Leaping from Steeples

Why, I wonder, have architects avoided designing steeples into residential construction? Or have they? Perhaps I am simply unfamiliar with a school of residential architecture in which steeples play a prominent part. But if steeples have not found their way into home designs, maybe the architects are not responsible for the omission; perhaps homeowners have rejected designs in which steeples were incorporated. As I understand the term, steeples are ornamental elements of construction, not functional; at least, not functional in practical terms. Maybe steeples are functional to the extent they symbolize a building’s purpose as a religious (primarily Christian) sanctuary? This is supposition on my part. I’ve done no research on the matter; the topic of steeples just popped into my head, a fragment of half-formed curiosity that is insufficiently important to me to warrant even cursory research…beyond a quick Google search, I mean.

Hah! A “quick Google search” reveals an enormous volume of resources about steeples, their history, their design, their symbolism, etc., etc. Apparently, I am not the first person into whose head the topic of steeples has popped. The architecture of steeples has its own terminology, referring to specific components of the ornamental unit we call “steeple:”  spire, lantern, belfry, and tower. My quick search for information about steeples revealed a rich tapestry of the evolution of Americana, including the “fact” that church steeples served purposes similar to coastal lighthouses, except these “lighthouses” are landlocked.

Given my preference for Usonian-inspired residential design and more recent iterations that lack even the limited ornamentation favored by Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s unlikely that I will ever design (or have designed) a house that incorporates a steeple. But, then, one never knows, does one?  Even in my preference for clean lines and the absence of ornamentation, I have room for aberrations. I remember, for instance, falling in love with an apartment building, born of a converted old church, in Chicago when my wife and I were looking for a place to live back in the late 1980s. The building’s Gothic arched windows with meticulously restored stained glass won me over, along with the massive stonework and huge carved entry doors, restored to their original grandeur.

My appreciation for a wide variety of architectural styles, despite strongly favoring a limited number of rather spare styles, echoes my enjoyment of a wide array of music. While I have preferences, I like almost all types of music. That eclecticism is a relative newcomer to my personality, developed sometime in the most recent two-thirds of my lifetime to date. I remember a time when I absolutely detested country music and rap music; today, both genres have their appeal. The same is true of architecture. I once found Gothic and gingerbread styles of architecture patently offensive; while I consider neither my favorites, they both have aspects I find pleasing.

So, what is the point of this morning’s post? I haven’t the faintest idea. It’s just what happened to be on my mind. Steeples. And steeples led to architecture and my experience in broadening my appreciation of architectural styles recalled a similar experience in broadening my appreciation of musical genres. If I continued along with this style of thinking, I suspect I might jump from music to dance and from dance to footwear and from footwear to the sensation of comfort one feels when walking barefoot on a hard-packed sandy beach. Our minds are capable of making enormous leaps, triggered by commonalities as frail as spun glass. That reality is part of what makes being human so fascinating, I think.

In finishing this random diatribe, I want to recall that, when I walked outside this morning around 5:15, I looked above me in the sky and my eyes were drawn instantly to a bright reddish “star” in the sky. I wonder whether that celestial attraction was Mars? If I had been thinking clearly, I could have used my smart-phone sky-mapping app.  Perhaps I’ll remember to inquire of the app tomorrow morning. Or, more likely, my mind will be somewhere else entirely, like exploring the architecture of Islamic mosques.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Stretching

In the face of challenging ideas and information, one’s mind should stretch like a ball of freshly-minted rubber bands. But whether one’s mind should expand in the presence of such experiences or not, too frequently the response is the opposite. Rather than becoming more pliable, it behaves like ancient strips of rubber left too long in the sun. Those bands lose their elasticity and they harden, turning into fragile, brittle bands that shatter into shards under the slightest pressure.

Odd, isn’t it, that the way to keep rubber from deteriorating—keeping it in a cool, dark place away from light and oxygen—is precisely the prescription to cause the mind to decay?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Indistinct Chatter

Does everyone fantasize? I have asked that question for a very long time; simply because the topic interests me. The question is not limited to sexual fantasies, either. I wonder whether people fantasize about houses they might like to build or trips they might want to take or professions they might wish to have chosen. All sorts of things like that. And things not like that.

A fantasy I’ve had involves the ability to cause others to reveal their fantasies to me. Imagine, for example,  you get on a bus (either pre-COVID-19 or post-COVID-19) and sit near the driver. You strike up a conversation with the driver, eventually leading you to say, “Tell me about your fantasies. What do you fantasize about?” Now, sit back and listen to the driver’s detailed explanation of her daydreams or wishes or desires or…whatever you call them.

The fantasy does not have to involve a complete stranger, either. Consider the same scenario, but this time the target of your supernatural ability to draw out secrets is someone in your church or a clerk you see regularly at the grocery store or even your own spouse. Oh, that may be getting a little too close. Would you really want to know about fantasies that could, conceivably, be quite upsetting? How would you react to learning from a work colleague that his fantasy involves shoving you out the thirty-seventh floor window of a high rise building?

One of my many fantasies involves living in an architecturally modern house on a huge tract of land, far away from cities and towns and people in general. The place would be littered with barns, workshops, gardens, tractors, chicken coops, and vast pastures where horses and cows would wander freely. I envision this isolated place might be in New Zealand or Scotland or…I don’t know, somewhere different but where, when I must interact with people, I could speak the language.

Yet another fantasy is at odds with that one. This other fantasy has me living in an apartment in a crowded neighborhood in a big city. At the street level, merchants who sell vegetables and fresh meats and flowers and sandwiches and all manner of other stuff would set up shop very early every morning. When I go down to take my dog for a walk, I would encounter dozens of people I see regularly, including some who I would call friends. The neighborhood is a close-knit enclave in a big, impersonal city that offers everything I might want. Except vast open spaces and utter solitude.

There are more. Many more. You who are reading these words might discover, if you could draw from me a complete revelation of my fantasies, that you play a part in some of them. Perhaps just a bit part. Perhaps a major role. Perhaps not. In some of these fantasies of mine, I discover that I do not play a role; it’s as if I am looking at another person’s life, but experiencing it through my emotional filters. It’s hard to explain. Imagine looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of whatever is behind you, but not seeing your image. That’s it. Now you’ve got it.

Sometimes, fantasy is the only safe place you can go to escape the crushing reality of life closing in around you. Even though it is a temporary respite, it acts like a safety net, preventing the fall all the way to the ground from the thirty-seventh floor; the net catches you after you’ve fallen only one or two stories.

Very early this morning, I skimmed a few articles that described dissociative identity disorder (DID), a psychological affliction that used to be described as multiple personality disorder. Maybe that’s what triggered my thought about fantasies; perhaps DID is a greatly amplified version of multiple fantasies that consume one’s mental life? Probably not. DID sounds like the outgrowth of some horrendous experiences during the early years of one’s life. Parenthetically, I was reading about DID as background to a story I’m contemplating, not because I think I suffer from it. I also read about hypochondriasis and thought how much more difficult it might be for health care professionals to treat hypochondriasis that involves a mental affliction, as opposed to a physical affliction. Maybe that will find its way into my story.

I wonder whether my writing is simply an expression of some of my fantasies, a way to express them without revealing that they are mine? How silly to wonder about that! Of course! But only sometime. The trick is to differentiate between fiction, fact, and fantasy. I cannot always make the distinction.

This blog is littered with the retelling of a thousand of my fantasies. Most involve desolation, isolation, solitude. I wonder whether I belong on a planet I have to share with other people? I wrote, once, that in my daydreams of solitude I find solace; solace is comfort in sorrow or misfortune, or the alleviation of distress or discomfort. Where the hell is all this sorrow, discomfort, distress, etc. coming from? I think its source must be the same as my fantasies.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Optimism with Smudges and a Misdirected Finger

Our paths follow an elliptical orbit around secrets we simply cannot unlock, secrets hidden not through willful disguise but by natural obscurity, the same way some sounds are withheld from our ears but given freely to the ears of dogs, who become our masters when we let our guards down. The complexity that bedevils our waking hours and sets us afire with passion for answers always leads us to the…certainty that life is what it is, nothing more.

I extracted those words from something I wrote more than four years ago. That span of time seems like a thousand lifetimes, now.

A few months later, I wrote from a different perspective, one in which I was more certain than was reasonable or legitimate. My words revealed an emotion intertwined with optimism and fear, an emotion impossible to name, but harder still to escape.

Even on this day, this day beginning with such sparkling promise, I can’t help but allow my thoughts to be swarmed by the ripples, when I should permit my mind to marvel at the still waters. I am a man awash in abundance, yet I worry that the bounty is, perhaps, undeserved. No, that is a lie. I am certain my largess was an inadvertent mistake of the universe, given to me by accident. My worry is that the universe will discover its blunder and will come calling to correct the snafu.

A swirl of events I could scarcely have imagined then have since consumed the planet and the people on it in a firestorm of chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps the universe followed me on that elliptical orbit and unlocked the secret for me; maybe the blunder has been discovered and is being corrected.

There are no predetermined courses of action; only random intersections between time and circumstances over which we might have exercised control had we had known the likely outcome of our actions or inaction. But life is what it is. “What if” begins announces a nonsensical question that can never lead to a realistic answer. The junction between what is and what might have been is riddled with billions of events, each one independent on every other one, except when randomness says otherwise.

That randomness can throw a steel wrench into the precision workings of a finely-tuned engine that is as powerful as the sun and as delicate as blown glass. A tiny, insignificant event can trigger cataclysmic results; imagine a broken axle on a vehicle crossing a railroad track in front of a passenger train, just as the train reaches a bridge over a deep canyon. The derailment could kill hundreds; all because a tiny stress crack in the axle finally gave way.

Yet the same randomness can deliver world leaders and great composers and vaccines that save millions from the scourge of polio or measles. “The right place at the right time,” coupled with the right upbringing and the right nourishment and the right education and the right resources. Snatch away any of those elements and our reality might be utterly different; no Gandhi, no Bach, swarms of crippling diseases, and horrible health challenges and death accelerated by the unholy spread of natural decay.

It would be so easy to just give up, telling ourselves we are impotent in the face of the randomness of the universe. But we are not impotent. We do not always win in our efforts to outwit the forces of randomness, but our efforts are more likely to have positive results than to fall short. Too often, we confuse randomness with intent; the universe is not engaged in an intentional struggle against us. If there’s any intent in the mixture, it’s our intent to overcome the randomness of the universe. Yet, when we act as if we are at war with the universe, randomness quickly puts us in our place.

The universe has not discovered its blunder with me; randomness might address the blunder, but I can and should attempt to put randomness to good use to my benefit and to the benefit of everyone in my sphere…my sphere being the planet on which I live. I struggle with more than enough weight to squash me if I let it, but I won’t let it. I’ll ponder over how it might be easier to just give in and let Sisyphus’ boulder roll down the hill and crush me, but I disregard that possibility and will choose to keep rolling that boulder up the incline, all the while keeping an eye out for random rocks I might wedge beneath the weighty stone.

My mood this morning is an odd mix of optimism and realistic defeatism. In my mind’s eye, I see a mural of inspirational posters on one wall and hundreds of hand-printed flyers lamenting every conceivable failure on another. Were I a painter, I could paint the image far better than I can describe it in words. But I’m not a painter. And my words seems to have abandoned me at just he moment I need them most. That’s randomness. Optimism with smudges and a misdirected finger. That is, I’ve gone slightly off course and I need to get away from the track before the train comes or accept responsibility for its derailment.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Better But Not Necessarily Good

Whatever it was—stomach bug, psychosomatic illness, food poisoning, malaria—seems to have largely disappeared. I would give my sensation of health a solid 80 on a scale of zero to one hundred. Yesterday, it was closer to 50. Thirty points makes a huge difference.

I felt well enough last night to pan-sear a small hunk of skin-on salmon, the one and only food I consumed yesterday. I should have steamed some veggies, perhaps, and cooked a bit of rice to go with it, but I wasn’t feeling sufficiently good to go that far. So salmon was it. I marinated the fish for a good ten minutes in a mixture of lime juice, minced ginger root, and honey, then seared it. I reserved some of the marinade before I poured it over the fish. After I cooked the salmon, I added a touch of soy sauce to the reserved marinade and drizzled it over the fish. It was quite tasty. But even that minor amount of cookery drained me of energy; I was wise to skip the side dishes.

The chunk of salmon was too big for one serving, so before I marinated it, I carved off a sizable piece; I’ll have that for breakfast this morning. I think. I have in mind making a nice little Japanese-inspired breakfast of salmon, rice, miso soup, and sliced cucumber. But that’s beginning to sound like a lot of work and too time-consuming; we’ll see. I may not have adequate time to shower, shave, get dressed, make breakfast, AND get to the grocery store by 9:00 a.m. to pick up the order I placed online yesterday. I assumed I’d be awake and alert far earlier than I was this morning; again, it was well after 6:00 that I got out of bed—two consecutive days of sleeping in much later than I like. I guess I’m in the throes of recovery from whatever it was.

After picking up my groceries and putting them away, I will take some magazines and a book to the rehabilitation facility where my wife is in quarantine for another week or so. I’ll leave the materials with staff, who will then take them to my wife’s room. Afterward, I’ll stop by the post office to pick up a few items placed in my P.O. box yesterday, then return home. I’ll spend the rest of the day occupying my time with boring but useful tasks like sorting paperwork and organizing various other aspects of domestic disorder. If it weren’t so bloody hot and I weren’t so damn inadequately up to the task, I’d power wash mold-blackened sections of the deck, douse the cleaned spots with bleach, and—once dry—sand the spots and do some touch-up painting. I’ve said before I need to leave that to others. But who?

I’ve let this post sit for too long. Time to let it fly where it will.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Not Sickness, Not Illness, But Something

Fragments of complex, semi-conscious dreams populate my memory of last night in bed, suggesting I did get some sleep. In spite of those muddy, incomplete recollections, I do not feel like I slept at all. I was conscious when sunlight began creeping into the room this morning, robbing me of darkness. Normally, I would have been up and awake long before then, but I was not. Instead, I spent what seemed like hours tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position that would allow me to sleep. Instead, my movements simply reminded me of my distress. Still, though I’ve been up for more than half an hour, I don’t know the source of my physical disquiet. It’s a bit like a mild headache accompanied by a slight ache in the rest of my body, paired with a more-than-slightly upset stomach. Though rare, this sensation of unpleasant illness is not new; I’ve felt it before, though I’d say it has been years. I do not recall how long it lasted; I hope it does not last long, because I will be good for nothing until it passes. And until it passes, I won’t be able to sleep, which I very much want to do. I suspect this unpleasant condition will last a day or so; it just feels like more than a brief annoyance. Whenever I have not even the slightest interest in breakfast, I know something is amiss.

I tried to discover just how much (or little) I slept by performing a query of my SleepNumber app on my phone. Impossible, as the blue tooth connection was broken with the installation of a new modem; and I haven’t been able to establish a new connection for some reason. Damn gadgetry! When connectivity becomes invisible and seamless, technology will have become a truly helpful technology; until then, it will be an aggravating intruder into livest that do not really need it and never did. At that moment of invisible seamlessness, though, it will have embedded itself in our lives as if it were a vital  organ, required for survival.

Today might have been ideal for me to look for a place to dispose of a now-useless 55-inch television, a cooked DVD player, and seven fried telephones. But not unless I start to feel dramatically better. And it would have been a good day to take a book and a magazine to the care facility where my wife is convalescing; maybe I will force myself to do that sometime later. She should not have to suffer my illness…or whatever it is.

Bright blue skies out the window usually boost my spirits and infuse me with energy; not this morning. The invitation to get outdoors and enjoy the day seems more like a taunt, a derisive jab meant to call attention to my physical and mental condition.

Perhaps I will try to sleep in my recliner, listening to the Spa station through Alexa’s speaker. Try. Try.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fried

The explosive crash of thunder this morning—the one that felt like a huge light bulb exploded inches from my face—struck someplace close enough to fry my 55-inch Samsung TV. And all the land-line phones, both corded base and cordless sets, in the house. And the power cables for the modem and two TiVO devices.  Fortunately for me, I had scheduled a visit from Suddenlink to install a new modem. The installer was able to get the TiVo power cables replaced, install a new modem, and get phone service restored to the phone modem.

It appears, though, that all the phone wires in the house and the devices to which they were  attached were fried. And the TV, still attractive, is a worthless mass of plastic and computerized goo. I went out and bought a new phone, so at least we have one “landline” working now, though it is in what I call the skyroom off the master bedroom; impossible to hear the ring unless present in the room. I guess I’ll have to buy a new cordless set and put the base in that room; it’s no longer possible to put the base somewhere else, thanks to the destruction of the wiring. At some point, I’ll buy another TV, as well. But that can wait. The phone is more important.

I had plans for today. They have been pushed aside so I can adjust. And look for a phone set.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Time to Hide

Weeks and weeks ago (maybe months ago) I bought a large bag of new potatoes. The bag was marketed as “crawfish boil potatoes” or something like that.  With the exception of one or two potatoes snatched out of the bag for a quick mini-meal, the bag remained largely unused until last night. Last night, I boiled every last potato from that bag, intending to make Jalapeño Potato Salad this morning, one of my favorite zippy, cold comfort foods. Unfortunately, I failed to double check that I had all the ingredients; this morning, I discovered that I was missing two key components: John’s Jalapeño Paste and cilantro. I can leave out the cilantro, although grudgingly. But John’s Jalapeño Paste is the foundation upon which the dish is built. Oh, I had John’s Jalapeño Paste, but the container in which it was stored had sprouted mold while sitting, weeks on end, in the refrigerator. I made too much and used it too sparingly. Plus, I did not sterilize the plastic squeeze bottle in which I had stored it. Little mistakes had blossomed into the makings of a tragedy.

Fortunately, I was able to recover. In place of two tablespoons of my homemade John’s Jalapeño Paste, I opted to use a single tablespoon of El Yucateco Habanero Salsa, the wicked red version. And I opted to forego the cilantro, though I may make a trip to the grocery store to buy a bunch or two (my recipe calls for half a bunch, but more can’t hurt). It’s a very good thing I decided to use only a single tablespoon of the habanero salsa; had I used two, the dish might have been too hot for my taste buds. As it is, though, I like it. I still prefer the flavor with jalapeños, but it is quite tasty and will serve me well. I’m considering the possibility of having potato salad for breakfast. I probably won’t, but the idea holds more than a little appeal.

+++

Claps of thunder, which began two or three hours ago, have grown much louder and more sinister in the last forty-five minutes. Heavy rain, brilliant flashes of lightning, and monstrous concussions of the clashing swords of atmospheric gods hold my attention. Incessant guttural growls, remnants of the thunderous blows landed moments earlier by one god or another, remind me that the sky above me is angry. From the vault of heaven I hear the shrieks and bellows of enraged players launching merciless attacks on the clouds that would dare confront them. The sky is alive and dangerous, seeking revenge for any number of wrongs the Earth and its inhabitants have inflicted on it. This, my friends, is the end-times for the night that tortured me with horrible cramps in my lower calves; the night deserves the butchery that is carving out a grey day from the ink-black sky. Honestly, if the nighttime is responsible for my leg cramps, night should be forever banished from the reality of this and every day. The pain in my legs remains very real, as if my muscle memory is etched into my psyche with acid.

+++

Christ! Lightning just struck someplace so close to me the crack was like an enormous light bulb exploded an inch from my face. I will turn off my computer now and hide.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fractures and Cracks

The weather prognosticators say the high temperature today will reach ninety degrees. That means the air will warm twenty-two fahrenheits beyond its current level, a cool sixty-eight (which does not feel awfully cool, thanks to the beastly humidity). An acquaintance, a woman I’ve never met, writes of temperature in that way; she describes the measurement of heat and cold not in degrees, but in fahrenheits. I like that. Perhaps it’s because that quirky linguistic style is similar in some ways to my own. For example, I expand the query “how long?” into “how many more long-times?” There’s no reason for it, other than silliness; that’s reason enough, though. Silliness helps protect us from the full force of the body blows the Universe throws at us. Silliness is among the reasons children are so resilient; if children experienced the world through the jaded lens of an adult, they would become brittle and breakable far sooner than they do.

Last evening, before she cut my hair, a friend said I (indeed, all adults) have a child inside. She suggested, in a manner of speaking, we should allow that child outside to play. Adulthood is stressful enough without binding and gagging that child, forcibly chaining him in a soundproof room. To emphasize her point, my friend shared with me a book to share with my wife. My friend thinks, rightfully so, my wife will enjoy the book; after reading only the title, I knew I would, as well. The book:  You’re Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children, by Dr. Seuss.

The difference between juvenile silliness and adult silliness is simply a matter of soph—istication. Adult silliness carries with it a message that may or may not be nuanced, while juvenile silliness often is just raw, unfettered nonsensical absurdity. I prefer adult silliness, perhaps because I am an adult. Or, maybe, I have a secret affinity for puzzles; I search for the hidden message in adult silliness. It could be, too, that silliness plays an alternative role; maybe it staves off fear and the tears that often accompany fear.

As I reflect on my own history of silliness, I discern a pattern. While silliness accompanies me everywhere I go, it ramps up when I encounter difficult circumstances. Oddly, silliness is magnified at the same time that anger reveals itself; they do not often show themselves at the same time, but in close temporal proximity. Were I a competent psychologist, I might better understand whether that’s simply coincidental or not. I wonder whether there’s a causal relationship between them or, if not causal, at least correlated. I remember a phrase from my college days, “correlation does not necessarily suggest causation,” or something like that. Why that popped into my head just now defies explanation. Or maybe it doesn’t.

+++

Fish. Specifically, salmon. That’s what I would like to have for breakfast today—a little piece of salmon, flash-cooked on a hot skillet so that it has an extremely thin crust of seared meat and barely-cooked, rare meat underneath. To accompany the salmon, I’d like a small bowl of miso soup, a spoonful of white rice, a radish, and a couple of slices of cucumber. I’d like a little low-sodium soy sauce to go with that, please, and some hot tea. But I won’t have that for breakfast, mostly because I have no salmon, at least none that’s thawed. And I’m out of radishes. I have all the ingredients for miso soup, but without the salmon and the rest of the ingredients, it just would not be the same. Plus, to be completely open about this situation, I’m feeling especially lazy; I haven’t the discipline to make such a breakfast. Not for just me. I think I should plan these things, rather than wake up and decide, “I want salmon and miso soup and…” I’m not even sure I want to go to the trouble of having a bowl of cereal. Coffee will do for now. I did make enough green salad yesterday to serve as today’s lunch, as well, so I do not need to worry about that. It’s a good thing.

+++

This afternoon, finally, I will have a telephone consultation with my wife’s cardiologist (who also is my cardiologist). I’ve wanted to talk to him for a very long time about my wife’s symptoms; it took her two trips to the hospital and two referrals to rehabilitation facilities to make me take the bull by the horns and insist on it. I should have acted months ago.

+++

I have neglected our “yard” for months. Weeds are growing along the street and in the gravel-filled beds by the house and along both sides of the driveway. The 2x4s between sections of the driveway have sprouted the equivalent of a weed “lawn” that needs to be pulled up.  Volunteer plants (also read as “weed”) have sprouted throughout the large fields of pine-bark mulch in front of the house. Dead leaves clog the run-off channel on the side of the garage on the front side of the house.  I have neither the energy nor the necessary equipment to handle the necessary clean-up. The guy I last paid to do clean-up was supposed to follow up with me once a month to see if I wanted more work done; he never followed up and I never called him, so we’re both at fault for my house’s appearance of neglect. Regardless, I simply MUST find someone to come do some yard clean-up. That’s going to be my main objective tomorrow. At the moment, I have nothing else on my agenda for tomorrow. If not for my damn arthritis and my damn knees and my damn shortness of breath and my damn general state of neglected physical conditioning and my damn lack of appropriate yard-work equipment, I’d do the work myself. If I weren’t so damn lazy. Tomorrow. That’s the goal: find someone to pay to do a bang-up job of tidying up the “yard.” What other word should I use here? It’s not really a yard, is it? It’s more a “plot” or a “lot” or a “piece of forest land bordering the street.” We really need a more descriptive term; something simple and succinct. I may suggest we all use the term “flottage” to describe the land surrounding our forest-area homes. I may.

+++

There’s a spot on top of my right hand that itches like crazy and occasionally burns. It’s dry and slightly red (reddish, I suppose). I’ve put hydrocortisone ointment on it for two or three days to no avail. I suppose I could try to make an appointment with a dermatologist, but I suspect the “first available appointment” will be sometime in the Spring of 2022, so what’s the point? I could go to my primary care doctor, except he resigned from CHI last February and hasn’t been replaced. I could attempt to get an appointment with his nurse; if I can see her, I suspect she would refer me to the dermatologist, which would accelerate the scheduling of my appointment; maybe December this year. That’s probably my best option. I wonder whether I could just excise a three-quarter inch by one-and-a-half-inch piece of flesh say a quarter of an inch deep below the surface of the skin; would that eliminate the itching and burning? It would for the excised piece of flesh, but I fear it might cause more problems than it solves. The nurse is a better option.

+++

One’s emotions are not as easy to control as one’s intellect. Intellect can be sculpted and shaped with a fair degree of precision. Emotions, on the other hand, seem to sprout in haphazard fashion from the tiniest cracks in the surface of one’s composure. I feel a thousand hairline cracks in my composure. I visualize them as being similar to an ancient oil painting. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is well-known for its craquelure. Time inflicts all manner of damage to oil paintings, from the surface all the way down to the substrate. Exposure to air, which dries the paints liquid solvents, begins the process. I envision the human mind (a combination of the brain and the way we use it) being exposed to similar forces that cause cracks in the emotional armor. This probably does not describe my sensation of emotional fragility the way I intended. But it will have to do for now, because I’m not going to write any more for the moment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Let Us Prey

Give me a minute. I’ll get to my point before long, but I have to set it up, first.

According to the app on my smartphone, it took me only a minute to fall asleep just over half an hour after midnight, after which I slept soundly until a little after 4:00 a.m. But after returning to bed following an early-morning pee break, I was restless. The app tells me I had four hours and fifty-eight minutes of restful sleep, thirty-five minutes of restless tossing and turning, and that three minute bathroom break. The late-to-bed experience led me to get up a few minutes after 6:00 a.m. When that happens, I feel like I’ve wasted an especially valuable part of the day. But not this morning. This morning, during that restless tossing and turning, I composed an essay in my head; one day, if I remember what I “wrote,” I will document it here. This blog post, I hope, will be a sufficient reminder to enable me to do that.

Unfortunately, the piece I composed in my head shares a title with a 2014 British-Irish horror film, “Let Us Prey.” My essay, though, is far-removed from the horror film genre. It addresses the manner in which humankind has collectively allowed the human condition to degrade, beginning with our abandonment of the core of our morality. Though the thinking behind the essay has been brewing in my head for a very long time, I think the spark that ignited my blaze of near-sleep creativity erupted from an excellent article that appeared online in Rolling Stone. The article, entitled The Unraveling of America, by British Columbian anthropologist Wade Davis, argues that COVID-19 ” has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism.” Though he supports his argument by pointing to a number of missteps the USA has taken over the years, I think he misses a key cause of its decline. He touches on it when he says “At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing.” But, in my view, he doesn’t address the core moral failing responsible for the end of not only an empire but, quite possibly, civilization as we know it. I recommend reading the article; it’s very long, but worth the read.

My unwritten essay ignores individual mistakes and missteps, instead focusing on the transformation of our human culture, worldwide, from one in which the collective community is more important than the individual to one in which selfish individualism is valued more highly than human life. I won’t write the essay here, but I will argue (as I have done many times over the life of this blog thus far) that community and collective action have always been at the root of human advancement. A couple of years ago, embedded in one of my rants on the subject, I wrote the following:

Agricultural co-ops. Buying groups. Condominium associations. Home-owner associations. Apartment dwellers, for god’s sake! Cooperative engagements are all around us. People recognize the fact that we’re stronger together. But the myth persists. Fear-mongering about communism and socialism persist, even in the shadow of grand socialist experiments like Medicare and Social Security and the tax code!

That was just a splinter from a larger log that finds itself attempting to resurrect a society that seems to have transformed from a familial model to a collection of self-sustaining hermitages. The working title of my essay, “let us prey,” suggests that the human family has devolved, becoming sociopathic predators instead of social creatures bound together by common concerns. I suppose it is possible that this massive swing from caring community to hard-nosed individualism may be reversed, but I see little evidence of it. Oh, it exists in little gatherings scattered all over the world, but self-centered greed and predatory lifestyles dwarf those tiny pockets of decency.

I suppose my longing for collectivism and community and compassion is based in part on a utopian vision that never truly existed. But humankind once was much, much closer to Utopian than we are today. Today, entire economies and societies thrive (though that’s not really the right word) on a framework of greed, selfishness, instant gratification, rejection of self-sacrifice, and predation.

I do so wish I could look at the world through a different prism, one in which all I see is rose-tinted. But that’s not happening this morning. Aside from the emotional wreckage scattered all around my head at the moment, this vision of social wreckage seems overwhelming. If I could snap my fingers and make the world a better place, I would. If I could entreat others to snap their fingers with me to accomplish that aim, I would. But those fingers have other, more miserly things to do.

Narrow self-interest at the expense of others is almost a religion. Let us prey.

Posted in Essay, Philosophy | Leave a comment

It Must be Well

I want to withdraw completely into myself, to retreat into an impenetrable shell that blocks sounds and sights and sensations and emotions. A protective cocoon, a place in another dimension far removed from the one in which we live, might serve to deaden the sense of being bathed in acidic emotion. I’m not the only one seeking that shelter. I suspect everyone facing the frightening unknown longs for serenity. I suspect people in my small sphere ache for peace and comfort and positive certainty.

Powerlessness is among the most frightening circumstances. Being unable to control even a fraction of the world around you must be terrifying. It is terrifying. I suspect that situation contributes to drug addiction; the pain and fear become too great to bear without some magical potion to lessen the agony; deaden the pain. It’s supposition, of course, but thinking about it gives me reason to think compassionately about people whose lives have been wrecked by meth or cocaine or any number of other problems disguised as solutions.

I imagine I might be susceptible to the allure of some of those cleverly-camouflaged “solutions.” Maybe it’s that understanding that contributes to my empathy, even while judging those who have weakly succumbed to the enticement of false promises.

Anxiety. One of the definitions is “a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.”  Another definition is “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.” Which one fits me? Which one fits my wife? There’s no doubt we’re both extremely anxious. But I don’t want that anxiety to grow to the level of requiring “treatment.” I especially don’t want that to happen with my wife, who is essentially at the mercy of healthcare workers; I do not want someone else deciding for her that some form of medication might be necessary. All of this is supposition on my part; maybe I am the only one whose level of anxiety borders on a disorder. It’s impossible to discuss it, though.

On my end, thrashing through another day seems almost insurmountably hard. But it must be done and done again and done again and again until all’s well. And it will be well. It must be well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Answers in a Secret Northern Place

When I awoke this morning, around ten after four, somber nonsense lyrics and a simple, repetitive tune spun through my head. I sang these words out loud:

Garfunkel Smithers was a very bad man,
ice water flowed through his veins.

I sang a fairly lengthy string of lyrics, but many of the rest of them escape me now, less than an hour later. It’s odd; if I don’t write them down the moment I sing them, they fade quickly, disappearing almost entirely within a few minutes. In that sense, they behave like most of my dreams; I remember snippets, but rarely the whole thing. Yet I sometimes remember the lyrics and the tunes accompanying them for days, weeks, even months. The same is true of my dreams, from time to time.

The rest of this morning’s lyrics were equally dark as the ones above and similarly nonsensical. And they were, truly, voluminous. For the most part, the lyrics rhymed. Something about eating salad for breakfast and growing gaunt and thin, I think. Redundancy is a hallmark of my early morning lyricism. It’s as if I’m singing from a hymnal crafted from a thesaurus. But there is no hymnal; just my brain sorting a massive list of unnecessary syllables, discarding them in sing-song manner through musical lyrics. The tunes, though, always seem to be familiar (though different from day to day, for the most part).

I wonder, am I alone in this behavior that suggests—rather assertively—madness? Or is breaking into unwritten song against a backdrop of unpolished musical notes meaningless? I do not know. And I do not know who to ask. I’ve tried asking Mother Google; she refuses to give me a definitive answer. As I was searching, I came across this from the British Journal of General Practice:

Recurring tunes that involuntarily pop up and stick in your mind are common: up to 98% of the Western population has experienced these earworms. Usually, stuck songs are catchy tunes, popping up spontaneously or triggered by emotions, associations, or by hearing the melody. Aetiologically, earworms are related to memory: auditory information functions as a strong mnemonic. Psychologically, earworms are a ‘cognitive itch’: the brain automatically itches back, resulting in a vicious loop. The more one tries to suppress the songs, the more their impetus increases, a mental process known as ironic process theory. Those most at risk for SSS are: females, youth, and patients with OCD.

Okay. So the tunes might arise as described (though they seem new and unfamiliar to me as I hear myself sing), but what about the lyrics? [Oh, and I realize I am neither female nor young, so OCD may be involved in some fashion. Right.] The tunes are not my chief concern, anyway; it’s the lyrics that emerge, fully-formed as if written before I thought them, from my mouth. Mother Google sometimes fails me. Or, perhaps, I’m asking her the wrong questions.

+++

Last night, I spent an hour on a Zoom call with two good friends, a couple I’ve known for longer than I’ve been married. I’m afraid I was not particularly good company but they lifted my spirits by expressing interest in my life, my experiences, my thought processes. I indulged myself by talking about myself. Our conversation only rarely involved their lives, their experiences, their thought processes. It’s embarrassing to realize, after the fact, how self-absorbed I must appear; and, I suppose, I must be. Yet they patiently let me be self-absorbed. Those are the kinds of friends we all need; people who, by their very presence, bring comfort. I hope I am that kind of person when that’s the kind of person people need me to be.

+++

For reasons that remain unknown to me, I find certain words incredibly attractive. They appeal to me so much that I seek out opportunities to use them in my writing. One of these days, I may copy all of my writing from a period of time (say, six months) and place it in a Word document. Then, I can run a macro (that I would have to find) to determine the frequency with which I have used every word in the document. I have not done this yet, but based on memory of words I have found irresistible, I think I would find these words (among many others) used with greater-than-average frequency:

  • gossamer
  • wisdom
  • diaphanous
  • detritus
  • prism
  • translucent
  • haze

While there’s nothing wrong with having a love affair with specific words, overuse can make one’s writing seem labored. It can appear limited in breadth and suffocating, crying out for oxygen to keep it from withering. Perhaps, instead of using some of my favorite words in writing, I should have those words carved into chunks of mesquite wood that I can hang on my walls. Or maybe impress the words in wet clay and then, when the clay hardens, fire it in a potter’s kiln, glaze it, and glaze-fire it to make a finished piece.

I wrote a poem a couple of years ago, using one of my favorite words: wisdom. At the time, or maybe it was sometime later when I reflected on the poem, I commented about the number of times I use the word in my writing. One might think, by the frequency of its use, I think of myself as having some special connection with it. That’s not it, though. Instead, I think the frequency with which I use is is evidence of longing for something I cannot achieve. Just for the hell of it, I’m going to post (for the third time, I think), that poem again:

Wisdom

Wisdom grows not from the tender love of nurturing care,
but from abject neglect and brutal abandonment spun
on life’s loom from frayed spiritual kudzu that tries to
choke and strangle resolve.

Wisdom struggles upward from the darkest depths of the soul,
breaking through impenetrable layers of heartache and failure
toward the open skies of an open mind ready to accept answers
in the absence of questions.

Wisdom sheds arrogance and conceit during its journey from
certainty, through hesitation and ambiguity, toward doubt and
the knowledge that enlightenment is temporary and all answers
are clothed in fallacies.

Wisdom understands enough to comprehend that we know nothing,
even as we build temples to celebrate the knowledge we one day will
cast aside when we find what we will believe are truths hidden
beneath layers of dogma.

Wisdom is vapor—an imaginary mist arising from tears falling on
white-hot convictions that decay into doubts when confronted
with arguments and evidence, both credible and absurd—gossamer
smoke in a hazy sky.

Wisdom is experience adjusted for failure and tempered by success,
an age-worn garment woven from the tattered remains of youth and
the anticipatory shrouds of that inescapable conclusion to
which all of us come.

This post seems to me a little like I’ve gone wandering from room to room in a big vacant mansion in my head. I’m looking for familiar furniture, hoping to find evidence that I belong here. Instead, I conclude that this place was not meant for me. I belong in a one-room cabin on a homestead carved into the remote wilderness of northern Alberta, north of Wood Buffalo National Park,a good thirty miles outside Fort Resolution and one thousand miles north of Calgary. That’s where I should be. Secluded. Deluded. Looking for the warmth of southern answers in a frigid, wind-swept, secret northern place. Wisdom. That’s where it will be waiting for me to find it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Morning Meditations

I did not announce the end of my sabbatical. It simply disappeared into a harsh, acidic vapor. Sabbaticals should bring rest and relaxation; my short attempt at escape morphed into a gritty recess on a dirty, dangerous playground. So I returned to a routine—altered though it has been by circumstances and a state of mind constantly on edge. Let me rephrase that; I haven’t returned to a routine as much as I have forced myself into a pattern that, heretofore, has been comfortable. Without a stencil to shape my days, I found myself floundering about. The brief periods in the morning when I write seem to bring at least a semblance of order to my thinking; if nothing more, they help me face unfamiliar days.

+++

After I wrote yesterday’s lament, I spoke to my wife during the  course of the day and exchanged some text messages. She said her situation improved considerably after the interactions I had with staff. The under-staffing issues seemed to have been rectified and she reported that she was receiving the level and kind of attention she thought appropriate. I hope that continues. We will talk today about questions I will ask of the administration when I connect with them (assuming that actually takes place) on Monday. In the fray, I seem to have overlooked that I have a CT scan scheduled for Monday morning, followed by a visit with my oncologist. I again hope the CT scan reveals nothing but good news.

+++

Last night brought a brief respite from what has seemed a long chaotic swirl. Neighbors invited me over to enjoy a drink and hors d’oeuvres on their deck; all properly masked and distanced. With a glass of 2018 Cuvée A Amrita (a sparkling white wine from Anne Amie Vineyards, located in the Willamette Valley, Oregon) we toasted my wife, wishing her good health. We enjoyed quite the spread: shrimp with cocktail sauce; grilled, cheese-stuffed peppers; spanokopita; and mixed nuts. And we talked politics (they share mine) and hummingbirds (they have at least six feeders hung around the perimeter of the covered deck) and various other subjects. Though it was only a short visit (under two hours), it gave me an opportunity to put a little distance between reality and my recent life experiences. But I wished, the entire time, that my wife could also have enjoyed the respite. She told me by text message, before I went next door, that she planned to watch a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie last night, so I should plan not to disturb her. 

+++

Today’s weather forecast reminds me that summer in central Arkansas behaves a little like a convection oven; wind circulates around a heat source, amplifying the effects of temperature. I had planned (hoped is a better term) to power wash the deck in another futile attempt to prepare to lay down another coat of paint. It’s time I give up on that fantasy and direct my attention toward finding a reliable contractor to finish the job. The energy I once had for that project has long since been spent. And I find myself worrying, whenever I am in a position that might make it difficult to hear my phone ring, that I might be missing an important call from my wife. Of course, I still haven’t trained myself adequately to always carry my cell phone with me, which exacerbates the worry. And she frequently calls on the land line, so I hate to leave the house lest I miss a call. All of this argues that I should find a contractor. Getting the deck finished, including getting new railing and replacing the screen in the screened-in porch, will take a load off my mind. I’ve been battling that project since the summer before my lung cancer diagnosis; it’s time to stop pretending I can do it myself and hire professionals.

+++

I came across a quote, attributed to Buddha, about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it seems wise and logical, but on the other I can interpret it as arrogant and egotistical. Like so many things in my mind, it occupies two competing dimensions:

Do not look for a sanctuary in anyone except your self.

+++

With that, I will end this later-than-usual morning meditation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Was It a Bad Choice?

My wife’s first evening in her new temporary home (a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility) did not have a pleasant start. Once she was situated in her room, she did not see anyone for several hours, even after pressing her call button for more than three hours. She finally called me to ask me to look up a phone number and call the facility to tell them she needed assistance; she was not sure whether the call button worked.

So, I called. I was told the call button did, indeed work and that the nurse was going into her room at that very moment. I called my wife back and listened as the nurse spoke to my wife and took her vital signs. I overheard the conversation and made notes about it.

A few minutes later, I called the facility again and asked to speak to the person in charge. I was put on hold for a moment, then told that the nurse was speaking to a doctor, but I could hold. I chose to hold. The nurse who had been with my wife came on the line a few minutes later and I expressed my concern that it took three hours for my wife’s need for assistance to be acknowledged. She said she had been on the telephone with the head nurse about staffing. The nurse was apologetic, saying the shift she was on was seriously understaffed, in part because of “no-shows.” She went on to say the upcoming shift and the weekend shifts were much more fully staffed. I told her I wanted my concerns passed along to the facility administrator; the nurse (I’m not using her name here, but I know it) said she would tell Phyllis (the administrator) and would have her call me on Monday. She also said she would record my complaint for the record.

After having heard very positive comments about the facility, I am now extremely concerned that those comments may have been based on past experiences that are no longer valid. I am concerned that I have to closely monitor my wife’s treatment and the responses to her requests for assistance. The fact that I cannot to into the facility, physically, due to COVID-19 concerns makes my concerns doubly difficult.

This morning, I came across Medicare information that rated the facility where my wife is now; unlike other information I had found, this information, directly off of the Medicare website, ranked this facility as “Average” to “Much Below Average” in three of four important areas, with only one being “Average.” I feel helpless; I don’t know what I should do. I want to protect my wife, yet I don’t want to create more problems for her by interfering in ways that could inadvertently be harmful to her care.

I hope—so very, very deeply—the experience last evening was simply a “glitch,” an unfortunate circumstance that coincided with my wife’s admission. All I can do, I suppose, is wait to hear from my wife about her ongoing experiences, since I can’t even visit to witness for myself what is going on. Ach!

Posted in Family, Health, Love | 3 Comments

Trying Times

The past several weeks—approaching a month, now—have seemed impossibly long to me. That span of time must have seemed far longer for my wife. Since she tripped on July 14, she has been poked and prodded and exposed to X-rays and otherwise subjected to invasive and intrusive procedures more times than either of us could count. She has made two trips to the emergency room and has been admitted to the “regular” hospital twice. Between those hospital admissions, she was admitted to a “rehabilitation” hospital for a ten-day stretch. The day after her release from that hospital, she developed an enormous “blister” where fluid from her leg, injured in the fall, collected. That blister was drained during her second trip to the ER, when the medical staff also cut away the skin that had covered the blister, leaving a massive wound that must be treated as if it were a burn. Now, a tad over a week after she was admitted to the “regular” hospital a second time, she will be transferred to a skilled nursing facility for an stay of indeterminate length. The transfer could take place today or tomorrow or two days hence; she awaits the results of her second COVID-19 test within a month. At that facility, she will convalesce so she can return home, where I can care for her. Because of her weakness and severe edema (related to other health issues),  I cannot care for her until she regains her strength and the fluids her body is retaining are reduced.

With the exception of one day, when her sister visited her, I have been to the hospital to see her every day (due to COVID-19 precautions, patients can receive only one visitor per day) since her initial admission. But, in the skilled nursing facility, visitors are not permitted. Contact by phone, video calls, etc. is allowed, but no face-to-face contact. With adequate planning and scheduling, a visit that allows telephone communication while viewing one another through a window is permitted.

Even though both my wife and I are introverts, and she is considerably more private and introverted than I, the separation will be hard. I hope it is not as hard on her as I expect it to be on me. Forced separation by medical necessity is quite different from tolerated separation by work requirements; I know this because we once were separated, with very rare face-to-face encounters, for almost a year when I took a job that involved moving to another state for many months. This time, though, being unable to see her because of COVID-19 precautions (which are absolutely reasonable, in my opinion) is hard, even before it has begun.

Several people—friends and acquaintances and others—have generously offered help and support. Some have dropped food by the house and others have generously offered to deliver more. I’ve been invited to relax with neighbors, properly distanced and all wearing masks, to get my mind off “my trouble.” As truly wonderful as those expressions of support are (and I appreciate them far more than I could ever say), they cannot reduce the sense of impotence I feel. The only thing that will do that is her release back to my care.

My memories of having spent time in the hospital are of discomfort, fear, and boredom. In most cases, I was considerably younger than I am now. I think fear would play a greater part in the emotional brew today than when I was younger. The older we get, the greater the likelihood that hospitalization can be a preview to decline. I hope my wife is not feeling that right now, but I fear she is. And, as one of the world’s consummate introverts, she keeps whatever she feels bottled up inside. I rarely get a glimpse of it, so my compassion is for a presumed emotional state.

I’ve packed a suitcase for her, with clothes and toiletries, for my wife’s transfer to the skilled nursing facility. She has a few books she hasn’t opened yet during her already lengthy stay in the hospitals. I will deliver more to the nursing facility, which in turn will deliver them to her, when when she wants them. All I can do, I think, is to respond to her requests. Maybe I can deliver some flowers or plants or something else that might minimize the stress of being away from home.

I feel guilty for only assuming how she feels and only guessing what I might do to minimize the ongoing strain of hospital confinement. I should feel guilty. In forty years of marriage, I should have learned how to unearth her state of mind. I have not, though, so I have to continue to depend on suppositions and assumptions.

I suspect it will take a month or more for her to recover her strength enough to allow her to return home for me to care for her. If it happens sooner, I will be delighted. All I can do is wait and watch, from a distance, how she progresses. Maybe I can send her cards, so every day she has something new to read, a reminder that she’s on my mind. That might help spur her energy toward regaining her strength. It’s worth a try.

Posted in Family, Health, Love | 6 Comments