The Mouthfeel of Meat

The problem is not the flavor. The problem is the texture. I am confident I can achieve the flavor with relative ease. What I cannot imagine being able to do is replicate the texture to a sufficient degree to enable me to turn my vision into reality. I’m thinking, of course, of vindaloo tamales. I’m satisfied I can achieve the right texture if I use lamb or beef or chicken, but a vegetarian version of vindaloo tamales seems out of reach. Not that I’ve tried. I haven’t made vindaloo tamales of any sort. But I think I could if I tried. As long as I use meat. But the thing is, if I want to make a vegetarian version, I need a vegetable base that retains its “tooth.” I’m not sure that’s the word I want, but it will have to do in the absence of anything better. What I’m trying to describe is the resistance to one’s bite; the “mouthfeel of meat,” if you get what I mean. But with vegetables.

I may forego the vegetarian version. Lamb vindaloo tamales sound perfectly fine. Even more than perfectly fine. Beef, not so much. Chicken, even less. But lamb. Oh. Yes. Indeed. So, what I’m aiming for, then, is lamb vindaloo tamales and, if the universe were a cooperative, helpful place, vegetarian vindaloo tamales with the “mouthfeel of meat.” So, when will this undertaking occur? That’s hard to say. I need a cooperative wife or other cooperative partner; a nice girlfriend would do, I suppose, but that might create some friction with a certain wife. Regardless of the identity of the cooperative partner, I also need some lamb. And, if vegetables are to figure into this equation, one or more cooperative vegetables that will deliver the (always use quotation marks) “mouthfeel of eat.”

Here is a recipe I might try (I haven’t yet):

Lamb Vindaloo Tamales

Ingredients
• 3 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into roughly 2-in chunks (veggie alternatives???)
• 4 oz red wine vinegar
• 2 tbsp sunflower oil
• 2 tsp sea salt flakes
• 1lb potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces

For the sauce
• 4 oz sunflower oil
• 4 onions, 3 finely sliced and 1 chopped
• 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
• 3 jalapeño or hot Asian red chile (do not deseed), roughly chopped
• 1oz fresh root ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
• 1 tbsp English mustard powder
• 1 tbsp ground cumin
• 1 tbsp ground coriander
• 1 tbsp ground paprika
• 2 tsp ground turmeric
• 2 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp sea salt flakes
• 2 bay leaves

Preparation method

  1. Trim the lamb, discarding any really hard lumps of fat and sinew. Mix the vinegar, vegetable oil and salt in bowl until well combined. Add the lamb and turn to coat in the marinade. Cover and chill in the fridge for two hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350.
  3. For the sauce, heat three tablespoons of the sunflower oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook the sliced onions very gently over a medium-low heat for 15 minutes until softened and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  4. While the sliced onions are cooking, put the remaining chopped onion, garlic, chiles, ginger, mustard powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, tumeric, cayenne pepper and cinnamon in a food processor and blend to a purée.
  5. Stir the purée into the fried onions. Add two tablespoons of oil and cook together for five minutes, or until thickened and beginning to color. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into a casserole dish.
  6. Drain the lamb in a colander and reserve the marinade. Return the frying pan to the heat and add two tablespoons of the remaining oil. Fry the lamb in four or five batches over a medium-high heat, turning occasionally until lightly browned. Add a little extra oil if necessary. Add the lamb to the casserole.
  7. Pour the reserved marinade and 2- 1/4 cup water into the casserole dish. Add the salt and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Cover the surface of the curry with a piece of greaseproof paper (parchment), then cover with a lid. Cook in the oven for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove the casserole from the oven and stir the potato chunks into the curry, re-cover with the greaseproof paper and the lid and continue to cook for a further hour or until the lamb and potatoes are very tender. The consistency of the vindaloo matters with tamales; cook until much of the liquid has dissipated and the meat and potato mix is quite thick. Season, to taste, with salt.
  9. Prepare masa using the traditional means.
  10. FILL, FOLD AND STEAM THE TAMALES Select 30 of the largest husks without tears or large holes. Arrange 1 husk on a work surface with the narrow end pointing away from you. On the wide end, spread 3 tablespoons of the Tamale Dough in a 5-by-3-inch rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch border of husk at the bottom. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the cooled vindaloo filling in the center of the Tamale Dough. Fold in the long sides of the husk, overlapping them to enclose the filling. Fold the narrow end toward you, over the tamale; it will be open at the wide end. Stand the tamale, open end up, in a very large steamer insert. Repeat with the remaining corn husks, Tamale Dough and filling.
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Shrapnel

The confetti from the explosion filled his chest. There was still room for his lungs and his heart and his liver and so forth, but the formerly roomy spaces were clogged with shrapnel. The wounds in his flesh healed over the pieces of twisted steel and bent aluminum and chipped pieces of ceramic. Scar tissue grew to surround the sharp edges of jagged nails and deformed ball-bearings, saving him from opening old wounds or creating new ones when he walked. All in all, he was lucky to be alive and able to get around on his own. But it wasn’t easy. He was in constant pain, though he had gotten used to it during the sixteen months since the bombing. But his anger had not subsided. Not even a little. He wanted nothing more than to find the bastard who detonated that bomb and rip the man’s face from his demented head. Assuming it was a man. And he did. He didn’t think a woman could have done such a monstrous thing. Sixty-one children died in the blast. In his mind, no woman could have killed so many children. It was unthinkable.

Pelvin Cartermore had been a Marine in his younger years. After his six years of service, he finished his bachelor’s degree and found work as a technical writer for an automobile glass manufacturing company outside Detroit. He worked for Pane Autoglass for nineteen years. Then, at age forty-nine, he was let go as part of a downsizing. Shortly thereafter, Pane Autoglass declared bankruptcy. Pelvin’s pension, which would have kept him comfortable in retirement, turned to vapor. His age and the economy conspired to keep him unemployed while his life’s savings dwindled to nothing. His house was repossessed by the mortgage company and, six months later, he was evicted for nonpayment of rent from the apartment he leased after losing the house. Fortunately for him, his 2002 Honda Civic was paid for, so he had a place to sleep at night.

And then came the bombing. The attack, obviously, was aimed at the family planning clinic on the building’s third floor. The daycare centers’ charges on the first floor—children cared for by five co-ops operated by young mothers who just wanted a safe place for their toddlers to learn and grow—were simply collateral damage. So was Pelvin Cartermore. And so were sixteen other people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time that rainy, cold January day in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The utter chaos of that awful morning was never far from Pelvin’s mind. Cold, grey, rain swept skies often triggered his memories of the event. It was as if a switch was tripped when he drew the blinds on a dull winter day. Instantly, he relived the experience.

“Dr. Davis,” Pelvin said, “will this prevent her from having children?” He was referring to Melanie’s, his friend’s, diagnosis of endometriosis.

“That depends on a number of factors, but in Melanie’s case, it’s not likely, especially if she gets pregnant in the relative near-term. But, Melanie,” Dr. Davis said as she turned toward Melanie Grant, addressing her patient directly, “you’ll have to make some decis…..”

That’s when Pelvin’s world exploded into a monstrous whirlwind of chaos, destruction, pain, blood, dust, shattered glass, and death.  Melanie Grant and Dr. Lisa Davis died instantly. Pelvin Cartermore’s chest absorbed pieces of shrapnel. Surgeons later said they could not be removed without risking his life. Somehow, Pelvin remained conscious during the explosion and its aftermath. He remembered being dug out of the rubble a hour after the blast. He recalled being carried on a makeshift stretcher over blood-soaked pieces of broken sheetrock and bent metal wall studs. He could picture every detail in his mind, even though the event had taken place sixteen months earlier. Now, though, he was well enough to do more than reminisce about the most horrible day of his life. Now, he was prepared to do what the FBI and police and state agencies had been unable to do; he was ready to identify and find the bastard who had killed those children and his friend and her doctor and all the rest. He wanted justice for those people. And he would stop at nothing to get it.

***

Melanie Grant was Pelvin’s friend, but not his girlfriend. She was a young woman Pelvin met one day when he went running on Mt. Sequoyah Woods Trail. Mt. Sequoyah was a hiking trail, but Pelvin went there to run. Most mornings, after he awoke, he drove his old Civic to a trail head early in the morning and went for a run. Running was painful for Pelvin, but somehow cathartic, as well. Early one morning, he came upon Melanie Grant, sitting on a bench near the trail head. She rested her chin on her clasped hands. Even from a distance, he could see that her eyes were red and puffy.

“Good morning. You’re out early,” Pelvin called to her from a distance as he approached. He did not want to startle her by getting too close before he made his presence known.

Melanie’s reaction seemed odd to Pelvin. She didn’t jerk her head in his direction, the way one would expect of someone surprised by the presence of a stranger. She slowly turned her head in his direction and, just as slowly, raised her head so she could look in his direction.

“Yeah. It’s pretty early.”

“Are you all right?” Pelvin felt odd asking the question of someone whose face he had seen only for a few seconds, but he sensed that she wasn’t all right and might need some help.

“Fine. Just meditating.”

“Oh, okay. Do you mind if I stop here for a minute?”

“Nothing to stop you.”

—————

[This seems to be going nowhere. Stilted conversation; not even remotely real. I’m not sure it ever had a place to go. Just another vignette out of the ether. But maybe I can use it some day.]

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Four in the Morning Thought Bubbles

Six-plus hours of fitful sleep is better than none. A dull, throbbing headache is better than intense, almost excruciating pain. So, my life experience has improved since I went to bed early, around 9:15 p.m. But it’s not up to my usual standards. It’s not the experience I hope for every day. Given the improvement, though, I should not complain. And I’ll try not to. But it would be nice for the headache to completely disappear. And it would be nice to be able to fall into a peaceful, restful, restorative sleep. Yeah. That may take some time.

First, I have to unwind. I don’t know how I got so wound up at this ungodly hour. I assume the dream I was having when I awoke to intense leg cramps may have had something to do with it. I was following someone who was supposed to be showing me the ropes in a new job when I got separated from him. We were in a dirty, greasy, crowded train station. Finally, a guy who we were supposed to meet found me; I don’t know how he recognized me, but he did. I don’t remember many other details, but I do remember that he called the corporate overlords of the railway system by an odd moniker: “The Dictatorship of the Prairies.” And I remember thinking his words suggested the railroad brass was a mafia-like cabal that controlled the Midwest with an iron fist, thanks to their control of the transportation system.

Seriously, this headache is maddening. I’m thankful it has dulled considerably, but it is sufficiently intrusive that I doubt I’ll be able to go back to sleep, whether I try to sleep in the recliner or go back to bed. Going back to bed probably wouldn’t be a wise choice, inasmuch as snoring would be apt to keep me awake. Not my snoring. And the chair, well, it’s not really suited to the kind of full-on sleep I want and need. But it may be better than a sharp stick in the eye. Provided, of course, the leg cramps don’t return with a vengeance. Ach. I am not especially appreciative of my body’s obvious decay.

***

Yesterday’s visit with the oncologist was mostly routine. But she prescribed an inhaler that she thought might help with my more-than-occasional wheezing. My insurance company denied coverage and my cost without insurance would have been just over $90. So I asked my doctor to try something else. She prescribed a different inhaler. My insurance company approved it; my part of the cost would be $458. Yet another reason for nationalizing pharmaceutical companies and replacing insurance companies with single-payer coverage for everyone. I may go buy the $90 inhaler. Or I may just say “screw it” and wait until my next appointment with the pulmonology nurse and/or the outcome of the pulmonary function test.

***

My “plate party” in Dallas/Addison has shifted to a later weekend in April, assuming the Flying Saucer approves. When I first commenced the silliness that funds a lifestyle of wealth and glamour for the bar’s owner, I expected to have my plate in a matter of months. It has been, I think, about eight years, instead. I’m a slow drinker, I guess. So far, I’ve only invited six people; five have accepted, including my drinking mentor who has since moved far, far away from Dallas. He’s planning to return to celebrate and take responsibility for my slow-motion rise to fame. It’s strange that I have so few friends in and around Dallas to invite to my little party.  I lived in the DFW area from 1989 to 2014; one would have thought I would have made more connections in that time. But I’m truly grateful my friend is flying back in for the occasion. Maybe I should invite other out-of-towners to go to to Dallas for the party? Ah, but I’m afraid I might be disappointed when I find others don’t find my celebration of drinking two hundred different beers a sufficient reason to make the trip. Who knew I would find getting a plate on the ceiling of The Flying Saucer an appealing objective in my post-middle-age years?

***

This evening, we’re having a pizza-fest. My wife conceived of the idea during a recent World of Wines dinner. She was speaking with the people who share our table at each of those events when someone mentioned pizza. The conversation then turned to which pizza places locally have the best pizza. That conversation morphed into tentative ideas for a pizza taste-test. And those ideas solidified into plans for this evening. My wife and I will go out this afternoon and pick up pizzas, one each from SQZBX, Grateful Head, and Deluca’s Pizzeria (generally agreed to be among the best pizzas in our area, though several participants have not had pizza from these places). As we near our house after getting the pizzas, she will send text messages to the others to meet us at our house. There will be seven of us present; an eighth, the ill house-bound brother of one participant, will receive his share when his sister takes it to him later. We’ll all have our own drinks; I’m confident wine will be included in the mix. It should be fun. Provided my headache has abated by then. If not, I may slink away from the crowd and demur. I’m not beyond eating alone.

***

It’s already past 4:30. I should have been trying to sleep instead of trying to write. It’s too late to start now, I guess. Time to make a cup of coffee and face the day.

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Luck is a Happy Delusion

Many of the most impactful events of our lives are governed by happenstance. They are just accidents of time and circumstance that intersect at malleable moments. People with whom we become lifelong friends or lifelong enemies; our spouses; careers we follow; jobs offered to us; layoffs that turn our lives upside down—they are simply accidents that subsequently govern our lives. If the time or location or people involved had been just slightly different, almost every aspect of our lives might have contrasted radically with “the way it turned out.”

Some people attribute their lives to divine guidance. Others claim desire and unyielding willpower are responsible for their “fate.” Still others suggest bumbling accidents bore fruit, which became the course of our lives. I am with the latter group. Except for bumbling and stumbling in whatever direction we took, we might have bumbled and stumbled in an entirely different direction.

Had I not decided to join my work colleagues after work for drinks at The Jolly Fox in Huntsville, Texas in 1976 (or was it 1977?), I might not have married the woman who is now my wife. (No, I didn’t meet her there; but that’s where I “discovered” her—it’s a long story.) And if I hadn’t grown close to her after that encounter, I might have accepted one of the job offers I received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or an Education Service Center; neither of those options would have led to the career I ultimately followed. And had I not followed that career, I might not have visited many foreign countries or explored so many U.S. states. And I would not have met and become close to people who have mattered to me. The “what ifs” are stunning in number and scope. If I hadn’t gone to The Jolly Fox that afternoon, for example, I might have retired at age fifty-five from a career in civil service. I might have drifted into conservatism and become deeply disaffected with college-educated liberal weirdos. The world might have been a different place. But it became what it is.

In my case, most of the coincidences in my life led to good fortune and were the stuff of happy accidents. I have been lucky in the extreme. Not “I-won-the-lottery” lucky, but generally “my-quality-of-life-has-been-far-better-than-adequate” lucky. There is no point in pondering “what if” because what if never happened and never will; history is history is history. But I think the realization that much of our good (or bad) fortune arises out of sheer happenstance, coincidence, timing, etc. is worth contemplation. If nothing else, the pure good fortune that befalls us ought to alert us to the reality that pure bad fortune befalls others and could, at any moment, befall us.

People don’t intentionally make bad choices that lead them in unhappy directions. They aren’t poor, uneducated, malnourished, misguided, or under-employed simply as a result of bad genes; being in the wrong place at the wrong time or, just as likely, not being in the right place at the right time, is where the blame must fall. Sheer bad luck. Or sheer good luck.

Luck is an illusion, by the way. Luck suggests an unknown external “force” exerts some form of mystical control over us; either bad or good. Yet our fortunes, good or bad, can’t be attributed entirely (or, in most cases, largely) to our own actions, decisions, efforts, etc. It’s just happenstance. A chance occurrence. A statistical anomaly. A blip on the screen that displays our lives.

For all these reasons, we ought not be so quick to give ourselves credit for our good fortune nor blame for our bad luck. But we should, I think, take it upon ourselves to respond to circumstances with grateful appreciation when our fortunes are good and, when situations are not our friends, with unrelenting resolve and determination to change when we can. This is, of course, easier said than done. Conditions can beat us down quickly and without giving us the opportunity to respond with righteous indignation. That’s when those of us whose fortunes are better should step forward to lend a helping hand. We should always remember we may one day need that same compassionate support.

There’s a difference between feeling an obligation to offer support or compassion and a deep-seated desire to extend those emotional anchors.

I wish I knew how to trigger the desire in every case, rather than force myself to bend to obligation in some cases. But the fact is I sometimes find it hard to force myself to extend an offer of a helping hand, even to people who deserve it. The effort seems to be something of a burden to me. I try to do it, anyway, but I’m very conscious of the fact that recognizing it as a burden puts me in a very bad light; good people don’t have to be made to feel guilty to do good.

Why all this is on my mind this morning is beyond me. It’s just another episode in my ongoing struggle to drag happy thoughts out of ugliness and failing. What the hell? I have ample reason to be ecstatic, yet I cringe at the thought of all my failings. I’m not really such a bad guy. Why do I treat myself as if I were? It’s a mystery, as they say. A deep, dark, dangerous, demonic mystery. The problem, I think, is the absence of sainthood. Where the hell is my halo? And why is it so damned tarnished, as if it were made not of gold but of cheap brass in an atmosphere laden with salt air and acidic vapor?

I’m so lucky to be able to write and dismiss what I’ve written as vile fluff, deserving of a book burning. Except there’s no book. And the furnace is a faux fireplace lit with artificial candles. Ha! I’m at it again. See? Thinking can be fun.

 

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Along the Bloody Spectrum

I am an old infidel. A practicing heathen. A believer in knowledge and a follower of facts. Those truths notwithstanding, I am no longer the active antagonist toward religion I once was.

There was a time I would have called myself an evangelical free thinker or an ardent atheist. But no more. Frankly, I don’t understand why someone else’s reliance on myth to guide their lives should ever have bothered me, except to the extent that they attempted to impose their myths or their prescriptions and prohibitions on me. I’ve reached the point of thinking, with respect to religious belief or lack thereof, people should simply live and let live. If I want to accept the divinity of jalapeño bean dip in my life, I should be left in peace to enjoy my reverie. And I should be gracious enough to do the same for others. The fact is that neither of our views are subject to valid tests; our attitudes about divinity or lack thereof cannot be proven right or wrong, no matter how much we might insist otherwise. Ultimately, it’s simply a matter of best-fit for one’s intellectual and emotional superstructure, coupled with the success or failure of society’s efforts toward indoctrination. We’re products of our interactions with the environment in which we matured.

Now, with that having been said, my philosophy lives in a world that is not necessarily accommodating to its laissez-faire attitude. That is, the pressures of reality infringe on my fantasy of gentle, forgiving tolerance. Because the world does not work the way I might want it to.

People who want or need to live disciplined, highly-structured lives must necessarily accept that the more discipline they require (or acquire), the less freedom will be available to them. And to others, by the way; because others’ freedoms can infringe on my need for order and predictability.

The contrary is true, as well; people who desire high levels of autonomy and self-determination sacrifice the reliability and certainty that structure and discipline might bring to their lives. Their disdain for regimentation has the effect of distancing the protective architecture of structure from those who demand it, creating tension. Both groups of people have to accept the trade-offs that constitute the price of their preferences. They have to, but often they don’t.

And let’s keep wandering down this path of contemplation. An open mind, the sort of field of dreams sought by those who eschew rigidity and structure. sacrifices certainty. Conversely, an insistence on certainty tends to close the door on an open mind.

I think the inevitable conflict is obvious. I wish I knew the solution; a way of tempering the fury of people at the far ends of the spectrum of religious thought. If our teachings would demand tolerance and even acceptance of disparate religious philosophies and beliefs, that education would lead us a long way down the road toward peaceful coexistence. But for some reason, the cult leaders at the far reaches of that spectrum seem to be invested in the idea that humankind’s survival depends entirely on their worldview winning the day.  A strong dose of wisdom might be the cure. But where does one get the prescription? It doesn’t necessarily come with age or experience.

Emotion has ruled me for my entire life, despite my insistence that I rely on knowledge and facts. Emotion flows through my veins in much greater measure than does stoicism. And that, I think, is the problem with humanity. I’m like other people, just more so. We’re all emotional creatures who allow emotions to rule when we would better serve ourselves and our species by repressing emotions. We’d be more successful at achieving peace if we were all stoics. Rather than react with alarm when either our freedoms or our regimentation is threatened, we would be more apt to find joy if we simply adjusted ourselves and our environments to return to a state of happy comfort.

Unfortunately for us all, the spectrum of belief, religious and otherwise, is stained with the blood of people who didn’t need to fight, but thought they did. Many wars have been fought by people who were convinced their way of life was threatened because someone else’s beliefs were different. If it weren’t so tragic, it might be funny.

“They do not eat pork. They must be killed to protect our freedom to eat as we please.”

Seriously, I can imagine a battle between cattle ranchers and vegetarians, each insisting that the “other side” is a danger to humanity. It’s not religion, in that case…well, yes it is. It’s at the very least a stand-in for religion.

All right. I’ve allowed my brain to wander into places it doesn’t belong this morning. I’ve exercised my fingers. Perhaps I should have exorcised them, instead.  If I were smart, I would open a book or write a love letter to the universe after I finish this post. Instead, I think I’ll read the news and make breakfast. Or vice versa. Maybe I’ll forego the news. That’s a better idea. Mushroom congee sounds appetizing. So, off I go.

 

 

Posted in Peace, Philosophy, Religion | Leave a comment

A Course in Catching Fish

My blog has long since become too voluminous for me to be able to determine whether I have already written about any given topic. In all probability, whatever the topic, I have. But my memory of having written about a subject may be a false memory; I may remember only having thought about the matter. With that as a means of introduction, let me record my thoughts on this quote, one of dozens of versions that articulate its sentiments:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

I’m relatively certain I’ve written about this before. Probably quite recently. No matter. I’ll dwell on it again. I’ve found no consensus as to the origin of the quote, nor the concept behind it. The first references to some form of the sentiment seem to be from the latter part of the 1800s, in a novel by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie. But there are plenty of other references to an “ancient Chinese proverb,” “native American sayings,” and other sources. Suffice it to say the idea has legs from a long, long way back.

The reason the quote is on my mind of late is this: I am writing an article on behalf of my church, with the intent that it be submitted for consideration of publication in the parent organization’s quarterly magazine. The article will deal with a computer refurbishing program. Old computers are solicited from various sources and are then rehabilitated by volunteers; new parts, new software (thanks to a licensing agreement with Microsoft), and such are installed and tested. Then, the computers are given to needy children, families, and (lately) seniors. The original idea was to give the computers to kids whose families could not afford them; the kids need computers to keep up with schoolwork and to keep abreast of technology in the twenty-first century. But the program was never intended to be simply a “give away” program. The idea was to enable children to become sufficiently computer-savvy so they could advance their own education and knowledge. By giving the kids the computers, the idea is that the children are being taught to fish.

At least that’s the theme I’m planning to use as the basis of my article. I’m meeting the program’s founding father for dinner this evening and will review with him my thoughts on how I plan to proceed. He’s the one who asked me to write the article, so he’s the one best equipped to tell me whether my approach runs parallel to his thinking. I hope we’re on the same track; I will find out this evening. This man and I have rather different ideas about people and politics. He is quite conservative in many respects, compared to my extremely liberal philosophies. Though I hold him in high regard, I disagree with him on many issues on many levels. Even on matters of humor, he and I differ rather radically. As an example of our differences, he recently sent a “joke” (he distributes jokes and memes on a regular basis) that he obviously thought was funny; it was (in my opinion) a crude and offensive attempt to mock people who are offended by this man’s idea of “political correctness.”

The set-up was this: a series of telegrams between President Truman and Generals Nimitz and MacArthur were exchanged in which MacArthur referred to the Japanese who were preparing to surrender as “yellow-bellied bastards.” Truman cautioned MacArthur to be careful not to be so politically incorrect. MacArthur asked what political correctness means, to which Truman responded:

“Political Correctness is a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end!”

I replied to this man’s joke as follows:

“Perhaps a better term would be common human civility, explained as a doctrine promoted by honorable members of the media and decent people worldwide as a means of showing respect and tolerance, even for those with whom we fundamentally disagree.”

Obviously (at least to me), I found the joke in poor taste and offensive. But it occurs to me that the two of us possess some common sensibilities. We both find value in the computer rehab program. But I wonder how our perspectives on the program might differ? I see it in both practical terms and as illustrative of the sensitivity people have for people who are less fortunate. And I suspect he sees it in the same way. I know that this man is, in many respects, deeply sensitive; I’ve seen him shed tears when describing good people and their good deeds. Yet his appreciation for harsh, mocking, insensitive humor surprises me. It shouldn’t; I am absolutely certain I am equally as harsh, mocking, and insensitive on far too many occasions to be able to hold myself up as the poster boy for decency.

The bottom line for all this early morning thought-fest is that we are very different people who share some significant aspects of our personalities. And that’s probably true of most people, even people who camp at the extreme far ends of philosophical perspectives from one another.  This idea is not new to me; I recognize that people whose attitudes may seem harsh and cruel and utterly uncaring may simply have a different take on circumstances than I. For example, some people view poverty as the natural outgrowth of indolence, while I see it as the natural outgrowth of oppression by the moneyed classes; both of us may want to end poverty, but we have different ideas about how to do it. And in the case of the computer rehab program, I might be more aligned with the “conservative” camp than with the “liberal” camp; I don’t want to simply give people fish, I want them to learn how to set out lines themselves.  There’s a mid-range, of course, which is where I think answers may be found in almost every instance of deep philosophical dispute. Thinkers on both ends of the far fringes are insulated from reality; their (our) philosophies cloud their (our) vision.

If I had more energy and more influence, I might change the world in positive ways. But I lack both. I am not, nor will I ever be, a charismatic leader. That’s too bad; I think I have some pretty damn good ideas from time to time. Yet I’m preparing to write about people doing good work instead of actually doing the good work. There’s a disconnect in this scenario; an emphasis on thinking instead of doing. It’s good to think, provided that’s not the only thing one does.

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It’s Over

You wanted to tell her how much she meant to you, but you waited too late. You waited until she didn’t mean as much. You waited until her faults flooded your brain and drowned your good intentions. You put off the compliments and the accolades and the heartfelt expressions of admiration and appreciation and, ultimately, the pronouncement of love. You delayed so long those flattering phrases no longer applied, leaving only invective and insult in their wake. You erased the gratitude, replacing it with condemnation. You supplanted esteem with contempt.

You had the chance to bestow upon her a gift that might have lasted a lifetime. Instead, you left her with a scar she may not even know she has, one that will never heal; a scab that forever will be picked and left to bleed.

But she could have quelled this tide of malice. She could have told you the truth about where she was when you were to be together. She could have explained why something or someone else was more important than you. Though it might have hurt, it would not have dissolved your trust in her. It would not have erased all those emotions, those soft protections in which you wrapped her, just waiting until your lives could safely intertwine.

Yet it’s done now. It’s over. The pain has become dried clay, its delicacy surpassed only by the fragility of your heart.

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No More Pity

Stir-crazy. That term describes me lately. Even though I get out of the house fairly often, I’m going stir-crazy. I feel the need to break out of the constricting limits of whatever has me in its grip. I don’t know whether that grip is marked by the boundaries of Hot Springs Village or the limits of Arkansas or the contours of the southern part of the country or the borders of the United States. I have the sense I would feel this sense of suffocation regardless of geography. So maybe it’s me. Maybe I need to get out of myself for a while, free from the constraints of my mind and body, and explore the universe. That’s a tall order. One doesn’t vacate one’s mind and body easily; I suspect it takes meticulous planning and copious amounts of confidence, magic, and risk tolerance.

I am experiencing my circumstances only from my jaundiced point of view. I wonder what others would say about me, watching me thrash about like a man drowning in warm wax? First, I doubt people are watching; they have their own lives to live and their own challenges to face. Second, one never knows what’s going on in another’s head; I doubt I’m displaying any overt symptoms of asphyxiation. And I probably don’t see any such signs in others. But I am sure there are those in my circle of acquaintances who feel they are about to go under for the third and final time, clogging their lungs with the denseness of the empty air around them.

Maybe we all live in our private little worlds, holding everything close as if revealing chinks in our corroded armor would assure its instant and utter destruction. So, we see barely-visible evidence of one another’s blemishes, hidden under expertly-applied superficial cosmetics. If even the slightest fissure were to appear in the paint covering those scars, the skin would peel back in sheets, revealing wounds impossible to heal.

More drama. Drama. Just effing drama. It’s not that bad. It just feels that bad sometimes. Yesterday, I went to a gathering organized by a couple to thank friends and acquaintances for their expected support during the couple’s upcoming medical crises. The husband has a difficult form of myeloma and is about to enter treatment that will involve harvesting stem cells, undergoing chemotherapy, and otherwise exposing his body to attack in the hope of saving his life. That’s a serious matter worthy of a dramatic response. My stir-craziness is a joke in comparison. I feel embarrassed to be even remotely distressed by it. But, still, it claws at me. I should feel embarrassed. Self-centered prick.

How can one adjust one’s responses to the world in which he lives so that he doesn’t gauge the quality of the world by the way he responds to it? That’s a hard concept to grasp, especially when framed that way. I understand it, though. What can I do to change the way I deal with both internal and external stimuli? That’s an easier question. And probably one for a battle-worn therapist to answer. I can imagine a psychological therapist responding to a client’s strident cries for help and understanding: “You’re behaving as if you were in a battle for your soul. In reality, your situation is more akin to being forced to choose between Cheerios and Bran Flakes.” It’s all relative.

Ultimately, I suppose, one has to decide whether his sense of sanity is sufficiently at risk to warrant just abandoning everyone and everything for a time so he can get it back. The feeling of letting people down by bailing out on promises made is a powerful negative force. But sometimes, I think, it’s the only reasonable one. Because it is possible to suffocate on Bran Flakes.

I am making sausage and cheese balls to deliver to church this morning; a commitment I made to provide “treats” today. Yesterday, my wife made something sweet to serve as her contribution. I had planned on making cookies, but she suggested I abandon that idea because she feels I’m not competent to do “baking.” I’m still angry about that suggestion, even if she might be right. One of the many horrible menaces threatening me. I should just grow up, but at sixty-six, I think it’s a little late.

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A Different View

I wrote this on December 30, when I had decided to take a break from posting to my blog. I may eventually post many of the other things I wrote during that time of restraint. This is the sort of stuff I write to and for myself. I’m a child. 

Yesterday, I suddenly wanted to know how my view of the world would be different if I were several inches taller. Like, instead of being just shy of five feet, eight inches tall, if I were six feet two inches tall. I don’t recall ever before wondering how the world would look different if I were taller. Maybe I have wondered. But, if so, the memory didn’t stick. At any rate, I stepped on the lower rung of a small stepladder and had a look around. The world did, indeed, look different. I had climbed that stepladder innumerable times before, but always with a mission in mind; reach something on a shelf, for example, that I could not reach without assistance. But yesterday, I took time to look beneath me, to see how far I was from the floor; I noticed how slightly smaller objects on the counter top looked.

The lower rung of the ladder was ten inches from the floor. So, instead of seeing the world as it would look at six-two, I saw it as it would look at six-six. I bent down a bit to see it closer to my target height. It looked different than from my normal diminutive stature and different from my tall-guy vantage point. Physical distance from the ground colors one’s perception of the world, I decided. Looking down at the tops of heads makes the world look different than looking at the sides of heads.

I only spent a few moments surveying the world from a taller person’s perspective, but those few moments changed my understanding of height. Greater height gives one a sense of dominion; undeservedly, perhaps, but there it is. If I could arrange for my feet to be six inches thicker, I might just do it. But I might discover unintended consequences; like being unable to run or walk without great difficulty. The sheer added weight beneath my current soles might be impossible to accept. After getting my wife to agree to allow me to have six-inch-thicker feet, I might beg for corrective surgery to return me to semi-runtdom.

***

I’ve noticed that I have devolved into silliness and stark idiocy. I do not like that. Usually, it’s the result of trying to come to grips with something solemn and being unable to accept what I’m thinking. So I get stupid and act like an eight-year-old kid, complete with a child’s imbecilic sense of humor. I maybe using words like stupid and idiocy and imbecilic in ways that are insensitive and offensive. I need to try harder to be a decent human being.

 

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Wherein I Abandon All I Ever Wanted

I herewith abandon my fantasies. My longings are impossible wishes—dreams so removed from reality they would be funny if they weren’t so painful. Pain, though, is an instructional tool. Pain leads us away from delusions and into reality that hosts knowledge on its own terms. At least the pain of reality can be resolved with truth; the pain of delusion can be resolved only with the most improbable magic. Reality is more reliable and less excruciating.

With the abandonment of dreams comes the unpleasant acceptance of the potentials of reality. Fantasies can mislead us into believing we have stumbled upon success; reality can turn us away from so-called success, as illusive as it might be, toward in-your-face failure that hides real success beneath a shroud. There’s danger in every direction but down.

A fantasy involving full recovery from lung cancer can devolve into an acknowledgement that lung cancer is not the only killer. So we grab the pistol and consider killing the newly-knowledgeable. Chance becomes a player in the game. Statistics begin to matter more when all the lotto numbers have been drawn. Playing roulette takes on an entirely different character when one loads all the chambers, spins the cylinder, stares into the barrel, and prepares to pull the trigger.

But all this is make-believe. It’s vapor escaping from a vacant cavern.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to abandon my fantasies. They are too much a part of me. Without them, I would be an even emptier shell. And the shell would be as fragile as the invisible, impossibly thin, arc of ice that once was the surface of a bubble.

That image, for some reason, pleases me. It suggests something so beautiful, so delicate, and so impossibly brief that it would be impossible to develop an emotional attachment to it; instead, the image is simply an experience, not an interaction with a physical thing.

What fantasies shall I abandon? That I’ll ever be young again. That I’ll ever hold dominion over a large tract of isolated land, where I’ll mold and shape the ground with my tractor and my implements into the paradise of which I’ve always dreamed. That I will build, with my own hands, a simple but magnificent castle that pays tribute to the natural order and to Emotion, that God of All Things that Matter. That I will ever be loved for my mind and my body and my soul, except by some demon I create in the deepest recesses of my brain. That peace will envelope the Earth in a shower of unending joy. That anything I have ever done, or will ever do, matters.

I rocket between glory and gloom with such speed it’s dizzying. It’s as if I can experience the heights of joy and the depths of dejection at the same instant. They are so closely ordered in time and space that I cannot tell them from one another. Agony and ecstasy exist in the same place at the same time and are experienced in the same way.

Everything decays. Even atoms. Knowing this, is it not reasonable to assume that, at some point, the entire universe will degrade into a mass of spent fuel, leaving only ashen residue as evidence it ever existed? What would take its place in the vast expanse of nothingness? We cannot begin to fathom endless nothingness, any more than we can fathom an endless supply of time and space. The concept of infinity is our feeble attempt to understand the inexplicable.

I realize, of course, that what I’ve written here—and much of what I write day by day—could be construed as the shrieks of someone so deeply depressed that he is in danger of snuffing out his own brief candle. That is not the case. I simply express, in amplified fashion, the massive spikes and dips I experience while riding my emotional roller-coaster. Using yesterday’s incomplete and disjointed internal conversation as a point of departure, my emotional highs and lows cycle several orders of magnitude between one another. At least I document them in that manner. In reality, I’m probably just overly dramatic and desire some exercise for my fingers.

Escape. That’s the key fantasy. Escape from the constraints, the shackles, the chains—all the ideas and thoughts and restrictions that bind me to the surface of the Earth instead of freeing me to float above the chaos we create and nurture here below. Oh, to be rid of the messiness of humanity for long enough to know what purity really is. That’s a fantasy worth having. And worth abandoning, I suppose. Pursuit of the unachievable is not a reasonable goal; it’s a wasteful distraction that interferes with the possible. Wishing I could fly gets in the way of building aircraft or watching, in awe, as butterflies dance through the air.

Two wise young rockers, now decrepit geezers, said these true words: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

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Tangelo Time

Pandæmonium. The capital of Hell, whether real or symbolic, the concept Pandæmonium expresses surpasses the strength of chaos by an order of magnitude.

I write “order of magnitude” as if I fully understand the concept. I do not. While I grasp that “the order of magnitude of a number is the number of powers of 10 contained in the number,” I do not necessarily grasp what that explanation means. That failing can be traced back a long, long way to my childhood, when mathematics and algebra and all manner of numbers-related concepts were insufficiently explained to me. Or which I insufficiently understood. Or both.

John Milton created Pandæmonium  when he wrote his epic poem, Paradise Lost. I read Paradise Lost when I was young and stupid, failing at the time to fully comprehend the poem’s vast expanse of lush, awful meaning. I tried to wade through Book 1 again a short while ago; I realize that I am now old and stupid, failing at this moment to have either the energy or the interest to translate Milton’s blank verse into sentences of which my modern mind can make sense. The story line is mildly interesting, but its presentation leaves a lot to be desired, in my opinion. Right. I have an opinion about John Milton’s writing, and it’s not an especially appreciative opinion.

I do not remember when I read Paradise Lost, but I suspect it must have been in high school English class, probably a literature class taught by Mrs. Allen. I can still remember the woman’s brunette hair, pulled back in a bun and tied with a rubber band, and her apparent interest in students who seemed to be interested in the subjects she taught. I doubt she had much interest in me, inasmuch as I was an indolent little bastard who would have been happy to have skipped school every day.

So, my education failed me (or I it) in both math and literature. I slid through high school without learning much, though I guess enough knowledge stuck to allow me to slide through college, where I found the subjects more interesting. Still, though, I avoided the “hard” stuff that I thought I would be unable to comprehend. Math in general—algebra, trigonometry—and anything else that might have required real effort. I stuck with subjects that seemed to be sticky; things that did not roll off my brain but, instead, clung to my budding intellectual superficiality like glue or tree sap or tar.

I remain angry at myself, all these years later, for my failure to understand how much more I would know and understand if only I had applied myself in high school and college. The world would be easier to understand and, perhaps, mold to fit my expectations if I had only paid attention, completed my reading assignments, engaged in spirited discussions in class, and otherwise behaved as an interested, involved, student. Instead, I kept my head low, attempting to hide the fact that I wasn’t as bright as I had hoped I was.

It’s silly and stupid to hold a grudge against oneself for so many years. And, if it meant enough to me, I would have spent my adult life compensating for my failings by filling in all the knowledge gaps left empty during my so-called education. Obviously, it means something to me, but not enough to merit real work. Another piece of evidence of the fact that I am and have always been a fainéant fake (My first time to use fainéant; I’d never seen the word before this morning’s foray into the thesaurus. I suspect within a matter of hours I won’t remember the word. It means idle or indolent, for the record.).

Maybe I beat myself up a little too much, though, huh? I do continue to learn, though most of my education focuses on language (always something of a strength), rather than mathematics (always a glaring weakness). So maybe I’m not an entirely worthless human being. I could get a respectable job polishing tarnished letters fallen from the alphabet. Speaking of letters in the alphabet, according to Lexico.com, the letter Q is the least-used letter in the English alphabet, barely surpassing J in usage. I could report percentages and proportions, but I would be in danger of getting over my head in mathematics, so I will steer clear of that embarrassment.

I had breakfast yesterday morning with a friend from church and writing and other such endeavors. We spent a couple of hours at the Home Plate Cafe, talking about a wide range of topics that included my recent descent into boredom. She seemed much more concerned about that than I am. She is, in my view, unnecessarily concerned about minor matters afflicting people in her sphere. That is, I think she makes more of issues than they warrant. I suppose that is the trait of a compassionate person, but it can be moderately annoying. It’s as if she is saying, without saying, “something is wrong with you and I want to fix it.” In spite of this exasperating little trait of hers, I always pick up a gem or two of wisdom from conversations with her. Her reflections on dealing with the vagaries of daily life often are instructive and revealing; not of her, necessarily, but of people in general. What yesterday’s conversation revealed to me is that I seem to be allowing myself to be “bored” with almost everything, yet I could easily get energized by simply deciding to focus on something specific. Like learning a little more math. Or taking a road trip and learning about towns I pass through along the way. Or examining the motives behind my decision to engage in another “doing without” process I wrote about (again) recently. So many things could capture my imagination, if only I would let them. I think I just need to get out of the house on a regular basis. Do something besides sit and write and think.

This afternoon we will attend the Democrat Club meeting. I do not want to get involved in the club as an active volunteer. In fact, I want to withdraw from some of my current volunteer activities. But I do enjoy being in a big room with lots of people who share at least the core sense of decency represented by democracy, if not always shared by the Democratic party. So it will be fun. Maybe.

Even as one slides into old age, it’s still possible and advisable (I think) to set goals and celebrate their achievement. So I shall do that more frequently. Happiness accompanies celebration. Celebrations follow achievement. Achievement, then, correlates in a positive way to happiness. Goals can then be said to cause happiness; though the logic is flawed, it is sufficiently intertwined with truth to be believable. I already have set some goals. I will add more to the list. I will be accountable for pursuing them by documenting successes or failures, the latter far fewer in number than the former, I hope.

Damn, it’s almost seven-thirty. I need to go eat a tangelo.

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Running Slow

My computer has been running quite slow for the past twenty-four hours. The reasons for the slowdown are beyond my ability to know; I know only that the machine takes its time to perform every task given to it. Screen refreshes take many seconds. Opening software applications takes minutes. Saving work takes hours…days…weeks…months…years.

I believe I’m still working on a novel I began writing in 2014. At this rate, it may be ready for publication about the time the sun explodes in a dying flash, its source of fuel consumed in a spectacular, final fireball before the final darkness befalls our solar system. That being the case, there’s really not much point in continuing to write the thing, is there? Well, unless I want to know how it ends. And, with the sun’s fiery demise, I know how IT ends. So maybe I should direct my attention toward something that gives me greater pleasure. What might that be, though?

I could try my hand at seduction, endeavoring to persuade a married woman to abandon her husband for an afternoon of steamy, sultry exploration of emotions pent up since the 1970s. Or I might steal away to a firing range, where I could work on polishing my skills with deadly firearms with an aim toward becoming an accomplished assassin. Maybe, instead, I should visit a car dealership and demand to test drive a monstrously powerful “muscle car,” in which I would speed away, dozens of police cars in hot pursuit. Another option might be to sneak into an animal shelter, where I could unlock all the cages and release the inmates into the surrounding neighborhood. An option I’ve never considered until this very moment is this: walk into the local police station and announce that my name is Hyacinthe Collier and I wish to confess to a future crime, the details of which are as yet unclear but which will be sufficiently grizzly to warrant a headline-grabbing trial and certain conviction.

Hmm. Only the first option holds any significant appeal; the danger associated with the others is too great to merit serious consideration. Of course the danger in the first one could be excessive, as well, depending on the circumstances surrounding—and the intensity of—the dalliance. All of this raises the question in my mind: how does one define excitement? And where does one draw the line between entertainment and excitement? Is there such a clear line of demarcation? And, if so, where does one cross the threshold between excitement and adventure?

In my mind and without the benefit of dictionary or thesaurus, I am trying to define “excitement.” So far, I’ve come up with “a state of emotional arousal.” Well, that could apply to any number of conditions, including that business with the married woman or the high speed chase. And the rest. Perhaps my dilemma is that I’m attempting to define the parameters of the matter as if the answer were to be found in a thesaurus. Excitement. Adventure. Enthusiasm. Elation. Ad infinitum. Words. Just words. Words do not define excitement. Adrenaline does. Within moments of the body’s experience of a stressful experience, adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) spills into the bloodstream, triggering a host of reactions and responses from various components of the body. So, perhaps what I need is not a dictionary but, instead, an epi-pen.

No, epi-pens are to be used only in situations involving life-threatening allergic reactions. To my knowledge, I don’t have any of those. So, what to do instead? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Thrust myself into circumstances that will prompt in me a sense of abject terror. Like the circumstances I described above. Forego the thesaurus and, instead, just absorb what follows potentially self-injurious behaviors like speeding the wrong way down heavily-traveled freeways or leaping between high-rise buildings or jumping onstage and stripping nude during a recital by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Those sorts of adrenaline-pumping experiences.

Another question. At what point does an interest become a fascination become a passion become an obsession?  We live along a continuum of emotion—a tightrope upon which we walk every day—rarely coming to grips with the fact that we could fall off at any moment. We could slip gently from interest to fascination or plunge directly from passing fancy to uncontrollable obsession. The danger surrounds us in every instant. Yet we wander deftly between menace and pitfall, jeopardy and risk, hardly even pausing to realize the perils we face. We are, indeed, magnificently oblivious creatures, aren’t we? Either stoic or stupid, methinks.

I wonder whether we humans sometimes tire of safety and comfort and ease. I wonder whether, on occasion at least, we need danger and discomfort and stress. Can we become stodgy and brittle and mentally frail if we don’t force ourselves to experience fear and put ourselves at risk of the unknown? I think I have grown too soft and mushy and insufficiently resilient. I am too easily crushed under the weight of a feather pillow; too readily brushed aside by vaporous ghosts whose only substance exists in my imagination.

We need to be challenged. We need to be tested. We need to be thrown into a roiling sea, attached to an anchor and left either to swim to safety or drown in our rebellion. This day is shaping up to be another odd one. Time to shower and shave and confront the demons. It is not the time to be running slow. It is time to run faster and faster and faster.

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Sleet and Sorcery and Feeding My Soul

The sound of sleet hitting windows is unique. Windblown pellets of fresh ice striking glass make a noise that seems to occupy a range of disquietude midway between a weak thud and a feeble, metallic scrape. When those same pieces of frigid slush land on concrete pavement, they make clicking sounds, as if fragments of heavy, brittle leaves had shattered into pieces and sprinkled to the frozen ground. Together, on grey days like today, they intone dreary winter medleys, reminders that weeks of intermittent cold and darkness will follow.

Sleet makes fireplaces inviting and blankets alluring. Sleet makes streets treacherous and highways even worse. Sleet wraps its icy fingers around our psyches as if to prove we have no immediate control over the weather.

Sleet almost invariably melts, at least a little, soon after pelting the windows and siding and sidewalks and streets. It then freezes again, forming sheets of black ice on roads and walkways and dribbling as icicles from leaves and eaves.

Thin coatings of ice on trees, whether from sleet or freezing vapor or refreezing snow melt, causes some trees, especially pine trees, to take on a white halo; a ghostly aura. When those trees are close together, the collective white glow looks like the forest is filled with steam or pale grey smoke; one half expects a vaporous coven of witches to step out of the wood.  Why these odd images seems to arise in my mind only on cold days when the temperatures hover near or below freezing is beyond me. Perhaps a subconscious memory from my childhood, never quite reaching my consciousness, is to blame. Or maybe these images spring from a well of madness within me that becomes almost as solid as ice when temperatures cause liquids to transform into gaseous solids. Only physicists and sorcerers know the causes, I suspect.

***

My wife made a Dutch over full of West African sweet potato soup yesterday. She took the stuff to a “soup party” (perhaps named differently, but that’s what it was), where several women from a “Girls’ Night Out” group gathered to share their soups and, I assume their recipes. She left enough for me to have it for dinner last night. And she brought enough back so we could have it for lunch today. The dish my wife made includes sweet potatoes, peanut butter, ginger, tomato juice, and various other ingredients. I did not expect to be particularly enamored of the stuff, but I was. And am. I jazzed mine up a tad by squeezing some fresh lime juice into the bowl, along with some Tabasco sauce. I believe this soup is now among my favorites. Today, with all the sleet and cold weather, is an ideal soup day. In fact, after having soup for lunch, I thought about making a big batch of lentil soup, one of my specialties.  But I’d have to go out to buy vegetables, which I’d rather not do. Even though the streets are probably easily passable, I’d rather stay in than expose myself to the elements.

***

Tonight, for dinner, we will have leftover roast with horseradish sauce. The roast marinated in a thick, very tasty marinade for 48 hours before my wife cooked it a couple of nights ago. Once again, I wasn’t terribly involved in its preparation, so I do not know the ingredients of the marinade. I do know it was quite tasty. And the meat was rare enough to be entirely to my liking. The roast would make an even better meal if served with fresh green beans (rather than canned “kitchen cut” green beans), but I will not complain. It would do me no good and would, in fact, almost certainly diminish the emotional quality of life in my house for a period. Not worth it, I tell you.

***

My mood is improving, if only slightly. I do not know why it goes up and down and back again. I know only that it does. Knowing that actually helps when it’s on the down cycle; I know it will eventually return to a more tolerable state.

 

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Extinction

I wonder at what point I would finally break. What would it take for me to risk everything including my family, my friends, and my life to achieve freedom or democracy or whatever it is you might call an environment of political self-determination? How far would the Senate and House have to go? What stunning action would the President have to take? How much further would the rupture of civil society have to go for me to finally say “no more grotesque, damaging, dangerous individualism and unbridled greed…we must collectively serve one another for the greater good!” Would I ever reach that point?

Haven’t they already done those inexcusable, impermissible things? Haven’t they already crossed that solid line over which no government can be permitted to cross without intense, overwhelming, enraged repercussions? So what are our options now, now that we have accepted servitude and shackles?

I think we’re all too afraid and too weak to do anything but whimper and complain. I think we’re praying we’ll be saved by a cadre of truly fierce and patriotic citizens who will risk chaotic civil unrest and their own lives and freedom by being the brave ones to rein in Washington’s elite with bullets and shrapnel and burning gasoline. I think we hope for a bloody revolution, but we want to take no part in the bloodshed. I think we are hoping for what I would call the equivalent to a Buddhist coup, where suffering is swept away in a river of decency in which the political class is drowned in the acidic, fetid juices of their own self-aggrandizement.

We are, indeed, pathetic. We await a savior to undertake the tasks we should have long since undertaken ourselves. What we need, but will not admit, is not democracy but, rather, a tempered version of anarchy. We need anarchy guided by the ages-old admonition to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We have only the hope, but not the stomach, for anarchy.

The more I think about it, I think it’s not political self-determination we need, nor is it democracy. It is a hybrid of morality and obligation, tempered with individual responsibility and commitment. Anarchy with heart and soul. We need the desire for the collective safety nets that breed government, but without the stranglehold such tangled nets seem to spawn. Governance without the government. Collective caring.

The dystopic futures so frequently portrayed in science fiction stories probably will come to pass. Creative people tend to see through the fog of societal evolution, enabling them to see a clear image of what is ahead. I think they have seen the unraveling of human society. As a species, we have outgrown our ability to accept our differences. We’ve been turning inward for centuries. It has reached the point that we are incapable of looking outside ourselves. And so we slog forward toward those inevitable dystopian meltdowns, thrashing about helplessly as we propel ourselves ever faster toward oblivion.

I read an article yesterday that argued the extinction of humanity is inevitable. I remember thinking, years ago, that I wished I could be here for the end of human civilization, just to see what its disappearance might be like. I think my wish may be coming true.

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Straining

I hear it often: “If a person doesn’t love himself, first, he can’t love others.” Frequently, that sentiment is followed by “And if he can’t love himself, no one else can love him, either.” If that’s true, a person who can’t love himself is sentenced to a truly cold and hopeless existence. It condemns him to either find a way to love the unlovable or to accept emotional isolation; being shunned by the only people who could possibly reach him. There’s no way out for him, because it’s not really a choice. It is a penalty.

Why might a person be unable to love himself? There are hundreds of reasons. Recollections of past thoughts or actions. Recognition of attitudes or behaviors that fly in the face of accepted social mores. Belief in his inability to be the kind of person others would be willing or able to love. Regret about actions taken, or not taken, that would have proven his decency or his humanity. The list is as endless as the shades of human thought and behavior; it goes on and on and on.

Whatever the reason for a person’s self-loathing, if that’s what it is, the inability to love oneself is far easier to tolerate and to accept than the belief that others might find him unlovable. That is the soul-crushing aspect of a person’s failure to find self-love within; he is told his inability to love himself is just cause for others to feel the same about him. So, not only is his loathing of the person he lives with every moment of his life his fault, so is the fact that others can’t love him, either. It’s all on his shoulders. The only way out is to, somehow, find a way to love himself. That’s not even remotely possibly without help.

I know this. I’ve written, or at least thought, my way through these characters. Every facet of their personalities. They will not, cannot, change without some form of intervention. Usually a painful, embarrassing, chaotic intervention. And those interventions often fail to achieve the desired outcomes. They drive him deeper into a dark hole where he buries himself under more and more condemnatory accusations that he is unworthy of love.

The more unworthy he feels, the more unworthy he appears. His defenses against the pain of being unworthy of love become offenses against those who would love him, but for his behavior. The only way to break the cycle is for someone who matters to him to lie to him; make him believe he is worthy, even though he might not be. That’s the kind of intervention that might work, but often fails. But to get to that point, someone who has suffered the agony of dealing with him and his inability to love himself must be willing to wade through even more suffering and risk even more. That person is the hero in the story, if he or she succeeds; he or she becomes the savior. But if the outcome is failure, no one emerges victorious. Everyone is further damaged. The attempt at salvation becomes a tragedy of the human spirit; love is burned in effigy and its ashes are smeared in the rubble of humanity.

These are the kinds of thoughts that can make for a depressing day. But that’s just what emerged this morning, so they are what I’ve written about. I’ve been thinking about people I write about and how they sometimes suffer. I think understanding them helps me write more convincingly about them. Experiencing what they experience, though, is sometimes too hard. So I have to lay it out as an abstraction and attribute it to two-dimensional characters. That makes it easier to peel away, as if they were sheets of paper or layers of an onion.

This morning, I will go to Jackson House to help prepare and serve meals to people who are hungry. I am going alone, as my wife has said she is not interested in going. Maybe I’m doing it in an attempt to make up for my own failings. I’d like to think I’m doing it because I feel compassion for the people I will help feed, but I’m afraid that’s only a fraction of my motivation. I’m afraid my motives are more selfish than selfless. I’m afraid it’s  like praying, in the hope the light of my good deeds will dim the spotlight on my faults.

Last night, I met with volunteers who will participate with me in organizing and orchestrating the church services auction in April. Though I agreed to participate, I wouldn’t call my decision to do so a voluntary act; I allowed my own guilt at considering refusal to push me toward doing it. I did it two years ago. I have little interest in doing it again. But I guess no one else offered and so I am the default fallback. And, rather than balk, I readily acquiesced to the gentle inquiry as to whether I would do it again.

There, again, is a difficult situation. I don’t want to do it, but if I refused, I would feel like I am being selfish. Yet by accepting I feel I am an easy mark who can’t say “no.” No matter which way I go, I feel it’s a no-win situation for me. I just want to withdraw from everything and everyone. Just uncoil and unwind and remove the tensile strain of being pulled in directions my mind and body do not want to go. But it’s not external forces. I’m not being pulled. I’m pushing myself. I’m allowing myself to be cajoled and coaxed, not shoved and dragged. It’s not “them,” it’s me. I am the one doing it to myself. Willingly, but against my will; it doesn’t have to make sense to be true.

I don’t feel like showering or shaving this morning. I may do neither. I can fake looking presentable before going to Jackson House. I hope. But if I don’t succeed at faking it, so be it. At the moment, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just go feed the hungry and be done with it.

Posted in Love, Self-Loathing | 4 Comments

The Bad Poet

The bad poet mangles words and scorches meanings,
bludgeoning beauty until it resembles a bloated
corpse left in the desert sun for an entire season.

The bad poet ruins ideas, polluting them with bias as
thick as an atmosphere of hatred and as baseless
as claims air is unhealthy unless it can be seen.

The bad poet forces syllables into unhealthy relationships
with Roman numerals and mathematical formulas,
recording the sordid fornication on magnetic media.

The bad poet tears words into deformed letters—bent
and broken and devoid of meaning—and reforms those
fragments into lies and broken promises.

The bad poet treats language like an object of derision,
mocking its inconsistencies and berating phrases as if
they deserved vowel resection without amnesia.

The bad poet crosses the threshold between language
and life, spreading disease and distemper with every
step, and infecting the mundane with the monstrous.

The bad poet breaks guitar strings and plays the
violin with a rusted bow fashioned from a cross-cut saw
dipped in tree sap and smeared with thick tar.

The bad poet gives haircuts with pinking shears and
shaves with Mussolini-era safety razors stored in
in a jar filled with equal parts of urine and salt water.

The bad poet howls with laughter at funerals and weddings,
toasting the main attraction with absinthe and coca-cola while
hawking nude photos of the Pope in compromising positions.

The bad poet grins at the sentencing judge and threatens
her with language that would cause starving artists to
welcome anorexia and creative amnesia into their lives.

The bad poet cloaks herself in a juror’s robes and
sentences his audience to immortality, locked in an
echo chamber where only the poet speaks.

The bad poet tears beauty from the sky and
tramples it under muddy feet in sodden graveyards
filled with beautiful ideas made profane in his presence.

How do we deal with the bad poet, this broken piece
of the universe whose words shatter our souls
and bring tears of pain and rage to our eyes?

How do we cope with his pervasive distrust of everything
human and her broken heart and their cries for mercy,
hidden beneath layers of aggression and fear?

The bad poet is only as bad as the darkest night of
the darkest soul, but he is as ubiquitous as the view
in every reflection in every mirror.

The only cure for the bad poet is compassion and
understanding—an open mind and an open heart—
and patience as deep as the deepest black sky.

Posted in Poetry, Writing | Leave a comment

Habitually Strange

More than half of the month of January sped past without my knowledge or consent. Okay, I knew it was in the process of slinking along, but I am stunned to look back at the speed with which the last eighteen days have flown by. If the rest of the year proceeds as quickly, I might have to force myself not to blink so I won’t miss it. My words suggest this matter of time speeding by is simple silliness. It’s not.

Somehow, I’ve allowed myself the useless indulgence of watching the world go by, rather than actively participating in its motion. Too much of my days are spent sitting in front of my computer or otherwise taking affirmative action to stay out of the fray of daily life. I am not insisting on participating in the process of living. Instead, I’ve been letting life simply happen to me. It’s not entirely about physical motion; it’s about mental engagement, as well.

Habits. Routines. Somewhere in the litter of synonyms for “habit” is the word, “weakness.” That’s what a bad habit is; a weakness that becomes a pattern of behavior. Smoking is a weakness. When I finally realized how much that weakness had damaged my physical health, I was able to quit. And only after I quit for quite some time did I realize how offensive that habit was to virtually everyone around me; the weakness made me stink and gave my skin an almost imperceptible coating that carried with it an awful stench. The same thing is true of other bad habits. The habit of avoiding physical activity, too, tends to leave one’s body more likely to exude odors like musty socks and moist, unwashed nether regions. If I want to smell fresher and look healthier, I need to give up my bad habits. All right, I may be making some of this up, but it’s for my own good. The smoking thing is true.

Back to the matter of time and its flight. I doubt if there’s much I can do to slow the passage of time. But I can improve the sensation of its passage and I can enhance the appeal of recalling what occurred while it was zipping by. Those improvements and enhancements cannot take place simply by changing one’s mindset and one’s habits. They require making physical changes…location, movement, standing versus sitting, walking, picking up the telephone instead of relying exclusively on the keyboard…those sorts of things.

Which reminds me of an odd preference of mine. I am not fond of talking on the telephone, at least with most people. With a very few people, I’m fine with long conversations by telephone. But with most people, no. I’d prefer to communicate in person or via email or text. I can’t put my finger on why that is; but it’s an extremely strong preference. So much so that I get cranky when forced by circumstance to speak to some people by phone. That’s probably a habit, a bad one. Some habits are simply quirks, like this bad one involving a dislike of telephone communication. I don’t think it has much to do with the person on the other end of the phone, either; it’s some sort of strange psychological trigger inside my head. Odd that this matter arises while writing about habits. It is a habit, I suppose. A negative one.

Time to shower and shave and head off to church. Sundays used to be so much more relaxing, before church took a claim to part of the day. I’m seriously going to have to explore the habit of going to church; it’s not that it’s a bad habit, but it’s a demanding one that may not be as valuable as I might have thought. Enough writing for this morning. Off to be active.

 

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Swellage and Shrinkage

Arguments can be made, pro and con, about whether it’s best to get to know someone before or after you know their political persuasion. I understand and agree with both of them. On the one hand, I’d rather know early on that a person is a witless fool whose thought processes reveal stupidity and bias I cannot stomach. On the other, I’d rather know early on that a person’s personality and her core decency is sufficient for me to challenge my own most deeply held biases. It’s a toss-up. Lately, though, my emotion and my biases tend to be in greater control than my intellect. Only after the fact, after I’ve labeled someone a morally corrupt hypocrite unworthy of anything but my contempt, do I question whether my judgment is defensible. Usually, I conclude it is and it isn’t. That’s a big help. Given the ambiguity of my judgments, I wonder whether the process of making them is of any value at all. Lately, I’ve been reaching the conclusion that there’s virtually no value there. But then I change my mind through several cycles of yes and no and yes again until I simply don’t know what I think. And then, in my confusion, I attempt to leave the matter for another time. Wasted mental energy. Energy that could be stored or spent on something more fruitful.

***

How often does the average person think about the impact voluntary standards have on their lives? It’s probably an infrequent occurrence. But I have thought about voluntary standards ever since my first job in association management. I was responsible for managing support for volunteers who developed and published standards relating to corrosion. For example, I worked on standard tests to determine the suitability of metals in various corrosive environments. There were many more. As part of my role, I learned about processes involved in the development and approval of voluntary standards. I attended educational programs offered by ASTM International (then known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), CESSE (the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives) and others. I learned that voluntary standards were responsible for: the sizes of nuts and bolts used in everyday products; the sizes of and stored power in batteries; the sizes of bed frames and mattresses; window and door frame measurements; etc., etc., etc.

Voluntary industry standards are responsible for the capacity of glasses and coffee cups, the sizes of liquor bottles and soft drink containers, tire sizes; almost everything we purchase has been touched by voluntary standards. Most standards, in my estimation, were developed not out of the goodness of manufacturers’ hearts but because the standards led to greater efficiency, more profits, and more widespread usage of their products. The convenience we experience as a result of standards is, I think, more of a byproduct of standardization than an intentional outcome.

So, there you have it. My thoughts on voluntary standards this Saturday morning.

***

This morning, I noticed an online photograph. It was an elderly Black woman, holding a rifle. There was a dog sitting at her feet, staring at the camera. The photo was said to have been taken sometime in the latter half of the 19th century. The accompanying text told the fascinating story of the woman, who was said to be the first Black employee of the United States Postal Service. But there was no mention of the little black and white dog. We don’t know its name, its age, or anything else about it. Considering how important pets are to many people, it’s surprising to me we don’t have more history about them, on an individual, pet-by-pet basis. We allow them into our lives and rely on them for comfort, companionship, and emotional support, yet in my view we don’t memorialize them properly.

The little black and white dog in the photo probably had a name. It probably had unique habits that differentiated it from other dogs, assuming there were other dogs in its small world. What was the context of that little dog? Who fed it? What did it eat? How old was it when it died? How did it die? Who mourned that little black and white dog? So many questions, but no record (to my knowledge) that would answer any of them. And that’s true not just of the little dog in the photo, the dog who lived in the latter half of the 19th century. It’s true of millions of dogs who’ve lived and died since. It’s a shame we don’t know more about them.

***

Have I mentioned before that shirts should have large, roomy pockets on their upper sleeves? Shirts also should have pouches on both sides, toward the front. And pants should all be made from stretch material that accommodates dramatic swelling and shrinking associated with gluttony and starvation. What this universe needs is a cadre of fashion designers committed to comfort and practicality. Humanity would be the better for it.

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Empty Can

Instead of the routine follow-up with the oncologist yesterday, the visit turned into something a little different. After listening to my breathing—more like wheezing—she said she was concerned about that and my persistent cough. She prescribed an intense course of prednisone, coupled with a seven-day course of antibiotics. Then, she scheduled a return visit to see her in two weeks and sent me over for a chest x-ray. After I return to see her in two weeks, she said she will schedule a PET scan. I remember that scan from before my surgery; it was used as a precursor to the biopsy that confirmed my lung cancer. The PET scan assigned a number to the “brightness” of the tumor in my lung; the greater the brightness, the higher the likelihood the growth was malignant.

So, yesterday’s visit brought back unpleasant memories. But the planned PET scan doesn’t necessarily mean she is concerned about the return of cancer. Here’s what I found about the purpose of a PET scan (I knew this once, a year or so ago, but had forgotten…how quickly we forget):

“A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. This scan can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests.”

I was surprised by her comments yesterday and was not thinking fast on my feet. So I didn’t ask her questions I should have asked. It bothers me when I’m caught off guard and don’t think to inquire why the hell these tests are being scheduled. Oh, well. There’s not a damn thing I can do about what’s going on in my body, other than take the drugs and undergo the treatments prescribed for me, so I’d better just not let it worry me. It is what it is. But, uckfay, anyway.


After yesterday’s immersion in the medical/industrial state, we went out for lunch. My wife suggested we go to Rocky’s Corner, across from Oaklawn Racetrack. Though I’ve lived in Hot Springs Village for almost six years, I had never eaten there; my wife has. We each opted for a sandwich, the “Upper Cut,” a combination of Italian sausage and Italian beef. I ordered extra hot peppers, not knowing that the sandwich came with the equivalent of a pound of chopped peppers (a slight exaggeration). I was impressed with the place and the food. Enough that I would happily return for lunch today if I could convince me wife. It was excellent! To top off our lunch, we ordered last night’s dinner, a large supreme pizza to go. Dinner was good, but lunch was superb. Next time we get pizza, we’ll get the Chicago style, instead of the thin crust (thin crust wasn’t quite what we expected). All in all, yesterday’s meals constituted a glutton’s delight.


My impatience warrants “chill pills.” I’ve been writing blog posts (on another blog) for about seven months and have had almost no success in generating readership and comments. Unlike this blog, which I expect to be ignored and overlooked and otherwise neglected, I write the other blog with the specific intent of posts being read and generating responses. To date, it has been a spectacular failure. I suppose I should place blame squarely where it belongs—with the writer—but I seem to be unable to help being extremely frustrated with the intended audience. I’ve tried cajoling, coaxing, and asking nicely. I’ve attempted to inject guilt into the equation. Nothing. I know I am largely to blame; if I wrote posts of interests to the audience, they would read what I write. If I encouraged, in the right way, dialogue, they would comment. But whatever I’m doing I am doing wrong. And that frustrates me. I’m frustrated with myself and angry with the audience. Hence the need for chill pills. I think I’m going to give up the other blog; that’s probably the easiest way to erase the disappointment I feel with both the writer and the readers. Yep, that’s it. I’m done. Hell, that was easy!


I invested far too much time last night in watching several episodes of a fourth rate television series entitled “American Odyssey.” It’s a military action drama set mostly in Mali, with plenty of simultaneous action taking place “back home” in the U.S.  If asked to categorize the genre, I would have to say it’s military/industrial schlock, tainted with over-the-top greed and unbelievable storyline. But, as I said, I invested a lot of time in it last night; four or five episodes, I think. The series was rightfully cancelled after a single series, but that means there are thirteen episodes in total. After watching so much, I feel compelled to finish what I started. Although it might be easier on me to just read the episode summaries and be done with it. Maybe I’ll try that and see if I can recapture my sense of decency and honor; those seem to have spilled with the blood of unnecessary characters in the show.


My wife plans to go into Hot Springs today to do errands, go shopping, and otherwise engage in behaviors during which I would not be welcomed nor would I enjoy. So, I shall find other things to do, probably right here in the Village. Maybe right here at home. Wash clothes. Vacuum the floors. Twiddle my thumbs. I’m tired of writing. I need a break from it and from the thought that accompanies it. Maybe I’ll take advantage of the time available to me today and will examine my life. No, that would require too much thought. I need to go find a chill pill. None of this lengthy post matters. I invest too much mental energy in stuff that should just roll off my back. Why can’t I just relax? Vegetate? Be smooth? Why, indeed. I’m feeling a little like an empty can. What’s the point of the metal tube when,  after using the can opener to remove the top, there’s nothing inside?

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Small Talk About Things That Matter

What is fiction? It is truth clothed in costumes. It is the view from the other side of the mirror. It is the tragic/comic outcome of unrestrained authenticity. It is reality disguised to protect the writer from judgment or institutionalization or both.

***

Season two of Happy Valley is history. I gather the decision was reached  in 2016 that no further episodes would be produced. That’s a shame. The sixth and final episode of the second and final season was an emotional powerhouse. It drained me completely. And it left deep and provocative thoughts pressing heavily on my mind when it ended. I wanted badly to do something to lessen the pain of the main character as the episode ended; of course I know this is manufactured stuff. Of  course I know it’s not factual. But, still. It was so horribly believable and so painfully real and so devastatingly heartbreaking.

***

Yesterday’s almost monstrously warm temperatures won’t return today. At least that’s what the weather forecasters say. Today’s high is expected to reach only the mid-40s, twenty degrees or more cooler than yesterday. I will wear layers today. I will be warm when I venture out into the uncomfortably chilly day.

***

I discovered yesterday that a two to three minute eulogy is extremely short. I’ll have to pare down the eulogy I wrote before I deliver it on Sunday. It now stands at longer than the time allotted for it. It’s hard when there’s more to say than time to say it. Brevity is the soul of wit. Sometimes, I am witless. I will carve away words that don’t add meaning and value. I may slice it down to considerably less than the limit; sometimes, the fewer words said, the more reverential the message.

***

Today, I return to the oncologist. Every time I go back, even when there are no test results to review, I’m nervous. I guess that’s because…duh…I’m going to see the oncologist. After seeing the oncologist, we’ll go out to lunch. Or maybe I’ll go alone, depending on whether my wife goes with me. She was up again today when I got up at 5; had been for a long while. She went back to bed when I got up for the day. Depending on many things unknown or unexpected, perhaps we’ll embark on an unplanned road trip, if we’re feeling half-way decent and fully adventurous. I’d like to go to Mississippi or Louisiana. Neither state is likely to actually become a destination for today; lingering colds, lack of planning (oh, how I hate to have to plan spur-of-the-moment trips; it seems so utterly oxymoronic), and a variety of other intrusions are apt to interfere with my fantasies. Oh, well.

***

A minor character in Happy Valley, John Wadsworth (played by Kevin Doyle), exemplified the decent man whose mistakes reveal fundamental character flaws suggesting he is not really a decent man, after all. He’s the “average Joe” who pretends to be a good man but who, beneath the veneer of respectability and decency, is rotten. At his core, he is selfish and self-indulgent; he blames others for his own unforgivable deeds. Yet he remains vulnerable and he retains the viewer’s sympathies even as his brokenness is revealed. I admire the writing (and the acting) that paint such a complex  character with so few strokes. He’s not constantly in front of the camera, but he is constantly part of the story. Brilliant writing. John Wadsworth exemplifies the “good guy who does bad things” who I want to write, but with some fundamental differences. Wadsworth is not really a good guy. But he’s not really a bad guy, either. He is caught up in a web of his own making, but one from which he desperately wants to escape. Yet he’s not good; he would be willing to snare innocents in order to protect himself. Bastard. My good guy would not do that; his decency would not permit it. But my guy would slaughter an entire family if he thought they deserved to die for their bad deeds. I know this guy I want to write about. I’ll have to explore his thought processes in more depth.

***

I tire of my trauma. My mental trauma. It’s an ongoing, unnecessary, self-inflicted immersion in a vat of hot water and acid that is neither healing nor necessary. WTF, then? Who knows? I ought to be able to examine emotional drivers by now, considering all the time I’ve spend exploring characters about whom I write. Yet I can only speculate. Maybe I should see a therapist; at least that would add fodder I might be able to use in my fiction. Or my fact.

***

Posted in Stream of Consciousness | 2 Comments

Thinking Through Spider Webs

Finally, I seem to be returning to my “normal” waking habits. Today, I was up around 5. Lately, I’ve awakened at wildly different times, almost all considerably later than has been my typical pattern for years. I’ll attribute the deviance to my monstrous cold. Perhaps I’m finally shaking it. The early rising this morning comes on the heels of a later-than-normal night last night. I hope I’m back to my old routine, though I’d really rather awaken closer to 4 each morning. Those few hours of total seclusion constitute my decompression time.

***

Once again, I’ve become addicted to a “foreign language” television crime drama. Well, not really. It’s a British crime drama. But the accents and my television’s subpar sound quality conspire to muffle dialogue. So, I’ve turned to subtitles. On an English-language crime drama. Actually, since turning on subtitles, an already riveting program has become even better. The program? Happy Valley, originally released on BBC in the UK and subsequently released by Netflix (which is how I’m able to watch it). I’ve watched all of season one and about half of season two. Only two seasons were produced (in 2014 and 2016). The series is not high art, but it’s well-done television (in my view). The fact that I have only three more episodes to watch is depressing. I should get a television-equipped treadmill so I could get more than entertainment value from watching lengthy television series. What I need is a television that will not work unless I am walking at a speed of at least two miles per hour…maybe three. I would become a night-walker. I think a story might emerge from that thought.

***

I am even more of an introvert than I have always believed myself to be. I enjoy being with and around people, but my enjoyment has rather strict time limits and short duration. When those limits approach, I either must get away and be alone with my thoughts or I turn cranky, surly, and generally unpleasant to be with, to live with, and just to be, in general. How is it, I wonder, that it has taken me so damn long to figure that out? It’s not like the pattern has ever been hidden beneath a layered puzzle; it’s right out there in the open for the world, including me, to see. But I’ve just now finally been able to understand it. I need time to think, without intrusion. That’s what my morning isolation is all about, I think. Odd, though. It’s as if I’m engaged in conversation with myself, which I can tolerate and in fact often enjoy; during that time, though, conversation with anyone else would be unwelcome. It’s not that I’m unpleasant or unfriendly early in the morning if I don’t have my time in isolation; but if I’m deprived of that time for a long period, I do become edgy and unhappy. How have I not noticed before now?

This new revelation has me thinking about other people and what they might need. What do extroverts need? Do they need interaction with other people around the clock? Do they feel out of sorts if they can’t spend time in conversation on an ongoing basis? I’ll have to ask some extreme extroverts I know. But the timing has to be right.

An artifact of introversion is the tendency to keep things bottled up. Perhaps it’s simply the lack of someone “outside” to talk to. Or maybe it’s that introverts consider some matters personal, even when talking about those matters may be vital to one’s mental well-being. Introversion and isolation go hand-in-hand. Sometimes, the isolation gets out of hand, to the point that the bottle holding those personal matters explodes, leaving a shattered psyche that must be pieced together from shreds of fragile glass. If only the cap had been loosened or removed, the explosion could have been avoided.

***

I can’t see the point of writing these thoughts over and over and over again, almost every morning. It’s as if I believe writing my thoughts down repeatedly will somehow change them. But maybe writing is an alternative to alcohol; it deadens pain, or at least diverts one’s attention from it. Better to write every morning than to suck on a bottle of vodka at daybreak. Maybe that’s not necessary, though; the wine from the night before may still be in the system. Maybe. Maybe that’s the point of writing the same things, using different words. An author I know once advised us (me and others in the workshop she led) to be brutally honest in our writing. “Write through the pain,” she said. Don’t worry about who might be hurt, she advised, because you’re writing for yourself. As I think back on that, it’s an incredibly selfish attitude. It offers justification for shifting pain from oneself to others. That’s inexcusable, especially if others are innocent bystanders who simply cannot get out of the line of fire before the bullets start flying. Yet I understand what the author was advising us to do. And it makes sense. But only to a point. And only after a very real assessment of damage, both direct and corollary, and the relative good that might come out of the damage. Abstractions. These all are abstractions. You cannot think in practical ways about real consequences when you’re dealing with abstruse abstractions.

***

I may cut my hair, or my throat, today. I’m not sure which one is needed more. I’ll probably go for the one that’s not particularly painful and costs less. $15, including tip.

These early morning diatribes allow me to blow off steam and to ratchet down the tensions that build during the course of every day. That’s what they are good for. Sometimes fiction is what I need to write, sometimes I need to write stream-of-consciousness drivel. Sometimes it’s poetry. I guess it all serves a purpose of one kind or another. Even though it sometimes seems that I’m thinking my way through masses of spider webs, I suppose it’s worth doing.

 

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And Then Where Would I Be?

Since I wrote yesterday’s public blog post, an absurdist unfinished fantasy, I’ve written five more pieces. Most of those drafts, if not all, will never see the light of day on this blog. They may find their way into longer stories or elements of expansive essays or components of deeper contemplation.  But they probably won’t end up here. That’s the fate of much of my writing; it springs into being, only to be shoved into files that tend to be forgotten. And that’s only appropriate. Given the volume of my written words, the vast majority is likely to be unusable swill; it’s just a statistical statement as close to fact as statistics can get. Why some of my swill slips around the gates and onto the blog is a question for which I have no answer. It just happens, like a dog slips through a door, though it’s opened for only a split second.

That’s how my writing strikes me sometimes. It’s an adventurous dog with an urge to explore beyond its boundaries, pulling at its leash and, occasionally, breaking free and sprinting down the street. It’s not sure what it is looking for; maybe temporary freedom, maybe the chance to see what the real world is like. The world outside that smells so new and fresh and exotic. I may write a story one day in which my writing takes on the persona of a six-month-old boxer puppy. Or maybe an elderly mixed-breed. They would see the world through different eyes; their different experiences would color their perceptions of what their lives mean. Perhaps a series of stories, telling the same tale through different dogs’ eyes: a boxer puppy, an aging mixed-breed, a middle-aged chihuahua, a bulldog unchained to an age descriptor.

One’s age, whether one happens to be human or dog, is too often used by others to categorize. Young means inexperienced and energetic and willing to take absurd risks. Old means lethargic and risk-averse and drenched in the wisdom of experience. Middle-aged is a period of questioning and uncertainty. I can say from experience, though, that the challenges of middle age last into old age; maybe beyond. In reality, though, our tendency to judge and categorize on the basis of age arises from intellectual flaws. We make assumptions that, if we gave serious thought to them, we would not make. Our assessments of actual people (and pets) follow generalized abstractions that simply don’t apply, in practice, to individuals. We know this. But we continue to judge and assess and categorize anyway. Because we’re lazy, I suppose. Or we’re heartless bastards who don’t care what is real; it’s what our biases tell us that matters, by God! Who knows? I certainly don’t.

My mind this morning should not be drifting haphazardly along in a stream of consciousness, smashing into both sides of the channel and spilling chunks of the banks into the stream. Instead, I should focus on writing a eulogy for a friend’s remembrance. I was asked to deliver the eulogy during next Sunday’s service, which is dedicated to the memories of those members of the congregation who died during the past year. Ach, I will do it. But not yet. Not until I am ready. And then it will flow. I am confident of that. Who am I to second-guess myself as to what should occupy my mind this morning? An interloper. My other personality needs to leave this one alone. Or vice versa.

Back to my five drafts. I have assigned titles to them, which are: Disciplined Ascetic, Gin with a Miscellany Chaser, Breakfast Book, Incoherent Music by Another Name, and Shrapnel. Shrapnel is the only piece of pure fiction, though Incoherent contains a rather long set of song lyrics that one would either consider fiction or evidence of insanity. My mind sometimes works faster than my fingers (it should always work faster than my fingers, but it’s a bit slow), so I don’t capture everything I think about. That’s either good or bad, depending on perspective.

Our plans for later this week, a visit with friends in Fort Smith and a trek to Crystal Bridges for a dose of culture have been put on hold. The female component of our friends came down with a cold, making it inadvisable for us to visit and her to spread her germs in public places. It’s been over a year since we’ve seen them, I think, so it’s well past time. We’ll figure it out, eventually. Hell, we could meet for lunch once a week halfway between our homes. Maybe I’ll suggest it when she’s better. I’d like much more frequent visits. We’ll see what we’ll see.

I still have an appointment with my oncologist on Thursday morning. I expect her to say there’s nothing new to report. Maybe she’ll schedule another CT scan or an MRI (I’m willing to try an MRI again; my back/neck may be in a more tolerable mood). I suspect so; that’s really the only tool they have to determine whether there’s anything “there” that merits more invasive exploration. I do look forward to finally getting the word that I am “cancer free.” Until I’ve been “free of evidence of cancer” for five years, they won’t say I’m “cancer free.” Another four years to go, assuming all goes well.

Most people would choose to keep private the kind of stuff I put on my blog. I don’t. I don’t know why I don’t. I do have plenty of “journal” entries that I keep private and that will never be viewed by another human being. Those entries must be painful or embarrassing or damaging or…something. I’ve got to stop here. I could go on until the Internet runs out of space to store my words. And then where would I be?

Posted in Stream of Consciousness | Leave a comment

Biological Hallucinations in the Coming Century

Whether dragons were real or not, is it possible we might be able to create them? I think it would be great fun to build a dragon manufacturing facility. The dragons would be crafted from one hundred percent biological components. No plastic, no metal, no ceramic sheathing; nothing lacking a living cellular structure. I want no part of creating artificial dragons; it’s the real thing or nothing. That is not to say I insist on replicating creatures that may (or may not) once have wandered the Earth. I require only that the beasts emerge from biological structures. Cells and the like. Hell, even if the cells are plant-based. I just want biology involved from the get-go. Because I am a purist.

My interest in bio-mechanical beasts is non-existent. Carnivorovegan creatures, though, I can deal with. Yes, I realize it’s not a word and that, furthermore, it wouldn’t make sense even if it were. If that’s a problem for the reader, so be it. I may adopt carnivorovegan as a descriptive term for flesh-eating creatures arising from a crop including vegan “parents.” I use the term parents somewhat loosely, inasmuch as a creature may have as many as several thousand components, each coming from a different biological source. For example, eyes derived from root-eating rodents, livers from koalas, tongues from horses, stomachs from cows, and so forth. And, of course, vegetable-based elements: skin from potatoes, reproductive systems from tomatoes, bones from California redwoods, lips from vegetarian fish, and so on. Not stitched together, by the way, but grown in laboratory media and “bio-melded” in facilities as clean and as meticulously organized as operating-rooms. It’s clearer in my head than in my fingers, hence the difficulty you may be having in understanding what I am attempting to describe. Bear with me; you will understand it fully before you reach your 248th birthday, I promise.

I wonder, is there a word for plants that get their sustenance not from soil but, instead, by digesting other plants? A vegetarian cannibal, as it were. Vegetable has already been used, but we know the English language tends to use words without regard to previous copyright or trademark protection. But how about words in other languages? Might there be a seed-bank equivalent to linguistic lineage? If not, there should be. Every known word from every known language recorded on magnetic media and stored in mountainside ice-caves. Temperatures in the caves must be maintained at zero degrees Celsius; once temperatures reach 100 degrees, the words vaporize, never to be written, spoken, or read again.

Flesh-eating dragons formed from plants and animals whose sustenance came entirely from plants. That’s it. A bizarre carnivorovegan hybrid that reproduces through pollen fertilization, leading to seed pods that form on the dragon’s scales.

Seed pods drop to the ground and burrow into the soil. The seeds inside the pod are fed by a fleshy substance surrounding the seed; the pods act much like a womb, protecting and feeding the embryonic dragon. When the tiny beast is sufficiently mature, it cracks open the seed pod (which looks much like an egg and, when it breaks, acts like one) and emerges into the air. The baby dragons immediately take to the sky, searching for their parents (male and female dragons participate in this process, but it’s too involved to describe at this moment). As it happens, the parents also are searching for their offspring. Once they connect, they form family units that stay together for between six weeks and four hundred years, depending on the baby dragons’ speed of development. Needless to say, it’s a long story.

The truly interesting part of this process is the fact that the original parents were manufactured, as described. Yet all subsequent dragons evolve and reproduce like animal-plant hybrids, as described above. The process was described in painstaking detail in notebooks maintained by Charles Darwin. Unfortunately, those notebooks were destroyed during the Gemenids meteor shower in December 1862. He had published On the Origin of Species just a few years earlier and was preparing to publish the seminal When Dragons Return: A How-To Guide when his notes burned in a celestial conflagration the likes of which no one had seen before nor has anyone seen sense.  Darwin was crushed by the loss of his dragon notebooks and was in no mood to try to reproduce them. Consequently, we have had to feel our way in the dark in pursuing this deeply intriguing subject; we could not depend on Darwin, nor on his notebooks. Because, as I said, they were burned in a meteoric inferno of epic proportion. That situation, by the way, should serve as a lesson to us all: notebooks about dragon development and reproduction should be kept in subterranean vaults, safe from raining meteors. Of course, care should be taken to ensure that the vaults are not subject to flooding, infestation by animals, mold, and other potentially destructive hazards.

Dragon milk contains capscaicin concentrations equivalent to between 100,000 and 500,000 Scoville Units. That is to say, it is hotter than Hades by a factor of about 1000. The capscaicin is the reason dragons often are pictured with flames erupting from their mouths. It’s actually not the capscaicin that causes the flames; it’s the combination of capscaicin fumes with methane in the presence of a spark. One of the oddities of dragon physiology is that they do not fart in the traditional way that animals do. Instead, their belches accomplish what our farts do; they expel enormous volumes of methane created during the digestive process. When combined with capscaicin, dragon belches can be literally explosive. The first “human-created” fire came about when a cave-dwelling human threw a flint rock at a dragon that was poking its head in the cave the human occupied. The flint rock struck another rock, causing a spark and, BAM! Flames like you’ve never seen. The cave dweller, anticipating the discovery of fire, had accumulated about six cords of firewood, fuel to provide heat during the coming winter. It went up in smoke in thirty seconds. By the way, that was before the more recent redevelopment of dragons. Just in case you were confused.  At any rate, dragons have been assumed to breathe fire since that very day. And perhaps they do.

If I could share with you my conversations with dragons over the years, I would. I think you would find them (the conversations) interesting and you would find them (the dragons) tender-hearted and deeply intelligent. Copernicus learned almost all he knew from a dragon named Stetson Myers. Stetson took a liking to Copernicus from the moment they debated heliocentrism. Ah, but you didn’t come here to read about Nicolaus’ interaction with Stetson Myers. So, I’d better stop writing. Otherwise, you might be subjected to more information than you want to fill your head.

Posted in Absurdist Fantasy | Leave a comment

Mediterranean Course Correction

I inquired of Google this morning: “What is the Mediterranean lifestyle?” The first answer I found—and the one I intend on adapting as my own—was this, from a blog entitled, The Mediterranean Dish in a post labeled Live the Mediterranean lifestyle. That lifestyle comprises the following:

  • Follow the Mediterranean Diet (more on that in a moment)
  • Be with Family & Share with Loved Ones
  • Move Naturally
  • Laugh Often
  • Live (More) Simply

In my opinion, the components of the lifestyle most impactful on one’s health would be the diet and the admonition to “move naturally.” The diet is nothing new and, in fact, probably shouldn’t be labeled a diet in the sense of weight-loss. It suggests a simple dietary regimen that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, and herbs and spices. That base is supplemented by occasionally enjoying fish and seafood, less frequent (daily to weekly) diversions into poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt. Much less frequently, meat (beef, pork, lamb, etc.)  and sweets are enjoyed; the “special occasion” foods. All of the dietary intake is washed down with plenty of water and moderate consumption of wine. Importantly, there are no food restrictions in the Mediterranean “diet.” It relies on common sense and moderation. The dietary regime, though, is not complete without the foundation involved in “moving naturally;” that is, being physically active.

I think the social aspects of the lifestyle, i.e., being with and sharing with loved ones and laughing often must contribute quite a lot to the lifestyle. And living simply, too. I am ready to adopt the Mediterranean lifestyle. One missing element, though, is this: the Mediterranean. More and more frequently, my mind wanders to the coastlines of Italy and Greece and Egypt and Turkey and Libya—all places I have never actually visited. But I imagine life in and around the Mediterranean. I dream of ready access to fresh seafood. I imagine myself strolling through olive orchards, filling woven baskets with fresh olives that I will deliver to olive processors in return for batches of processed olives. By the way, the olives we eat have undergone at least one of several rather time-consuming processes to leach away their bitterness; “natural” is not a term I would apply to table olives. And I wonder why olives are so expensive; well, there you go. But continuing on with my dreams, I conjure images of taking long, leisurely walks along the Mediterranean, watching and listening to the sea birds and “writing” poetry aloud, guided by the muses in the sand and warm salt water.

How long would it take, I wonder, to learn to speak Greek or Italian? I’m afraid I do not have time to live the Mediterranean lifestyle to its fullest. I am not interested in being a tourist. I’d rather be a resident, someone who adapts to intense summer heat without air conditioning and who relishes and takes great pride in a minimalist lifestyle. But that’s probably not who I am. I grew up in an intensely selfish culture, spending sixty-six years absorbing and perfecting an attitude of self-centeredness, greed, and gluttony. We, as a culture, take pride in accumulating things we don’t need in the light of global paucity and poverty, as a means of demonstrating to the world how utterly devoid of decency we can be. “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” This is not the kind of mood with which I’d wanted to start the day. Perhaps I can change it?

How does the adage go? “I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself.” Is that it? Not long ago, I read something about changing oneself for the better. It went something like this:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others.
  • Be as genuine and authentic to yourself as possible.
  • Adopt empathy as one of your most powerful traits.
  • Be generous whenever possible.
  • Improve or change the things closest to you that need to be changed and over which you have some control.

This post demonstrates the difficulty of getting out of the “I want” mindset. I’ve spent time and energy “wanting” what I don’t have, without shedding the things I have I don’t need or want. Ach! And, then, I turn on myself, whip and cudgel in hand, and beat myself mercilessly for being who I am instead of who I think I want to be. This is not a new scenario. It is an ongoing pattern that seems designed to illustrate and highlight failures. Is it possible I’m a very slow learner? The evidence suggests there’s something to that idea.

That last suggestion about changing oneself for the better keeps chirping at me: Improve or change the things closest to you that need to be changed and over which you have some control. Hello? What’s closer to me than my thoughts? Who controls them? I think I may be picking up on something here. This could be a “thing.” I might have something to work with. Rebuild John. From the ground up. Or from the mind down. Or just little pieces, one at a time, until the new model is like the old one, only dramatically better.

The idea has been planted. It needs nourishment. And action. And more than myself. So, I should share this seed with loved ones so they, too, can help it grow and can do the same. I do not think I am capable of writing a self-help book, but I may be able to write an autobiography one day.

Posted in Change, Compassion, Doing Without, Empathy, Essay, Generosity, Philosophy, Ruminations, Self-discipline, Selfishness | Leave a comment

Somber Sourness on a Saturday

Last night’s brilliant light shows and rolling thunderclaps seem to have disappeared into a silent, dreary, cold, wet morning. I can tell by the shuddering of the few remaining leaves on the trees outside my window that there’s a breeze, but it’s not strong enough to shake even the slightest limbs and twigs. The weather app on my computer screen claims the wind is blowing from the east at one mile per hour; not the fierce gales I heard howling much of the night.

After I have my coffee, I’ll shower and shave and get dressed so I can head out to a meeting at the church. I have begun loathing meetings again, the way I did virtually my entire career in association management. I do not want to grow to detest retirement the way I detested my professional life. That would be ruinous in many ways. So I shall avoid it like the plague. I want to continue to treasure retirement as I have done thus far.

Asserting one’s dedication to enjoying life does not necessarily make enjoyment appear out of thin air. It’s hard to say what constitutes joy when the act of opening one’s eyes seems sheer drudgery. I cannot force a smile this morning, at least not thus far. I haven’t looked in the mirror yet, but I suspect a chance visual encounter with myself would not go well. Even the thought of food does nothing to cheer me; in fact, the thought of food is an unpleasant one. That rarely happens. Coffee has, so far, been all right, but the very idea of food is enough to cause me to wince; I can feel the sneer on my face when food enters my thoughts.

Last night, I watched a documentary, American Factory. It presented the story of a shuttered factory in Dayton, Ohio that was reopened by a Chinese auto glass manufacturer. The promise of rebirth went awry when American and Chinese cultures clashed. The message I took from the film was that American workers compare unfavorably with Chinese workers in terms of steely commitment, willingness to work hard, and dedication to “perfection.” But I also so that Chinese workers compare unfavorably with American workers in terms of commitment to family over employer and commitment to enjoying life rather than simply wading through it. Americans in the film did seem somewhat lazy in comparison to their Chinese counterparts. But Chinese seemed timid and subservient compared to their American counterparts. Interesting cultural dichotomies. But greed on both sides of the world was apparent. When I finished watching the film, I was ready to try another culture on for size; neither Chinese nor American seemed particularly alluring.

This entire writing experience is not going well so far. I think it’s time to stop. Perhaps a shower and some time away from the house will rectify things. We shall see.

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