A Little Morality

I was thinking aloud (actually, online) last night on matters of morality and how the boundaries of morality depend in large part on one’s upbringing and one’s perspective on the human condition. Though one might recognize certain behaviors as “immoral,” one might engage in them, nonetheless, for myriad reasons. Does that make those behaviors any less immoral? Does that make the person who engages in them immoral? Are there “extenuating circumstances” that relieve a person who engages in immoral acts of the brand “immoral actor?” Morality and ethics, frequently used interchangeably, are different; morality derives from one’s own principles about right and wrong, whereas ethics relate to rules imposed on behaviors externally by the society in which one lives, e.g., church, legal system, etc.

I say about many characters in my writing that they are “good people who do bad things.” In one sense, that could define people who live according to their own sense of morality but who behave in ways that break the rules imposed on them externally. In another, though, that statement could provide the tension the character feels between his or her moral beliefs and actions that run counter to them.

Ultimately, both morality and ethics should (in my view) be guided by the physician’s creed: “first do no harm.” So much easier to espouse than to apply.

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Guy walks into a bar…

I’m going to the ophthalmologist today to have my vision checked. I’m not expecting to require an eye replacement, but I might need new lenses. If neither, I may have to get used to inadequate vision. I made the appointment without consulting my calendar, which means I’ll miss a program on writing Christmas letters, put on by the local writers’ club. Missing the program bothers me a little because I like to support the organization’s programs, but the topic isn’t of great interest, so I’m not crushed. It occurs to me that I’ve been going to doctors far more frequently of late than I’d like. I’d rather avoid them, if possible, inasmuch as visits to doctors tend to coincide with diagnoses I do not like. Methinks that’s not coincidental; doctors are paid to make diagnoses.  If I decide not to go to the doctor and, therefore, not pay for the visit, I reason that I won’t get a diagnosis and, thus, will remain healthy. Maybe I’ll cancel my eye doctor appointment today, in the hope of achieving 20/20 vision. Makes good sense to me.

As I look out my window this morning, I see leaves, held captive by trees for many months, taking advantage of the wind to escape from the branches that held them prisoner. I would be happy for the leaves except that I’ll have to rake, blow, or otherwise act to remove them from my driveway and rockscape. I’ve done quite a bit of leaf relocation of late and I have no interest in doing more. My interest, though, and my actions do not necessarily achieve mutuality. I wonder if mutuality is a word? I’ll look it up when I’m older. In the meantime, I read something yesterday, as yet unverified, that says the Oxford English Language Corpus includes more than two Billion (yes, that’s a B) words. That stuns me. The same source suggests that I (and whoever else reads the article) am likely to know only about fifty thousand words. This seems to me a challenge I should take on: counting all the words I know. I’m not sure exactly how I’d go about the task. Perhaps I should just do it in alphabetical order. Yes, that’s it. I’ll make a list of every word I know, starting with “A.” This is apt to be an arduous task (I’ll include “apt” and “arduous” in the list).  But I’ll wait to start the project because, as you already know, I have an appointment to have my eyes examined today. The fact that I’ve actually written about making a list of all the words I know suggests that I should have another part of my body examined, i.e., my head. Well, my eyes reside in my head, so that’s the right place to start. But do my eyes actually “reside” in my head? Or are they just there. One generally does not speak of one’s body parts as “residing” anywhere. They may be attached to or part of one’s body, but saying they “reside” there suggests they may decide one day to move on to a new residence. I would be disappointed in the extreme if my eyes decided to change residence, opting to leave my head for the warmth afforded in my arm pits. This conversation with myself is degrading, badly, so I must do something to stop the carnage. Maybe I should tell a joke! That’s it! Well, I’ll try. I did not create this joke; but I’ll try to tell it as best as my memory will allow.

A guy walks carrying a satchel walks into a bar one day and sits on a stool in front of the bartender.

“Gimme a beer,” the guy says. “I need to drown my sorrows.”

“Sure, guy. Here’s a beer for you. Anything you want to talk about? I’m a bartender, so I’m a good listener.”

“Okay,” the drinker says, “I’ve got something in my bag that really bothers me.” The guy reaches into the bag and pulls out a tiny piano and puts it on the counter. He reaches back in and pulls out a tiny piano bench and puts it on the counter. And then he reaches into the bag and pulls out a tiny man and puts him on the bench. Immediately, the little guy starts playing a piece written by Beethoven. His skills on the piano are stunning.

The bartender says to the bar patron, “This makes you sad? This is incredible! You could make a lot of money just showing this guy around. Where’d you get him?”

“A genie gave him to me. I rubbed a bottle and the genie popped out. Said ‘make a wish and I will grant it to you.’ So I made a wish and, poof, this guy appears, along with the piano, out of puff of smoke.”

“Wow! Where’s this bottle where this genie lives?”

“Right here in my satchel,” the guy says, reaching in and pulling out a gorgeous metal vase.

“Wow, can I make a wish?”

“Sure, just rub the thing and he’ll come out and grant you a wish.”

The bartender rubs the vase and out pops a genie. “Make a wish and I will grant it to you,” the genie says.

“I wish I had a million bucks!”

Instantly, the room fills with mallard ducks, quacking and flapping their wings wildly.

“Your genie must be hard of hearing! I wanted a million bucks, not a million ducks!”

The patron looks at the bartender ruefully. “Yeah, I know, do you think I wished for a 12-inch pianist?”

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A Real Memory, Unwelcome but Unchallenged

I’m not sure which of the two of us were more guilty. I suspect it was me, though she could have made the first move. That’s always been the case though, hasn’t it?

I was the one who felt unloved and unworthy of love. Patty McClung and I met in geology class. We spent very little time together. One geology field trip that I remember and one long afternoon in my studio apartment, listening to B.W. Stevenson albums on my cheap turntable. We sprawled across my bed, both feeling deeply awkward I think, and talked about the music. And then, at some point, I learned she was on a woman’s baseball team and that she would play in Houston. I went to Houston. But I opted, at the last minute, not to go to the game in which she played. I think I was embarrassed. I didn’t know what we meant to each other. Or, more importantly, I didn’t know whether I meant anything to her. And so I told my buddy, Ray Woodman, that we ought to skip the game. And we did. And I’ve never had any contact with Patty McClung since. It’s not like I lost a lover, but I lost quite a lot of respect for myself for simply walking away from that game. I’ve never regained it, either. I never kissed Patty McClung. I never touched her, save any incidental brushes of hand against hand that might have occurred as we listened to B.W. Stevenson. Damn it. Was I as void of decency and conscience and empathy and caring as I think I must have been?

I wish I could apologize to her for simply disappearing from her life. Though, in reality, she also disappeared from mine. We were both “guilty” for failing to pursue possibilities that, realistically, might have turned into nothing but anger and pettiness. But, maybe…maybe.

Patty McClung might have taught me lessons in humanity that, if I learned, I learned late. But I allowed  a twenty-something’s coldness to crush that lesson beneath my feet. Tonight, I feel sad that I let my youth be guided by things that never mattered, but I thought they did. Tonight, I feel sad that the world isn’t more assertive when it witnesses young people being stupid and unfeeling.  I think there’s a permanent sadness inside me now, an unrestrained weeping, that lives within me simply because I can’t erase the mistakes of my youth. I guess what makes it worse is that I realize, now, I could have erased those mistakes but chose the easy way out and just didn’t do it. And I suffer now because of that ugly, inexcusable choice.

It seems fitting that, in the background, I listen to Danko, Fjeld, and Andersen perform “When Morning Comes to America.” Except ‘morning’ is, in fact, ‘mourning.” Truly.

This may be too close to reality to be pure fiction. But it will fit into a story one day, regardless. I feel it will.

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I remember that night when you fell through the ice. You were so sure of yourself. You were such a fool.

“No way I’m gonna fall through,” you shouted back at me as I pleaded with you to come back. “This ice is at least six inches thick, you chicken!”

The instant you called me “chicken,” cracking ice split the night like a rifle shot.  The terror in your eyes at that moment will forever be etched in my memory. But my inaction at the moment you needed me most runs deeper in me even than your fear. I couldn’t bring myself to even reach for the rope you’d carried with you at my insistence. If I had, maybe I could have pulled you back out of the frozen river. But I just stood there, paralyzed with fear, as you slipped off the shattered ice into the water.

I’ve never told anyone what happened. Your disappearance has remained a mystery for all these years.  By the time they noticed you were gone, the cracks in the river had healed over with new ice. They never found you. I suppose you floated away and ended up in the Atlantic. Food for sharks and the like. But today, I’m going to solve that mystery. I’m going to walk into the Vaudeville, New York police station and explain what happened to you on Christmas Eve, 1932. I’m going to take responsibility for my silence.

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My Contribution to Humankind

Deep in the tangled weeds of today’s early morning, between the time I awoke at 2:30 and the time I finally accepted that I had lost another good night’s sleep, I stumbled across a reason to be glad about my insomnia: a book entitled The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words. The book, published in the UK, is available online from Amazon and others for around $20, including shipping from the UK. Though I find it appealing, I have better things to do with my $20; but I wish I could justify making a trip to London to pick up a copy and save on the shipping costs. The author/compiler (Paul Anthony Jones) presents 366 words or phrases, one for each day of the year (including February 29). Jones offers up fascinating words like ambilaevous (adj.), meaning equally clumsy in both hands, and word-grubber (n.), someone who uses obscure or difficult words in everyday conversation. The discovery of The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities led to other linguistic gemstones mined from the book by BBC, including these (selected by BBC among twenty-six words they don’t want our language to lose):

Agerasia (pronounced ‘adge-uh-ray-zee-ah’), a more youthful appearance than one’s true age (derived from a Greek word for ‘eternal youth’).
Beard-second, based on the same template as ‘light-year’, one ‘beard-second’ is the approximate length a man’s beard hair grows in one second: five nanometres.
Charette, a period of intense work or creative activity undertaken to meet a deadline; this word recently found its way into the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association’s lexicon, where it’s being used to describe a series of public meetings designed to generate ideas for a “master plan” for our community.
Eucatastrophe, a sudden and unexpected fortuitous event. JRR Tolkien, who coined the word in 1944, defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”
Proditomania, the irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor; the unnerving feeling that you’re surrounded by people out to get you.
Spanghew, to inflate a frog and bowl it across the surface of a pond. (I cannot believe the word is not in more common use.)

I have been actively absorbed by langualust since I was a child, but I was never as bright as Levi Budd, a precocious six-year-old Canadian who noticed the gaping absence of a word to describe words that form different words when spelled backwards (e.g., spoons-snoops, stop-pots, spit-tips). So, he coined his own: levidrome. I’ve been a fan of neologisms ever since I first heard the term used in my Linguistics 101 class in college (I have no idea the context, but I do recall that’s where I first heard it). Speaking of palindromes…I coined the phrase “automotive palindrome” to describe the state in which a car’s odometer reads the same from left to right and right to left, as in 100001 miles or 51515. That will probably be remembered as the greatest contribution I made to humankind.

So, in spite of being enmeshed in what I think is at least the third straight night of sleep interrupted by insomnia, I’m smiling now at the world of words.


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Sleepless in the Village

I went to bed just before eleven last night. So far, I haven’t fallen asleep. My wife slept a fair amount of the night, but she woke up some time after 3:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so she decided to get up. I made the same decision at the same time. During the course of being awake and then getting out of bed, I’ve sufficiently informed myself about the happenings around the world that I feel just as dull as ever. The pain in my arm is back with a vengeance. And it’s Black Friday, the USA’s homage to unchecked greed that might be sold as an attempt to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” Right.

On a happier note, I found online an article about a house for sale; the place straddles the US/Canada border at the bargain basement price of US $109,000. It’s a fixer-upper, but wouldn’t it be cool to fix up a house so one could go to sleep in Stanstead, Quebec and get up the next morning and have breakfast in Derby Line, Vermont. According to the article, there are “issues” with which one might have to deal, including harassment by US and Canadian border guards. But what the hell, wouldn’t it be fun to be able to escape to Canada by simply running down the hall if things were to get too bad?

My wife has gone back to bed (it’s 5:30 now) and I continue to wrestle with the possibility of doing the same. But, having made a cup of coffee and consumed the better part of it, that’s looking less likely by the moment.  Well, I wrestled with it and decided against it. Instead, I decided to make an early morning snack of green bean casserole left over from last night’s Thanksgiving dinner with neighbors. A neighbor couple invited about eight people from the neighborhood a few others to bring side dishes and another neighbor supplied a monstrous turkey. It was a good evening, but we now have enormous volumes of Thanksgiving food in the house. I’m doing my part to get rid of it.

Cold green bean casserole goes extremely well with Tabasco sauce. You probably already knew that, though. And the Tabasco sauce tends to clear the sinuses. You probably already knew that, too. What you might not have known is that, after having a bit of early morning green bean casserole, the idea of a more common breakfast is unappealing. By partaking of green bean casserole, my taste buds are far more interested in turkey and dressing and the like than eggs and Canadian bacon.

Back to scouring the internet for tidbits of interesting information. And, just maybe, turkey and dressing.

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The spectacle of a sunlit morning can flush away the dark pain of lonely nights. And it has done its magic this morning. The sky is cerulean blue, the remaining leaves of the trees outside my window are brilliant orange, and the crispness of Autumn air inside the house is magical. Happy Thanksgiving to the world!

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It’s 3:00 a.m. and I Question Everything

If my fingers and forearm didn’t hurt so damn much, I’d have a lot to say at 3:00 a.m. I’d have quite a lot to share with this tiny piece of the world that reads my words. But my fingers and my forearm hurt too damn much. The pain of being who I am, where I am, when I am, is too great to permit me to share my agony with the world just now. So I’ll stop and say this: one day, my words will spill from me like blood from an open wound. One day, the immeasurable agony of an inconsequential life will flow like blood from veins freed by a scalpel from the constraints of the channels within which they churn.

I question everything at this time of night. I question the value of humanity and whether  kittens and puppies are as pure as we’d like to believe. Do we live in a world in which decency is, truly, an option? Or do we deceive ourselves into thinking…wishing… humankind has the capacity for empathy and compassion? Times like this…times in which Trump is president and North Korea wants desperately to kill us all…make me think suicide is a suitable alternative to living among deliberate idiots.

Can I get some sleep tonight? I doubt it. But maybe I’ll try. If I’m lucky, I’ll fall asleep and won’t wake up. But that, too, has its own set of problems. No, I won’t wish that on anyone, either. I just want to wake up from this goddamn nightmare. I want to wake up to the possibility of hope. I want to wake up to something beyond despair.

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If Thoughts Were Random, We’d All Worship at the Altar Ego

I don’t quite know what to do with myself in the wee hours of the morning these days. In days gone by, I’d get up and write. But my bum spine/arm/neck/elbow conspire with my flagging creativity to turn me away from the “pen.” Pen sounds better than keyboard; more romantic, anyway. Instead of pounding away at the keys in the morning, lately I’ve gently pushed the mouse to maneuver the cursor around the screen and simply “clicked” on items of interest. There’s no creativity in that. There’s no sense of adventure in reading the words of newly-minted baby reporters fresh out of journalism school. But there it is. I squandered my productive years in search of my creative niche, only to find it filled with the quick-setting cement of advancing age. The most bothersome aspect of my disinterest in (and physical problems with) writing is the fact that it corresponds with a waning interest in things that used to excite me. Even my recent fascination with the concept of timebanking represents a muted version of the old me, the me who would have jumped all over the concept and sought out with rabid zeal anyone willing to listen to me speak of the idea. The new me—the me with a much-dulled interest in almost everything—wishes someone else would take the idea and run with it. Ach! Even typing these few words this morning is akin to swimming with lead weights attached to each of my fingers. If lethargy is a malady, I think I suffer from the terminal variety of the disease. Caffeine is doing nothing for me this morning. Perhaps I should try a shot of good whiskey. No, that’s not an option, as there’s no good whiskey (or bad, for that matter) in the house.  I feel as if I have discovered and moved to the mystical town of my own making—Struggles, Arkansas. I’m the proprietor of the Fourth Estate Tavern, Calypso Kneeblood. My brothers, Fletcher and James, are out in the world, one attempting to save us from nuclear annihilation and the other probing the darkest corners of our souls. I, on the other hand, am satisfied to serve pork congee and dark beer for breakfast to early morning customers who barely cling to sanity by the tips of their fingernails in a broken little town whose future is even more bleak than its past. These last few sentences suggest I may still have a little “oomph” in my writing chops. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just writing an epitaph about the death of creative thought. I should return to my little story about Struggles, Arkansas and try to write about how it changes from a fulsome existence to a place where there’s at least a shred of hope peeking out from beneath the detritus of ruined lives and wasted opportunities. But for that to happen, I have to believe Struggles, Arkansas wants to and can change. As long as Trump is in the White House—no, as long as the corpulent vermin lives and breathes—there’s no room for hope in Struggles, Arkansas, nor indeed in all of the earth on which we depend for our every need. I could write about his demise, couldn’t I? I could dream with words about his extinction when melting glaciers flood his luxury estate, drowning him in a sea of offshore oil unleashed by the icy currents. Or, I could practice meditation with which I cast off the ugliness of the world around me and focus exclusively on to goodness within and without. Yeah, that’s the ticket. And my blood pressure will benefit with the latter approach, perhaps falling to within the new “normal” limits.

If there were even a single piece of bread in the house, I’d make myself a piece of toast now. But there isn’t and I won’t. Instead, I’ll explore the depths of the refrigerator for something entirely unsuited for breakfast. That will take my mind off the collapse of western civilization for a while.

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Career Reset

If I had my life to live over again, I would follow very different career paths. At least I think I would. Most people who know me might be surprised to learn of some of these careers/fields I think would merit serious consideration:

  • Urban planner
  • Unitarian minister/Buddhist priest
  • Software developer
  • Professor of sociology
  • Professor of psychology
  • Linguist
  • Farmer
  • Food distribution logistics
  • Mass transportation designer
  • Physician
  • Policy analyst (at the national level)
  • Restaurant operator
  • Fiction writer

I suspect there are dozens of career fields in which I could find satisfaction. But regardless of what field I might have chosen, I would (in hindsight) have limited the time spent pursuing it to about half of what I did in my real world career. No job, regardless of how much one might enjoy it, is worth sixty or eighty hours a week. Even working for oneself as a farmer, which might require monstrous commitments of time, would warrant paying for help to limit one’s hours; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a good career.

I bet there are dozens of others I’ve considered. I know for a fact I frequently cursed myself for failing to go to law school. Now, though, I don’t feel that so much; I suspect I would have hated myself (on the one hand) or starved (on the other).

I wonder if anyone who reads this post is surprised. I know I am. But only a little.

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Slogging Through Mush

I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve been saying I don’t feel like writing. I’ve been telling myself I’m just not in the mood to write. Those are lies. Perhaps they’re not intentional untruths, but they are at best misleading. You see, I’ve been afraid to write because of what I might say. I’ve been afraid I might reveal aspects of myself I don’t want to share with the world. I don’t want the world (that is, both of you who read this regularly) to know that I’m simply a knot of rage, a two-dimensional image of anger that lacks substance. Every time I listen to the news or watch television or read a newspaper, I face screaming voices or exaggerated headlines telling me the vile sickness that ruined countless countries via colonization has come to the USA. I witness evidence at every turn that radical Christianity has sucked the decency out of churches and replaced it with manifest deviance. I see signs that courthouses and police stations and tax offices have been invaded by alien beings whose sole purpose is to cause anguish and unceasing grief among people who don’t share the driving principle that self-satisfaction and obscene wealth are the only valid life goals. I’ve not been writing because fiction cannot possibly outpace the outlandish realities surrounding us today. Who could have imagined a constantly-masturbating ape in the White House? Who could have pictured crowds howling their approval at public servants who strip the crowds of their money, their clothes, their jobs, and their homes? I feel like I’m living in a poorly-cast movie whose plot was created by rabid skunks under treatment for reverse coulrophobia. I expect at any moment to see promotional materials advertising zebra hunts in Hot Springs Village, weapons and field-dressing included. Soon, we’ll have a circus in which the elephants will ride bicycles and then, when their acts are complete, members of the crowd will taunt the animals like matadors, killing the pachyderms with razor-sharp spears thrust into their guts. It won’t be long before evangelicals in Congress introduce legislation declaring open season on atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and Jews. Public floggings will become commonplace as couples who dare kiss one another in public are punished for their grievous injuries to the public conscience. Neutering pets will be illegal, once People for the Ethical Treatment of Christian Animals assert without dispute that the Bible says spaying and neutering are sins against the one true God. People will build arks in anticipation of the great flood; when no great flood takes place, they will empty water towers into the streets, saying they were instructed by God to do so; they will say Noah did the same, as stated plainly in the Bible. Country club membership will be mandatory. Anyone whose blood runs red will be deemed a communist and will be burned on public squares, causing widespread fear of knives and thorns. Candles will inexplicably become treasures valued more highly than children. The question to newlyweds will no longer be “do you have children yet?” Instead, the question will be “how many candles do you have?” Robert Jeffress, the Secretary of Human Indecency, will mandate tithing for all adults, defined as humans over the age of eight. When caught on camera having sex with a six-year-old chihuahua, Jeffress will demand that all men over the age of forty must do the same, saying “I do only what God tells me to do, and he tells me now to require you to do the same.”

Okay. All of this stuff is made up. In truth, I’ve been outside counting all the leaves on all the trees in all the world. Both on trees and on the ground. That’s a bunch of leaves. And if you want to talk about a really big number, count all those leaves and then calculate the factorial of that number. It’s almost too big to imagine. Sort of like all the butter in the world, all in one place at one time. Can you imagine how big a stick of butter that would be? And the rest of the world would be butterless. How depressing would that be? Try imagining the butter thing with anything else. Dogs. Cats. Oatmeal. Just imagine. All the dogs in the world in one place. All the cats in the wold in one place. All the oatmeal in the world in one place. Try that with all the objects you can think of. Sheets of paper. Pennies. Goats. Telephone books. Spark plugs. I could go on and on. If I did, though, I’d lose my mind. And so would you. In fact, I think you may have lost it already. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “what about all the fingernail clippers in the world, all in the same place at the same time?” See? I know. It’s hypothetically addictive. The realities of the world today make such mindlessness quite attractive. “What if bubbles, the kind kids like to create with soapy water, were filled with random answers to questions humankind has faced for millenia?” Now, you’re going to want to follow those bubbles and get inside them before they burst, aren’t you? You’re going to seek those bubbles out with a passion unseen since the beginning of time. And you won’t be satisfied until you’ve gotten inside every bubble created by every kid on earth. That will keep you busy. That will keep your mind off the madness in national capitols the world over. And you’ll lose weight because you won’t eat, favoring the pursuit of bubbles over food. Of course, you’ll die of thirst while you’re chasing bubbles, but you won’t notice. You’ll be too busy clawing at nearly invisible floating globes to notice your skin becoming brittle and your eyes bulging from their sockets. Wait, this could become uncomfortably macabre. I think I’ll stop right here.


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Depressed Canadaphile Watching Humanity Wither

For several years now, I’ve been following various Canadian news outlets on Facebook. I regularly read Canadian newspapers online. I explore Canada on maps and read about Canadian villages and Canadian customs. My frame of mind is this: I want to be Canadian. Not one of the new Canadians who are attempting to emulate Trump supporters. No, I want to be one of the innately good, gentle, honestly progressive Canadians who brought Justin Trudeau into the limelight and ushered him in to lead Canada toward the light. I want to be a citizen of the gentle adult country that exudes respect and decency, all the while showing its adventuresome face and its wacky side to the world. Canada. The country that understands conversation and debate. The country that values decency in human interaction so much more than does my own home country. Could it be that I’m romanticizing Canada? Is it possible that I overlook ugly flaws that would, if acknowledged, make me feel less enamored of the land and its people? Not just possible, I suspect, but highly probable. But that’s all right, because when we want something or someone to be the epitome of goodness, we behave as if they’ve already achieved that state of grace. We don’t ignore the breaches of decorum. We express our disappointment privately and do our best to encourage and reward corrected behavior.

But I’ve seen signs that the pedestal upon which I’ve placed my wished-for homeland has cracks. And seeing those cracks, caused by negligence and abuse, makes me angry. The vision of those faults recalls the signs of the irreversible damage that would befall my own country years ago when the beacon of democracy began its inevitable decline into a failed partisan state. The decline of civilization, it its entirety, began several millenia ago. The speed with which its dissolution is taking place has increased dramatically since the world chose to romanticize the monstrosity that we now call World War II. If we’d only acknowledged from the outset that a cataclysmic event that ended with the annihilation of thousands of innocent civilians in a nuclear holocaust could be considered no less than evil in its most base and fundamental form, we might have escaped. But, no, we treated victory in the ward as if it were sainthood, rather than a chance outcome of a demonic savage rite of passage.

Decent places, good cultures…they’re being savaged by humanity’s inability to comprehend its responsibility for its own victimhood. Canada. Iceland. Sweden. Finland. Denmark. And what of the goodness hidden behind ugly masks in Africa? There’s decency there, too. And in South America and throughout Asia. But decency’s decline began at home. Human society ultimately deserves to be swallowed by the Earth upon which it played out. And it will be done.

If only I could slink away to a quiet corner of Canada and live out my days in peace as the world collapses around us all. I have a friend who lives in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. That seems like a good base from which to watch the demise of civilization, surrounded by neighbors who care about one another and the little piece of the planet they inhabit. They, too, will be expunged from the planet, likely in a hot, dense haze of greed and larceny. But it may take longer for them to go than for North Dakota and Washington, DC and Harare.

We all want to hold out hope. Hope and prayer, together, are giving us school shootings and entire territories of the United States wallowing in agony without electricity. Hope is allowing corrupt politicians to gorge themselves on the fruits of the labors of people they deride. Hope is an illusion without substance. Violent overthrow, not only of government, but of humanity itself, is nature’s way of putting hope in its place.

And with that cheery note, I bid the world good morning.

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Wretched Night

The depths of the night—the darkest, loneliest hours—reveal the starkest realities about one’s psyche. During those empty hours, a person can indulge in the luxury of self-recrimination without a safety net. At night, alone with one’s thoughts and memories and with unrestrained acknowledgement of one’s motives, one can explore the rivers that wash away the delicate shores of the soul. Sitting awake in the middle of the night, when the rest of the world is asleep and preparing for the onslaught of day, one is given a stark and unpleasant opportunity to reflect on one’s humanity and to consider whether “humanity” is an apt term to apply to the scourge of which we humans are a part.

The news is full of rancor, reporting on and encouraging attacks on all manner of deviance manifested by people in the political and entertainment spotlights. The attacks are warranted, but they deflect from the images we all see in the mirror. Outrage against unspeakable behaviors masks, or perhaps drowns, the outrage we ought to feel about “lesser” crimes we see, or commit, every day. Crimes like spousal abuse, child abuse, bullying, road rage, genocide, mindless hatred. But the more public crimes, the crimes that awaken and incense us, flood our minds, washing away the more common transgressions.

Night time is a time of hopelessness. It is a time during which the ugly side of humanity can be honestly and fearlessly examined. Night time reveals the hopeless tide in which we swim and in which, ultimately, we will drown. Hope is all we have, yet hope is an illusion with no basis in reality. The future is a quagmire, just like the present. Humanity will not recover from its afflictions because humanity, itself, is the affliction. Greed and corruption and contempt are our natural states. Pockets of decency, when they bubble to the surface, are dispatched quickly enough; empathy and sympathy and caring are the outlier emotions that must be smothered under emotions more suited to our murderous souls.

Decency is stretched thin. It is wearing through and dissolving, replaced by hubris and raw arrogance. For some reason, a film I watched earlier this year is on my mind.  I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. But, then, I never did. I no longer hold out hope. Hope is like a drug; it offers a promise of relief, but instead it simply delays the collapse of the body’s defenses. It’s now four in the morning and I feel no less dejected and forlorn than when I started writing this meaningless diatribe. If I had access to large quantities of Ambien or some other sleeping pills, I might swallow the whole batch. But I don’t, so instead I’ll brew another cup of coffee and read Shakespearean sonnets. Let’s see if I can recall sonnet 116:

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

If I can keep those words and the thoughts they conjure in my mind—those words, read as part of my wedding vows by a Unitarian minister—I might survive for awhile longer. Even in this deep and ugly abyss of depression or whatever it is that got me out of bed and is keeping me awake in the wee hours, the language of the bard gives me hope. I don’t know just why, though. The words remain illusions, too. Shakespeare painted a picture with words. Just as a Rembrandt painting does not represent reality, neither does a Shakespeare sonnet. Both of them, though, represent hope. Hope. That tragic lie, that dissembler, that thief of reason. With enough words and paint, even this world in which we live can be made to seem tolerable, if only for awhile.

Coffee. That’s what I need. If it weren’t for the lack of good beans, I’d make a bit of espresso. But I’ll have to settle for French roast, not a bad fall-back. I’m in the mood for a cigarette, too. I haven’t smoked in thirteen years, but for some reason I think a cigarette would be quite nice right now. Or maybe a cigar. It’s only been thirteen years? It seems longer.

I wonder who else is awake at this hour? Who else is wrestling with emotional roller-coasters that plunge into dark, cavernous emptiness? Who else looks at the landscape of the universe and sees desolate plains that stretch toward eternity? Who else sees a dim glow of possibility on the horizon, a thousand light years away? Whoever it is, she or he is my kindred spirit, I think. We share a gloom that’s just shy of suicidal, yet we feel there’s warmth out there somewhere, if only enough of us…like souls…can find it and feed it. But there’s never enough time, in all of humanity’s time on earth, to stoke the right fires. Decency, compassion, love. They’re too fragile to survive. They’ve been battling for ever so long and they are losing their strength. Their foes are in the midst of a feeding frenzy and it’s just a matter of time before it’s over.

Glimmers of hope are dying embers. Perhaps I’ll douse them now with that next cup of coffee.

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Sitting in Judgment

I’ve given considerable thought of late to whether the behavior of movie stars, politicians, and other public figures who are accused of—or actually admit to—being sexual predators warrants nullifying the value of any contributions they may have made to society. In years past, the film work of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, for example, has been denigrated after accusations were made against them. Today, the same issues are being brought forward in response to allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Gary Goddard, Roy Moore, Steven Seagal, Brett Rattner…the list goes on.

On the one hand, it seems that to continue lavishing praise on their work is an insult to their victims and, it might be argued, tacit approval or forgiveness for their transgressions. But on the other, to exclusively equate the value of a person’s work product with the quality of his or her personality seems ludicrous. If we look back in history at artists and other public figures, we find exceptional work done by people of questionable moral standards. For example, Ezra Pound was an anti-Semitic fascist, but much of his writing is revered today as the work of a genius. The German composer, Richard Wagner, is widely regarded as one of Hitler’s favorite composers and a man who apparently shared many of Hitler’s bigotries; yet he was unquestionably an extraordinarily talented composer.  Lord Byron is said to have committed incest. One could compile an enormous list of well-regarded writers who were, among other things, alcoholics, sexual predators, or who otherwise broke basic rules of social decency and decorum of their times. Is there a statute of limitations on moral judgement, or do we simply let bad behavior slide into the background over time, absent a time-dependent trigger?

How do we decide whether to abandon the work of people who engage in appalling deviant conduct or whether to differentiate between the person and the product? If time is the determining factor, at what point might it be acceptable to watch and appreciate Kevin Spacey’s work in House of Cards or enjoy a screening of Annie Hall? Is it now, or will it ever be, acceptable to extol the quality of China Town or Oliver Twist, in spite of Roman Polanski’s roles in the films? The questions, I suppose, are these: 1) does the value of superior work by a person discovered to have significant moral failings diminish upon the discovery? and 2) at what point does time heal the wounds of inexcusable transgression to the extent that a person’s contributions matter more than a person’s mistakes?

My point in raising these questions is not to serve as an apologist for morally bankrupt actors and politicians and artists. Rather, it’s simply to examine the way in which we deliver judgment against people we feel have wronged us or society or even specific segments of society. By condemning the work of people who have failed us in some way, I think we tend to rob ourselves of what might be the bits of decency some of these people offer us. Yet I really do understand the urge to demonize not only the person but their work; after all, if we continue to praise the work, we might be seen as giving a “pass” to their behavior, right? Well, maybe. But…I don’t think so. I think we must differentiate the person from the products they deliver; otherwise, we risk defining value by the timeframe in which it is delivered. That is, a brilliantly-directed film is a brilliantly-directed film only BEFORE its director is discovered to have engaged in sexual harassment; afterward, the film is, like the director, sullied and ugly. That flies in the face of reason, in my view. I think it makes more sense, after the discovery, to say, “How utterly odd that such a piece of beauty can emerge from the mind of someone so ugly!” Or something of that nature.

None of my comments thus far have even attempted to examine judgment from the standpoint of a person’s actions versus his motives or even his actions versus psychological drives over which he might have no control. Do we blame the perpetrator for behaviors that arise not from intent, but from unchecked sickness? Oh, that question begins to snip around the edges of how we define justice and decency and tolerance and forgiveness. These are too heady for me to tackle right now. Maybe they’re too heady for anyone to ever tackle them successfully. At the moment, methinks there’s a flexible continuum of morality (or the lack thereof) and justice. Good people really do bad things. And bad people really do good things. We are given the difficult task of evaluating and judging both groups of people and applying mercy and justice in equal, or appropriate, measure. Somewhere in the mix, we discover there’s a need to demonstrate our outrage and show our empathy and our sympathy for both victim and perpetrator.

It’s not easy being a moral and just human being. But, it seems, it’s easy for society to shirk those responsibilities and, instead, take on the duties of The Furies, satisfied only with vengeance. What’s the answer? It seems to me that asking the question is enough to set loose the fury that’s sweeping the news media and public conversations today.  I think it’s reasonable to say the alleged predatory behaviors of people like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., et al, are indefensible while not necessarily condemning their life’s work in the same breath. But that’s just me. And that’s just in this moment. We shall see how this all plays out with those of us who were not the objects of their acts. But how will their victims deal with them and their work? All these questions, none with satisfactory answers!




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Thinking with my Fingers on a Cold Saturday Morning

The nights suddenly grew colder. Days finally relented, at least for a spell, allowing the temperatures to slip into much more comfortable ranges. The thermometer this morning claims the temperature has just edged down to thirty-five degrees. The weather forecast calls for the sun to heat the air to a comfortable sixty-two degrees later in the day. With mostly clear skies, decorated this morning with clouds tinted orange and red, the day promises to be comfortable. I spent much of the day yesterday in a fruitless attempt to relocate fallen leaves from in front of, beside, and behind the house. Though I got the job done, the trees are far from finished dropping leaves and the enormous piles I flushed away with the blower have the potential of returning from whence they came with a single gust of wind. Still, I feel obliged to attempt to keep the grounds of my tiny estate modestly well-kempt, if for no other reason than to demonstrate my concern for neighbors’ senses of social decorum.

I’ve allowed this weather to arrive without having first had the now-empty propane cylinders refilled and without having checked the batteries and valves in the gas-log fireplace. Such is life. As long as the heating system performs according to plan, that’s fine. Speaking of which, I haven’t had the seasonal maintenance done, either.

I’ve taken on responsibility for the Unitarian Universalist Village Church newsletter, beginning with the December issue. What was I thinking? I now really need to unload some other responsibilities, lest I feel constricted and confined. While I think it will be fun, I think it will take time to get used to the deadlines it imposes. Deadlines. As I used to tell my communications staff when I ran an organization that published multiple magazines and newsletters. “Deadlines mean either the publication goes out by the deadline or you do.” That was a pretty damn nasty attitude. I’ve mellowed slightly since then. Back then, a missed deadline was akin to the end of the world. Today, I understand more about flexibility and the impact of uncontrollable circumstance. Those life lessons should come earlier in life and should ripen into wisdom before geezerhood arrives.

A question posed by a Facebook page (“Intelligence is Sexy”) gave me reason to ponder my life last night. The question was: “Do you ever think about going where nobody knows you and starting a new life?” Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I think of that often. I think of that almost every day. Only after reading the question did it occur to me how frequently I’ve considered that fantasy. I wonder if it’s as common among other people as with me?  Several respondents replied with something like this: “I used to think so but realized that I kept taking me.” Hmm, there’s that. Maybe it’s not the place one runs from, but the person. One cannot escape oneself. If one tries, he ought to realize there’s something amiss, not in the place, but in the person. Though, admittedly, something can be horribly amiss in the place, as well; when one lives in a social and political stew capable of drowning decency and empathy is boiling contempt, one gets the sense that location matters.

All right, another idea that’s been percolating in my head for many, many years. Co-housing. What is co-housing? According to the Co-Housing Association of the United States, “Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space.” Of late, I’ve read quite a lot about co-housing for seniors, people who opt in their later years to live in intentional communities with compatible friends and others, sharing communal space (kitchen, living areas, etc.), but maintaining their own private spaces (bedrooms, bathrooms, studies, etc.). The idea has, for years, appealed to me. Especially for seniors, the idea has enormous potential benefits. Groups of compatible people living privately in communal living can serve as support networks for one another. Co-housing provides a “ready-made” social environment that does not require over-commitment. I’m keeping it on my radar by keeping the association’s website readily available. Hot Springs Village (or, for that matter, the villages around Lake Chapala in Mexico) might be ideal spots for developing co-housing communities.

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I feel like I’ve abandoned my own commitment to writing. I’ve lost my enthusiasm about committing my thoughts to the page. I don’t know why that is. I hope the diminished devotion to writing what is on my mind is a temporary thing. I hope I recover my passion to translate what’s on my mind into words on the screen and, ultimately, into words that might appear on the printed page. But for now, I’m forcing even these words to leak, hesitantly and absent even the slightest exhilaration, from the tips of my fingers. My insistence that words spill from my mind onto the screen is causing me angst, not euphoria. Stories that once couldn’t wait to pour from my brain onto the page seem to have dried up, powdery leavings taking their place in my brain. Mornings of late do not excite me. I get up, make coffee, read the news, and curse the universe for its very existence. God damn, this is not who I wanted to be when I turned sixty-four last month. I wanted to be an energetic writer. I wanted to cultivate my creativity with words and with deeds. I wanted to carve my ideas into wood and stake my future on language. Instead, I’m shivering and cursing myself for having failed to accomplish anything of consequence since I retired early from a deeply unsatisfying career. These months long doldrums will surely pass. They must. I have things to accomplish, albeit nothing of substance. At the very least, I have people who depend on me to some extent for their happiness. They require me to lift myself out of this despairing mood.

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Los Perros: My Comments About the Film

To take my mind off the fact that we were leaving Ajijic and Mexico behind us, I decided to watch a movie on the two-and-a-half-hour flight from Guadalajara to Dallas. I selected Los Perros, a Chilean Spanish-language film with English subtitles. I subsequently learned that it is the second major film directed by Marcela Said, who also wrote this film. It’s a damn good thing it had subtitles; the quality of the audio was atrocious in the plane and the words I heard compared only modestly to the Spanish I know.  The film tells the story of a woman in her early forties named Mariana, used to wealth and its attendant luxuries thanks to a wealthy father (who we learn has a checkered past). Mariana is more than a bit arrogant and  steeped in privilege she uses as a grating, soft, but effective cudgel when she needs it. She is undergoing fertility treatments (one guesses at the urging of her husband) but isn’t much interested in that, nor in much of anything besides her dog. She refuses to tie the dog up, which results in its forays into a neighbor’s yard on multiple occasions. On the third occasion, the neighbor brings the dog home and threatens to shoot it if he finds it in his yard again.

Mariana has other interests, including running a small arts-related business, horseback riding, and jumping (on horses, that is). The latter develops into an interest in her considerably older instructor, Juan, who had been in the Pinochet-era army, as had Mariana’s father. Juan is under indictment for unspecified crimes connected to his military service.  In a rather odd turn, Mariana attempts to learn details of Juan’s history by trying to seduce a police detective; the plan backfires in important ways, but gives her some insights into Juan’s role in the Pinochet government.

Neither Mariana nor Juan are likable personalities; they have fundamental character flaws and behave in unpleasant ways. Yet as a viewer, I think most people will come to feel some empathy for the negativity in their lives and even some sympathy for them. They are, to use a phrase I often use to describe characters about whom I write, “good people who do bad things.” But their goodness is questionable. Yet when things happen to crush their respective fragile spirits, we empathize.

It occurs to me that Pinochet may never have been mentioned in the film. Whether it was or not, I am relatively certain the film deals with the crimes created under his dictatorship.

By the end of the film, one feels dissatisfied with the unresolved, unknown outcome. On the other hand, it was precisely the process of suggesting answers that were not provided that kept me interested and engaged.  The title, translated into English as “The Dogs,” is easy to understand as the film progresses. I’d give this film a solid “8.” While the film is a bit slow to develop, I liked it.

As I am wont to do, I decided after returning home (and because the clock changed and gave me an extra hour to do with what I like) to explore a bit about some of the film’s actors. Antonia Zegers played the character of Mariana. Zegers is a well-known television actress and has appeared in numerous stage and film productions. Zegers is 45 years old, I learned from the IMDb website. She separated from her husband in 2014 and, a year later, took up with a Chilean musician nine years her junior.

During my exploration of the actor behind Juan’s character (Alfredo Castro), I found the following comments about the film (Los Perros) in Variety magazine:

“The Dogs” marks Said’s follow-up to “The Summer of Flying Fish,” her debut, a critique of Chile’s bourgeoisie’s disavowal of political realities that was selected for Cannes’ 2013 Directors’ Fortnight, proved one of the new Latin American AMC-Sundance Channel’s first two pick-ups from Latin America, and established Said as one of Latin America’s distaff directors to track.

Castro is 61 years old and is an accomplished actor and, according to IMBd, “theatre director…pedagogue, playwright, and founder of Teatro La Memoria, a theatre company that marks a milestone in the history of contemporary Chilean theatre.” Interestingly, he has a history of collaboration with Pablos Larrain, described by IMDb as “Chile’s greatest movie director” and, perhaps not coincidentally, the estranged husband of Antonia Zegers. Even in Chile the romantic entanglements of actors and directors are headline events, it seems.

During my exploration of the film I watched and the people involved in its production, I came across the following Chilean films I’d like to watch one of these days:

  • El Verano de los Peces Voladores (The Summer of Flying Fish)
  • La Vida de Los Peces (The Life of Fish)
  • NO

There are more. For some reason, I find more depth in foreign films noir than in American films, even films of the same general genre. Most of the foreign films of that broad type I’ve watched seem to leave more to the imagination than do American films, which seem to “spell it all out for you.” Or maybe I just don’t follow foreign films as well, due to my reliance on subtitles. I’ve been intrigued by various Scandinavian films in the same way, as well as a few French films.

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My sister-in-law treated me to a salon pedicure and she treated my wife to a salon foot massage while we were in Ajijic. I have become a fan of pedicures. My toenails are as short and well-groomed as they’ve ever been. The rough callouses on my feet are softer and less well-defined. My feet feel attractive! (I know they’re not, but they feel that way.)

I’ve always wondered about the allure of pedicures. What, I wondered, could make a woman (in my experience, discussions about pedicures and their value have been conducted by women) spend good money on foot and toe “work?” I know now. My pedicuriosity has been satisfied. Perhaps “satisfied” is not the correct word. Perhaps “triggered” or “sparked” or “launched” would more accurately describe the situation. The pedicure experience, alone, is enough to warrant reasonably frequent return trips to Ajijic.

If you want to know the name of a place where they give good pedicures, it’s Christine’s Hair Salon in Ajijic. According to their Facebook page, a pedicure is 250 pesos, or about $13. With a generous tip of, say, $3 (about 60 pesos), you’ve gotten a nice pedicure for only $16 US. From what I’ve been able to gather online, you’d pay at least $50 for a pedicure in Little Rock and frequently considerably more.

Okay, next I will polish up a post I wrote about a film I viewed on the flight to DFW from Guadalajara. And maybe I’ll just post it. Two posts in one day. Just like the old days.


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Ajijic, Continued

I already posted about our experience last night at Teocintle Maiz restaurant in Ajijic, but I’ll memorialize it here because previous posts are easier for me to find on my blog. Last night, we had a magnificent dinner. I ordered sauteed octopus. Janine had pork ribs with black mole. For a starter, I had huitlacoche cream soup. Janine ordered indias vestidas (fresh squash blossoms filled with cream cheese and kernels of corn, then deep-fried).  My sister-in-law ordered guacamole for the table and there was more among the four of us.  My sister-in-law chose poblano chicken breast for her entre and my brother selected birria de pollo. The entire meal worked out to about $34 US per couple.

We started the day’s meals with a visit to a little French-owned pastry shop across the street from a brew-pub we’d eaten lunch the day before. We enjoyed an alfresco breakfast, choosing from among a small but delicious assortment. I had a “traditional” breakfast of eggs over easy with bacon. It came with a hard French roll and a very nice dog begging for food at the table. For a change of pace, I ordered a latte instead of black coffee; I could get hooked.

My sister-in-law drove us down to a bank where we withdrew cash from the ATM, then dropped us on the main Ajijic square. Janine and I walked around the village center, pausing occasionally to look inside shops and galleries. We walked all the way down to Lake Chapala, walked a ways on the malecón, and then wandered to La Nueva Posada, where we had lunch outdoors at the hotel’s restaurant. Ajijic-style fish tacos for me and an interesting chicken curry dish with pineapple for Janine. From there, we drifted back toward the square, expecting to hail a taxi to take us back to the house. Apparently, all the taxi drivers were on siesta, so we hiked home along the carretera; not a long distance (maybe a mile or so), but a very difficult and sometimes dangerous trek over broken concrete, uneven cobblestone, and too near speeding drivers. Still, an interesting adventure!

Here are a few photos from our experiences so far. Food and the like.

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Ajijic and Last Night’s Dream

We’ve only been in Ajijic since Tuesday afternoon. Yet already I feel more relaxed and distant from the madness of 45 and his demented minions. The village of Ajijic is a mixture of cutting edge modern culture and grim reminders of the absence of adequate education and the presence of abject poverty. Yet poverty here is a part of everyday life. I don’t think poverty here is viewed with such judgmental derision as it is in the USA.

The subdivision (fraction enter) in which my brother and his wife live is one of both relative and real wealth. About seventy-five percent of residents are Mexican, the remainder ex-pats from the USA, Canada, and a smattering of Asians and others. The homes in the central part of the village are, by and large, small and rather ramshackle places, though pockets of relative wealth are visible in renovated apartments and stand alone houses. The village readily mixes residential and commercial, so it’s easy to walk to get groceries, visit restaurants, pay electric bills, etc. Having been here such a short time, my observations are mostly speculations for now. But they are my first impressions.

Yesterday, we had lunch in a brewpub, after spending part of the morning at the tiangus (Wednesday weekly market). The two experiences were like viewing the world from two opposite poles. Both were truly enjoyable experiences, but they offered glimpses into the contrasts between poverty and wealth, possibilities and certainties, and hopes and expectations. I may try to explain what I mean by that one day after I come to grips with it myself. I the afternoon, I had a two-hour massage by a woman who explained that she was realigning my muscles to their proper orientations to one another. My career sitting behind a desk, she explained, had done unhappy things to me. She offered that, after her therapy, I might want to abandon the planned treatment of getting injections in my neck. She suggested I seek out a Bowen method therapist to work on my bone spur issues, rather than a chiropractor. We’ll see.

I had a disturbing dream last night. In part of it, I was in a meeting in which I had a bitter disagreement with a man I found intensely irritating. Somehow, that morphed into a situation in which I discovered it was 10:00 p.m. and I had failed to do anything about organizing a work-related party that was supposed to have started at 9:00 p.m. at a hotel. I fumbled around and gathered up three or four bottles of wine and a few boxes of crackers and took them to my car, where I had to wait for other cars to move before I could get out. I made my way to the hotel, where I found a sparsely attended event in which the guests were understandably upset that there was food or wine. The hotel staff then went into high gear to produce food and wine, but the catering manager admonished me for planning an event that involved me sneaking into the venue with food and wine. I apologized profusely to the catering manager and the guests for completely dropping the ball. Everyone seemed satisfied and sympathetic, save for the one guy with whom I had an earlier disagreement. He said, repeatedly and with a demonic smile, “I’m going to get you fired for this!” I knew he would. I deserved it. I had no excuse for forgetting to make arrangements for an important event. Several times during the latter part of the dream, I thought I must be having a dream, but then slipped back into fearing for my job and reputation. Finally, at 5:30, a loud boom, like a gunshot, woke me. I’ve heard several similar explosive booms since. But I’m fortified with coffee now. The booms don’t scare me!


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Our adventure begins Monday afternoon. We board a flight for Dallas, stay the night at an airport motel, then fly to Guadalajara on Tuesday. From there, we’ll get a taxi to Ajijic. And there we will unwind. The unexpectedly full calendar will cease to exist for a while. The obligations of retirement will disappear. The commitments we’ve made without realizing we’ve made them will be put on hold. Vacation. That’s a welcome word.

I’ve allowed myself to over commit. I wasn’t forced. I’ve taken on the role of treasurer of the Writers’ Club. And membership data maintainer. And newsletter writer and distributor. And presenter. And on and on and on. And I’ve allowed myself to commit to being the newsletter editor for the Unitarian Universalist church. And I took on management of an art show for an artists’ club. I’m stupid in some senses. But I’m withdrawing from some of these obligations. If my effing arm stops hurting so I can write–really write–I’ll drop more of them.

But I need someone to take my place. I’m easily replaceable, believe me. A trained monkey could do most of my duties. But I’ve gotten off track, haven’t I? We leave for Mexico tomorrow! Oh, yes!

I will eat guacamole more than I should. I will drink tequila (and other alcoholic beverages) more than I should. I will refrain from exercise more than I should. But I will have a wonderful time!  I will spend time conversing with my very intelligent brother and sister-in-law and that, alone, will make the trip worthwhile. God, I need time to unwind from whatever it is that is keeping me tightly wound. I need an escape valve. And Ajijic is it.

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Puerto Rico Needs Help

A member of the Unitarian Universalist Village Church sent a message to some members of the congregation, maybe all, suggesting it might be appropriate to have a conversation about how the church might assist the Unitarian Universalist Puerto Rico (UUPR) congregation as they attempt to help the island recover. I sent a message to the UUPR Facebook page, asking how other congregations might be able to help. Here’s the response I got this morning, in the early hours:

Hi John, Thank you for your patience. As one news organization rightly pointed out, we should have moved to the Recovery Phase yet we are still in Emergency Phase one month out. 80% of the island is still without power and even though the statistics show 71% have running water, 100% of it is still unsafe to drink as it is not being chlorinated yet. Consequently recovery efforts are painfully slow. We are working on an initiative with a local NGO whose management I am personally familiar. http://www.conprmetidos.org/ Before the disaster, it was a nonprofit seeking to attract PR millennials back to the island for their businesses, etc. So they already had staff working on island development, but have had to pivot to island recovery efforts. The important thing is that they have trained people on the ground who are trying to appraise needs (keeping in mind it is still impossible to each some communities other than by helicopter). No public schools have yet reopened and when they do only a fraction will be able to do so. They are sadly looking at a lost year of education for students. I wanted to give you this overview so you wouldn’t think we were ignoring your kind and generous offer. Hopefully this week, we can iron out the details of assistance. Most likely it would be for a congregation to “adopt” a Boys/Girls Club location to get it up and running. These facilities (there is at least one in every city in PR) are serving as community centers in a way no other organization can. The aid would be to provide a generator (hopefully solar), and water purification so activities and maybe even some educational programs could start to take place. So please stay tuned! We are eager to match up congregations with needs on the island — and there will be so many. One estimate I have seen is that it will take $91 billion, yes, billion, for all the recovery efforts, and 5-6 years….

I don’t know whether the UUVC congregation can adopt a Boys/Girls Club. But anyone who reads this message can help in some way. There are many organizations collecting cash to help PR rebuild. Here’s a place to start.

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A good night’s sleep and a nice day following improved my mood considerably. Today was good. Two meals “out” and far too many calories, but worth every bit. I spent part of the day wrestling acorns and leaves off the deck and part thinking about our upcoming visit to Mexico. A good day. A good day to turn 64 and a good day to be 64.

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I suppose I should mark the occasion in some fashion. So I will. About eight minutes ago, I turned sixty-four years old. That doesn’t sound like much, I’ll admit, but it is monumental to me. I’ve reached a point in my life at which I have to admit, “I’m old.” That is odd and ugly. Not that I admit it, but that I feel I must. I know people decades older who are not old. But I am. I don’t know just what it is, but I feel spent. Used up. Finished. This birthday is one I’d just as soon not have. I feel as if it’s the last one I’ll experience. That’s macabre, I know, but it’s just the way I feel. I’m alone on my sixty-fourth birthday. My wife is in the next room, watching television. Yet I’m sitting here alone, watching my computer screen change with every tap of my fingers. And, so what? Nothing. That’s what. Nothing.

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I have more things to say than I can put into words.
My thoughts are jumbled, random, unconnected.
I’m soaked in confusion, amplified by world events
and streaked with fear and anger, and muddled by beads of
hope so small I think they have little chance of
surviving the turmoil and chaos of raw bewilderment
that cascades down my brain like a waterfall.

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