Confronting Two Enemies

In the wake of a growing concern about a mysterious disease, when will a gnawing worry evolve into fear? What incident will cause fear to mushroom into terror, breeding deep suspicion of anyone outside our immediate circle? At what point will we begin to shun our friends and neighbors and, finally, ourselves?

Perhaps that grotesque evolution will not occur. Conceivably, we will come to realize the the environment giving birth to panic must transform into an atmosphere of levelheaded, rational behavior. Yet I’ve already seen evidence of dangerous herd mentality targeting individuals who do not subscribe to group-think. The evidence has been online, where people tend to be more likely to openly attack others than they would in a face-to-face setting. But online bullying of those whose opinions differ from one’s own can morph into physical behavior. Will it?

Less than three weeks ago, I wrote that preparing for the potential pandemic (involving the COVID-19 virus that the Centers for Disease Control suggested was on its way) was probably in our best interests. Several days later, I saw some evidence that people were taking heed. But there was no frenzy.

Yesterday, I witnessed frenzy. When I went to the grocery store to buy a few items on our regular and “just-in-case” grocery lists, I saw evidence of panic hoarding. The parking lots of two nearby grocery stores were full to overflowing. Inside the store I visited, the aisles were jammed with shoppers, their carts piled high. As I wheeled my cart toward the canned good aisles, an employee thrust a 6-roll package of toilet paper in my direction, saying “You want the last roll of toilet paper in the store? This is it. We’re out!” Toilet paper wasn’t on my list, so I declined; a man right behind me said to her, “I’ll take it!”

Entire sections of shelves were empty. There was almost no dry rice left. Dry beans were gone. Long sections of shelving dedicated to canned tomatoes were empty; fortunately, canned tomatoes were not on my list. I had planned on buying a 5-pound bag of rice to replenish our dwindling supply; I bought one of the only remaining 2-pound boxes. I had planned on buying dry pinto beans; there were none to be bought, nor were there any canned beans left on the shelves. The queue for the pharmacy spilled out into the main aisle; apparently, people were trying to make sure their prescription medications would last for…awhile.

Yesterday and again this morning, I saw evidence online that some of the “medical experts” residing in the Village were in attack mode. Posts on Nextdoor, many laced with misinformation and, in some cases outright lies, dripped with acerbic comments directed both at people who “hoard” and those who do not take the pandemic seriously enough to prepare. Everyone, it seems, is at fault for disagreeing with someone’s opinion, regardless of whether the opinion is based on facts or dim-witted fictions fed by an orange-haired idiot. I wonder whether the posts I read this morning will spill into the physical world in the form of flying fists and spraying bullets? I hope not. But I’m not confident that peace will prevail.

Yet not all of the responses to the pandemic are “shoot from the hip” reactions fueled by rage and blind fear. Some reactions have been measured, though bold. The board for my church, for example, decided yesterday morning to close the doors for services and other meetings until further notice. Some schools are closing in nearby communities. Events are being cancelled. In short, the advice of the CDC is being heeded. (Though, I have to wonder whether the CDC is the best source of advice, given some of its recent failings. But I don’t know a better alternative.) Will these very adult reactions to an emergency unlike any we have faced before lead us safely back to stability?

We’re very early into this unprecedented experience, I think. We may have to alter our behaviors for many weeks, perhaps several months (or longer), before the threats of the pandemic have subsided enough to return to “normal.” If, indeed, “normal” is possible after what we’re about to go through. We may discover that the discords and divisions sown by and in response to the current administration are so deep that we can never come together as a nation again. We may come to realize, sooner rather than later, that even the most powerful country on Earth cannot survive going to war with itself over a deadly disease for which it was woefully unprepared. Perhaps we are witnessing an event that will bring about the end of an empire.

How long can the people at the bottom of the economic ladder survive? What does a person who works in a stadium concession stand do when the venue is closed to customers? When patrons stop going to the restaurant where she works, where will the server find enough money to pay her rent? And what will her employer do to pay the restaurant’s rent? When people stop riding buses, will the bus driver be laid off and left to fend for himself? The answer, I think, is yes. Will the rest of us watch as our retirement nest eggs are eaten by traders scrambling to hold on to a scrap of their once-vast fortunes?

There was a time when the opposing political parties would have come together in a national emergency and would have jointly crafted a rational plan to deal with the crisis. I doubt we’ll see that this time. Instead, they will bicker and throw knives at one another, hoping their opponents’ loss of blood will sufficiently weaken them to take them out of the game. The game. That’s what it is to them, I think. Every citizen is simply a pawn in their game.

I’m not feeling particularly hopeful this morning, am I? No, but that could change. I may see glimmers of hope as I witness local and regional and state responses to a growing and very troubling situation. We shall see. In the meantime, while we watch our “leaders” engage in political responses to a medical and its consequential financial emergency, what will we do? In the wake of our growing concern about a mysterious disease, will our gnawing worry evolve into fear? Will our fear mushroom into terror, creating deep suspicions about anyone outside our immediate circles? Will we shun our friends and neighbors and, finally, ourselves?

I am at once deeply pessimistic and cautiously hopeful, spinning from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other with such speed that it’s dizzying. I try not to worry, because worry does not good, but it’s hard. And I try not to be a Pollyanna about the situation, thinking without justification that “everything will turn out all right…because it always does.” I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I feel like I’m confronting two enemies: a potentially deadly disease and an ill-prepared population hell-bent on survival at the expense of the opponents’ demise. Last night’s post, wherein I wrote one side of an imaginary (and more than a little bizarre) conversation about a boundless, all-encompassing love, was an attempt to get unstuck. It didn’t work. Maybe a breakfast of avocado toast and bacon will do what fiction could not.

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Love is the Richest Emotion

I love you. You know who you are. I could listen to your voice for hours if you’d let me. And I suppose you would. But what reason could I give for wanting to hear it? What excuse could I offer for loving you, as if an excuse were necessary to explain the breadth and depth of love beyond borders and relationships? Love is non-exclusive. Love reaches across time, distance, gender, family ties, and friendship. It transcends everything. And it encompasses everything from friendly conversations to intimacy to appreciation to acceptance and embrace. We are lovers, though not in the traditional sense; not at the moment. Time and experience may turn tradition into a cauldron of molten rock, never to be touched without the pain of burned flesh. And that is perfectly all right. Our family ties or gender expressions or other commitments may erase any possibility of another chance at traditional intimacy; that is all right, too. We do not even know one another. We’ve never really and truly met. Though we have, haven’t we? We’re long-lost lovers whose transgressions no longer matter. But they do. Memories never die, they just fade into dreams, the legitimacy of which we’re never sure. But those faded memories emphasize the love that made them. They attest to the history that created those vague recollections that seem more like grey mist and blurred fog than precise, vivid color photographs. Your female form is both alluring and inconsequential. My maleness matters no more than a cup of water matters to the Pacific Ocean. Yet we’re a pair whose existence enables the Earth to spin on its axis. We control the planets and the sun and the moon’s trips across the sky. But we’re miles apart and shackled in comfortable chains. Those chains restrain us and tie us to a lifetime of joint exclusion. Who are we? Do we know how much we matter to one another? Do either of us have even an inkling? I am Apollo and you are Daphne. But we may not really exist. We may be expressions of time and opportunity. We’ll never know, will we? Unless you reveal yourself to me as the reason I dance across the heavens, wearing a crown of laurel leaves.

Love is the richest emotion. It can create magic and spin gold into rivers. Love is salvation in this lifetime; there is no salvation in another one, for there is no other lifetime than this. Love makes all the pain of living worth the agony. Love endures years and years of distance and neglect. There’s more, but you know the rest. Or you can, at least, imagine it.

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Circles of Light

One of the definitions of corona, courtesy of the Cambridge Dictionary, begins with “a circle of light…” There’s more to it, of course, but I prefer to leave it there for the sake of clarity; clarity that even language is laced with lies.

The coronavirus bears no resemblance to light. It is an ominously dark mystery that even the most highly-educated virologists have trouble explaining to us common-folk. Despite its mysterious origin and its beguiling simplicity, the coronavirus  possesses intricately complex dark magic qualities that have the capacity to upend civilizations. I witnessed a little of that capacity unfold as I read tales of its impact on some people I know.

I have several friends, many of whom I’ve never met face-to-face, who live in and around Seattle, Washington. One of those people described the impact of the virus on her day yesterday in this way:

“Today the layoffs fell swiftly and without fanfare: we closed the cafe until further notice, laid off the Operations Manager, Marketing Administrator, evening warehouse staff, the office assistant. When the dust…had settled, just three of us remained, and I’m lucky to be one of the remaining, reduced-to-half-time, employees.”

As she approaches retirement, the circle of light suddenly blinded her to what lies ahead. As she interacted with real friends, people who live near her and interact with her through human contact, rather than through social media convulsions, she continued her ruminations about the situation:

“We have no perspective from which to draw. That part, for me, is the most bewildering.”

There again, the circle of light does not illuminate the path ahead. Rather, it conceals the way as if casting a shadow of absolute darkness, where physical and financial ruin may wait.

Another friend, whose wife is a teacher and part-time music minister, explored his conflicting feelings about going out, even to church, where most of his social interaction takes place. He’s one who spends most of his time working at home, yet even he is taking steps to isolate himself further; a wise move, especially in light of the immediacy of the threat in and around Seattle. Yet, as he correctly points out, too many of us look at Seattle as if its residents are the unfortunate ones to have to deal with the circle of light. We don’t realize the circle is expanding at the speed of…well, light; and its dark beam has the rest of us in its cross-hairs.

Last night, our country’s chief paid idiot announced a thirty-day ban on flights to the U.S. from Europe. But it’s not really all flights, it’s just the Europeans on flights. Except citizens of England are not included in the ban, presumably because they speak a form of English even the dimwit-in-chief can understand. Instead of marshaling the resources of the U.S. government to provide test kits all across the country, the moron is taking steps to cripple and very possibly kill the airline industry. His actions are putting enormous numbers of pilots, flight attendants, airline food-service workers, airport janitorial staff, airport customs enforcement personnel, taxi drivers, hotel staff, etc., etc., etc. out of work for at least a month and, most likely, much, much longer, because a recovery will not be remotely as rapid as the shutdown. The world’s most visible man-baby is doing the bidding of the circle of light, as if it were flinging accolades and flattery in his direction.

Ugh! Must get the disgusting ooze off my mind.

The NBA has suspended its season. Schools all over the country are closing. Universities are suspending in-person classes in favor of remote, computer-driven learning. The stock market and consequently the retirement funds for millions of Americans are taking enormous, unprecedented hits. Jobs are being lost or put at risk around the country and, indeed, around the world.

Italy has closed its doors; it recorded 168 deaths from the coronavirus in a single day, taking the death toll at that time to 631. The World Health Organization has finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Some Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait and Lebanon and Iran, are responding to COVID-19 fears with their own draconian measures. Iran, which like Italy has been hit extremely hard by the virus, is dealing with the fact that a vice president and two ministers have been diagnosed with the virus. The circle of light is shining on political and economic infrastructures around the globe, exposing cracks in their foundations and causing mounting fear that those institutions will begin to crumble.

In spite of all that’s happening, worldwide, to cause alarm, a surprising number of people claim we’re all making too big of a deal about COVID-19. Geniuses like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity say there’s nothing to fear; they also claim the virus is a sham, just a trick to make their so-called president look bad. Hannity cited a comment from an “MIT guy on Twitter” who said, “coronavirus fear-mongering by the deep state will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds to manipulate economies, suppress dissent and push mandated medicines.”  These are the same people who will, I suspect, get infected and cheerfully, if unknowingly, spread the virus to everyone in their social spheres and beyond.

The paucity of testing has given many people a false sense of security. Quite a few epidemiologists say the virus is far more prevalent and has spread much further than we think. Because people who are asympomatic or whose symptoms are mild are not being tested, and because even the more seriously ill in some places (like Arkansas) are being misdiagnosed in the absence of COVID-19 testing, we do not really know how widespread the disease is. The likelihood, according to some health care professionals quoted in the media, is that the virus has been in Arkansas for quite some time, despite the fact that only yesterday the first “presumptive positive” case was revealed in Pine Bluff. It’s only a matter of a week or so, maybe even just days, before the numbers begin to skyrocket. Until then, though, a lot of people will continue to behave as if they are immune to a disease they do not believe is in even remote proximity to them.

Even though there are plenty of deniers, though, stores have sold out of hand-sanitizers and wipes. Even aloe vera gel, a key component of homemade hand-sanitizer, is unavailable, even online. I just wonder whether people are actually using the stuff or whether they are stocking up “just in case.” If “just in case,” it’s too late, I’m afraid.

In spite of all this, I think panic is misplaced and counterproductive. In my view, it’s prudent to follow the guidance of competent epidemiologists and go about our lives in as ordinary a fashion as possible. Maybe we simply need to stay home to the extent we can, avoid crowds, try to stop touching our faces, wash our hands frequently and thoroughly, sneeze into tissues instead of our sleeves, and otherwise behave as the health care professionals tell us. No matter what we do, though, we’ll have to wade through economic dislocations and, very likely, shortages caused by both demand and transportation-related and worker-unavailability-related delays in supply. And, rather than waiting until the incidence of COVID-19 in our immediate surroundings is high, we should start now to behave as if the circle of light was shining in our eyes.

Will I follow my own (and health care professionals’) advice? I do not know. Time will tell.

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Stigma

Routines that, until recently, guided me through the predawn hours have dissolved into misty memories over the course of the last few months.  I could point to a single change, over which I had no control, that caused the disruption—but such an observation might be misinterpreted to be an accusation. It is not. There is no assignment of blame in my observation, only recognition of causation. But, because of the potential for unintended misconception, I will refrain even from mentioning the single change that disturbed my long-settled routines. I will, instead, focus on its consequences.

No longer do I have the luxury of writing in absolute isolation, as darkness fades into diffuse light. My attention, easily distracted even in utter solitude, ricochets like a bullet fired at an angle toward the floor of an all-metal room. The soft sounds of gentle footsteps become thunderous, echoing like a swarm of staccato bass drums pounding through a deep canyon.  My train of thought jumps its tracks with every click of a light switch. Every time I hear a faucet open or close, my brain floods with unrelated thoughts that wash fresh ideas out of my head, leaving only pools of stagnant notions.

I cannot finish thoughts because. Any semblance of creativity drowns in dark, attention-eating waves of  misplaced or misdirected focus. The freedom to daydream or fantasize or hallucinate is shackled to a cage I share with reality, where fiction is treated as a canard, a crime punishable by psychic lobotomy. Even when words flow like a mountain stream following an epic rainstorm, the alphabet turns to vapor and the words disappear. What’s left is an empty screen strewn haphazardly with just a few letters and evidence of erasure.

Muck. Much. Mach. Mace. Male. Sale. Salt. Halt. Hall. Call. Cell. Bell. Belt. Bolt. Boot. Root. Riot.

This morning, I read an article that claimed our choice of fashion can have a significant  impact on the environment. Some jeans, for example, contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, thanks to the fabrics from which they are made, the detergents used to wash them throughout their lives, and various other issues. The simple solution, in my opinion, is universal nudity. Of course, the number of people who would become destitute due to the disappearance of their jobs would be astronomical. Partial nudity may be the answer, instead. Whether that means everyone going without shirts or certain regions of the world going naked while others wear thongs and sports coats, I do not know. What is the difference, I wonder, between partial nudity and semi-nude? And why do we so rarely read or hear those terms these days?

It’s time for me to shower and shave, brush my teeth, and get either partially or fully dressed. I have meetings to attend today; one at church this morning and another at church later this afternoon. Church. I still do not like that word applied to a building in which I often find myself. I’d rather it be designated a Gathering Place or an Intellectual Healing Compound or something else that does not carry the stigma of “church.” I may be in the minority when I say the word “church” carries a stigma. I’ll ask if that’s true during one or both of my meetings there today.

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Patterns

It’s a pattern. I daydream about hitting the road for an extended period to explore new places, revisit places from my long ago past, or simply to separate myself from the day-to-day routine by which I sometimes feel confined. It’s not as if my life is especially onerous or troublesome. It’s more a matter of wishing I could break out of the static constellation in which I have placed myself. A pattern within a pattern; an entrenched, routine fantasy about breaking out of an entrenched, routine experience. It is such a well-worn path, so consistently followed, that it has created a deep rut that prevents any significant deviation in any direction. That is not to say that every day is like the one it follows, but every day is so close to the one before that it feels like repetition. I find it impossible to put this sensation into words anyone outside of myself can understand. My words describe the sensation perfectly to me, but they probably would not make sense to anyone else.

The patterns—both the fantasies and the realities—are of my own making. The only things preventing me from transforming realities into fantasy and fantasy into fact are inertia and fear. Yet little risks can become enormous, explosive, irrevocable, irreversible, life-changing metamorphoses. Fear, then, feeds inertia. The little risk of sprinting across a freeway lane can become cataclysmic if one underestimates the speed of oncoming traffic; so, the boredom of sitting on the roadside, waiting for someone to stop and offer a ride, becomes tolerable.

Much of what takes place outside this house seems artificial in some way. Many of my interactions with other people—the pleasantries exchanged with people at the grocery store or at restaurants or in church or in every other place in which I find myself—seem superficial. I am playing the part of average everyday “Joe,” glad to be alive and happy to see the people in his frivolous sphere. Most of the people in that silly sphere probably are just as dull and no more cheerful than I, and they are equally as reticent to open up to strangers. The thing is, we’re all strangers. We hide behind thick canvas curtains that shield us from getting too familiar. Yet familiarity is what we’re after. Or intimacy. Dipping one’s toes into intimacy or even familiarity can be dangerous territory. We can never know until the risk has been taken whether we have misread cues or, indeed, have misinterpreted signals that were not intended as signals at all. A friendly wave, for example, does not necessarily mean a person is interested in engaging in conversation. An invitation to join a game of poker does not necessarily mean the person making the offer wants to strike up a friendship. And so on.

My daydreams about hitting the road may be about developing new relationships without worrying about navigating around existing potholes. It may be easier to repair an axle broken by driving into a new pothole than repairing a relationship damaged by misinterpreting, as cues, messages that were never sent.

It occurs to me (and it has, for years) that I may make more of minutia than it’s worth. Perhaps miscues or misreadings are not the tragedies I make them out to be in my scrambled little mind. So what if I mistake an invitation to play poker as an overture toward friendship? Once the error is understood, it should be easy to change course and be on my way. Yet it’s not always that easy, nor that superficial. Differentiating between shallow potholes and dangerous sinkholes can be a tricky undertaking. And the result of a miscalculation can be enormous. So, it may be easier to simply stay on the sidewalk.

As I re-read what I’ve written, it’s clear to me that what I’ve written is as clear as mud. I could have been clearer, but I chose to write in riddles. That’s the way it will stay. If I had wanted to be more transparent, I wouldn’t have been so opaque. I know what I wrote about, which is what’s important. One day, when I read this post again, I will know instantly what was on my mind. To anyone who has read what I’ve written and wonders what the hell I was writing about, I apologize. Chalk it up to the fact that I’m simply exercising my fingers.

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The Rest

I’m writing this on Sunday night as the clock tells me it’s close to 11:00 p.m. I have a good reason for writing it Sunday, instead of early Monday. I will be up early again on Monday; there’s no question. But I won’t necessarily be in the mood to write. I’ll be in the mood for something else, but again I will be constrained by a thousand harnesses from hitting the road and finding what’s “out there” for me to explore. What might I miss by not hitting the road? A desolate desert landscape, miles from nowhere; row upon row upon row of fertile farmland, waiting for Spring; a thousand miles of barren highway, devoid of cars and cares; an empty night sky, so full of stars my eyes would be unable to see them all; a pathway to the past or the future, complete with signs only I can see; a million options, all calling to me to explore them. Who knows? I don’t. My mood will be different from the one I’m in tonight, no doubt. It always is.

Good night. To the more curious among you (whoever you might be); buy me a beer and I might explain. Or I might not. At the very least, you can share a beer with me. And I will appreciate that for the rest of time.

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Early-Onset Nosophobia and Unrelated Mental Tantrums

I had occasion recently to read a story I wrote almost five years ago. Among the many character names mentioned in the story—most only in passing—were Shady Fulcrum, Gludge Mokrey, Cleatus Pryor, and Barney Clump. There were several others, most a little less strange and jarring. Although none of the aforementioned characters are central to the story, their odd names play an important (but not an explicit) role in defining the story’s setting. The thought occurred to me this morning, as I awoke at a quarter to six (in yesterday’s terms, thanks to our semi-annual clock adjustments, a quarter to five), that each of those characters has a story of his own. I can envision writing an entire series of stories that revolve around these characters. My recent thought of revisiting my fictional town of Struggles, Arkansas, coupled with this morning’s consideration of character names from another story, may spur me on the write a series that merges the characters from the two into a string of stories. I like the idea. Will I act on it? Time will tell.

***

Another thought crossed my mind this morning, while watching a video that popped up on my Facebook feed. The video consisted of several short clips showing people bending and shaping small trees—saplings, really—in the art of bonsai. The artists were intent as they clipped away little branches and wrapped the tiny trunks and limbs in rope and/or wire and then bent the wood into the shapes the artists wanted. Though some of the bends seemed too severe, to me, the wood did not snap. I assume, but I am not sure, that the wire and rope will be removed at some point and the little trees will retain their forced shapes. I may explore more about bonsai; I might even give it a try. After watching the video, I searched my blog to see whether I might have written about bonsai in the past; I had, but not about trees. There’s one mention on my blog about Bonsai, about six years ago. I wrote about the sad announcement some friends had made, on Facebook, about the decision to euthanize their cat, Bonsai, to put him out of his misery. My friends shared the pain of the decision and their loss. Even though it was hard for them, the outpouring of support they received was no doubt helpful in dealing with the trauma. Perhaps practicing the art of bonsai is a way of dealing with pain and trauma. Maybe I will see whether it is a healing art.

***

Speaking of healing. I don’t think I’ve considered, until this morning, categorizing hypodermic with respect to its part of speech. I know, that’s a ghastly admission. As I thought about it, I assumed it was a noun, as simply a component of hypodermic needle. The dictionary verified that hypodermic needle is, indeed a noun, a two-part word. But the dictionary also confirmed my underlying suspicion that hypdermic is an adjective; the “ic” offers a clue that the word is a modifier, an adjective. My thoughts then scrambled toward another word, hypothermia. I checked to see whether hypothermic also was a legitimate word. It is. So why is hypodermia not a legitimate word? Or it is? A person can die from hypothermia. Can that same person die from hypodermia? (Of course not; the person already died from hypothermia and we all know a person cannot die twice…except for the age-old saying, “You die twice, once when life leaves your body and again when your name is spoken for the last time.”) I think I’m wandering off track again, in my normal modus operandi. Back to the issue: can a person die from hypodermia? I imagine others have already explored this odd query and have developed ironclad answers; it matters not to me. My imagination is unrestrained by history and actual fact. That, and the fact I’m too lazy this morning (and most mornings) to ferret out the answer to the question; if the answer mattered deeply, I might get off my duff and look for it, but it doesn’t matter enough to warrant the expenditure of energy, time, and analytical engagement. In other words, “the game is not worth the candle.”  Le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle.

***

The little rural community in which I live is full of people from all over the country. Many of those people travel internationally on a regular basis, mostly for vacations. Given the extent of travel in which members of our community engage, I wonder whether the COVID-19 virus might already have crept into this backwoods setting already. And, given that the age-range of residents here is heavily weighted toward the upper 60s and beyond, I wonder how dangerous such a virus might be in this community. We might all do well to stock up on toilet paper and food, seal ourselves in our homes, paint our bodies with alcohol, wear face masks, and avoid all contact with other humans. But I’m not going to do that. Not just yet. So, it’s off to church this morning, where I’m sure I’ll elbow-bump a few people.

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Self-Limiting Thoughts

Perhaps this, the third item I’ve written since I got up around 5 this morning, will satisfy my desire to create something I am willing to share. The first two provided me with outlets for thoughts about intellectual and emotional searches but were not suitable for the public realm.

How is it, I wonder, that we decide what is suitable for sharing? Or, on the other hand, how do we determine what we do not want to share? The answer might initially seem straightforward, but when I focus my attention on the question, the answer begins to cloud until, finally, it becomes nearly opaque. As I unleashed my thoughts earlier, I found myself documenting a state of mind that might be subject to misinterpretation. A simple bit of minor melancholy could be mistaken for overwhelming sadness. A shred of humor could be misread as evidence of delirious happiness. An expression of a desire for isolation might be interpreted as a wish to abandon everything heretofore dear to me. And qualifying words, meant to convince the reader that all really is well, could be viewed as artificial reassurance.

Because certain subjects tend to raise red flags, we tend to avoid them, even when dialogue about those subjects might be healing and healthy or, instead, simply chit-chat. On the other hand, raising some subjects, including those that might be considered innocuous, can indeed be evidence of cause for alarm. So, if the topics or subjects on one’s mind have the potential of triggering false alarms, we avoid those red flags.

I saw a Facebook post the other day, posted by the daughter of a friend, that turned the “undue alarm” idea on its ear. The post said, essentially, “If you need to talk about something, just talk about it. Don’t hint around about it on Facebook to try to generate concern. Either spit it out or shut up.” That sort of insensitive attitude is also a reason one might avoid tentatively raising sensitive subjects. In my opinion, many people feel the way my friend’s daughter does but have the decency to hide it rather than share it with the world. But, then, perhaps honesty is the best policy?  No, I think most people would rather not say out loud, “Honestly, I am an insensitive prick.” They prefer to feign compassion.

This bit of writing is not accomplishing what I’d hoped, either. Today must not be my day for shareable thoughts. But I’ll share it anyway. And I might one day return to the other two pieces I wrote this morning and I might share them, too. I have 343 other unshared pieces (also called drafts), waiting in line. They are not secrets. They are protected pockets of mistaken ideas. They are not the self-limiting thoughts that make their way to this site. At least not yet.

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Late Lethargy

It’s 7:00 a.m. and I’ve only been up for about fifteen minutes. I’ve wasted a significant portion of the day, sleeping in! Around 5:00 a.m., I awoke and decided to get up “in a minute,” but that didn’t happen. Nor, did I jump up when I looked at the clock and realized I’d slept another hour and five minutes. Ach! It’s a rarity that I sleep so late. I do not like it. I could have accomplished so much between 5:00 and 7:00 this morning; instead, I lay in bed, unproductive in both thought and action. What a waste!

And here I am, continuing that wasteful unproductive behavior by simply exercising my fingers, not my mind. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. That’s it.

My computer claims the outside temperature this morning is 46 degrees. My eyesight informs my brain, as I gaze out the window, that the sky is absolutely, brilliantly, spectacularly blue! This day holds enormous, productive promise! But I suspect that promise will be redirected toward leisurely enjoyment. My wife, if she feels up to it, will want to drive into Little Rock for lunch; at least that’s what she suggested yesterday. We’ll see, we will.

All the creativity that resided in my brain until 7:00 a.m. this morning has escaped into the atmosphere. I am mentally lethargic, lacking even a shred of creativity. For that reason, among thousands of others, I shall stop writing for now.

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Forgiveness and Food

I spilled red wine on a grey and white carpet last night. I did my best to clean it; my best was inadequate, as ample evidence of the spill remains. My faux pas bothered me, but it didn’t send me into the atmosphere. I hope we can get the stain out; if not, I will not commit suicide. At least not for that reason. Accidents happen. Such is life. My mistake was clumsy, stupid, and avoidable. I forgave myself for being human. In this instance. In considering my bumbling mistake, it occurred to me that my willingness to forgive myself for making it is a rarity. I don’t forgive myself for much.

I may have made a mistake, pointed out to me by a woman with whom I’ve been friends on Facebook for several years, when I used the word “ethnic” to describe food. I wonder whether, if indeed I made a mistake, I am eligible for forgiveness? Here is part of the exchange between us (responding to a post in which I said was I buying ethnic food):

Elle (my friend): Isn’t the word “ethnic” to describe food politically incorrect? (this is a serious question).

Me: I have read some pieces that suggest “ethnic” applied to food is derogatory. I think whether it is derogatory depends on the ear and the audience. From my perspective, Mexican food, Indian food, Arabic food, French food, Moroccan food, etc. are ethnic foods. From the perspective of a Moroccan or a Mexican, American food or Canadian food or Caribbean food might be called ethnic food. And in each case, country-specific or region-specific foods might be called ethnic. If language is changing AND if the majority of people from regions where food I call ethnic consider the term offensive, I would gladly adjust. I remember a time when “Oriental food” was a perfectly acceptable term, but it came to be considered offensive…so the term is now (perhaps temporarily) “Asian food.” Sometimes, I think political correctness is dictated by fear of offending where offense would not be taken, except for the fear articulated by the fearful. If I have simply missed the cultural shift and should change my behavior, I will. But I would want to feel sure the issue is real. Long, long answer to a short question. 😉 What are your thoughts?

Elle: The word “ethnic” feels odd to me, and I found it offensive. To me, the use of “ethnic” denotes a lack of sensibility as if the foods are considered all the same and somehow of lower quality. Doesn’t each food deserve an attribute of its own, like French food, Japanese food, Iranian food OR European food, Southeast Asian food, Middle Eastern (which at least narrows it down to a limited geographical area)? “Ethnic” sounds colonialistic to me.

Me: Your response to the word is new to me and very different from mine. Rather than a label of inferior quality or “sameness,” my sense of the word elevates the subjects to which they are applied. Each food does deserve its own attribute, as you say, but collectively they require a label that, in my mind, says they are “different from my native culture,” (and therefore exotic in some way). Again, I use the word in appreciation, not in disparagement. But your response makes me want to explore further whether my definition and usage is mistakenly negative. I do not want to be mistaken for a colonialist!

I then added: Elle, I have posted the following on my FB page: “Serious questions: In your view, is use of the word “ethnic” to describe food derogatory? That is, does it suggest the foods are of lower quality or that the cultures from which they come are somehow inferior? What terms would you use, instead, to be more sensitive?” I would really like to know how others in my sphere perceive the word. Perhaps you might ask the same question of those among your FB followers?

My immediate gut reaction was to think the very idea that use of the word “ethnic” to describe food might be politically incorrect was absurd. But I tried to put aside my reaction and think rationally about it. My intent in using the word is not the issue. The issue is how the word is perceived by people who might be offended because the word applies to their native foods. Attempting to put myself in a position in which I might be offended by a term used to describe “American” food, I try to examine my emotions if I heard someone describe the foods of my culture and some others as “bland.” The person using the description might not intend it to be derogatory; she might intend only to suggest the foods do not use much spice. But I might view the term in another way; I might think “bland” means uninteresting, dull, boring, tedious, etc. The only way the person using the term in an innocuous (to them) way is to let them know how their usage is perceived. That may be precisely what Elle was telling me. But I’m not yet convinced. I’m awaiting the responses from FB friends, both mine and hers.  Thus far, though, the one response I’ve received suggests I may need to rethink my choice of terms to describe foods from other cultures.

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My Schizophrenic Electoral Attitude

It occurred to me that I posted something a couple of days ago that suggested I voted for Biden. I didn’t. I voted for Warren. But I had concluded by the time I wrote the post that a centrist like Biden was the most likely candidate to beat Trump. And, earlier, I had decided to vote for Biden, though I kept changing my mind: Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, Warren…it was almost schizophrenic. But on the way to cast our ballots, my wife and I discussed who we were voting for. Neither of us were certain, even then, as we drove to vote. That was the first time I have ever been unsure of who would receive my vote by the time I headed to the polls. I supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 until Obama got the nod, but I didn’t decide on her until relatively close to decision time. But I knew she would get my support by the time I had to declare. This time, though, I was all over the map.

Initially, I was strongly supportive of Bernie Sanders. That support eroded as I considered how certain he seemed that he would implement plans that were absolutely pie-in-the-sky impossibilities in today’s political climate. But I liked Elizabeth Warren; her philosophies are close to Sanders’ but her plans seem more achievable. And I think we need a woman in the White House. I still think she would be the best candidate, though I am not sure whether she would fare well against Trump, considering how many “Bernie or bust” people might sit out the election. Ultimately, in the Arkansas primaries, I felt certain my vote would not count. I could have voted for Pete or Gabbard or Bloomberg or a cocker spaniel; it would not have mattered.

So I voted for Warren. But Biden won the Arkansas primary, as I felt sure he would. Now that he’s favored to get the nomination, I will support him. And I do think he might be the only one with a good chance to beat Trump, though the Bernie or bust people may abandon him, too. I don’t know. Ach!

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Yesterday’s Journal: A Dull Tale of a Semi-Typical Day (and a rebirth of my interest in writing)

Yesterday morning, before we left for Little Rock for my wife’s blood draw, frustration was afoot because the medical folks had not confirmed that she had an appointment at 11:15. Because we did not want to miss that appointment, assuming it had been made, we left in time to make it.  During the drive, my wife received a call from the nurse who had arranged the appointment; “I faxed the order over and I got a confirmation that the fax was received.” So on we drove. My wife called the scheduler for the blood draw lab, but could not reach her; she left a message. And on we drove.  When we got there, the blood draw scheduler said no fax had been received. We could go to the nurse who had sent the fax, pick up a hard copy of the order, and return…but there was no guarantee my wife could be fit in. We drove over, picked up the order (and the fax confirmation sheet), and returned. Fortunately, the blood draw lab fit my wife in pretty quickly. But, really? If the issue had been a medical emergency, would these nitwits have been equally as inept? It’s fortunate that I did not intercede with my comments; I would have been ejected from the building by security and, quite possibly, arrested for disorderly conduct.

***

Despite the medical madness, we went on to have a nice day. Next stop was Ali Baba Mediterranean Restaurant and Market, where we had wonderful falafel sandwiches (I have to try something else from the menu one day, but I like the falafel so much I can’t force myself to change; maybe if I had lunch there five days in a row…). My wife bought a bottle of pomegranate molasses (I think to replenish the used-up supply at home), then we headed out.

Next stop was Sam’s Oriental Store, just up the street from Ali Baba. There, I bought a small container of Ajinomoto Soup Stock Hondashi granules to use in my miso soup, among other things. I also got a tube of harissa paste. I could not read most of the text on the box that contained the tube (it was written in Arabic), but the sticker attached to the box said the little tube contains 84 servings; must be very pungent stuff!  My wife picked up several envelopes of various pre-packaged Asian flavorings, each dedicated to a particular dish. I could have bought much, much more, but did not.

My wife found a recipe for kimchi-stuff meat balls; because I had already gone through some of the kimchi we bought during our last trip to Little Rock, she wanted more. She decided the containers at Sam’s were too big, though, so she suggested we drive the few block’s to Mr. Chen’s, which we did, where we bought another container for her recipe. From there, we headed to Whole Foods Market.

Fortunately, we packed our cold-food bag (into which we had placed our large blocks of blue ice, fresh out of the freezer) so we could buy foods that required refrigeration. We left the store with salmon patties, tequila-marinated salmon chunks, live (i.e., root still attached) cilantro, and who knows what else; several items for the cold bag.

We drove the few blocks to Colonial Liquors, where we picked up a bottle of Bombay Sapphire East gin. We had decided during the last trip not to buy the larger bottle, even though it was on sale; we had wanted the smaller bottle, also on sale, but it was out. We changed our minds and bought the larger (but not really large) bottle. We now have a collection suitable for the intended use: a gin-tasting that we’ll offer at auction for our church’s auction in April.

On the way home, but before we left Little Rock proper, we stopped at Kroger.  Greek yoghurt and bottled water completed the shopping spree. Thence, homeward bound.

During the drive home, we decided to have dinner at the Home Plate Cafe, which promoted via email to me their Southern Comfort menu, including options such as fried chicken livers, fried catfish, pot roast, and chicken & dumplings. They also offered my favorite, fried green tomatoes, but the price was out of my comfort zone. My wife loves fried chicken livers, so that was her choice. I opted to have half livers and half catfish; I am not as much of a fan of chicken livers as is my wife, I’ve decided. All in all, though, it was a good meal.

And, then, home. I spent the evening watching election returns and my wife went off to play cards with neighborhood women. And then, to bed.

***

I have more ideas for my story set in the fictional town of Struggles, Arkansas. Perhaps I will revise what I’ve written and expand it into a much longer short story or, perhaps, something even longer. My main character (Calypso Kneeblood) owns the Fourth Estate Tavern. In the story I’ve written thus far, we know nothing of his past. I decided yesterday he once owned and was the editor and publisher of the town’s only newspaper, which collapsed after the town’s major employer (possibly a huge lumber mill) abruptly closed, putting several hundred townspeople out of work. He may or may not have also owned the Fourth Estate Tavern at the same time. At any rate, the tavern is the go-to place for the town’s eccentrics and intelligencia. (Struggles, Arkansas is not the stereotypical hillbilly, backwoods town; it is a pocket of intellectual depth and progressive thought in an otherwise ultra-conservative landscape.) At any rate, my mind is percolating about Struggles again. I’m anxious to get my other obligations out of the way so I can devote uninterrrupted time to writing.

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Musings on Politics, People, Society, and the Almost Certainly Impossible

I do not worry that electing a left-leaning candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would lead to economic catastrophe. Nor do I worry that electing a centrist like Biden would embed a Republican-light approach to government for the foreseeable future. My worry is that the nomination of one or the other might sufficiently upset his or her non-supporters that they won’t vote in November, thus assuring the election of Trump.

My preference is that the centrism the Democratic party has embraced in the recent past would be overtaken by a left-leaning progressive attitude, tempered by practical realism. But which candidate for the Democratic nomination is apt to be able to engage enough voters to make that happen and, after the nomination, win the presidency? Neither, I’m afraid. So, I reluctantly give my support to a centrist with the wish that he will embrace a slightly more left-leaning running mate and, when elected (I hope), fill his cabinet with a mix of leftist and centrist politicians who can work together. I would even endorse Biden’s comment that he might bring a Republican onto his ticket, though I would rather that not happen. I would rather he bring a Republican or two into his cabinet, with the proviso that any such Republicans must have been vocally opposed to Trump and his reactionary policies.

Republicans and Democrats alike seem, to me, too deeply embroiled in inflexible politics. They are unwilling to bend and flex to build even a modicum of common ground. Sure, if I had my way this country would move with deliberate speed toward a modified version of the social democratic models of governance practices in Scandinavian countries, a la Bernie Sanders. But, unlike how I perceive Sanders’ endorsement of those models, I would not embrace them wholesale; I would adjust and adapt them to fit the American system of government and the American population. But I’m not going to get my way, am I? So, I’ll have to accept what I get; if I want to have a say in the matter, I’ll have to make my voice heard. Ultimately, I’ll have to tolerate what I get. I won’t have to like it, but I’ll have to live with it.

In an ideal world, we would live in an isocracy in which no one has more power than anyone else. A “pure” democracy. Unfortunately, direct democracy becomes more and more impractical as the effects of decisions broaden geographically and demographically. The more land/distance and the more people, the more difficult direct democracy becomes. That simply fact is why, I think, representative democracy evolved. But political power need not rest exclusively with a small cadre of “chosen ones.” At the municipal or local level, representatives could be elected to implement the desires of the people; if the representative strayed from the peoples’ wishes, he or she could be recalled without bureaucratic obstacles. Representatives “up the chain” could similarly be charged with delivering the will of the people; failure to do so could similarly result in immediate replacement.

It’s obviously not quite that simple, but I suspect a system could be devised in which the will of the people, with adequate protections for the minority, could be ensured. I read something recently that suggested social democracy has been in play in our society for a very, very long time. Examples include municipal ownership of electric utilities, gas utilities, etc. The article asserted that municipal ownership was a response to monopolies that delivered inadequate service or quality at unacceptably high prices. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds modestly reasonable.

I am in favor of public ownership of any service/product whose absence would be harmful to society. Electric utilities, gas utilities, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and on and on. An argument could be made that they already are publicly owned through shareholders; I would argue that system of ownership puts too much power in the hands of the wealthy and those whose primary objectives involve the accumulation of wealth, not the provision of service to the public.  I guess I’m a socialist at heart. But not a “pure” socialist. I am a fan of entrepreneurship. But if an entrepreneur’s efforts lead to the growth of a product or service that becomes a necessity, he or she should not object to having the product or service seized for public ownership, but with adequate compensation for his or her efforts in conceiving or developing it.  It all gets sticky, I realize. Without people, it would be a whole lot easier. But I guess we’re stuck with people. Without us, where are we?

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Medical Delays

Yesterday, we delayed our planned departure to Little Rock by thirty minutes to accommodate some to-do items; it was a good thing we did. My wife got a call from her doctor’s nurse, saying she wanted my wife to get her blood drawn from a different place…not either of the two places she’s had it drawn of late. After some conversations and phone calls, they decided they want her to go to have the draw done at her cardiologist’s office on Tuesday, today. So, our Little trip to the Rock was delayed by a day. Hmm. I am beginning to question the doctor and her reasons for wanting different labs to do the blood draws. But I’m not the one talking to the doctor or her nurse. I wish I were, as I’d ask some probing questions.  So, it’s off to Little Rock today. But we don’t know precisely when, yet, because the doctors’ offices have not coordinated with one another or, if they have, they have not communicated a time with my wife. Frustration is afoot.

At least the delay gave us the opportunity to go vote early by a day. And so we did. The only races for which my vote may actually count are the local races for judges and the like. And I have no idea which ones, if any, have significant grass roots support.  I did some research to learn what I could about the philosophies and track records of the candidates, but did not learn a great deal about any of them. However, I learned enough to decide who would get my vote. I would be willing to bet the level of voter participation in the local races is extremely low; I guess I’ll learn whether I’m right as we see the results in the coming days.

***

I think I am in the mood to write something less mundane than what I’ve written thus far. Rather than add to this post, though, I think I’ll write another one.

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Another Little Trip to the Rock

Here I am on the edge of a dull, dreary, overcast day, readying myself for yet another trip to Little Rock. This trip’s sole purpose is to visit a lab for a blood draw, ordered by my wife’s primary care doctor. Our visit on Friday yielded results that convinced  the doctor that the draws a day or two earlier, taken by a much more convenient lab, were not reliable. So, she wants a more reliable lab to do the draw. And, because that message did not reach us until late Friday afternoon and she wants the draw this morning, we had no time to explore other options. So, off to Little Rock we go.

We will use the occasion to do other things while we’re in the big city, though. We’ll go to Sam’s and Ali Baba, and, maybe, Trader Joe’s. Perhaps we’ll stop by Colonial Liquor to buy an on-sale bottle of Bombay Sapphire East gin. We’ll have lunch somewhere along the line and will, no doubt, do some other errands. It will be a productive day, albeit one whose character was not planned to play out this way until late last Friday. You go with the flow or roll with the punches or ride with the stride or glide with the ride or whatever.

I suggested we stop on the way back at one of the fitness/therapy centers nearby to inquire about engaging a therapist to help my wife improve her strength. She agreed, somewhat to my surprise.

***

I learned last night that my sister-in-law’s brother died last Friday, after a years-long bedridden nightmare. Though it was not unexpected, his death was a painful shock to her. Aging brings on changes and adjustments and pain that all the wisdom and experience in the world does not prepare us to handle.

***

I return to the dreary day outside my window and I think Mother Nature is in a melancholy mood. There’s not a breath of a breeze in the air. The remaining dead leaves on the trees hang motionless, as if paralyzed and comatose. The view outside my window seems two-dimensional, as if I were looking at a painting on a flat piece of polished wood. It’s a good thing I filled up the car with gas yesterday (or the day before?); our trip through the emptiness requires it.

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Surprise Memories

Years ago, when I was executive director of an association then called the International Association of Auditorium Managers (now International Association of Venue Managers), I had an awful experience. We were in the midst of our annual conference when an emergency telephone call came in to me at the conference office. The caller told me she was trying to reach one of our conference registrants, a concert promoter. She explained that his house had burned to the ground. His wife had escaped the fire but, when she could not find her children outside, she rushed back in to find them. She died in the fire. The children had, in fact, gotten out safely before their mother went back in. “He needs to come home right away.”

I don’t remember precisely the requests the caller made, but I remember the upshot was that we should find the man and let him know what happened. She asked that we help him get booked on a return flight home to New York as quickly as possible.

The conference was held somewhere in the western U.S. I don’t remember where we were; I just remember that awful phone call and its aftermath. My staff went out in search of the man whose wife had died in the fire. I got on the phone to the airline the caller said he had flown to the conference.  I remember being terribly frustrated with the airline; the agent was not at all helpful and I think she believed I was lying about the need for an immediate return ticket.

The volunteer president of the association knew the man (I had only met him once or twice) and had offered to break the news to him. I had a private office in the conference suite and had suggested to the volunteer that he use it to speak to the man privately. My staff found the man and brought him to the conference office. The volunteer president and the poor man went into my office. Moments later, I heard the most awful wail. The man’s life had just been shattered.

All the rest of the details surrounding the incident are hazy. I know we got the man checked out of his hotel room and to the airport. Somehow, he got on a flight back to New York that day, in spite of my unsuccessful efforts to convince the airline by telephone to book a flight for him. The remainder of the conference, too, is a blur. I don’t even recall which city we were in, except that it was “out west.”

It’s odd that memories like this one, buried for years, pop up without warning and for no discernible reason. I am sure I’ve thought of that awful experience more than once since it happened, but I’ve had the good fortune that it has remained dormant for most of the years since it happened (probably in 1993).

I recall the experience as “awful.” I can only imagine what the experience was like for the concert promoter. While my memory of the events surrounding the experience are a bit muddy, I would guess his memories remain excruciatingly clear; etched in his mind like the words on a granite tombstone. Why would this memory suddenly pop up more than twenty-five years after the fact, with no precipitating event or related memory? I do not have the faintest idea.

This surprise recollection served to trigger a flood of other memories surrounding the period of my life when I worked for that association. I look back on that time as one when I had some very good times, traveled to some interesting and exciting places, and learned a lot about people. One of the things I learned during and immediately after that time is that, regardless of the position one holds, an employee is an easily forgotten and entirely expendable commodity. I spent close to eight years in that job. When my contract was not renewed and I was asked to move on, it was as if my contributions to the association were expunged from the record, along with any memories of me the institution might have built. The institutional memory of John Swinburn was incinerated upon my departure and the accomplishments I made were ascribed to the volunteers with whom I worked, rather than to me and to my staff. God, I thought that bitterness was long gone. Apparently not.

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Perils of Finding Solace in Food

When my concerns are too personal and too emotional to share with those closest to me—even with myself—I tend to turn my thoughts to food. It’s no mistake that the word “comfort” is so often associated with food. Whether a recipe delivers what one considers “comfort food” or yields a delightfully spicy concoction that forces a person’s attention on his taste buds, food gives comfort. It offers at least temporary respite from unsettling matters that nag and worry and cause distress. Food is, indeed, a comfort.

This morning, as I consider foods that might distract me from troubling matters, I recall a conversation I had with my wife about a simple meal that, in my mind, defines comfort food. The ingredients, if I remember it correctly, consist of only a can of salmon, some flour, a little milk, and perhaps some salt. The flour and milk are mixed thoroughly in a pan and the salmon is added after the milk and flour form a moderately thick gravy. A little salt and the deal is done. The salmon is served over hot white rice. I top my serving with a generous sprinkling of white pepper and some Tabasco sauce. Either peas or green beans on the side and the meal is done. That meal soothes me when I’ve had a hard day.

Some other comfort foods, more involved than creamed salmon, include gumbo, jambalaya, Mexican rice, and pork congee. It occurs to me that every one of those includes rice. That realization causes me to wonder whether rice is a necessary ingredient of comfort food.

I inquired of Mother Google. She responded with some rather odd suggestions about comfort foods. One that I found particularly strange (though it might well be wonderful) was this: Rosemary Chicken Thighs with Roasted Grapes and Shallots, served over Whipped Ginger Sweet Potatoes. While the dish might well be tasty, in my view it does not fit the bill for comfort food. So I continued looking. Many of the recipes that, after consideration, I would add to a list of legitimate comfort foods, did include rice. Others included potatoes. And for others, an essential ingredient was some sort of pasta. I decided some form of starch is a required for me to consider a recipe a comfort food recipe.

Other people, though, seem to be perfectly happy labeling such things as fried chicken, buffalo wings, shakshuka, and banana pancake casseroles as comfort foods. I suppose everyone has a definition; some don’t coincide with mine. But I was happy to find many, many that include rice, offering me a bit of affirmation for my initial definition of what fits.

The downside of comfort foods, as I define them, is that they do not fit within the confines of a South Beach diet or, for the most part, with a Mediterranean lifestyle diet. That being the case, I would need to avoid stumbling into emotional valleys while on one of those diets. That’s easier said than done, of course, because circumstances know no dietary boundaries.  One must not be rigid with oneself; if circumstances call with a loud enough voice for comfort food, the diet should step aside briefly to allow one to tend to one’s emotional and gustatory needs.

An unfortunate fact of life is that using food (or alcohol or drugs or…) for comfort is tantamount to slow-motion suicide. An occasional foray into overeating or over-imbibing is not the same as habitual mistreatment of one’s body, but the linkage between deadening of pain and overindulging is unmistakable. It’s as if our minds and bodies are urged to behave responsibly, but then are tempted by desire to self-destruct. Our desire for comfort food is a recipe for self-medication. Another bad pun at a bad time. Life is strange.

There are perils in finding solace in food, just as there are perils in finding solace in alcohol or drugs. It’s all a matter of moderation. But sometimes moderation stands in the way of solace; solace requires ignoring the perils. At that point, one must ask whether solace is worth the peril. Or, to use my favorite inquisitive aphorism: Is the game worth the candle? That question applies to life itself. And, depending on the answer, the balance between solace and peril comes down on one side or the other.

And so ends another stream-of-consciousness examination of what’s on my mind this morning.

 

Posted in Emotion, Food, Pain, Philosophy | Leave a comment

Here and Now

Time and distance no longer matter when the only moment is now and the only place is here. Memories lose their grip on the soul at that juncture. All existence takes place in the present; neither the past nor the future intrude during that precious point at which the here and now is the only reality. The past and the future exist, but only through the enlightened lens of the present.

Yet one must travel along a road that exists only in the imagination to get to that place. One must struggle through thickets of doubt. One must surmount walls of confusion, which block the way, or find a way to bypass them or knock them down. The countless obstacles to reaching that tranquil haven collude to spoil the journey.

Perhaps that is why only a few among us reach that place. Those who do seem serene and at peace, even though chaos surrounds them, as it does all of us. They call to the rest of us to join them, but most hear in their invitations only the cries of the deranged, the howls of the lunatic.

That inviting place is not a mystical sanctuary visible only to the chosen few. But we allow ourselves to believe it is an oasis reserved for the magically enlightened. Rather, it exists in an attitude reserved for the driven, the determined; those strong-willed people who dedicate themselves to understanding how to extract every speck of joy and wisdom from every experience.

Would that I were among those who deploy such determination to achieve that perspective. The objective is never impossible to reach; it just takes single-minded commitment. That can emerge at any time. Or it can rest, undisturbed, forever.

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Preppers and COVID-19

Preppers, or survivalists, prepare for a broad spectrum of emergencies: disruptions in the food supply, civil unrest, tainting of the supply of potable water, cataclysmic weather events…and on and on. Lately, talk of the novel (new) coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been high on the list of topics. The virus that causes the disease is called “SARS-CoV-2.” While all the other prospective emergencies exist, though perhaps somewhat unlikely in most circumstances, COVID-19 appears to be far from a remote possibility. It seems to be spreading like wildfire. I think it might behoove us to become preppers, at least for the short term.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) anticipates that the spread of COVID-19 will eventually (and probably soon) become a pandemic. The results of a pandemic affecting the U.S. population suggests the following may happen (and I quote a page from the CDC website):

Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Health care providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Non-pharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.

Among the approaches the CDC recommends to address the spread of COVID-19 and to protect individuals against the possibility of contracting the disease are:

  • getting a flu vaccine;
  • taking everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs;
  • taking flu antivirals if prescribed;
  • getting OUT of the habit of touching one’s hands to the face;
  • frequently and thoroughly washing one’s hands;
  • staying home if exposed to a family or household member who is sick;
  • covering the nose and mouth with a mask or cloth if one is sick or is around sick people or at mass gatherings where the pandemic is already occurring; and
  • increasing distance between individuals in social settings.

In addition, with the idea of “prepping” in mind, I have read that supplies of prescription medications may be impacted in the event of a pandemic. To combat that potentiality, some recommend stockpiling, to the extent possible, prescription medications, especially those that may be required for survival, such as diabetes medications, blood thinners, etc.

Recommendations to avoid social settings likely would come in the event of a true, localized, pandemic. So, for example, people would be advised to stay home and not go out for groceries, dining, meeting with friends, attend school, etc., etc. That possibility suggests it would behoove us all to stockpile: foods that store well for the long-term and significant stores of fresh water.

Heretofore, I have considered preppers to be dwellers on the fringes of sanity; people absorbed by the idea that monstrous things might occur at any moment that could disrupt society. Since watching news that the streets of Wuhan, China, a city of more than 11 million people, looks like a ghost town because almost no one ventures outdoors is enough to convince me that we need to take COVID-19 seriously. To date, more than 2,800 people have died from the disease and almost 83,000 cases have been reported.

Even with all the data flooding our news feeds and circulating in conversation, I have seen little evidence at the local level, including in my own house, of taking the situation seriously enough to begin taking actions toward preparedness. I hope we—all of us—don’t wait until it’s simply too late to begin preparing. More than that, I hope the CDC’s fears that we’re about to experience an awful pandemic in the U.S. are proven unfounded. Let’s hope a vaccine is miraculously discovered that addresses COVID-19. In the meantime, though, let’s pay attention to and learn from the preppers.

Posted in Covid-19, Health | 3 Comments

Video-Fest

I spent the better part of three hours this morning watching short (i.e., under 6 minute) TED Talk videos. The purpose of my viewing-spree was to find videos I can use to support facilitating a conversation about how seemingly mundane and unimportant aspects of our life experiences can sometimes be enormously impactful.

During my search, I found several videos that will serve the purpose; I selected two for the conversation, which will take place next Sunday. A number of videos I won’t use on Sunday were fascinating, as well. For example, I found one that explained why pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. And other one about a pacifist who became a spy for the Allied forces in World War II and who, ultimately, was captured and executed by her captors. Another one showed a Palestinian-born poet reciting some extremely moving poetry. In another video, an African American astronomer/classically trained actor discussed how we might find life on other planets. Frida Kahlo was the subject of another video.

I think I could spend most of my waking hours watching TED Talks. While some of them are disappointing, most have enough interesting content and/or are presented well enough that they merit watching at least once. When watching the short talks, it occurred to me that it might be fun to organize a viewing party. I would select a series of short videos, ten minutes or less that, collectively, would total no more than two hours in length. The party-goers would gather in a comfortable setting, complete with drinks and munchies, to watch them. Between each video, participants would be given five minutes to write their impressions, comments, questions, etc. After the last video has been shown and comments about it written, participants would be asked to share their comments (if they wish) and the group would discuss what they thought about the videos. I may be the only person who would find such an event interesting, but I suspect not. It would mimic certain aspects of a short-film festival; a little like the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, but with all very short videos. I may pursue the idea one day. Maybe. But probably not. Because I don’t know enough people who would have an interest. Oh, well.

For my own reference, links to the ones I mentioned above are shown below:

Why Pasta Comes in All Shapes and Sizes: https://www.ted.com/talks/paola_antonelli_why_pasta_comes_in_all_shapes_and_sizes?language=en&referrer=playlist-small_thing_big_idea_season_2#t-203182

From Pacifist to Spy: https://www.ted.com/talks/shrabani_basu_from_pacifist_to_spy_wwii_s_surprising_secret_agent#t-252375

Poems of War, Peace, Women, Power: (5:46) https://www.ted.com/talks/suheir_hammad_poems_of_war_peace_women_power#t-333755

Contradictions (How We’ll Find Life on Other Planets): (5:26) https://www.ted.com/talks/aomawa_shields_how_we_ll_find_life_on_other_planets

Frida Kahlo: The Woman Behind the Legend: (3:55) https://www.ted.com/talks/iseult_gillespie_frida_kahlo_the_woman_behind_the_legend#t-234625

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Not Everything, But Something

Yesterday afternoon, I met with a woman to discuss a church-managed program that provides a technological resource to impoverished kids. The kind of resource isn’t important to this post. What is important is what I learned from the conversation. The quotes, below, I attribute to the woman are not exact; they reflect my memories of our conversation.

Listening to the woman talk about the program she manages, the participants in which receive benefits of the church program, I was reminded that, often, people in poverty have grown up in environments in which “middle class values” are not modeled, nor taught. The concept, for example, of being on-time to a job interview or calling in sick when one skips work because of real sickness, is foreign to them because those behaviors were never modeled. Instead, these people might have been used to getting to school late because their mothers’ cars ran out of gas on the way to school and there was no money to buy more fuel. They were used to their fathers staying home sick and not calling their employers because their phone service had been cut off for lack of payment.

This woman told stories of people trying their best to stay employed but being let go because they couldn’t find a way to get to work. For example, a young woman who got a menial job on a late shift was fired because she did not have a car and public transportation stopped running hours before she needed to depart for work. Everywhere these folks turn, they run into overwhelming obstacles they have no idea how to overcome. They grew up in an environment of hopelessness and they are used to it. They don’t understand the expectations of a “middle class” world; their only experience with expectations is with expectations that they don’t have what it takes to lift themselves out of poverty.

“People see someone panhandling and they say, ‘Just get a job,’ but they don’t realize it’s not that easy. They may not have a telephone or transportation or they may be homeless and don’t have a place to shower and get ready for work. Things you and I take for granted aren’t available to them.”

She went on to say many of her program’s clients have no internet, no computers, nor computer skills; “Yet many jobs today require you to complete an application online before having a chance to be called in for an interview, even jobs in fast-food restaurants and entry-level retail. They are shut out of opportunity from the start.”

She told me many of the people she works with have never seen a household budget. They may never have had a bank account. They may have been taught that putting money in a bank is just a way for the bank to take away some of the money with overdraft fees. Things we assume “everybody knows” are alien to them because they live in a culture of poverty.

The intent of yesterday’s conversation with the woman was to gather information for an article I am writing. I gathered the information I sought, but the outcome was a little different than I expected in that I found myself drawn to the program in which she is involved. She invited me to attend a “graduation” ceremony for participants in her program, which will be held later this week. It will take place in a county detention facility, where some of the program participants currently reside. The participants in the program (both community-based and detention-center-based) must apply to participate. They must commit to attending a three-hour class every week for fourteen weeks.

“The program teaches them what middle-class society expects and how to meet those expectations to survive and thrive. But the program gives them more than life-skills. It gives them hope, something they may never have had before.”

I don’t know whether I’ll attend the graduation ceremony or not. I haven’t decided. It takes place at the same time another event to which I tentatively committed is taking place. And, at the same time another activity is scheduled, one involving political activism. I don’t know where my participation would be of most value. Nor do I know whether my participation will be of any value, regardless of where I might choose to participate. There are so many things that need to change in this world and I feel helpless to influence them. But, as I’m often reminded, “you can’t do everything, but you can do something.” I need to decide to do something. But what?

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A Swarm of Misconceptions?

Gazing out across open water to the horizon, where the sun is setting, the idea that there is a place where the Earth touches the sky is easy to accept. It’s right there in plain view. A crisp, clear line where water ends and sky begins. But we know better. That intersection between the edge of the ocean and the beginning of the firmament is not a definitive point of separation. Instead, it is a vague entanglement between dimensions. So, too, is every certainty in every circumstance.

Absolutes are imaginary. That is true of everything from flavors to colors to facts to love to pain to truth. Even truth. Truth is contextual. And facts. That horrid woman, Kellyanne Conway, was right. Alternative facts do exist, but not in the way she suggested. Her assertion equated alternative facts with bald-faced lied. Despite her claim, alternative facts are not lies corruptly presented as truth by unscrupulous liars. They are reality viewed from a different angle, unsullied by lies or deception. Consider how an ant appears to the unassisted human eye compared to a view of the same ant with an electron microscope; same creature, vastly different appearances. Both are real. A detailed written description of each image might be absolutely representative of reality, but vastly different.

What is the meaning of this, if there is any meaning? Only a reminder that perspective colors reality. And reality is illusory. We know nothing. We think we know, but our knowledge amounts to only an interpretation of what we perceive. And our perceptions may differ, depending on context. That is one reason politics is so messy and confusing. Another reason is that politics is laced with lies built not on perception but on greed and the hunger for power. But that’s going a little off-course. Not much, but a little.

***

My hand hasn’t fully healed, but it feels much better than it did a couple of days ago. I’m afraid, though, that the recovery is apt to be temporary; I hope my fear is simply an overly pessimistic perspective.

***

Until this morning, when I looked out my window to see rather large number of squirrels darting up and down trees and speeding across the forest floor, I had never considered the collective noun for squirrels. According to livescience.com, the proper phrase to describe the group is a scurry or a dray. Based on this morning’s whirlwind of the beasts almost covering the ground, I call the group around my house a swarm. Let’s see, which sounds more pleasing to the ear:

  • A scurry of squirrels
  • A dray of squirrels
  • A swarm of squirrels

I believe mine wins; it is a fur piece ahead of the competition. The groan I just heard was in my own head, a groan reserved for especially bad puns.

 

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Hand Injury in a Writing Accident

I am trying my hand at dictating the post this morning because my right hand is in absolute agony when I move it in certain ways. And sometimes when I don’t.

My guess is that it is carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by excessive keyboard time; my writing is injuring my health. I may be wrong. I don’t know what else it could be.  I guess I’ll give it a few days and if it doesn’t subside of its own accord, I will go see a doctor.

Last night we went for dinner at the Beehive. We had their special Polish meal, a Polish Hunters’ Stew. Subsequently I learned it is called bigos in Polish.  During the dinner, we had a conversation about pronunciation. Polish is pronounced either polish or Polish but you can’t tell which except by context.

This business with my hand is crimping my style and interfering with my quality of life. There was a time when I felt very comfortable dictating, but it has been many, many years. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy trying to dictate a post. So I’m giving up and letting this be a record of my failed attempt.

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A Diverse Dreamworld

Achieving cultural diversity is much deeper and more complex than mixing skin colors, languages, and customs. Real diversity is attained by blending every element of different societies, yet maintaining the uniqueness of each component. It consists of embedding an understanding and appreciation of unfamiliar customs and rites and rituals, while maintaining the core virtues of the host society’s character. That’s my take on cultural diversity, for what it’s worth. And I long for more of it.

I want the opportunity to experience the richness of multiple cultures, while holding on to my own. I do not understand attitudes that reject diversity, instead clinging to the idea that the “purity” of one’s own culture can be maintained only by excluding external influences.

Vacation travel offers only a glimpse into other cultures. It is too brief and too superficial to permit the development of real understanding. Understanding other cultures, I think, requires time, patience, and trust—trust of both the visitor and the visited. I have a vision, impossible to achieve, of creating global villages  in close proximity to one another. They would be cultural pockets that maintain their identity, yet would be open to sharing the “secrets” of that identity to visitors. These pockets would resemble the Chinatowns in big cities all over the U.S., but would invite people in to learn about the diverse cultures; integrated into our culture, but maintaining their uniqueness. Cultural diversity, in other words. I can envision Japanese and Chinese and Mexican enclaves. And, for that matter, Black enclaves in which African-American culture is maintained and cultivated, open so others can learn from and about that culture.

The seed for this fantasy was sown this morning while I read about Japan’s shokunin. According to the article on the  BBC website, “the term represents especially devoted craftspeople who may spend their entire lives perfecting their art, making a living out of it and ensuring it passes to the next generation.” The artisans included in a video companion to the article were especially intriguing; they are people who create models of the food items on menus. These people make models of each dish on a menu that can be displayed in a restaurant’s window so passers-by can see what the menu items looks like. The models look absolutely real. The article reports on other shokunin, as well. I would be fascinated to delve into that (and other) aspect of Japanese culture by spending time, on a regular, frequent basis in my imagined Japanese cultural pocket.  Of course, I might have a bit of a tough time understanding the language, but in my make-believe world, the Japanese people who I meet will be happy to struggle with English as I struggle with Japanese.

Of course, such pockets of diversity should, in my dream world, exist in other countries and inside cultural enclaves in our own culture. If only people around the world could be enticed to appreciate and be excited about the richness of cultures outside their own, perhaps the world would be a more peaceful and less stressful place. If only. But that fantasy is just that: a dream, an illusion, a reverie. Why can it not be reality? I think the answer is that people tend to view experiences outside their own culture as threats, something to fear. I know I’ve felt that on occasion; when I’ve encountered something I did not know, and did not understand, I became uneasy and frightened of…something. But, after getting through the initial apprehension, I became engaged by the novelty of a new experience. And so it should be for everyone. I wish.

Fantasy. It keeps my mind off reality. Lately, I’ve found I prefer fantasy to reality. I prefer the land of make-believe, over on the other side of dream-world. But the real world has so much to offer. In fact, it is what populates my dream world.

Hmm. Speaking of a dream world. I just pulled up the shades and, to my surprise, the ground outside is covered in snow, as are the trees. And I see snowflakes falling from the sky. The streets look clear, though. I’ll stop writing and will, instead, stare at the dreamworld outside my window.

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Distortion

Consider how radically different your life would have been if you had been adopted in 1962 by a Chinese peasant couple who traveled to the United States from their rural home outside the tiny village of Zhongxin in . Instead of the privileged upbringing you experienced in the United States, you would have grown up amid rice paddies, buffaloes, and mud-brick homes. Your education would have instilled in you an utterly different world view than the one you hold now. Your native language would be Southwestern Mandarin.

Unlike the childhood experiences you remember now—those happy times riding your new bicycle and playing with your new toys or video games, for example—your memories would reflect a happiness that did not rely so heavily on access to material wealth. “Oh, but we were not wealthy, not in the least,” you might say. Compared to the life you would have lived in that mud hut outside Zhongxin, you were incomprehensibly wealthy. If you think honestly back to your childhood here in the U.S., you will realize just how wealthy your family was. You had indoor plumbing for most, if not all, of your early years. Your kitchen stove, which was inside the main part of your house, was powered not by dried dung and wood chips, but by electricity or gas. Your water was delivered through a tap, not from a bucket pulled up from a communal well. You would have had a happy childhood, nonetheless, in the rural China of the early 1960s.

Your happiness in that hut would have derived from relationships between members of your adoptive family and other villagers who supported one another through brutally challenging times. But one brutal challenge, event the friendly faces around you could not overcome, was the bullying you experienced from children in nearby villages. Those children made fun of you because you looked very different from other children. Your skin was strangely pale. Your eyes had an odd, circular shape about them. To those kids, you looked misshapen, deformed; as if you had emerged from the womb of a creature that was, like you, not entirely human. And it wasn’t just the children. Their parents, too, looked at you as if you were an aberration. They turned their gazes away from you as they passed you on the road. They whispered among themselves as they glanced in your direction, quickly averting their eyes when you looked at them.

But you survived. You became a teenager and, later, a young adult. You joined the Communist Party and read the newspapers that reported on the atrocities committed by Western countries. You believed what you read, too, because the papers were published by the government. Westerners, you learned, were materialistic in the extreme. Their natural human qualities, you were taught, were extracted from them as they grew up, replaced by the bitter, poisonous fruits of Western propaganda. Only the Chinese people possessed the most attractive and admirable qualities you should seek to cultivate in yourself.

Ah, but in fact you were not adopted by a Chinese peasant couple. You speak English. You live a nice life. Maybe it’s not overflowing with riches, but it’s more than comfortable. As you think back on your childhood, you remember the bullies; not necessarily kids who bullied you, but they bullied someone. And maybe you were the bully. But that’s all history, right? And as you ponder the differences between that life you might have had and the one you have lived thus far, you know you were taught only the truth; no distortions or lies found their way into your education. Right? And government propaganda never put Asians or other “foreigners” in a negative light, right?

Truth. What is true and what is not? Is propaganda a malicious distortion of facts or is it the intentional misrepresentation of falsehoods as truth? Just as I wonder who I am, beneath my veneer, I wonder what other societies are like under the paint we, and they, use to cover their blemishes. And what about our own society? Are the history books even remotely correct? How much did they leave out? We know they left out a lot. They neglected to mention the 1921 massacre and destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street or, if they did mention it, they called it the Tulsa Race Riots. How much more is there we don’t know because it was intentionally withheld from us? How much do we “know” that is untrue? Yes, I’m wandering off course again. I do that. But if I don’t write it down, it might escape my brain, never to be captured again. And that stuff in my head; it needs to be captured before it does any more harm.

 

 

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