of emotional matters. While that is no doubt true, I think another part may be that men are afraid of emotions, so they tend to readily agree to “training” that will remove emotions from their behavioral repertoires. Who knows? It’s just supposition. Theories without the benefit of facts.

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Hysteria and paranoia seem to be washing over the land. Fear of abortions, voting rights, “foreigners,” religious debate, and a host of other issues are causing madness on a grand scale. The sources of those fears are hard to identify, must less amputate. But we must. If we are to survive as an “intelligent” part of the environment.

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The later it gets in one’s life, grasping and holding onto precious moments becomes more and more important. Spending time away from loved ones becomes dangerous; a frivolity with potentially devastating consequences. Every moment counts because the number and length of those moments diminishes with each minute that disappears from the clock. The recognition of how precious those moments are can cause a person to become cloying and possessive. But failing to recognize the gravity of being apart, or failing to act on that recognition, risks emotional pain of a magnitude humans cannot experience without severe psychological trauma. There is no happy medium between intimacy and separation. Both are at one vital and deadly.

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Even in the midst of extraordinary happiness, my mood can swing wildly between elation and dejection. My self-confidence can rocket to the top of the scale one moment, then plummet to the cellar the next. I can feel pride in my achievements or the accolades given to me and, then, suddenly find myself believing I do not deserve the rewards and acknowledgement that accompany achievement. That sense of feeling like a fraud is sometimes called imposter syndrome. But, even though I know the terminology and have some sense of the etiology, it seems real and rational and embarrassing. Ach! Get over it, John.

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A few short weeks ago, after literally months of contemplating what I wanted to do with myself, I was about to make up my mind. I was close to a decision that—as I see it—would have resulted in closing a seven-year chapter of my life. I had just about decided I should sell my house, put some of my belongings in storage, and sell everything else. In spite of reservations about leaving people I consider friends, those relationships simply were not sufficient to keep me here after a devastating year of COVID-19 and the illness and death of my wife. My relationships here were enjoyable and fun and fulfilling in many ways, but there was nothing strong enough to tie me to this place. I had almost decided to move on. I was ready to look for a place or a path that might anchor me to a future I could not quite imagine.

My almost-decision is no longer a valid option. A relationship that seemed to come out of nowhere changed that. In hindsight, though, I realize the relationship did not suddenly spring into being. It emerged from a simmering blend of compassion and engagement and appreciation and tenderness, all beneath a veil of soft affection. The foundation of the relationship, now seen in hindsight, had the characteristics of an iceberg; big and powerful beneath the surface, but with scant visible elements. Those enormous subsurface components, seemingly invisible until recently, have rendered pointless my pending decision to move. They have become an anchor far stronger than any I might have stumbled on  had I decided to hit the road.

As I contemplate what has happened in the last few weeks, something occurs to me.  The process of making an enormous, life-altering decision that would have had long-lasting effects on virtually every aspect of my life came to a sudden halt. A relationship between me and just one other person absorbed virtually all aspects of my consciousness, changing everything in the process.  My desire to spend my time with that one other person suddenly became far more powerful than my desire to sever my ties with the past and attempt to create something new, including a new me. Now, months of tormenting indecision seem to have been wasted; time spent weighing “what ifs” was  on measuring circumstances that have changed. The words of Shakespeare resonate with me this morning as I contemplate my certainty about the power of this new experience: “If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” Those words have served as an anchor for me for much of my life. If they were to be proven erroneous now, in my waning years, I would wither away completely. But insofar as they remain absolutely reliable, I will remain iron-sure life is good.

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I’m taking my sister-in-law to her dental appointment this morning, where she will relinquish a broken tooth. Later today, my girlfriend and I will drive to Little Rock in connection with preparations for a visit with a surgeon, who I hope will reveal the results of my lung tissue biopsy. In a modestly ideal world, I will learn tomorrow that I have nothing to worry about; it’s all been a misreading of a PET scan, I’d like to hear, so I should feel free to take long, aimless road trips and fly around the world to see what I can see. Preferably with no worries about TSA and friends.

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It’s time to shower and shave and scurry. Thus, I am done!

 

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Life is Beautiful

Despite humankind’s vast knowledge about this planet of ours, we know only a fraction of all there is to know about where we live and who lives with us. Our understanding, even of ourselves, is extremely limited. While our limited comprehension of our home—and the complex relationship between us and planet Earth—is frustrating, the paucity of our awareness reveals that we have opportunities to learn so very, very much more. We are not at risk of becoming bored, nor complacent in our knowledge, unless we choose to overlook our vast stores of ignorance.

There is general agreement that about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and that more than 96 percent of water on Earth is held by the oceans. The consensus among people who study such things is that we have only minimal knowledge of the secrets of the oceans. The oceans offer almost endless opportunities to expand our miniscule knowledge of the place we call home. Theories about oceanic life abound. Speculation about the geology of the ocean floor and the processes by which it took on its present-day characteristics is rampant, in scientific circles. The dark and mysterious dogma of religions barely touch on the true breadth and depth of life on our planet. Even less believable hokum is scattered about with regard to the formation and evolution of the planet.

The aforementioned ignorance of where we live may pale in comparison to what little we know…truly know…about ourselves and our minds. No doubt significant progress has been made over the millennia about how our brains function, but so much remains unproven or questionable theory. We see our own lives through a fog that, no longer opaque, remains just barely translucent.

We can only guess why two children reared in the same family under similar conditions can have such different personalities. Why one child is ultra-sensitive and emotionally fragile while another is stoic and seemingly unmoved by either trauma or joy is beyond our knowledge. We attempt to explain the source of differences in personalities by referring to genetic variations or subtly diverse environmental influences. We offer all manner of evidence to support our contrasting theories. But evidence that the sky is blue can just as easily be used to support theories about how rods and cones allow our brains to interpret light. Even “hard” data about our experience as living beings is subject to manipulation and interpretation. The “soft” stuff surrounding our moods and emotions is ripe for explanation by way of magic. We “know” almost nothing, but we “think” we know almost everything. Yet even in our arrogance, we must admit to vast empty spaces where facts have yet to intrude.

My thoughts this morning are by no means intended to suggest that humankind remains in the Dark Ages. But we do not understand as much as we often suggest. We pretend to know, when we only speculate. When we consider that a couple in love can have such dramatically different personalities, yet can seem to to together as if purposely designed to fit, we can only guess how that can be. And our explanations about how two seemingly similar people can loathe one another so intensely that they willingly try to kill one another, we can again only guess why. The same kinds of guesses and theories help us make sense of the physical world in which we live. Do causal relationships exist between volcanoes and hurricanes and thunderstorms, crippling cold weather and heat waves and earthquakes?

I don’t know. I know no more about why I can “suddenly” fall in love than I know about why some tremors cause tsunamis and others may result in liquefaction of soils. I do know, though, how utterly fascinating the secrets of the physical world are. And I know that emotions are as mysterious and wonderous as any physical attribute of our planet.

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Yesterday morning, my eyes would not cooperate in my efforts to keep tears from welling up in them as I listened to the music of Keb’ Mo’ as he played the guitar tune and sang the lyrics of Life is Beautiful. I doubt I am alone in finding that the melody and the words drag tear-drenched emotions from unknown recesses of my brain. But I know others may find the music interesting or enjoyable but not in the least the source of emotional waterworks. The complexity of the human mind is, in my opinion, beyond human comprehension. We are saddled with the duty of carrying around with us an impossibly complex “device” that stores massive volumes of unfathomable perceptions that masquerade as facts. “Saddled with the duty” makes it sound like a burden. It is not. It is a joyous…privilege? Responsibility? Opportunity? What is it? Life is, indeed, beautiful.

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Last night, my girlfriend and I spend time examining our calendars and attempting to find extended periods when we can “hit the road” together. It’s harder (and more expensive) than it first appears. But we shall overcome. 😉

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It’s almost seven in the morning. Time for more coffee. And, then, later this morning, I’m off to have lunch with two other beautiful women (it’s okay…my girlfriend understands what I mean when I use those words).  Life is beautiful. It is.

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White Light, Tinted with a Tiny Drop of Red

This morning’s post will be shorter than usual, surely a welcome respite to followers of this blog, people who must tire of regularly reading screeds that lately take on characteristics of a poorly-written nonfiction version of War and Peace.

I have places to be and people to see this morning. A lung-tissue biopsy, followed by a visit to a medical imaging clinic to pick up a disk containing files of recent CT and PET scans. I need the disks to take to my Friday follow-up medical appointment.  As potentially troublesome as those sorts of things can be, I am reasonably confident it’s all just “an abundance of caution.” My confidence was boosted yesterday, when I received a notice of a scheduling change for this Friday’s medical appointment. Instead of a consultation with the surgeon who performed my lung-cancer surgery around Thanksgiving three years ago, I will see the surgeon’s nurse practitioner. I suspect a closer look at the PET scan by the surgeon led him to determine the reasons for concern were far less concerning than originally thought; hence, shuttling me to someone else so he can devote his attention to more pressing and critical matters. Today’s biopsy is still going forward, of course, but unless it reveals a surprise, all will be well. Yeah, I know it sounds like I’m viewing the world through rose-colored glasses (didn’t I just write something about that recently?), but I think not. Although, as I consider it, my joy at finding myself enmeshed in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful woman might tend to make the world look like a friendlier, more loving, and safer place. If that’s what rose-colored glasses look like, I’ll have a few extra pairs, please, to ensure every day is as clear and inviting as the one before.

My girlfriend and I have a bet of sorts. I think the biopsy this morning will be completed and we’ll be out of the hospital by lunchtime. She laughs at my naiveté, suggesting we’ll be lucky to get out of the hospital before it’s time for our next breakfast. I want to treat her to lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant; I hope I win.

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Giddy. That’s how I feel. Like a kid let loose with no restrictions in a candy store. It’s occasionally necessary, for the maintenance of (or return to) good mental health, to return to the joyous freedoms of one’s childhood. I think the world would be a better place if more of us would cast off the solemnity of adulthood with some regularity, trading seriousness for lightness and frivolity. Doing so does not negate the pain of loss or the concerns we all have about world around us. But embracing joy and appreciating simple good luck can make more tolerable those unhappy encounters with a universe that has no stake in keeping us happy. There may be a time when slitting my wrists might seem like the best option, but now is not it. Today is the time for me to be enormously grateful to love and be loved by someone I find absolutely, completely, utterly awesome. Today is a day to be giddy, happy, and glad to be alive.

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If I don’t stop now, I might make this short post a long one. Enough. Off to fight the wars and smile in the process.

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Following the Trail Where My Mind Takes Me

During the past several days—roughly three weeks and change—I have been more addicted than usual to music. Listening to a rich musical pastiche has mined my emotions and, in the process, helped to clarify them. I’ve discovered that tastes in music between people can parallel other intellectual and emotional preferences. Music and dozens of other forms of art—combining sounds and visual images and vivid colors and the buds of emotions that actually have textures like burlap and silk—can extract and put on display the elements of one’s innermost persona. Musical tastes, and perhaps other preferences for types of art, reveal where we have been and who we are. People who share a passion for music, regardless of genre, share a unique passion for life. That’s my opinion, anyway. And I’m glad I’ve documented that I hold it.

Yesterday morning, between moments of intense focus and vaporous mindlessness, I revisited some pieces of music that I used to find both strangely out of synch with sanity and exhilaratingly similar to how I think and feel. Some of that music is a collaboration between an extraordinary guitarist, Leo Kottke, and a bassist and singer, Mike Gordon (a founder of the group Phish). From the moment I heard it, I had to have the album, Clone. I knew Leo Kottke’s music, but was unfamiliar with Mike Gordon. Subsequently, I listened to that music several times a month, but over time, the frequency of my listening declined. Yesterday was probably the first time in a very long while that I’ve listened to that album and to some other of Leo Kottke’s spectacular guitar mastery.

These past few weeks my musical preferences have drifted toward blues and jazz, though I have listened to a lot of contemporary rock, as well as rock music and hybrids I can’t define from my youth. I’ve paid attention to lyrics of some songs listened to as a teenager and young adult; until these last few weeks, I’ve not known the lyrics. It’s like an awakening of sorts; sometimes happy, sometimes not so much.

Last night, I watched parts (the “sessions” recordings) of American Epic, described as “a documentary series about the first recordings of rural music in the U.S.A. and their cultural, social and technological impact on the world.” It was fascinating! The performers who participated in the program included Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Elton John, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and many others with whom I was unfamiliar until last night. And some I know but who, this morning, I’ve forgotten. The performers showcased talents while being recorded on equipment that was painstakingly recreated; though used extensively to create recordings in the 1920s, none of the original equipment exists today. The project’s collaborators, including director Bernard MacMahon, spent ten years traveling around the country, interviewing family members of the musicians whose sounds originally were recorded on the now-extinct equipment.

I opened this post with an assertion that I’ve been more addicted than usual to music. I think my addiction is to emotion; music is one of the most direct paths toward unearthing emotions, whether fresh and joyous or long-forgotten and best left buried. I’m sure I’ve publicly admitted before my addiction to emotions, if that’s what “it” is. Emotional journeys provide texture for life, whether the grit and pain of profound sadness or the soft smoothness of passionate love. Some day, I will successfully coax myself into writing the autobiography of emotions; I think that would be an incredibly interesting undertaking; one that would force me to reveal the full spectrum (I use that word a lot, but not as often as I use “shard”) of my emotions.

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Love exists at the intersection of caring, compassion, and raw selfishness. I think true love, the kind that can emerge only from a foundation of respect and admiration and appreciation, too often goes unexamined. We fail to explore just what happened to make the seed grow. How was the seed planted? How was it nurtured and made healthy and strong? Maybe, rather than examine it, we allow ourselves to wallow in it, happily absorbing all its delights and dismissing the rest of the world while we experience its extreme comfort and luxury. As pleasurable as that may be, taking it for granted cannot guarantee its survival. We have to constantly explore it and replenish what sustains it. We have to invest energy and emotion and, above all, time in tending it. That’s my take on love this morning. I love to love.

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While I can drink many different kinds of coffee (unflavored, please), I am rather persnickety about what I drink at home. I really prefer French roast, a dark, rich, deeply flavorful brew. But “French roast” tells me only how it got to be what it is, not what kind of bean was used. Yet that doesn’t bother me. When I order an Ethiopian yirgacheffe (when that option is available), I expect a specific bean, a small, pea-like bean that’s been lightly roasted (maybe medium…I don’t know many details about coffee, only what pleases my taste buds). But when I order a French roast (my favorite), I don’t really know what I’m getting. Yet it’s usually quite good. Yet I say I am persnickety. Well, I am, with respect to flavor; but I can’t tell you much more than that I like French roast. And I know where I get mine. And I know its flavor is always completely dependable. Why am I writing about coffee beans? I haven’t a clue.
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I suddenly feel much younger than I did a month ago. I always feel younger than my actual age (by decades), but lately I’ve begun to feel young and energetic. If I were to lose about 75 pounds, I think I could be perfectly comfortable white-water rafting or running a full marathon. Well, there’s the lung thing; missing a lobe has an impact on stamina, so I might not become as physically active as I imagine, just by losing weight. But I need to lose that weight, nonetheless. Lately, I’ve become more vain; more conscious of how my physical appearance might contribute to or detract from my appeal to someone else. Vanity. I do not much like it, but we all store plenty of it in our minds. Overcoming vanity is extremely difficult and, sometimes, counterproductive; vanity has its place.

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“You make me want to be a better man.” That compliment, a quote from a film that may have a long history of predecessors, gets to the root of love, at least from the perspective of an imperfect man. The scene in which Jack Nicholson’s and Helen Hunt’s characters in  As Good as it Gets engage in an awkward conversation in a restaurant, moved me to tears (but then so damn much does). For whatever reason, men tend not to verbalize and vocalize such thoughts. I suspect they exist, though, even in the hardest, most macho-laced, masculinity-drenched men. At least I would hope so. But I’m satisfied to have such a thought and to allow it to unleash a torrent of tears (though I still wish I could stifle them long enough so I could unleash in private).

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Anyone going to the “World Tour of Wines: Destination Chile” event on June 24 could be in for a treat. My next-door neighbor, Bill, will display a piece of his artwork, an oil painting of grapes. The frame in which the painting will be displayed is adorned with wine corks. In addition to the art, I will participate by either reading a poem I wrote or listening to someone else read it. One of the organizers of the event asked me last year to write a poem to be read during the night (the request was last year; COVID-19 delayed the event for more than a year). I long since wrote the poem. I hope it will strike a chord with the audience. We’ll see.

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This morning’s provocation from my little black book, an anthology of quotations inspired by Zen, does not necessarily portray a physical place but, rather, an emotionally happy and fulfilling place inside me where I freely think about a new love.

Under this tree, where light and shade
Speckle the grass like a Thrush’s breast,
Here, in this green and quiet place,
I give myself to peace and rest.

~ W. H. Davis ~

There’s something about those words, something that speaks to me at a level few short quotations can and do, that makes me feel confident that I will be fine. I’m not worried about anything, just as long as my experience with nirvana continues, as I feel sure it will.

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My calendar today holds no unpleasantness. I like that kind of day; a day that feels freeing and open. Tomorrow is another thing entirely, with the time scheduled for a lung biopsy screaming for my attention. But not today. Today will be good. I can feel it in my bones.

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Taking the Temperature

A friend’s comment on my latest blog post launched in me a whirlwind of thought. My friend related the story of her mother who, after 45 years of marriage, fell in love with another man just a few months following her husband’s death. The couple enjoyed thirteen years of their new marriage, up until the man’s death. My friend and her siblings were stunned by the surprise and the speed of the relationship; those thirteen years, though, were wonderful, meaningful years. As my friend said in her comments, “Love happens sometimes when you least expect it.” I may be a wide-eyed unsophisticated romantic, but I believe the sentiments behind that comment are as reliable as the sun.

I am confident there are those in my circle of friends and acquaintances who think my new relationship with this woman—any woman at this tender moment in my life—is dangerous. They think its development was too fast. They think its potential for causing pain is too great. And they believe it will prove impossible to sustain because…”you’re investing all of your emotional capital without giving it time to grow naturally.” Or something along those lines. The unspoken message of those judgments is that my new girlfriend and I are taking enormous risks by allowing our emotions to control our actions, rather than following “safer” social conventions that would provide us protection from decisions made in haste. Okay, my confidence that others judge our relationship in this way is based less on overt evidence than on supposition. Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m betting I’m not.

These judgments and doubts can, if we let them, interfere with our own feelings about the relationship. We would be naive if we simply dismissed those judgments and doubts out of hand. Yet putting too much stock in them could torpedo our own strong feelings that this relationship will not only survive, but grow. If we were to trust others’ distant assessments more than our own intimate and immediate experiences, we could risk dismantling something extraordinary simply because it is, admittedly, extraordinary. And so the matter ultimately comes to this: do we exercise extreme caution at the risk of letting an opportune moment that may never come again pass or do we expose ourselves to the risks (and the potential for immeasurable rewards) that unbound emotions can bring?

I understand and appreciate subtle suggestions that this time of chaotic emotion merits “putting on the brakes.” But I also understand that paying too much attention to warning to be cautious can ruin lives just as readily as being carefree and spontaneous. I have never favored taking action that completely disregards the potential consequences; consideration and analysis belongs even in cauldrons of emotion. But logic has limits in matters of love.

I hope my “assumptions” about what others might think of my blossoming relationship are not coloring how I view the world. I don’t believe they are. I avoid wearing rose-colored glasses. Yet I am aware that, as certain as I feel at this moment, things could change. This moment in my life could morph from an unexpectedly joyous one to an unspeakably painful one. I understand the risk of letting ourselves become so heavily invested emotionally that a derailment could cause immeasurable grief. I also understand that time is a precious commodity that can be squandered by indecision and “waiting until the time is right.”

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On matters almost (but not completely) unrelated, here are some things that have been on my mind recently:

  • Cooking my own soft-boiled eggs at Hotel Le Calendal in Arles, France
  • Driving cross-country as the first stage of a long, leisurely exploration of time in the presence of happiness
  • Learning how to immerse myself in music in ways I’ve never known before
  • Dragging myself out of a rut of my own making on the wrong road
  • The joy of watching birds acquaint themselves with a new place to dine
  • Determining how much is too much and how little is too little and what is exactly the right amount
  • How unexpected joy and unexpected tragedy have the potential of overlapping
  • Neglecting anyone important in one’s life is a way to dash dreams

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This post was meant to be shorter and more gleeful and cooler. I blame the temperatures. Arkansas should not be so damn hot at this time of year. Or any time of year.

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A New Appreciation

I spent part of the evening last night with my new actual girlfriend (who I feel like I’ve known and loved forever—more on that in a minute) and some other friends, listening to an extraordinarily talented young guitarist. It impressed me that someone can develop and nurture an incredibly strong attachment to an art form like guitar, knowing all the while that the odds are not in the person’s favor, vis-à-vis employment. Though the kid has recorded a few CDs, the likelihood that he’s ever going to make a living with music is slim.

NO! NO! NO! That sort of negative thinking has no place around here. This kid is destined to be recognized the world over as a virtuoso guitarist. Watch for the name Travis Bowman. He’s already been recognized for his talents, but I suspect the recognition soon will extend far beyond his appreciative peers.

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Medical professionals and others have long had the tools to measure blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and heart rate. They have been able to detect and measure blood alcohol level and the amount of arsenic in the body. But, to my knowledge, they haven’t been able to develop a meaningful measure of the stress level experienced by a person. That seems to be an awful omission, given all the maladies, conditions, and byproducts we attribute to stress. I wonder how many infirmities and ailments are erroneously attributed to stress? Common sense (which sometimes is so at odds with reality that…) tells me some stress-related afflictions could be treated by treating the stress. For example, an ailment caused by stress-induced anxiety should respond well to anxiety drugs. But if the ailment does not always respond as expected; the correlation may be wrong, the adjustment might be insufficient, or there may be no correlation at all. Who knows?  Do I feel stress? Of course, I feel quite a lot of stress. How does stress feel? Hmmm, good question. Well, then how do you feel when you’re under stress? The possible symptoms are endless. Something, though, must be done to treat stress or to determine other causes of various ailments and act accordingly. I’m wandering here; I have things on my mind, but that’s no excuse for wandering.

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In the introduction to this post, I mentioned my actual girlfriend. I remain stunned that something so powerful as our relationship can develop so quickly. And I am surprised at myself for being able to (or willing to) develop a relationship so soon after my wife’s death. Is five+ months too soon? Well, if I count the five+ months before she died, it has been closer to a year. What, exactly, is the appropriate length of time for mourning or for grief or for memories to make experiencing some moments so joyous, yet so tearful?

The right amount of time, in my opinion, is whatever time it takes. It could be five days or five years. Every individual is different. I miss my wife. I will grieve for her and the loss of her love until it is my time to die. But I believe a strong friendship that seemingly transformed overnight into love will help me cope with, though not discard, those emotions. And I said “seemingly” because the fabric of  of the relationship took its time, developing one thread at a time, before it was sewn into a garment. In our case, a months-long attraction and many months exchanging friendly and supportive text messages and emails formed the underpinning of our relationship. It may have caught fire with a spark, but the fuel for the flame was collected a little at a time over a period of…years, really.

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With the excitement of this budding relationship, there also is a certain kind of peace I feel, a peace that draws me to think and remember and appreciate so many things. And, of course, somehow my little black anthology of quotations provides some insight.

Along the mountain road
Somehow it tugs at my heart
A Wild violet

~ Basho ~

And so there you go. An extremely brief assertion of the natural cycle of life and love.

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If Suddenlink does as it says it will, a technician will arrive between 8 and 11 this morning to explore what’s wrong with my voicemail. It hasn’t worked in days and multiple telephone calls have had no impact. But maybe a technician can fix it. Based on looking at my phone’s display, it appears I have eleven messages. Yet when I try to retrieve them, I get a message saying I have none. Long story. I’ll stop. Please, Suddenlink rep, visit my home and fix my phone!

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I just read that 13 people were injured in an early-morning shooting around the Sixth Street entertainment area in Austin, Texas.  There’s literally nothing we can do to stop this sort of thing, regardless of the circumstances that led up to it. Too damn many people have too damn many guns and we cannot “collect” them without risking civil war, thanks to gun fanatics whose worship of the Second Amendment at the expense of every tenet of morality and decency. So we reap what we sowed. Bullets, planted like seeds, are sprouting in places once deemed pockets of über-civility. Some days, I want to live in Denmark or Norway, but not in the present day. I would want to take a jaunt back to the 1990s, before seeds of populous rage were planted and grew into mindless self-inflicted stupidity.

There’s always another time, another place I’d rather be. And I often long to be another person. But we cannot go back to what we (I, anyway) often believe was a gentler, kinder, more compassionate time. And, so, we cope. We try to change minds or, at least, open them. If fresh breezes can flow through windows that once were nailed shut, then we have a chance. Not “us,” as in the people inhabiting our planet today. “Us,” as in the rest, the ones who will inherit the opportunities and the challenges we left them. And it’s not just the Second Amendment that merits a deeper look. It’s societal compassion and how it seems to be trained out of us, little by little, then in huge chunks.

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My second cup of coffee is calling. But I’ll not post this just yet (it’s already past 8); I need to run it by my editor.

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Twisting

The world did not end yesterday, despite the fact that I did not fulfil my self-imposed commitment to write at least one blog post per day. One of my brothers called to confirm that I had not shuffled off this mortal coil; otherwise, though, the day was not significantly altered by my failure to behave as expected. Proof the world does not revolve around me. Nor does it revolve around anyone. We make more of our impact on the universe than reality says we should. The butterfly effect—which some days seems such an obvious and overwhelming element of the validity of chaos theory—is vapor. It is an expression of magical thinking, almost as impressive as evidence a tiny tuft of goose down in the wrong place at the wrong time brought the Titanic to her ultimate end. As entertaining as it is to pretend we matter to the world at large, massive amounts of evidence suggest otherwise. Our influence extends only as far as our imagination lets it, no further. And, even then, our imagination has a severely limited range. Our influence does not reach even the near edges of our imagination.

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Today’s weather will introduce me to the unhappy state of impending summer in central Arkansas. High humidity and moderately high temperatures suited only to the care and feeding of chiggers are expected for the next week or so; maybe more. This morning, I counted 22+ chigger bits from my feet to my mid-pelvis area. Itching, irritating, unsightly. I hate chiggers with a passion unmatched in modern times. I am almost willing to agree to testing nuclear detonations as a means of controlling the beasts. So what if I perish in the process? At least the incessant itching will stop!

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My emotions this morning, for reasons unknown, are tight and tense and drenched in self-imposed pain. Mixed with jubilance, there’s a sense that I’m walking on a tightrope of razor wire above a pit filled with fire and a mixture of molten glass and broken bottles. I want nothing more at this instance than to take someone by the hand and escape to someplace without memories; a place absent the possibility that forgotten experiences will drag me into a pool and drown me. What in the hell is with me this morning? I should be ecstatic that the world didn’t end when I failed to write yesterday. Instead, I feel like I’ve been tasked by an unpleasant old man with writing a report of my own autopsy.

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The PET scan earlier this week triggered some follows-up next week. A lung biopsy, a pulmonary function test, and a visit with the surgeon who invited me to spend Thanksgiving of 2018 in the hospital will take place next week. Worry about such stuff does no good, so instead I will luxuriate in the fact that I will be accompanied to my appointments by someone who will make long hours of waiting go by quickly. The oncologist, when she reviewed my PET scan with me, was very matter-of-fact and seemed unconcerned. Unlike the time she informed me of the results of my biopsy in 2018, she did not suggest I might want to come to her office to get the results (I did not want to, so she told me over the phone). Regardless of the results of these new tests, I am convinced all will be well.

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We have to face the fact that joy intermingles with profound sadness in a murky cloud that hides evidence of a history in which we played no part, but which always will be etched in stone tablets where we go to read. There is no escape from the fact that history exists in our absence, no matter how much we might want to obliterate those elements of time of which we were not a part. We cannot remember experiences we did not have, but those memories always will cast shadows on us, whether days are dim or bright. A nagging sense of impotence accompanies memories built not from experience but, instead, from the smoke of fires stoked with damp, artificial ashes.

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I got three hours of sleep last night, before I awoke at 5 this morning. Before that, I dozed a bit in front of the television (without ever switching the device on) for an hour or two. So, maybe five hours of sleep. But I did nap yesterday afternoon, so in the aggregate I got at least enough sleep yesterday and last night to fulfil my need for nocturnal (or not) rest. I’ve been advised by someone I trust more than I trust myself to have a sleep study done. Perhaps I need some assistance in getting to sleep or staying in a dream state.

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Time to shave, shower, and prepare for the twice-monthly visit by the housekeeper. I’m twisting myself into knots over getting the house adequately clean to welcome the cleaning person. This is an ongoing deviancy of mine. Maybe next time, instead of cleaning up in advance, I will pour maple syrup and ashes on the floor and fill the sink with dirty dishes. I suspect that might result in her resignation from the assignment; not a good idea, since I hate cleaning the wood floor. Off to the wars.

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Thunderous Applause from Above

Explosive cracks of thunder and flashes of lightning woke me just over half an hour ago. I got up to have a sip of water, which was a mistake. Getting out of bed was all it took to leave all possibility of sleep by the wayside. I knew, moments after I arose, sleep would elude me no matter how hard I tried to recapture it. Too many things on my mind and too little discipline to put them back in their resting places. So, I am up for the day. Later, I am sure I will feel worn out and tired and I will regret my decision to get up. But it wasn’t really a choice. It just happened; I had little control over it. Damn!

So, I started the dishwasher and took the sheets off the bed. When the dishwasher has finished its cycle, I’ll wash the sheets. I go back and forth as to whether I should run both dishwasher and clothes washer at once. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I have vague rationales for both decisions, but I argue against each from time to time. I’m consistently inconsistent in my thoughts and in executing those thoughts.

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How do I describe my emotional state at this moment? I’m on edge. Nervous. If I were standing, rather than sitting here typing, I would be pacing the floor. I suppose my pacing would be an attempt to work off nervous energy. Or maybe it would represent a way to redirect the energy, from anticipation to…something else. I don’t know. I’m trying to make sense out of a chaos I don’t quite grasp; never an ideal pathway toward understanding. Suddenly, I want to escape all expectations and obligations. I want nothing more than to get away from everything and everyone…except the one person with whom I can open up and be myself without restraint. It’s not all about my freedom, though. I want to be the one who offers the same freedom I seek. I want to be the safe harbor, too. I’m writing in circles, the way I sometimes think. I am a different man early in the morning; different from the man who, later in the day, has donned a modest suit of armor to protect against unintentional assaults and accidents. In the early morning, when I write, I reveal too much for my own good. I know this. But I do it anyway. The mistake is not in writing it all down; the mistake is in where I put it. Here, in public view, for all the world to see, simply by stumbling by. I could change it, of course, but I’ve either grown too lazy to adopt another medium or I’ve grown addicted to putting myself on display, wondering what reactions, if any, my revelations will generate.  I’m going to visit a counselor later this morning; maybe she can help me figure out why I am so willing to expose my soft and unseemly side. And maybe the fact that I’m going to see a counselor is why I’m feeling more nervous; even more nervous than normal. But it will be a good experience, regardless, I think. Do I ramble? That’s all I do, isn’t it? Yes, indeed.

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Passion. Guilt. Love. Shame. Loathing. Anger. Lust. Compassion. Tenderness. A thousand others. I imagine that all the emotions I’ve ever felt reside on rubber bands, each emotion attached to an almost infinitely flexible strand. Each of those strands is then stretched almost to the breaking point…but not quite…and then they are intertwined with one another and wrapped around one another until, collectively, they form a hard, tense sphere. In spite of its hardness, the sphere is flexible, too, because the strands of emotions support one another, preventing any one from breaking. Pressure applied to one area of the sphere is gently transferred across the rest of the globe so none of the bands break. But there is a point at which the pressure can become too great for the collective to sustain its flexibility and cohesion. When a single strand breaks, all the rest of the ones that form the sphere must adjust in a chaotic instant, causing a ripple or shudder to envelop the rubber ball. But it finally adjusts. Yet it is noticeably different, even though only a single strand out of thousands was broken. But the difference, though obvious, is almost impossible to pinpoint.

Why emotions, as an enormous collective, are so intriguing and important to me is a perpetual question I have had but which I’ve never been able to answer. Why are emotions so spellbinding? Why do we recoil at expressions of anger but approach as if drawn by a magnet at expressions of sadness or pain or grief? How can we explain that the tears of one person can cause us to feel empathy, while the tears of another can cause us to feel indignation? So many questions. So few reliable, dependable, believable answers.

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Today’s weather forecast concerns me. A person driving on the highway today could be caught in sudden, drenching rainstorm that might make for dangerous conditions. Water on the highway can be deeper than it appears. Just a little rainwater collecting in the slight indentations in the roadway where tires compress the asphalt can cause a car to hydroplane. That fact, along with several others, is why the universal advice to drivers in wet weather is to drive slowly, watch carefully for collecting water, and take plenty of breaks to maximize the driver’s ability to respond to challenging conditions.

It’s interesting, I think, that those bits of advice coming from a radio announcer or a highway traffic safety expert are treated as legitimate advice. However, the same words coming from someone not seen as an “expert” can be seen as evidence of undue worry. The same is true, of course, with regard to threats of hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, etc., etc. Expert advice merits attention and behavioral changes. But advice from a parent or friend or lover or spouse or co-worker may be dismissed as over-coddling…or something like that. That concept is worth another look one day…after I’ve explored real “data” as opposed to my own deeply-held opinions.

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For a few weeks now, I have consciously avoided watching or reading much news. I cannot explain why; only that I have intentionally avoided it. Perhaps it’s that I have too many other things on my mind, things that matter more to me than news stories covering issues over which I have no control. But that’s just a guess. I have no reason to believe it’s that versus something less meritorious. Like, I’m just tired of it. Or, I just don’t want to be beaten and stoned and subjected to the equivalent of emotional water-torture.

I am embarrassed by the fact that I have been paying scant attention to national and international (or even local) news. We have a responsibility for knowing what is going on in the world around us…don’t we? But how is it that we are responsible for knowing what is going on if we have no hope of changing it? Should we be taught to believe we can change anything and everything? Ach! I don’t know. But I feel a sense that I have let the world down by not paying attention to it. My attentions, of late, have been directed toward matters much closer and far more important to me than gyrations in crypto-currency markets or Republican obstinance about infrastructure and January 6 insurrection investigations. Of course those things are important. But I have no control over them. I do have at least some control over how I interact with people close to me and with whom I choose to spend my time. I suppose the relative degree of importance we assign to all such matters cycles up and down. I am satisfied with relegating national and international news to a much lower tier for now.

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The thunderous applause from above seems to have quieted a good bit, so I feel safe in going back into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. I never felt unsafe, actually.

I look forward to what today will unveil for me. I want to understand the world and my place in it a little better.  Today promises to be a good one. I have it on good authority that it will get better and better as the day goes on.

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Spinning a Few Philosophical Thoughts

Before this morning’s welcome experience with freshly-brewed, hot coffee, my last cup of the stuff was Sunday morning. Though I am by no means addicted to coffee, it is a welcome luxury I miss when I cannot have it. Yesterday, thanks to the required protocol in preparation for my PET scan, I had to forego my normal consumption of coffee. Usually, at least one cup; more often, two or three.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I doubt that’s truly possible. Not for coffee and certainly not for someone with whom one longs to share a morning, with our without coffee. “Out of sight, out of mind” is another absurdly incorrect “truism.” Again, not true of coffee and not true of relationships. The desire for coffee cannot compare to the desire for companionship. Yet those of us who speak the English language seem to accept, or at least parrot, these aphorisms as if they have some sort of intrinsic value; as if they carry a message that other words cannot convey. Balderdash! In spite of my use of various adages in my writing, I do not accept them at face value, nor do I believe they carry some magical “truth” to which we all must subscribe.

Why has my mind veered so sharply from coffee to a “witty” apothegm or two this morning? It’s hard to say. It’s just what I do on mornings when cleaner teeth are just hours away, thanks to an appointment with the dental hygienist.

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I have things to do today, aside from going to get my teeth cleaned. If all goes according to plan, I will drive into town to visit a place I call the “gummy distribution center.” And I’ll stop by another purveyor of pleasure, a liquor store, for some cheap wine (I’m a cheap kind of guy).  If I’m in the mood, I’ll go to Lowe’s to explore LED lighting for the crawlspace under my house. And, if it fits my schedule and a friend’s schedule, I may tag along to look at a Class C motor home (not for me, mind you…just looking). I could add a thousand other things to my schedule, I suppose, but doing so would not succeed in stifling my anticipation of tomorrow, when my eyes will be treated to a view I’ve been missing for too long. I feel the smile on my face as I think about that sight.

It is hard to follow the admonition to “live in the moment” when anticipating another moment is such a strong force in one’s life. But we all do that, don’t we? We all hold our breaths and count the hours until something—the birth of a child,  evidence of a growing bulb breaking ground, the next season of a favorite television program, the return of a lover, a graduation ceremony…something important—takes place. How can we live “in the moment” when we are so wrapped up in the next moment? It’s not so hard to understand. Anticipation is living in the moment. The pleasure of anticipation corresponds to the release of endorphins that make THIS MOMENT a spectacularly pleasurable one. When anticipation becomes reality, the spectacularly pleasure becomes orgasmically pleasurable (sorry, I could not summon a word that better describes that climactic moment).  Living in the moment means letting the past be gone and permitting the future to unfold; but when anticipation is part of THIS MOMENT, one can feel comfortable that one is following the admonition. The entire paragraph, including my comments about endorphins—about which I know almost nothing—is simply speculation. But it is based on real belief. At least I think the belief is real.

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We would not feel so vulnerable, so subject to the whims of arbitrary Nature, if the world were a safe, predictable place. The fact, though, is that the world is unsafe; none of us leave it alive, even after living an almost magically glorious life. It’s hard to wrestle with the fact that experiencing good fortune does not preclude its evil twin from intruding on celebratory festivals. But that’s precisely what we must do. We must wrestle with the negatives that strive to bring down the positives. Joy and good fortune are worth fighting for to the very end. Preparations for the fight must include the unpleasant acknowledgement that fights are sometimes lost. At the same time, the possibility of loss must not be treated as an acceptable outcome. One must twist logic on itself in order to summon the strength necessary to overcome the evil twin; that bastard that threatens to dismantle and shred a monument built from the fibers of good fortune. It seems that bleak reminders of our ultimate destinations often follow the most wonderful experiences, experiences that are almost spellbinding in their wonderment. Perhaps it’s just coincidence. Or, perhaps, it’s simply the way our minds remind us that we must not take joy for granted; that we must fight and claw and brawl our way through the melee in order to protect the magnificence from harm.

Of course, sometimes we prepare for a ferocious fight, only to learn one’s opponent has left the ring. That is perhaps the time we most need to remember how urgently we must prepare for a fight because, the next time, the opponent may return, this time with a contingent of henchmen.

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Love is among the most pleasurable of the emotions. It is both a receptor of good feelings and a deliverer of the same. It is absolutely altruistic and unspeakably selfish. Love makes the daylight sky brighter and the night sky darker and more mysterious. It enhances the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Despite what some would tell you, it does not necessarily take long months and years to develop; it can come on in an instant. But when it does, it can grow stronger, though it seems impossible at the time it could have more power. Love is salvation; sometimes just in the nick of time. Giving and receiving love is the most intense aspects of all the emotions and the elements we all most need.

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My emotional state this morning is an odd mixture of happiness, wonderful anticipation, and a little dread. I really have no interest in taking a shower, but I must. And I must shave. And brush my teeth (and floss!). Oh, well, I suppose I have to hurry or I’ll not make my appointment.

 

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