Edging Toward Utopia

When we moved to Hot Springs Village, I assumed we’d identified our last house and our last community. Speaking only for myself, and not for my wife, I am having second thoughts. I don’t know this is the place for me for the long term. I think I would be more comfortable in an environment in which more of the populace shared my morals and my values and my beliefs. I think I’d find another place—where intellect is valued and nourished and where diversity is encouraged and celebrated—more comfortable. I suppose part of my shifting frame of mind is due to laziness. I don’t want to have to try to change minds by educating people who need compassion. I don’t want to have to struggle through the ugliness that circles around irrationally conservative drains. I need, or at least want, peace. I want love and acceptance and appreciation…not just for me, but for everyone. I want the kind of world the Unitarian Universalist church claims to want. Tolerance, decency, forgiveness, appreciation…you know, the ideal in which all people get along together in accepting reverence. But I know, though I wish it were not so, that no such ideal place exists. It could be. If only people would collectively seek it out. But people are not the kind of neighbors I’d want to hang around. Our neighbors are, by and large, deviants from another galaxy. At least I hope they are. I’d hate to think they are “of us.” Because that would paint an ugly picture of us. This is a long, strange way of saying I think I’m going to suggest to my wife that we look at our options. That is, moving away to another place where utopia might be just a little closer.

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African Eatery

We’re going to lunch today at a new African restaurant in Alexander, AR (AKA suburban Little Rock). The place is called Kontiki African Restaurant and today is its grand opening. My spouse is rightfully cautious about going to restaurants during the first several weeks of their opening, given the need to work out the “kinks,” but we’re going anyway, inasmuch as some friends alerted us to the existence of the place and are willing to go along on this first day of full-on operation. I gather the place had a soft opening about a week ago and, from what I read, it went well. My first thought when I heard “African restaurant” was that my dream had been fulfilled; finally, a place to get Ethiopian food in Arkansas. But, no, that is not the case. Kontiki will serve west African food, but that’s all right, too. I am familiar with some of the menu items (e.g., jollof rice and fufu), but don’t know much else about west African cuisine, so this will be a treat.

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Someone New

If the day fails to set your soul on fire,
return to the mattress and sleep.
If the week fails to give you hope,
take refuge in a memory and rest there.
If the month fails to give you solace,
seek out old photos that recall happiness.
If the year fails to sweep away sadness,
look for a way to begin again, as someone new.

The life you’ve lived thus far is no
prescription for the future.
The life you’ve lived thus far does not
shackle you to the past.
The life you’ve lived thus far holds
no power over you that you don’t give it.
The life you’ve lived thus far is only
a prelude to the life you’ll live as someone new.

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The Bootstrap Boys – Poverty Line

This video was played during the collection for a charity at the Unitarian Universalist Village Church in Hot Springs Village, AR last Sunday (and a Sunday before). I love the music!

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I Need to Open a Restaurant

The painters came yesterday. Three of them. Father and two sons. One of the sons is the man in charge. Our front door is no longer bubble gum pink; it is belligerent red, an aggressive tone that cautions all visitors to accept the supremacy of the residents or face the ugly consequences of a bad decision. Most of the work yesterday involved taping. But there were some actual painting. Some of the ugliest scarred baseboards were coated with white paint, white paint that matched the trim color before scuff marks obliterated it.

The painters will be back today, perhaps. But that’s not a sure thing, as snow coats the roads and temperatures are expected to remain well below freezing.   I will not blame the painters if they don’t return today; instead, I will open their buckets and paint in their stead. No, I won’t. You know I won’t.  My knees won’t stand for it.

While the painters were mussing with our house, we went to Hot Springs to buy groceries. But before groceries, we had lunch at SqzBx (you can call it Squeeze Box), the new brewery/pizza joint on Ouachita Ave. It is my kind of place; I told my lovely wife I would call it my “Third Place,” except I do not have enough money to spend every afternoon there, eating pizza and drinking beer. But if I did I would. Beer was decent, pizza was excellent, atmosphere was (for inexplicable reasons) perfect. Oh, then we went grocery shopping. We bought all sorts of things, but not enough. I want to go out again soon and buy more; fish, pork, chicken, vast quantities of vegetables. Oh, and a chest (or upright) freezer. We need this thing—you know, to store the vast quantities of stuff I will buy.

Today, more than ever before, I want to open a restaurant. Not the typical style. No, I want to open a restaurant with a very limited menu and with a requirement that patrons share their stories. I want people to laugh and cry and stumble into the real world simply by eating in my restaurant. We would serve beer and wine, but hard liquor only if patrons bring their own. And we would require a signature before being seated: “I agree to lift myself up in this establishment, and to do my level best to lift up the other patrons. I will sing, I will dance, I will giggle and howl at the moon if asked. I will become a child again but I will not behave like a child when my meal is placed before me. I will eat what I am given without complaint.” People who break that very last rule will be served at the next seating.

I’d like to continue this diatribe. Because I might be able to extract from it some tiny fragment of decency, some minuscule piece that mattered, for a novel or a play or a short story. Won’t I probably won’t, will I? No, I probably won’t.  But I’ll wax philosophical later about that fantasy restaurant.

 

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2500

Over the years, I’ve managed to adjust. I’ve taught myself to laugh or shrug when my body and mind would be inclined to offer tears as the automatic response to a stimulus. The replacement of laughs or shrugs for tears has never been “natural,” though. I’ve had to work at it. “Fighting back tears” describes the battle very well; the war with my emotions has taken me prisoner more times than I can count. Books I’ve read—or skimmed, until I found them soft, offering only hugs and no concrete data—fail to explain why I dissolve in tears when others don’t. Until recently, when I read only a few pages of a book I picked up at a Little Rock library. The Empath’s Survival Guide isn’t a magical bullet, but a few of its pages explains things about me that I’ve never been able to understand, much less explain, on my own. Frankly, I found the book—at least the few pages I read—an absurdly “mystical” collection of nonsense. I don’t buy its “woo-woo” assertions involving synesthesia and electromagnetic fields and emotional contagion, etc. the least bit compelling. But the book’s description of people whose responses to the world around them typically involve tears struck a chord with me.

In reading the first few pages of the book, I came to the conclusion that I’m not an “empath” as defined by the author. However, I might fit the definition of a “highly sensitive person.” Reading a few pages of The Empath’s Survival Guide sent me to other published works that described “highly sensitive people.” The traits that describe them, according to an article by Amanda L. Chan, and my personal “score” as to the degree to which I “fit” the description are as follows:

  1. They feel more deeply that the average person. (8)
  2. They’re more emotionally reactive. (9)
  3. They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?” (6)
  4. They prefer to exercise solo. (9)
  5. It takes longer for them to make decisions. (6)
  6. They are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision. (10)
  7. They’re extremely detail-oriented. (4)
  8. More often than not, they’re introverts (about 70% of them are). (10)
  9. They work well in team environments. (3)
  10. They’re more prone to anxiety or depression. (9)
  11. Annoying sounds tend to be significantly more annoying to them than to others. (5)
  12. They find violent movies extremely disturbing. (4)
  13. They cry easily. (10)
  14. They have above-average manners. (6)
  15. Criticism affects them deeply; they feel it in an amplified way. (6)
  16. They prefer solo work environments; that is, they like their privacy. (10)

Perhaps my personality traits contribute the fact that I much prefer the company of women to the company of men. Not all men fit the male stereotype, but I find that too many (for my taste) are either afraid to or uninterested in discussing matters involving “feeling.” I don’t know if that’s because they are worried that emotions reveal weakness or because they’ve just never been taught how to discuss matters of a personal nature. Women, on the other hand, seem to be open to conversations about things that most men find uncomfortable. Women are, by and large, more “approachable” than men. They are more readily willing to reveal themselves and to accept the revelations of others. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I might be uncomfortable having the same revelatory conversations with men as with women. Those conversations with men might send the wrong “signal,” i.e., they might suggest I’m looking for a male “connection.” I wonder why that is? I’m not looking for a female “connection” when I have such conversations with women, but I’m especially conscious that I don’t want to send the wrong message to men. I suppose it’s all about socialization. Heterosexual men are just “supposed” to demonstrate their masculinity in ways that preclude being too “sensitive.” What bullshit. If I could change the world, I would. But I’m too old to do that, so I’ll sit and stew about it.

This post marks number two thousand, five hundred since I started this blog. Congratulations to me on achieving a milestone that has no meaning, but calls for celebration nonetheless. I’ve written far more posts than this blog suggests (plus almost two hundred “drafts” are waiting in the wings to be either finished or deleted). Numbers are meaningless, except in pure mathematics, in which case they represent beauty in its purest form.

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Food Fetish

We enjoy food. “We” means my wife and I. We’re both food aficionados. We’re fond of food. Food feeds our “freak,” as it were. Some people think it odd that I post photos of food, both on my blog and on Facebook. Let them think it. Let them? Can I stop them? Would I even want to try? Why would I? Their lack of creativity doesn’t impinge on my happiness in the least. No, it surely does not do that. Something does, but not the lack of creativity amongst people who would judge me for my food fetish.

Swordfish, buried under mushrooms, alongside mashed butternut squash and—from a can, how apalling—green beans.

Dinner of butternut squash and garbanzo stew, flavored with tomatoes and wonderful spices, alongside some rather bland zucchini that, with appropriate seasonings, became downright delicious.

Breakfast, consisting of a hard-boiled egg, some radishes, a slice of Canadian bacon, a tiny wedge of cream cheese dressed with ghost pepper salt,a few slices of tangerine/tangelo, and some tomato juice.

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Bristling Sardines by the Wayside

Sometimes I think I have too many stories whirling around in my head. Too many incomplete ideas seek a foothold in a brain unable or unwilling to provide a foundation. Yeah, that’s it. I’m flush with ideas, but not with the mechanisms of transforming them from concept to completion. If I had the energy and the time to go through this blog, every post, and outline the story lines I’ve started, I would discover an enormous volume of snippets, as I call them, that might deserve development. But I’ve done that, haven’t I? I’ve begun the process many times, losing interest far before the work is complete. Pfftt! And the thing is, even when I decide on a small number of stories, or even a single piece, my attention span proves insufficient to carry the idea to some semblance of completion. I mentioned my short little span of attention recently, didn’t I? Yes, I did. But I don’t recall the context; my short-term memory is becoming just as fuzzy as my long-term memory.

While I’ve thinking of it, I had a dream last night in which I was instructed to take pieces of paper and discard them in a stream. The shreds of paper represented my regrets about things I did or did not do during the past year. That exercise, someone in the dream told me, was my opportunity to make a new beginning, without regrets to weigh me down. The dream progressed, in a disjointed fashion, to the next scene in which I was looking for an address in a dense city neighborhood where I was to take a class. But I discovered the address was incomplete; it pointed me in the right direction, but not to the right building. And I discovered that the address where the class was to be taught was on a street perpendicular to the street address I was given. I woke up in the midst of the confusion about the address; just before I woke up, I was trying to make sure I balanced between three things…not sure what three things they were. I think they may have been three lifestyles or attitudes or beliefs. Odd dream. Can’t remember much of it. Another incident of memory failing me.

Between my January 1 weigh-in and my weigh-in yesterday morning, my weight dropped by an impressive 6.6 pounds. But after yesterday’s monstrous Italian lunch, complete with enormous rolls of garlic bread, I gained 1.8 pounds back, according to this morning’s weigh-in. Not to worry. I’ll continue on my path; it’s not a diet path, though. It’s a lifestyle change path. I don’t feel pressure about it; I just feel that it’s time I stopped behaving as if my body belonged to a twenty-five year old who could consume as much of anything as he wanted without worry. Too much meat, too much bread, too much booze, too much of everything. Enough. Enough. Enough. Last night, as I snacked on the leftovers from yesterday’s breakfast (the remnants of a can of heavily-spiced Rotel tomatoes), I thought, “I could enjoy a steady diet of nicely-spiced cooked mixed vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc.” And I am sure I could. Perhaps I should. Would that allow me to consume the necessary amounts of protein and other nutrients I need? I do not know. But I bet I could figure it out without a great deal of trouble; no gnashing of teeth required. If I went to a purely vegetarian diet, I’d have to give up my herring and my bristling sardines. That would be a challenge and a hardship. How can I just cast my bristling sardines by the wayside? I could become a vegetarian with periodic deviations into pescaterianism. Yeah, that’s it. And when the moon reaches the zenith of its brightness in the sky, I could deviate even further, becoming a carnivore for the night. I believe that mix is called omnivorousness, or something like it. I could follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That is excellent advice. Perhaps my lifestyle will follow it. We shall see. We always do.

 

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Water Memories and Wishful Thinking

Wave upon wave of moisture-laden air sweeps across the mountain-top, if that’s what this is—this peak upon which my house was built. The level of humidity in the air is most obvious when I look out to the screened porch on the rear of the house. Moisture drenches almost every square inch of the tightly-woven fiberglass screen, filling in the weave almost completely, with only a few patches where water does not fill in the spaces between intersecting threads of screen. I’m not quite sure why, but as I gazed out to the sheets of wet screen, I thought about the age of this house. It was built just a year before the board of directors of my former employer opted not to renew my contract after more than seven years. Changing boards makes job longevity a rarity among association chief executive officers; seven years, I’m told, represents the median tenure of association CEOs. The demise of my job with that organizations seems so long ago. And it was.

My God, how could twenty-one years have passed since I was effectively fired? At the time, the board emphasized that I wasn’t being fired; they simply decided not to renew my contract so the organization could “move in a different direction.” Uh huh. “You’re not being fired, we just want you out of the building and, by the way, give us your keys.”

In the intervening years, I got another executive job, quit after a year, and then started my own business managing associations on contract, which I operated for thirteen years before deciding to retire at age fifty-eight. As I’ve written before, I didn’t decided to retire then, not really. No, I decided I hated coming to work each day and loathed most of my clients, so I needed to take a one-year sabbatical. I moved from working for a single board of directors to working to satisfy as many as eight at a time; madness!

So, I sent my clients packing, sold the assets of the business, and took a break. After a year, I decided to extend it for another year. And then a third. And, finally, I decided to call it quits.  I liked not working far more than I liked working. But I still miss certain aspects of working. I suppose that’s why I remain engaged in a few organizations that hold my interest. At least for a while.

Today, my wife and I are joining a fellow writer and his wife for lunch, at his insistence. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this die-hard conservative, considerably-older-than-me, football-loving man whose interests do not coincide with mine in the least, took a liking to me from shortly after we met. One of the first interactions I had with him was over a holiday lunch with the writers’ group to which I belong, during which we engaged in arguments over the relative value of the life of Ted Cruz. My argument was, and is, something along the lines that Ted Cruz is as close to the anti-Christ as anyone is likely to come. My friend defended him and said he represented American values and the American way. I’m afraid my friend may have been right, but that’s another story. After a short conversation that caused my blood pressure to increase into the stratosphere, I told him neither of us were apt to change our positions and we’d both be better off if we just leave political discussions off that table. Occasionally, since then, he’ll try to bait me, but I ignore his efforts and attempt to keep my blood pressure under control.  At any rate, we’re going to lunch today in Benton. I’ll drive. My friend and his wife recommended we go to an Italian restaurant they like very much, so we agreed.

What does this retrospective about association employment and political tension have to do with high humidity and water on my screens?  I suppose there’s really no direct tie, but for some reason when I saw the water-soaked screens, I thought to myself, “it looks like the porch is drowning.” And the idea of drowning triggered my memories of feeling like I was drowning in stupidity as I worked with self-important dim-wits who used their election to boards of directors to enable them to exercise power they did not have in other aspects of their lives.  That uninformed use of “power” required me to attempt to gently guide them toward reasoned decision-making, rather than taking spur-of-the-moment actions with far-reaching negative consequences that might far outlive their board tenure. It just got old. Drowning in stupidity, that is. I had to get out.

My difficulties with boards seem so petty now, now that a drunken aardvark armed with nuclear weapons and unchecked by even a modicum of intelligence runs the country. I read with interest an article on Facebook recently that asked readers to answer the question: “What one place do you want to visit more than any other before the end of 2018?” My immediate thought, which I kept to myself instead of responding, was, “Donald Trump’s grave.” “What a terrible thought to have,” I said to myself. So I changed it, in my head, to “Washington, DC, at the conclusion of the successful impeachment hearings.” I can imagine the voices in DC saying to Trump after the impeachment hearings lead to his removal: ” “You’re not being fired, we just want to go in a different direction. By the way, we want you out of the city and, oh yeah, give us the keys to the White House.”

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News from the Sewer

It’s becoming increasingly hard to believe anything I see or read in the “news.” Part of the problem is that I don’t know what constitutes “news: anymore. Fox News on television certainly is not news any longer; it’s a combination of facts and interpretations molded to fit a conservative agenda. CNN, once a network I believed transmitted facts without interpretation, has become a liberal-leaning interpreter of information. And it occasionally seems to make things up, along with its ugly, deceitful, and unscrupulous competitor, Fox News. Until the badly flawed election which resulted in a deeply self-absorbed narcissist living in the White House, the term “fake news” was not used; most people recognized bias and swept it aside in favor of learning the real facts. But the undignified piece of sewer clog gave voice to a term that deserves to be erased from the language.

Local television news and newspapers regurgitate what they get from Fox or CNN or whatever other channel they find appealing; whatever matches their skewed view.  I listen to and watch PBS and BBC because I think they report facts without interpretation. The same is true with Aljazeera. But both may have a bias. They may reflect attitudes I want to hear. But, in fact, that’s not what I want. I want unfiltered facts. Data. Reality. I want to make up my own mind. I don’t want skew thrown at me. I don’t want information twisted in a way to either appeal to my left-leaning attitudes or warped in an attempt to legitimize right-wing thinking. Where can I get my news that’s not biased?

I don’t really know. 45, the fake human who occupies the White House, calls all news organizations “fake news.” That, by itself, makes me want to embrace and fully fund every news organization. God, I do hate Trump and everything he stands for. But that’s not the point of this wandering diatribe.  But what is the point, really? I don’t know. I just need to ventilate some pent-up frustration. I just need to express my rage in a way that doesn’t harm anyone or anything, other than my personal peace. That rage has done quite a job of ruining my peace; I’ve become preoccupied with my loathing for indecency… immorality…monstrous misuse of power..harassment in every form.  And so I bellow in the dark. I engage in meaningless drivel on a website/blog that no one reads because it’s not interesting.

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They Don’t Make Clothes for Men Like Me

My body shape does not correspond to the body shapes for which clothing manufacturers make clothing. It’s not just the fact that I am over-ample in the belly at the moment, though I am. Even if I lost my pot-belly and otherwise discarded excess poundage, off-the rack clothing would not fit me. I know this because I’ve tried on quite a lot of suit jackets, slacks, jeans, shirts, etc., etc. over the years during periods of overweight and otherwise. Nothing ever fits. My inseams are shorter than clothing manufacturers think they should be for a man my height and girth; my arms are shorter and my neck broader than they think is appropriate for a man of my size.  The sleeves of sports jackets that fit me around the chest look like they were created for knuckled-dragging beasts, when I wear them; the sleeves fall far, far below the end of my fingers. The bottom hems of those same jackets, if they fit me in the chest, almost reach my knees. Obviously, the “average” mannequins that serve as models for manufacturers’ clothing look nothing like me.

All of this brings me back to a topic about which I’ve written several times before: I need to learn to use a sewing machine.  Or, perhaps, I need to employ the services of a tailor. Yesterday, I found an online service that promises to provide truly tailor-made clothing at prices that even I find reasonable. I may well give the company, iTailor, a try. Just for kicks, I went to the company website and started building my “ideal” sports jacket. When I got to checkout (I didn’t actually measure sleeve length, etc.; I just pulled numbers out of the air), I came to the price: $179. Now that’s more than I’d normally pay for a used jacket at Salvation Army, but it’s a far cry from the prices I’d pay for a tailored suit in a store, even a store like J.C. Penny. So, I started thinking, “maybe I should do this.” The down side, of course, is that picking fabrics online has the potential of being extremely disappointing. It’s hard to know what colors will really look like and how fabric will actually feel by looking at a rather dark image online. But maybe it’s still worth the risk? I don’t know. I’m still mulling it over.

I’ve never had a piece of clothing that fit me truly well. Either the sleeves are too long or the inseams are too long or some other measurement is “off.” Invariably, I have to either accept ill-fitting garments or pay someone to alter them; even then, the fit is not “perfect.” I don’t really expect the fit of an online “tailored” product to be perfect, either, but I’m increasingly interested in giving it a shot. The other option is to learn how to sew and to become my own personal tailor. That, of course, would require me to learn more than how to sew. I’d also have to learn how to adjust patterns to fit my unique measurements. That sounds like it would take a ten-year apprenticeship with an extremely talented tailor. And that sounds like something that’s not going to happen.

iTailor just may get another customer sometime soon.

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Short Little Span of Attention

Finally, after an extensive hiatus, I’ll attend a writers’ critique group in downtown Hot Springs today. I’ll take for review a revised first chapter of a would-be-novel I’ve let languish for several months. Whether I continue will depend on whether I decide the novel has any potential—for being finished and being moderately appealing to the intended reader.

I’m slow to start my assessment of my plans for the year ahead. Here it is, eight days in, and I’ve still given only modest attention to “what do I want this year to hold for me.” It’s odd, I don’t feel a sense of urgency, nor a sense that planning matters much. But I’d rather not be a ship without direction, so I’ve committed to myself to pay attention and make decisions about where I want to go, both figuratively and literally, this year.

My wife and I both know that one thing we want to do is to fit into our clothes better, so we’re adjusting our intake of food and booze (for me), in terms of substance and volume, with the objective of saving money on a new wardrobe and, frankly, feeling better (speaking strictly for myself) than today. I feel stuffed and lethargic, though I can’t quite figure out why. It’s not that I’ve gained THAT much weight, but my body is telling me otherwise. Where’s my energy? I should be out blowing leaves to clear out paths for water to flow around the house, but I’ve not been able to muster the energy and the inclination.

I want to travel, but I don’t know where. I saw a television program about Costa Rica the other day; that holds promise. Or Nova Scotia; I’ve always loved what little I’ve seen of Nova Scotia and I want to go back. I’d like to relearn what little I once knew of welding, and then build on what I learned, but that’s an expensive proposition. The need for money to pursue so many of my interests (or what I think might be my interests) suggests I retired way too early; I would have served myself by chaining myself to the work-world for another four or five years, saving every penny I could in the process. That ship has sailed, though. Nothing can be gained by second-guessing a decision long since made and executed.

This post is the poster-child for my style of blogging; stream-of-consciousness that has no meaning to others and holds questionable meaning to me.  I’ll stop now and drink coffee, cup number two.

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Compassion in Winter

The frigid fingers of winter, long and cold and callous,
can tear at the fibers of compassion when the homeless are
left to fend for themselves in cardboard homes behind
picket fences stitched together with razor wire and disdain.

Whose brother is that man behind the dumpster, shivering
in temperatures that turn water to ice and hope to fear?
Whose sister is that woman, wrapped in threadbare blankets,
wondering how to temper the pain of freezing to death?

Whose daughter is the girl struggling to save her own
child by sharing with her the only thing left to give, body heat?
Whose son is the teen under the bridge, wishing his family
had not abandoned him when he needed them most?

We can call them the ugly indolents, casualties of their own
bad choices and deserving of disapproval and contempt;
we can assign to them full blame for their situations,
absolving us of any responsibility for their welfare.

Or we can practice compassion, regardless of whether they
are victims of circumstance or paying the price of bad
decisions and raw imprudence; we can offer shelter
from cruel winds and judgment, a respite from pain.

A warm shelter on a cold night can save a life and delay
the slide toward intractable and incurable despondency,
but one night is not the answer; compassion seeks not just
to mask the symptoms but to unearth and apply the cure.

We can chose to cast a blameful stare or we can opt
for compassion, seek a solution, and retain our humanity.

I wrote this after watching a documentary on homelessness on PBS, @home.

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I Could be a CIA Operative – Maybe

I spent considerable time this morning learning details of the country of Yemen from the CIA World Factbook. The country has a population of more than twenty-eight million people; more than thirteen million of them do not have access to electricity. Fifty-four percent of the population live below the poverty line (the local measure of which I do not know). The country is in debt beyond my ability to comprehend. In 2016, the country’s revenues were estimated at $1.684 billion and its expenses $4.917 billion. Huge numbers of its citizens face famine; many have fled to other countries to escape the war, becoming impoverished refugees with virtually no resources of their own.

The current condition of Yemen can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire. In 1918, North Yemen became independent. The area that became South Yemen in 1967 had been established as a British protectorate in the nineteenth century; the British withdrew that year. Three years later, the government of South Yemen adopted a Marxist orientation, prompting the exodus of large numbers of people from the south to the north. The two countries were united as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. Four years later, a southern secessionist movement was rapidly quashed, but erupted again in 2007.  There is, of course, more to the story. Suffice it to say the history of Yemen and the roots of the current civil war are deep and complex. Reading the full CIA World Factbook entry (ten subsections, each rather extensive) leaves me feeling that the situation in the country is essentially hopeless. Even if fighting stopped today and humanitarian food and water distribution across the county could take place without fear of attack, the scope of need is almost too big to comprehend.

So, what’s the point of reading about the almost insurmountable challenges of a country half a world away—a country whose people I cannot personally hope to help? If for no other reason, I read about Yemen to better understand the world in which we live. I read about Yemen as a way to give myself a cautionary note about what civil war can do to a country and its people. And I read about Yemen so I can discuss it with other people so the famine facing its people does not get erased in the political conversations of the day.

Sometime yesterday I encountered the phrase, “compassion as a lifestyle.” It could have been last night while I was watching a film by Susanne Suffredin, @home, about the work of homeless advocate Mark Horvath. Whether it was the film (which, by the way, was quite moving and thought-provoking) or not, I latched onto the phrase as if it were my own. I love the strength of principle it conveys. I love what it can mean, if people adopt it. I mention the phrase because thinking of it this morning is what brought me to explore more about Yemen. And that got me thinking about other things related to countries and compassion, leading me down another rabbit hole. As usual, while reading about Yemen, I got sidetracked; I perused other countries’ entries in the CIA World Factbook. One of the smallest countries in the world, Tuvalu, owes its existence to ethnic squabbles, like so many others. According to the Factbook:

“In 1974, ethnic differences within the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands. The following year, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978.”

“Hmmm,” I said to myself, “what else can I learn while I’m here?”

Well, I learned that the governments of a number of countries whose citizens live comfortably and in relative safety and who enjoy considerable freedom get tax revenue equal to at least fifty percent of their Gross Domestic Product. They apparently have high taxes and enjoy some of the highest levels of quality of life on the planet. A few of the countries with such significant revenue from taxes include: Iceland (58.4%), Finland (54.2%), Norway (54.2%), France (53.1%), Denmark (52.9%), Sweden (51.0%), and Belgium (50.7%). The figure for the U.S. is 17.6%. Of course, the government tax revenue as a percentage of GDP tells only part of the story, but it suggests that high tax revenue tends to correlate well with generally high quality of life. Yet further exploration shows a generally high correlation, too, with high unemployment for youth between sixteen and twenty-four years of age. It occurs to me that, with the data collected about countries around the world by the CIA, someone with adequate computer and analytical skills could use those data to determine with some precision what types of governmental policies provide the greatest likelihood of decent standard of living for the most people, lowest infant mortality rates, lowest unemployment rates, etc., etc. I’m not the one to do it, but I wish someone would.

So ends my ramblings for this morning. If the data collected by the CIA through both overt and covert means were all used to improve the quality of life of people worldwide, I would be happy to be a CIA operative. But I may be a little old to start now.

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Spoiled

It boggles the mind to realize how utterly spoiled we are in this country. We (the collective “we,” not necessarily you and me) behave as if the good fortune to which we have become accustomed is our birthright. We assume the ostensibly democratic system under which we operate is the best; and we assume it still exists as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. We behave as if a bathroom and an HVAC system and tap-water at the ready are unquestionable resources that simply always will  be there. We don’t question the availability of septic or sewer systems, fresh water delivery, a reliable electric grid, vaccinations against horrific diseases, and a thousand other privileges to which we have become accustomed. We are living a delusion, a dream world that’s as spectacular as it is fragile.

I’m delighted to live in this dream world, where bathrooms and air conditioning and heating and fresh water and electricity and medicines are available. But I cringe to think that millions upon millions of other people don’t have it so good. By simple good fortune, I was born in a first world country to a middle class family. If I had been born in a farming village in Syria or a slum in Chicago, the things I take for granted would, indeed, seem like a dream world. I cannot understand why the primary aim of every government worldwide is not, first and foremost, to lift everyone up to at least a basic level at which fresh water and an adequate food supply and basic medical care are readily available. The middle class, as we define it in the U.S.A. is far, far ahead of that base level; resources ought to go first toward achieving a level of humanity that’s too often ignored.

I’m rambling. I do that sometimes. Maybe I’m just trying to get these thoughts out of my head so they won’t trouble me so much.

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Doing Without, or Doing, Again

In August 2013, I started what I intended to be a year in which I would “do without” something I was used to for a month at a time. At the end of the year, according to my plan, I would have had twelve opportunities to experience the extent to which I had the discipline to “do without.” I wanted to test the boundaries of my discipline.

I learned that my discipline was poor, at best. Ultimately, my experiment failed. No, it was not the experiment that failed; it was me. I failed miserably.

The first month, I did without coffee; that was easy.

The second month, I did without alcohol; that was easy, as well.

The third month, I did without meat; well, for three weeks. I lied to myself when I considered that moderately successful.

The fourth month, I did without social media (except for my blog); but not for long. I gave up Facebook for several weeks, but rationalized my way back to it before I’d been away for a month.

The fifth month, I did without restaurant meals; but only briefly. Again, I rationalized the failure; “It’s December and people expect you to go out with them.” That sort of rationalization. It was not just that. I allowed myself to rationalize my way out of my commitment by using the excuse that I should not force my wife to suffer “doing without” just because I wanted to prove something to myself. That was an excuse without decency; I was not exposing her to anything she was unable to withstand and she did not “do without” anything during my experiment.

By the sixth month, I had abandoned my year of doing without. I did not make a big deal of the abandonment of my grand experiment. I acknowledged it, sort of, but in a way that made abject failure seem a little like a moderate success.

This morning, as I was reading what I wrote about my experience in “doing without,” something I wrote two and one-half months in struck me:

As I was mulling over what this exercise in doing without may be teaching me, I kept coming back to the fact that my experience is purely voluntary. The challenges of my “doing without” pale in comparison to the daily experiences of people the world over who have no choice but to do without. People everywhere do without electricity, running water, adequate food, sanitary living conditions, and reasonable assurances they are safe from attack. They live in a state of imposed asceticism with little hope for escape.

My one-month experiments are pin-pricks compared to the open, festering wounds of people who have no choice but to live month-by-month and year-by-year in conditions that I might be unable to tolerate and sustain for even a week.

Though my one-month experiments thus far have not been especially difficult, at least they have begun to make me realize and appreciate how truly little I suffer in comparison to others. I hope to keep learning from these experiences.

Perhaps I can learn more than to simply appreciate what I have. Perhaps I will learn not only that I don’t need some of the luxuries to which I’ve become so accustomed, but that I am doing myself, and the world around me, a disservice by taking advantage of their availability. Maybe doing without is good.

After reading those paragraphs, I realized how little I actually learned from the experience that, only a few months later, I abandoned entirely.

I watched part of a TED Talk a few days ago, in which a guy named Matt Cutts spoke of learning the limits of his discipline by doing, for just thirty days, something he’d always wanted to try. He said it opened his eyes and his mind. He’d done things ranging from riding his bike to work for thirty days to taking a picture every day for thirty days. His experiences opened him up to trying new things he would never had done before starting his thirty-day challenges.

My thirty-day challenges were to NOT do something for thirty days at a stretch. Maybe that’s the problem; my approach was to test my discipline in negative fashion. No, that’s not the way to think about it. I think, perhaps, it’s time to return to the concept to see whether the boundaries of my discipline can withstand tougher tests; abandon some things for thirty days, alternating with trying something new for thirty days. Or some combination thereof. As Matt Cutts said in his TED Talk, “You can do ANYTHING for thirty days.” We’ll see.

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Step Four

This post is the final one in a half-hearted attempt to accomplish a goal that’s neither simple to articulate nor easy to abandon. Having not attained a foothold toward achieving the elusive goal, I’m discarding my efforts to chase it, at least by way of a series of simplistic posts. Instead, I’ll incorporate that hard-to-define goal into my normal posts, by which I mean in the stream of my consciousness. If the reader is having difficulty understanding what I’m saying…welcome to the world of this writer.

Writing has been, for me, a form of meditation. Writing allows me to escape the world outside myself and to examine with clarity the life within. That’s not always pleasant. The life within can be tumultuous and uncomfortable; it can be upsetting and disconcerting. Despite the sometimes unsettling rough ride I take through writing, though, I find in in an opportunity to explore aspects of my intellect and my emotions that don’t reveal themselves otherwise. I’ve attempted, from time to time, to use writing as a guide for myself, something of a prod for me to achieve resolutions that otherwise probably would not get the attention they might deserve. Those attempts, though, usually fall short. I’ve come to the malleable conclusion that simplistic, cookie-cutter solutions to problems that cannot be described in the absence of a ten-thousand word dissertation are fruitless. So, I’ll continue the uphill battle of cleansing the detritus from my brain in the usual fashion; writing when it feels right, thinking in the absence of a keyboard or a pen when it doesn’t.

So, step four is mopping up the first three steps of this series, replacing it with something less formulaic and far more realistic.

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Snake Sighting

Gwynn Slottman was deathly afraid of snakes. The mere sight of an elongated, limbless reptile sent her into a panic-stricken delirium of the highest order. She screamed, swore, and jumped on chairs and tables. Sweat poured from her brow. Perspiration drenched her clothes. Her cheeks turned beet red. Her eyes blazed with a mixture of rage and abject terror. Snake sightings brought out the worst in an otherwise rational, intelligent, and composed woman. Gwynn turned into a raving, reptile-loathing maniac at even the mention of a snake. She lost her ability to think rationally and to control her bladder. Whenever she saw even a photograph of a snake, Gwynn—an openly agnostic-and-leaning-toward-atheist woman—prayed to God that Jesus would swoop down from heaven and smite the serpent.

On the morning of June 17, 2017, Gwynn led her dog, Hermione, out the door  into the garage of the frame home Gwynn shared with her husband, Scotia Slottman. Scotia had left for his job as a bank examiner in the city an hour earlier. Normally, he would have closed the roll-up garage door after backing his Honda Element out of the garage, but not so this day. On June 17, 2017, Scotia forgot to close the garage door. Between the time he drove away and the time Gwynn started out the door with Hermione, something bad happened. A snake found its way in the open door and curled up in an indentation in the concrete at the base of the stairs leading from the house into the garage.

Gwynn did not see the snake until the last second. The reptile, sensing warmth encroaching on its new-found nest, moved ever so slightly just as Gwynn’s foot almost touched the snake. That almost imperceptible movement was enough, though, to alert Gwynn to the monster’s presence at the same time a freakish combination of a howl  and a bark escaped Hermione’s throat. Gwynn lept over the snake, pulling her dog into the air with her, and crashed into some shelving six feet from the viper’s resting place. Hermione, choking from being dragged several feet in the air by her neck, coughed and sputtered as a loud “CRACK” and Gwynn’s ear-splitting scream filled the air. Hermione could barely keep up with Gwynn as she limped at high speed down the driveway and across the street to the front door of the neighbor’s house.

Bill Wilson, long retired and almost deaf, apparently did not hear Gwynn’s scream, nor did he hear her banging on his front door. But he saw her, dragging her dog behind, burst into his bedroom.

“Where’s the gun?! Give me your damn gun!” Gwynn did not wait for Wilson to respond. She saw his pump-action shotgun, hanging from a rack on his bedroom wall, and grabbed it.

“Is it loaded? Come on! Is it loaded?” In her fear and rage, she aimed the barrel at Wilson as she asked again, “Is the damn gun loaded, old man?!”

Wilson, who must have been utterly flabbergasted by his neighbor’s behavior, replied, “One shell in the chamber and six in the magazine, but there are more shells in the top dresser drawer.”

Gwynn lunged at the dresser, scooped up a box of shells, and dragged Hermione out of the bedroom, through the living room, and out the front door.

She stopped on the front steps and said to Hermione, “Sit, stay.”

Hermione was doubtless confused and afraid, as she had never seen Gwynn behave in quite this manner.  She sat and she stayed, as commanded.

Gwyyn opened the box of shells and emptied it into the pockets of her light jacket. She took a step off the porch, raised the barrel of the gun, and fired it at her garage. She took a step, pumped the stock, and fired again. She continued, taking one or two steps and then firing until all the shells in the gun had been used. Gwynn paused long enough to reload and then began again.

When she reached the open door of her garage, Gwynn had used nineteen shells and was preparing to reload again when a police car screeched to a stop behind her.  The driver’s door swung open. The officer raised his pistol and aimed it at Gwynn.

“Drop the gun! Drop it now or I’ll shoot!”

Gwynn hadn’t even heard the car’s siren. She was so deeply engrossed in her reptile-induced psychosis that the only thing she heard was her own rapid heartbeat. But as she was about to reload, she heard the officer’s command.

“What? Yeah, alright.” Gwynn set the gun down as the officer shouted another command.

“Walk backwards toward me. Don’t turn around, just walk backwards.”

The sounds of approaching sirens filled the morning air as Gwynn’s maniacal frenzy dissipated and she became aware of what she had just done.

“Officer, there is a snake in my garage. I was just trying to kill the snake.”

Still facing the garage, Gwynn noticed the shattered back window of her Toyota Camry and saw the hundreds of tiny holes in the truck.

“Did I kill it? Is the snake dead?”

As the officer pulled Gwynn’s arms behind and put her in handcuffs, he said, “I have no idea.”

“If it’s not dead, you’ve got to kill it. I can’t go back in there if that snake’s still alive.”

“You’re not going back in there for quite awhile, m’aam.”

Gwynn’s broken ankle took six weeks to heal. The irrational fear took a bit longer. The psychiatric evaluation revealed what Scotia Slottman had known all along. His wife was certifiably crazy with fear of snakes. Ophidiophobia, the psychiatrist called it. That diagnosis, along with Scotia’s agreement that he’d buy Bill Wilson a new gun and replace all the shells Gwynn had used, got Gwynn released. By September, Scotia and Gwynn decided it would be best to start over in a new neighborhood, so they moved a little closer to Scotia’s job.

Over the next several months, Gwynn was treated for her phobia. The treatment seemed to work. But after the incident with the snake and the shotgun, Hermione seemed to develop an abnormal fear. During Gwynn’s treatment, whenever Gwynn was shown images of snakes, Hermione turned and growled menacingly at Gwynn. Six months of veterinary psychotherapy took care of that problem.

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Step Three

When we welcome reality into our lives, we acknowledge the challenges that confront us. By welcoming reality, though, we do not accept defeat, even if defeat appears to be the most likely outcome of an endeavor; we simply acknowledge the scope of the task at hand.

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Lessons

Nothing matters so much as the  time I learned I never mattered and never will.

This is bizarre. I must have been playing with WordPress a long, long time ago and set this post to print far into the future (as I did when I was learning how to use it). Apparently, this bogus post was set to go public today, just after noon. Anyone who gets my posts by email or is notified of them should disregard, please. 😉

 

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Step Two

A goal becomes a failed wish without regular, renewed attention and effort. Every incremental movement toward its achievement merits reward and celebration.

The hope for a decent democracy remains alive. The challenge is to feed it and nurture it and help it grow.

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Step One

The mythology of the phoenix varies by culture, but I choose to see it as a symbol of the rebirth of hope arising from the ashes of despair. That having been said, it seems to me 2017 was a year of despair. May that despair spontaneously combust at the stroke of midnight as the new year is ushered in to every part of the world, hope rising from the ashes of a year gone horribly wrong. The year 2018 can become—if we try hard enough—a year of repair and rebirth. Happy New Year. Welcome to your new job: rebuilding hope.

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Euthanizing a Sick Year

I’ve skimmed along the surface of an angry, tumultuous time until I’ve finally reached it: the last day of 2017. This year, one of monstrous upheaval, forced us to reckon with the reality that U.S. world dominance in transitory. By putting a buffoon in a position of enormous power, voters in the United States played a dangerous hand that will almost certainly spell the end of our country’s position of respect. Anger at a “system” they believe was corrupt and did not recognize their pain caused sufficient voters to put their desire for personal revenge above the health of democracy.

Events of the year forced humankind, at least part of it, to reckon with the fact that our male-dominated society is—and always has been—deeply flawed. The patriarchy appears to be on life support, but its most obstinate supporters with the most to lose cling to the dream that male dominance will survive. Dozens of men have been accused by hundreds of women of sexual harassment and worse and a string of public figures have resigned or been fired in disgrace. Only time will tell whether equality will overcome privilege.

Worldwide, religious persecution marches on, as evidenced by 600 thousand Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh.  Here at home, evangelical “Christians” (and  I used that term advisedly) are doing their best to take advantage of buffoonery in an effort to annihilate secularism and replace it with “Christian” rule. In Iran, protests against the Islamic government, sparked by economic issues rather than religious persecution, are growing; brutal responses from the government would not be unexpected. The fact that an utterly odious Trump tweeted about the protests is doing no good. A quote from Aljazeera tells that tale: Trita Parsi, founder and president of the Washington, DC-based National Iranian American Council, said: “The fastest way to discredit these legitimate grievances expressed by the Iranian people, is for Trump to throw himself into the mix.”

The people of Venezuela face a growing economic catastrophe. The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation will exceed 2,000 percent in the coming year. In the meantime, food and medicine shortages are crippling the country, which is simultaneously experiencing a huge increase in crime and violence.  In 2016, 27,479 people were killed, according to the independent group the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

In Chile, the global march toward the right carried former Chilean president, billionaire Sebastian Pinera, to an election win. His left-of-center opponent in the mid-December runoff was supported by Michelle Bachelet, the current left-leaning president.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the global trend toward supporting rich conservatives who almost invariably staunch freedoms over people whose objectives are to spread equality. I guess the horrors of Venezuela, brought about by a corrupt and ideologically bankrupt communist philosophy, is scaring people away from the “left.”

So, why am I rehashing all this negativity? The reason is simple: in spite of the obstacles we face, the history of humankind suggests we will overcome them. The upcoming year, 2018, may well provide the opportunity to wrest power from the hands of rich opportunists. It may well be the year in which the progress made during the Obama years in the U.S. will be remembered so fondly that the tide will turn back toward decency and generosity. We need to acknowledge and recognize and fight against the ugliness at home and abroad, but I think we must also look at all the ugliness as opportunities for goodness to take hold. It’s easy to get discouraged, but I hope I can hold out hope in the year ahead.

It’s time to euthanize 2017, the year in which its occupant, a liar with an ego bigger than the planet, sullied the White House and besmirched the country. The demise of 2017 gives rise to the emergence of 2018, a year in which change for the better is a distinct possibility and a fervent wish. The only way to bring about change is to be a part of it. And so I shall.

Here’s what I look forward to, on the social/political/philosophical front(s) in the year ahead:

  1. In the U.S., voter turnout will surprise those who expect mid-term elections to be uninspiring. The awful surprise of November 2016 will cause voters and former non-voters to come out in droves, supporting an agenda of equality, compassion, and decency.
  2. Women will surge in numbers, both in terms of candidates for elections and in terms of people elected to serve at all levels of local, state, and national government.
  3. Globally, an uprising against both religious persecution and theocracy will drive a movement toward more secular governments. In the U.S., the loud but shrinking evangelical right will find its voice dwindling as the aging relics who drive the movement die off.
  4. People worldwide will call on their governments to serve their people and to save their people. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Southern Asia, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia, significant progress will be made toward eradicating hunger.
  5. While a drift toward the right, politically, will continue around the globe, it will slow and will be “infected” with greater compassion and decency. Conservatism will begin to morph into a fiscal philosophy without such ugly roots.

I’m not really making predictions. I’m just suggesting possibilities and making wishes.

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Self Compassion

I’ve often been accused of being harsh with people who don’t meet my expectations and demands. Those accusations are almost always correct and my harshness is almost always more severe than the “infraction” deserves. The punishment I mete out is far greater than the crime warrants. I would like to think I’m more mellow now than when I ran my business or managed associations that employed me. And I’d like to think I continue to mellow. But, boy, did I overreact back in the day. As I reflect back on how I responded to disappointing performance of people who worked for or with me, I think how the objects of my wrath did not deserve such harsh treatment.

Though I’ve been hard on other people for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been hardest on myself.  After expressing my expansive disappointment in others, my compassion for them generally took hold and I tried to put myself in their shoes and, to the extent I could, make up for my overblown reaction. But I have never been able to do that with myself. A newspaper article I read this morning, the words of a young Unitarian Universalist minister in Texas, got me thinking about my attitude toward my own mistakes. My immediate reaction to the article, entitled “Practice a little more self compassion,” was that I don’t deserve self compassion; others do, but I don’t.

That response took me by surprise. Why would I feel that way? I can’t answer that question; it’s just the way I’ve always felt. Yet as I read more of the article, the more it made sense. The author suggests that self compassion allows us to let go of burdens that otherwise might bind us to our mistakes. I suppose my attitude has been something like, “if I forgive myself, it’s like giving myself permission to make the same mistake again.” That’s absurd. By forgiving ourselves, we cut those binding cables. I hope I can learn to follow the article’s advice. I think it’s healthy.

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Once Again I Will be Kolbjørn Landvik

Decent people worldwide treat the transformation of one year to the next with a sense of—what—appreciation, reverence, hopefulness, anticipation…expectation. I suspect deviant monsters, too, treat the change with the same emotions. But they are not worthy of my words, are they? No, they are not, so I shan’t bother with them. The decent people, though—the people with whom I would share my home and the food on my table even if they do not speak my language or share my skepticism or my intellectual curiosity about the universe in which we live—are worthy of my words. So I shall dedicate this post to them, the good people who want nothing more than to live and let live and who cherish humanity in every sense of the word.

My way of embracing people across cultures and across time is through food. Food connects us all because all of us need food to sustain our lives. True, we have different tastes in food, but all of us must have it in some form. As we approach the conclusion of an unspeakably ugly year, the foods we eat to welcome the next year, one we hope will be immeasurably better, are on my mind. This morning, I read an article about food customs around the globe that welcome in the new year. In Mexico, as I know and you do as well, I presume, tamales are the food of choice to celebrate Christmas eve and beyond. On New Year’s Eve, tamales and menudo are the thing; I still haven’t been able to embrace menudo, despite many attempts. I may do it again. Also in Mexico, though more so in Spain, the tradition is to welcome the new year by eating twelve grapes, one for each toll of the clock’s bell; some people peel the grapes in advance for reasons unknown to me. And in Scandinavian countries, pickled herring welcome the transformation of one year to the next. I could get into that; I love pickled herring. In fact, I believe I must have Scandinavian genes in my body. It’s possible I was adopted or switched at birth with a youngster by the name of Kolbjørn Landvik. I’ve written about Kolbjørn before. He and I share many attributes, which is natural inasmuch as we are the same person, just in different times and in different places. He and I absolutely love the taste of pickled herring. And we love feeling the salt spray on our face as we sail into the cold wind in search of good fishing spots and ourselves.

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

The story I started to tell, the story of my doppelgänger (AKA dobbeltgjenger)/sameself, is evidence of the power of food. At least to me/us.  Food allows us to create new futures. We celebrate the changes we wish or hope to see through food. At no time of year is that more evident than that time in which the calendar allows us to send one year into history and welcome a fresh, new, unsullied one into the present. Oh, I’ve said before that New Year’s Day is no more a new beginning than any other day. And it’s not. But because many of us choose to treat it as a new opportunity for a new future, it is. On the one hand, January first is no different from any other day of the year; any day can become our New Year beginning. But on the other, because so many people treat January first as a new beginning, the day is irrevocably special. And we celebrate its unique ability to allow us to start anew with food.

Oddly enough, this celebratory event often is marked by overt gluttony, followed immediately by self-imposed starvation as a means of atoning for an entire year of over-indulgence. I am among those who will begin the new year, in a matter of days, by making a lifestyle change that I hope will return me to the svelte, chiseled body I had when I was a thirty-year-old well-muscled Norwegian man struggling to haul my catch of herring from the open ocean to a protected harbor.  The problem with this entire scenario, of course, is that my body belongs to a sixty-four-year-old American man whose body never was, nor will ever be, svelte, chiseled, or well-muscled. The lips on this body have never spoken fluent Norwegian, nor have the arms attached to this body ever hauled herring except from the grocery store to my home. That having been said, I may have found my solution; I can write my way to handsome youth. That’s right, just as I’ve written about Kolbjørn Landvik’s youth, I can write about my own transformation. While writing my way to greater physical height may be beyond my capability, I should be able to write my way to a loss of forty pounds, shouldn’t I? I should, indeed. Will I? Only time will tell. By December 31, 2018, I should have a reasonably good idea of whether I’ve succeeded. In the interim, I’m going to continue my love affair with food, just (I hope) not to the degree I’ve done so in the past year. Yeah. Right. I’ve promised myself before that I’d lose weight, get more exercise, and become a better person. At least I may have become a better person? By next December, if I’m not more like Kolbjørn Landvik, I’ll be disappointed in myself. Better start working on my Norwegian.

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