Tolerance

Fear and rage are emotions of the young. Understanding, which arrives slowly with age, begins to alleviate fear. Wisdom, a nutrient grown from the soil of experience, eventually cures rage. These are not hard and fast certainties, of course, but they tend to be proven more often than not. Sharing these truths with the young generally meets with youthful skepticism (or mocking laughter and vocal expressions of disbelief). Unfortunately, these facts cannot be taught; only learned through time and experience and modeled behavior. Sometimes the fear and rage of youth take up permanent residence—through perpetual arrogance and stupidity—in certain young minds immune to intelligent thought. In those cases, young minds decay into crumbling monuments to lifelong ignorance—passed down generation to generation. Some may suggest only through selective familocide can that hereditary plague be eradicated. That, of course, is not true. Except for those with traits caused by ingrained, intractable genetic damage, young people constantly exposed to proper behavioral modeling can overcome familial flaws. Desirable role models, tough but limited discipline, and positive reinforcement can overcome the unfortunate tendencies of youth. Nothing is guaranteed, though; saints with human blood dripping from their sharp incisors…and monsters beaming with gentle smiles and soft hearts always tend to surprise us.

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Dreams—even vivid dreams that take place during during the transition from sleep—blur into indistinct mist if not instantly documented immediately upon waking. Efforts to record them notwithstanding, powerful dreams may weaken into vague, but disturbing, fantasies. Impossible to recall, but equally impossible to fully erase from memory. Fragments of seemingly unrelated dreams that took place over a period of days or weeks or months can occupy the mind simultaneously, tricking the brain into assuming a connection. Futilely attempting to understand the sometimes frightening nonexistent connection only exacerbates the confusion. Trying to explain disturbing dream fragments to others only elicits disinterested vacant stares, even from those who might be shocked to learn the parts they played in those scenes. But people who played those roles can never be told, lest the relationship with the dreamer be irrevocably altered. Perhaps that is the reason some vivid dreams tend to vaporize into inexplicable and nearly obscure holograms—one cannot share what one cannot describe. If dreams have no intrinsic meaning, though, what is the point of making those fantasies almost impossible to clearly remember? Indeed.

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Two weeks hence, more or less, a new PET scan should reveal whether my lung cancer is in retreat or simply hiding from plain view.  I will take nothing for granted. You never know what is going on inside your body, waiting to delight you or disrupt all your plans.

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We have guests coming today; my eldest brother and his wife. This will be their first trip to visit me since I moved to Arkansas ten years ago. I look forward to showing them what appeals to me about this place; and explaining how I can tolerate certain aspects of the state that are simply intolerable.

 

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Another Routine

A difference exists between laziness and apathy, though often they manifest in similar ways. Laziness is characterized by an unwillingness to invest energy to accomplish what may be an intriguing objective. Apathy would treat the same objective with passionless disinterest. At times, identifying the reasons for opting not to pursue an objective is difficult; sometimes impossible. Laziness may lead to apathy or vice-versa. That is not to say one causes the other, only that ruling out a relationship between the two may be a mistake. Triggers may give rise to both attitudes; fear of failure, for example, or a closely allied emotion, lack of self-confidence. A person may want to achieve a goal, but not with enough vigor to overcome self-doubts about the ability to do it. Is that due to fear of failure or is it entirely a lack of self-confidence? Or is it both? I may want to pursue a career in medicine, but I am unwilling to devote the necessary fervor to the objective; is laziness or apathy to blame? It doesn’t matter. In the end, all I need is an excuse that leaves me with at least a few shreds of pride intact.

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Another long morning at the oncology clinic today. Blood draws for lab work, followed by an hours-long infusion of immunotherapy drugs and saline solution and, I hope, an update as to when I will have my next CT scan or PET scan or both. I am interested to get the scan(s) to learn whether cancer is retreating, holding its own, or gaining ground. Naturally, I would prefer to learn it is retreating. But it will be a while before I get the scans done, and longer still before I get the results. There’s nothing I can do about the wait, so I will simply cope.

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Off I go to the cancer clinic. Another routine to follow for a time. I’d prefer a different routine, or no routine at all.

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The Politics of Fear

Consorting with heretics and treasonous enemies of the State. 

That was the charge levied against members of the Democratic Party of Harris County, collectively, despite the fact that the statute was obviously unconstitutional.  The Texas legislature, vocal in its claims of exceptional patriotism, had taken to frequently enacting statutes that flew in the face of the U.S. Constitution. That notwithstanding, a hyper-partisan super-majority on the Supreme Court, claiming to be originalists, interpreted the framers’ intentions quite differently from the way I viewed them. The Texas legislature was usually correct in assuming the Court would rule in its favor. Still, Malcolm Fielder felt compelled to argue in favor of the Democrats when their case came before the Court because, at the time, he believed in justice.

Malcolm arrived in court chambers early for the arguments, scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Short and stout, thinning grey hair that could have used a brush, and dressed in a dark blue pin-striped suit in need of a good pressing, he did not appear to be a man who paid particular attention to his appearance. Years earlier, when he made his first appearance before the justices, he might have had a more polished look. That day, though, he was not there to make a dressed-for-success impression; the purpose of his appearance was entirely intellectual.

Mahogany benches and furnishings, marble columns, bronze and marble staircases, and sculpted marble panels lend an air of majesty to the court chamber and the surrounding spaces. The space, drenched in dignity and decorum, reminds all who enter that respect for the Supreme Court as an institution is not only expected, but demanded.

After the procedural rituals and niceties, Malcolm launched into his presentation.

The absurdity of the charge is obvious on its face,” he began, “making accusations about religious ‘infractions’ and based on undefined terms like ‘enemies of the State’ to manipulate and prejudice the judicial system.”

It seems to me,” Chief Justice Magness Clark interjected, “that your argument makes unsupported assumptions, suggesting there is only one way—from the perspective of religion—to look at the word ‘heretics.’ And why should we view efforts to manipulate and prejudice the judicial system as improper? That is precisely what lawyers aim to do whenever they argue before judges, isn’t it?

Throughout the remainder of Malcolm’s arguments and then through the Assistant Texas Attorney General’s defense of the State’s charges, all nine members of the court asked questions and made comments that revealed their predetermined positions on the issues. Malcolm seemed undeterred by the justices’ apparent biases; he made clear arguments that would have swayed an earlier court. The composition and philosophies of this court, though, were very different from earlier times.

Soon after the Court’s ruling, which came down against members of the Democratic Party of Harris County, the number of members in the organization understandably plunged. Fearing a roundup and mass incarceration, members flooded Party headquarters with resignations by email, postal mail, text messages, and telephone calls. The drop in membership was matched by the withdrawal of candidates from a dozen races. Denise Fuego was not among those who withdrew. She said she understood why others had withdrawn, but she could not completely conceal her disappointment.

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Moderation in Memories

Certain memories—like long-dormant volcanoes—occasionally erupt unexpectedly. Their sudden and explosive power takes over all five senses, focusing one’s consciousness on a single experience in the past, to the complete exclusion of the present. When those all-consuming memories take hold, one’s brain erases awareness of the present, leaving the mind in an inexplicable limbo. That confused state permits those jarring memories to be hijacked by fear or longing, transforming historical reality into fantasy, tinged with truth. That transformation is where the flames of madness can ignite. If the fire is extinguished quickly, only a few ashes remain as evidence of combustion. If supplied with ample fuel, whisps of smoke from the conflagration become permanent pipedreams. But the results of glowing embers, beneath which are layers of cool combustibles, are difficult to predict; delusional sanity, though, is the most frequent outcome, characterized by listening to one’s dreams as if they were extracts from an instruction manual. Listen.

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Sunlight asked for permission before it shattered darkness, breaking out of the prison of night that surrounded it like a shroud. Whether or not permission had been granted, daytime would have emerged, deliberately and without constraints. Sunlight’s perfunctory requests are known to be polite expressions, to which the replies are obligatory. But, in fact, the responses to sunlight’s requests are irrelevant. Power is less intimidating when accompanied by humility, yet humility quickly transforms into seething anger when the expected response is not forthcoming.

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According to Google’s Generative AI response to the question, “What is guilt?,” there are three basic kinds:

    • Natural guilt, or remorse over something you did or failed to do
    • Free-floating, or toxic, guilt—the underlying sense of not being a good person
    • Existential guilt, the negative feeling that arises out of the injustice you perceive in the world

The Generative AI response goes into more detail:

Guilt can stem from:

    • Believing you’ve failed to fulfill expectations you or others have set
    • Surviving trauma or disaster
    • Guilt can also arise from a process of self-evaluation and introspection. It can involve your perception of how others value you.

Guilt can be difficult to endure and doesn’t go away easily. Some signs that you might be coping with a guilt complex include: Anxiety, Crying, Insomnia.

All three kinds of guilt probably can exist at the same time in the same person. That statement is not from Google’s Generative AI. Perhaps the most difficult to overcome is free-floating guilt; that kind of guilt probably arises from natural guilt that is allowed to fester. That having been said, though, overcoming remorse over action or inaction may take herculean effort, especially if the result of the act or failure to act causes or prolongs mental or physical pain in another person or otherwise creates in someone an intense level of distress. And failure to overcome that kind of guilt can lead to the free-floating sense of inadequacy or worse.

Understanding guilt does not necessarily enable one to overcome it, especially if getting to that understanding reveals aspects of one’s personality that the person cannot accept.

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Today is Tuesday. Wine discount day. Newspaper publishing day. A day for other things.

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Soon

Local newspaper editors and their television-station-news-anchor counterparts do their part. They inform their respective publics about knifings, robberies, gang violence, murders by firearms, and other such information crucial to well-informed citizenry. News media with broader reaches—television networks and newspapers with national circulation—expand coverage beyond ambulance chases to include serial killings, mass-casualty events, and socio-political upheavals that hold the promise of generating explosive social rage. Global news outlets—television, streaming services, newspapers, etc.—encourage viewers and readers to think from an international perspective in terms of information that could portend the catastrophic end of civilization as we know knew it. With all that supportive guidance, who could avoid giving hopelessness and despair all the emotional room necessary to successfully overcome optimism? Compassion, once the rage, is no longer in fashion. Ferocious self-interest seems to have taken its place. But can we legitimately blame the media for our despondent self absorption? We tend to treat media messages as “truth,” accepting the messengers’ guidance about their meaning. Thus, we share the blame with the media. Because we do not know enough about how to interpret the “news,” we allow ourselves to be taught what to think. It’s all very smooth and unintrusive; we do not even realize we are complicit in our own ignorance. That (among other situations) is what sometimes makes me feel like swallowing a handful of razor blades. I’ve probably said all this before. So, treat me like an old-time leper.

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Fifteen-year-old photos of me reveal me to be an exceptionally over-chunky fat guy. Some more recent photos show the same guy in the same condition. A photo taken today would reveal a much leaner, but still fat, and much older-looking man. Greyer, thinner hair today; no longer willing to cooperate with a comb. I look healthier today than I did fifteen years ago, but in that time my body has battled two rounds of cancer, a couple of bouts of pneumonia, several miscellaneous illnesses, and a belligerent pancreas—probably more. Mentally and emotionally, today I am identical to myself of fifteen years ago but changed so completely that I cannot recognize myself. Odd that I am the identical twin of the person I once was, but I share no attributes, no characteristics, and no similarities of any kind with him.

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Off to church. Soon.

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Darkwater

This morning, I depart from my usual “diary” style post, wandering into fiction. I doubt I’ll continue working on this. But maybe…

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Glisten Pace loved to write. She was not a bad writer, but needed a lot of improvement before she could even think about getting published. Every week, she and a group of several other of her small-town neighbors gathered at a group member’s home, where they read aloud what they had written during the preceding week. Yesterday, Glisten began by reading her short story:

Though you won’t find Darkwater, Arkansas on maps—the place exists. If it existed only in my mind, the events that happened there could not have taken place. But they did.

Todd and Sharon were happily married—to other people—and it was not uncommon to hear people comment about how the two of them and their respective spouses seemed to be the perfect couples. Sharon’s husband, Steven, was a retired locomotive engineer who fancied himself an all-around handyman, archer, shade-tree-mechanic, and paintball enthusiast. Todd’s wife, Wendy, had retired from a career as a contract forensic accountant, consulting with law enforcement and with companies who suspected senior financial officers of ineptitude or criminality or both. 

By now, you know more about Todd’s and Sharon’s spouses than you do about the main characters involved in the activities I am about to describe. Let me resolve that matter.

Todd had “retired” as a low-mid-level redundant executive with a universally despised life insurance company. He tried to find a similar role with a similar company after his separation from the insurance outfit, but gave up soon thereafter when he discovered the intrinsic appeal of retirement.

Sharon had been grant manager for a philanthropic organization that supported human services non-profits with grant funds. She had enjoyed her job, but when the opportunity to take early retirement presented itself, she jumped at the chance. Coincidentally, Sharon’s retirement and Todd’s retirement began at roughly the same time.

Sharon and Steven moved to Darkwater within weeks of Todd and Susan making the same move. Todd and Sharon became good friends not long after, thanks to their common interest in tai chi, literature, and music. Their respective relationships with the other’s spouses were friendly and cordial, but not especially close, nor were the relationships between their respective spouses. 

“Enough! Let’s stop here and discuss what you’ve done. Do not tell the story…show it!” Annalee Hale, who considered herself the grand dame of local writers, made a point of criticizing before praising. She seemed to want her students to feel afraid of her, first, before they felt respect.

“It’s backstory,” Glisten responded. “I want to set the stage so the reader knows something about them. I can’t very well have them mention in casual conversation their job histories, can I? And I disagree that you always have to show. I believe a good story emerges from good story-telling.

Annalee glared at Glisten, her demeanor suggesting contempt for someone who would dare question her.

“That’s just laziness!” Annalee bellowed. “You can supply the same information to the reader through carefully-crafted scenes…conversations, documents shared with the reader, a thousand other ways… Engage the reader! Make it easy on the reader, not the writer!”

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Some stories are expressions of unresolved desires. Some are the detritus from a mental shipwreck. Still others are admonitions or warnings. I doubt it’s possible to know as much about a story simply by reading it as by first reading it, then thinking about it, exploring the author’s psyche (to the extent possible), and otherwise extracting motives from the writer.

I write a lot, but I cannot legitimately consider myself a writer. I repeat myself, for one thing. And I rarely finish what I start to write. Perhaps it’s fear that, if I finish it, I will discover that all the time and effort I’ve invested in it were wasted. Ach.

I like the idea of a place called Darkwater. I will visit the place one day. And I will visit other places I’ve manufactured in my skull; maybe one of them will come to life and tell the full story.

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Converse

Practice makes impatient. I want to know without having to learn. The time spent in medical school is time withheld from treating patients who are in dire need of medical attention. Prospective dentists could save many more teeth if not for the delay in earning the right to engage in dentistry. Nonsense, of course. Simplicity is an impossible objective. If I were to sleep during my trip to the optometrist this morning, I would feel more rested when I arrive; but I would not arrive because alert consciousness is necessary to avoid traffic accidents. Yet it may be possible to convince oneself that the “car almost drives itself.”

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My eldest brother emailed a book to me yesterday—Time Shelter, by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov. Fortunately for me, the book he sent was an English translation. Though I’ve only skimmed through the first chapter thus far, I can tell the writing, the theme, and the story itself combine to make an intriguing read (for me, anyway). My posts on this blog, in which I muse about the nature of time, prompted my brother to send the book to me. I am fascinated by the concept of time and the ease with which “time changes everything.” Time simultaneously is rigid and endlessly flexible. Looking at the world through each of time’s many lenses is both enormously satisfying and hopelessly confusing. The concept of time travel is moderately frightening; physically moving oneself while visiting a temporary dimension of time can cause potentially deadly dislocations upon returning to the original moment, but in a different place. Movement in the absence of time has the potential for tearing reality into ragged strips, leaving only shreds of uncertainty where facts once stood.

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There’s nothing more of consequence inside my head. I need conversation to rekindle creativity.

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Conflicting Self-Interests

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

~ Epictetus ~

Those words may raise a question for people who identify as writers. What would Epictetus say to them? Perhaps:

We have two eyes and favor one hand over another for writing, so we can read twice as much as we write.

~ Epictetus ~ (maybe)

This causes another possibility to pop up:

We have one mouth and one brain; someone who relies on the former instead of the latter may be labeled “mouthy,” while the reverse could prompt a label of “brainy.”

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The plain old voice-only telephone (or today’s basic cell phone) is wholly unsatisfactory as a two-way communications device. Talking over one another. One party asking another to repeat what was said (thanks to talk-over). Words are exchanged over the phone; facial expressions and other such cues to a party’s emotional state are not. Telephone voices, although often recognizable to those involved in the conversation, lack the depth—the resonant fullness—of face-t0-face, person-to-person conversations. Those unsatisfactory aspects of telephones contribute substantially to my preference for conversations that take place in the same room. Video calls are better than voice-only phones, but they lack almost as much dimension as do their image-less counterparts.

Perhaps oddly, even though vocal inflection is missing in text-based messages (email or instant messenger applications), I prefer them to voice-only. The knowledge that I can delay replying, even for a microscopically short moment, gives me more time to understand the message, before thinking of a response or reaction. Face-to-face discussions tend to be more forgiving, still, lending themselves to an unspoken mutual agreement that both participants are free to think aloud. Potential problems exist there, though, inasmuch as confusing, convoluted free-form thinking may stray from the topic at hand. But those are some of the most appealing and engaging conversations.

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For quite some time, my interest in detective/private investigator (PI)/etc. work has been growing. Movies and series that depict the role as potentially exciting and probably interesting have, no doubt, contributed to my interest. This morning, out of idle curiosity, I explored what’s required to become a PI in Arkansas. First, to apply for a PI license, “Arkansas requires two years of consecutive on-the-job training with a licensed investigations company before you can apply for licensure.” Applicants must: be at least 21 (I qualify); pass a background check; pass a written examination with a grade of at least 70%; squeak by (at least) on a mental evaluation; a few others. Oh, and pay a fee of $486.25. I think I could swing all that, though finding a job and working two years in a PI company might be a challenge. Just waiting two years would be quite the challenge. Another option, I suppose, that’s probably even more challenging, might be to go to work in a police department, as a detective; but that probably requires a couple of years as a beat cop, first. That might be a real obstacle. I might as well apply to medical school, aiming to become a neurosurgeon. The biggest problem with this area of my interest is that, even after finding a job and getting certified as a PI, I would be expected to work a significant number of hours every week. I do not want to work a significant number of hours every week. I want to work at will and pause for breaks for days or weeks or months at a time. Although, if I could get a job with a police department as a homicide detective, I would be willing to put in the extra hours. Documentaries about homicide investigations sparked my interest in that specialty. This is all fantasy, isn’t it? And I know it, right? I am just daydreaming. I do a lot of that.

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Speed of Thought

Openness to new ideas or different perspectives is incompatible with fear. Fear tends to malignantly transform belief into certainty and opinion into fact. Though fear can provide a protective warning against danger, left unchecked, that protection can morph into paranoia. Paranoia supplies an endless supply of fuel for malignant transformations, enabling the erasure of the dividing lines between belief and fact, opinion and certainty. How, then, can useful, protective fear be prevented from making the transition to paranoia? Answers are hard to come by in turbulent times, when neither progressive nor conservative outlooks offer reliable shields against unfounded beliefs and flawed opinions. Especially in times of chaos, fierce intellectual independence—that treats claims and assertions from all quarters with healthy skepticism—provides a buffer between gullibility and disbelief. Independence tends to minimize bias, whereas both left-leaning and right-leaning perspectives, by nature, invite and celebrate bias (though usually while denying the existence of bias in their points of view). Realistically, though, unbiased perspectives exist only in fantasies; pure rationality is entirely theoretical. Independent thinkers are biased, but their biases are contextual, rather than universal. I might call myself an independent thinker, but whether I am biased to the left or right would depend on the context of an issue. Two independent thinkers might have diametrically opposed biases, of course, which would open each of them to being labeled with “left biases” or “right biased,” depending on the context of the issue in question. What does all this mean? It depends on one’s perspective.

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Life’s difficult moments often summon conflicting emotions that, on the surface, may be difficult to understand. Beneath the surface, though, the conflicting emotions make sense; they acknowledge the connections between joy and sorrow, for example. Pain may arise from memories of joyous occasions that are no longer possible. But pleasurable memories of joyous occasions can keep the pain in check. Emotions, both positive and negative, help define humanity. We can be happy and sad at the same time for the same reason. Complexity, too, helps define the nature of our existence.

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I wish I could record my thoughts at the same speed at which they occur. Second best would be the ability to “play back” my thoughts so I could capture my thinking. Unfortunately, I can remember details of only a tiny fraction of my thoughts, so my records of what I was thinking at any given moment are, at best, incomplete. A ten-minute musing might cover a ten-year period of time. Though much of the memory of that musing is inconsequential, some of it—which I never can fully remember—is vital to a story I want to write or tell. In some cases, I manufacture something (often completed unrelated to the forgotten moments) to replace the lost thoughts. But the replacements are never as satisfying as were the missing pieces. I have tried to record my voice, which covers far more ground in the same amount of time than does typing, but I cannot speak fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. The result often is an incoherent set of mumblings whose only practical use might be as evidence in a court mental commitment proceeding. Such is life. On a scale of one to ten, the importance of my inability to record my thoughts as fast as they occur would fall somewhere somewhere between minus one hundred thousand and minus ninety-nine thousand.

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Rain. Again. I love rain; I do. But I prefer it to stop when I want to go outside. Rain either doesn’t hear my wishes or it doesn’t care. So I sit at my desk, late in the morning, engaging in slovenly behavior. Take the world as it comes. Excluding the violence, famine, disease, hatred, pain, natural disasters, poverty, paralyzing fear, and everything else that infringes on the comfort and happiness of all the beings in the universe in which we live. Fantasy. Pure, irrational fantasy.

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Another visit with the oncologist this afternoon. Between now and then, I need to go to the pharmacy, etc. to pick up prescriptions and supplies. And I should eat something. And, before I venture out into this rainy weather, I should try to accept the world as it is.

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Scrambled Age and Ability

You’re too old. Those words sting, at first. But as their meaning sinks in, they take away strength in the legs and empty the lungs of air. Suddenly, breathing is not only impossible, it is undesirable. The only desire remaining is the longing to throw oneself into a bottomless black abyss where consciousness ceases to exist. Too old? Too old for what? Too old to serve in the military, become a police officer, pilot a commercial aircraft, join government clandestine services, and a thousand other things. But those are just jobs—they don’t equate to a person’s value, do they? Do they?

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The timing was right. Right before I called yesterday for an appointment with the dermatology nurse, someone had just called to cancel an appointment this morning, so I am scheduled for 9:15 today. And when I called the optometrist’s office for an appointment, I was able to get on the schedule for this upcoming Friday morning. I recently had been forced to cancel earlier appointments with both of them, thanks to appointments with my oncologist. When her office unexpectedly asks me to come in, that takes precedence. The dermatology and optometry appointments both are moderately pressing in importance, but oncology appointments eclipse them. Speaking of calls from the oncologist’s office, I got one yesterday: they want me there tomorrow, even though my next appointment had been set for next week. And so I will go for an interim adjustment infusion. Even if I were not too old, my commitments to healthcare appointments would not leave me time to serve in age-restricted activities. I feel okay, except for the fact that I have limited control over my schedule—when the appointment bell rings, I behave like Pavlov’s dogs. As annoying as that can be, though, I realize how much better it is than having none of those appointments.

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Mi novia is away for awhile, so I have considerable time to myself at the moment. I should be using that time productively, but my own thoughts distract me. Unless I can devote an entire day to productive activities, I tend to get very little done. So, for example, when I have errands to run, I fritter away much of the time I might otherwise have devoted to being productive at home. I could still get things done, of course, but my personality insists that I need a full day of uninterrupted time to devote to productivity…even if the time I need to accomplish my tasks is only a few hours. Procrastination? It’s not quite that; it’s more a strange psychosis that resembles sloth, but it’s not that, either. Therapy might h help…if only I could find a suitable therapist with whom I could feel absolutely comfortable. Of course, I realize there are few people on Earth with whom I feel absolutely comfortable, so I have quite the obstacle to overcome. I am a nearly-full-time recluse; partly by choice, partly by circumstance. I have limited tolerance for being around people, even for those I like and whose company I enjoy—even my own company. That probably makes me seem more than a little aloof. Have I mentioned that before in my random musings?

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Time to scramble to get ready to go out!

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Taste Test

Another day, the same images. Grey skies, green trees, cat sitting on her perch looking out the windows—an endless, repetitive loop. Thin fog, high in the trees, causes the tops of forest green pines to appear sage. On my drive to pick up groceries, fog thicker than what I had seen through the windows at home, enshrouded the upper branches of the trees. A short while later, on the return trip, the haziness of the treetops had brightened a bit. Despite the improvement, the morning remains gloomy. Some days are better this way, though. If this morning had been bright and sunny, I would have witnessed a deliberate attempt by Nature to put me at odds with my environment. As if I did not belong in the same dimension as the world around me. Often, when I feel as I do this morning, I think of the lyrics of a song I enjoy: You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness… As if feeling melancholy and mournful are emotions to relish, rather than reject. Ach, for no apparent reasons, the mind can find its way into tangled mazes that have no entry and no exit points…and in there wander aimlessly until it exhausts its source of sullen fuel.

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Ever since I started chemotherapy a few months ago, my hunger for beef has diminished considerably. The idea of a nice steak or burger can appeal to me, but my interest declines precipitously after the first bite. It’s not just beef; pork and chicken similarly are of declining attraction for me. I have been a fan of many kinds of sausages (beef or pork or mixed) for as long as I can recall, but lately I find them too fat-laden for my taste. I am not complaining. I rather appreciate the fact that I do not have such a strong hunger for meats. I am curious, though, about what is causing my change in taste. Is it the chemo? Or is there another reason for me to lose my attraction to meat products? When I have such questions, I tend to inquire of Google as to the answer. But I have not done so, yet. Maybe I will. Maybe not.

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If you discover that I have posted nothing new for several days, fear not. It is probable that I am attempting to recover my creativity and sharpen my ability to think and write and question everything.

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Rusty

WordStar. Wordstar 2000. WordPerfect. Word. Lotus 1-2-3. Quattro Pro. Excel. Those are just a few of the PC productivity applications (word processing and spreadsheets) I have used over the years. There were, no doubt, many others. And, I am sure, many others based on Apple operating systems have evolved over time. Though I have never had an interest in video games, those applications also grew more sophisticated and capable over the years. The basic stuff evolved, too; for example, word processing’s cousins—page makeup software—came on the scene with Adobe PageMaker and QuarkXPress and InDesign. They, too, evolved. They became more sophisticated and simpler to use, leading to products like CorelDraw and MS Publisher. I learned enough, on my own, about how to use and apply all of the products so I could claim at least moderate skills. While never reaching the level of expert with any of the products, I became proficient with several. Because of so many new iterations (and, especially, with each new integrated suite of products), I have devoted enough do-it-yourself training to keep my skills from becoming unusably rusty. But I question the extent to which keeping moderately up-to-date on all this legacy software is worth the efforts—especially now that artificial intelligence (AI) is getting so firmly entrenched in so many aspects of our lives. I do not have the inclination nor the interest in learning more about AI than the bare essentials. Instead, I wan to simply master enough to take advantage of what AI can do for me. Teaching software to learn how to do what I would rather not do has no appeal to me. Is this attitude of mine a naturally-occurring phenomenon that accompanies aging? Does one’s brain simply get tired, over the years, of being forced to take in and comprehend more and more new information, just to keep up? I feel sure I have the ability to keep up with new information and new technologies and new software, etc.; but I am not at all sure I want to invest my time and energy in those endeavors. I suspect the dullness of this overcast, rainy afternoon is contributing to my somewhat sullen mood. I am alone in the house, except for a needy and narcissistic cat who sometimes demands love but refuses to give it in return; but she does, occasionally.

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Rain, again. Lots and lots and lots of rain. Days and days of rain. Though I rarely enjoy walking (or driving) in the rain, I enjoy watching it and listening to it and smelling the air just before a Spring shower. Too much rain, though, can causes floods. Too much can weaken trees’ hold on the ground, causing them to topple. As much as we sometimes seem to think they do, meteorologists do not control the weather; they cannot be held responsible and accountable for the rain. Give them a break, please.

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The day largely has slipped away. My attempt to blog, early this morning, got derailed by obligations. Later, nothing seemed sufficiently interesting to give me reason to write. Later, still, I wrote but then abandoned the effort in disgust and self-loathing. I then considered writing about my intellectual and emotional reactions to Trump being found guilty on all 34 counts; my opinions on the matter are irrelevant, so I dropped that idea. Finally, I wrote the paragraphs above. And then I watched Ken Burns’ keynote address to the 2024 graduating class of Brandeis University. It was brilliantly written; everyone in the U.S. should watch and listen.

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Change of Scenery Across Time

Three windows. Each of the two smaller windows—one on the left and one on the right—are separated by mullions into eighteen panes, nine in the upper section and nine in the lower. Mullions split the wider, stationary window in the middle into twenty-four panes. A computer monitor, a treadmill, and a cat tree/viewing post partially block my view of the windows and the greenery outside; but those obstacles do not hide the knowledge of what’s there, beyond them. The view is the same from day to day, except for the greenery, which changes slowly—at the same pace as the seasons.

Even the most strikingly attractive vista becomes routine, losing its emotional power through repeated viewing. Beauty dulls into a grey smudge, its precise details blurring into a nondescript haze. It’s hard—sometimes impossible—to know whether it’s the sameness that leads to depression or vice versa. Whether one’s depression robs the environment of its natural appeal or whether monotony reduces contentment to grimy rubble.

The time for a change of scenery is before that transition is complete, regardless of which is the cause and which is the effect. Yet recognition that the progression is taking place may come only after reversal is impossible. Only after the response can no longer be restoration but, instead, recovery.

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Time is malleable. I have believed that for as long as I can remember, but I have never been able to adequately explain my belief. The inability to explain exactly what my belief means and why it matters continues. Every so often, though, a brilliant(?) but fleeting thought crosses my mind; if only it lasted long enough, that though would enable me to explain in relatively simple terms how the measurement of time provides an answer. I seem to recall that my flashes of thought verify that distance influences the matter; but I am not sure. Time differs, too, depending on where it is measured. I read this morning that time on the moon is at odds with time on Earth: On the lunar surface, a single Earth day would be roughly 56 microseconds shorter than on our home planet. That does not explain much of anything, though. Gravity plays an important part in the measurement of weight…or is it that the very nature of weight (not just its measurement) is effected by gravity? Does time have weight? Is it possible that time weighs less on Earth than on the moon? Or that time in distant galaxies may much heavier or lighter than here in our own? Speaking of distance, how does one measure speed when miles per hour must be radically different on Earth from miles per hour on the planet formerly known as Pluto? Are miles different from place to place? Should we be talking about kilometers per annum? And how long, by the way, is a year in various spots around the universe? I do not need to know the answers to these questions, but I might be happier and better looking if I did.

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Force

Two days ago, on Memorial Day, I expressed some thoughts about how this country might express appreciation to people who made the ultimate sacrifice by fighting—and dying—in unjust wars. This morning, I read an essay, written by a Marine veteran, that delivered much more forcefully than mine a message about unjust, mismanaged wars. That message, delivered by someone much closer to the reality of unjust wars than I, has considerably more credibility than mine.

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It’s late already; a quarter past nine. In a while, I have a doctor’s appointment. I must take a shower soon or my doctor will think I only bathe weekly or monthly or annually. Not that it really matters, does it? Should I be embarrassed if I were to leave my doctor with the impression that I am unashamedly unclean? Probably. So I will shower. Shave. Put on some post-shave smell-good juice. Get dressed (an important step in the process, not to be overlooked). I may try to get a haircut this afternoon. I intended to get my hair cut about a month ago, but apparently I lost the calendar and was, therefore, unaware of my intent.  Get cracking!

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“I will not strangle myself this morning.” When I say those words, I feel confident that I am speaking the truth. Certainty flows through my body like warm blood. Truth. It’s such a powerful noun. “I will shower in a few minutes.” Those words do not imbue me with as much confidence. Could the difference have to do with the fact that the first is a negative statement and the second is a positive statement? It could be something else. I will force the issue. Off to the shower!

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Preference

Theoretical possibilities inhabit one part of the brain; emotional responses to reality occupy another. Dealing rationally with theoretical possibilities tends to impose less stress on a person than does coping with emotions, which can overwhelm logic. But when theory and feelings collide, a person’s innate temperament often takes control. The problem with “knowing” so little about so much is that it is nearly impossible to predict which of countless variables will intervene and how they will influence the way a person reacts to reality. A map of the United States is interesting and informative, but unless it is a road map, it is essentially useless in planning a drive from coast to coast.

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A nonsense phrase came to mind this morning: clandestine amnesia. This was not the first time a grammatically correct but utterly absurd term popped into my head. Meaning is not entirely a function of either grammar or vocabulary. The two must complement one another in ways that make sense. There must be millions of ways in which an adjective can modify a noun, yielding only gibberish. Superficial clock. Drunken catamaran. Elderly babies Rabid Chevrolet. Slovenly popcorn. My question, of course, is “why?”

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In my dream, I was in a long line in front of a posh hotel, waiting for my valet-parked rented Porsche to be brought to me. The scene was chaotic; hundreds of people in line, cars zooming toward waiting drivers, crowds milling about and blocking the hotel’s doors, and valets smoking cigarettes and leaning against the glass of the front of the hotel. I was in a city that was unfamiliar to me and I did not know where I needed to go; only that I already was late. There was more to the dream, of course, but I do not remember it. Damn!

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Imagine looking toward the horizon in every direction and seeing a perfectly smooth sheet of shiny black obsidian as far as the eye can see. The vista is identical in every direction except directly in front of you where, about a hundred yards away, a solid white goat struggles to get to its feet. Suddenly, you realize this is someone else’s dream and that terrifies you. As you turn to run, you feel a sharp pain on the side of your neck. You hear the metallic sound of a scalpel hitting the obsidian beneath you. And you see blood on the ground. This is not how it was supposed to be, you say to yourself. As you begin to lose consciousness, you hear someone say “Happy Father’s Day, Gregory.” But I’m not Gregory, you think… 

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I much prefer to write realistic fiction. On occasion, though, I try something else. And I rediscover the reason for my preference.

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Mixed Feelings

Sunlight brilliantly illuminates a branch here and there, drawing my gaze to them. Behind those highlighted branches, the leaves and needles are deep green. Compared to the leaves bathed in sunlight, the forest background is dark and foreboding. The ways the sun’s rays strike some leaves, yet barely touch the others, is mesmerizing. Light filters through the leaves to light a few spots on the trunks of big oak trees, making those strips of bark seem to almost reflect the light—the rest of it barely visible in, leaving lacey, dappled patterns of leaves on the gnarled wood. Almost anything in my sight can seem remarkable, almost magical, if I give it my undivided attention for a few minutes. Staring at the forest canopy soothes my anxiety a little; stress can slip away, if only for a few moments, when I leave it in the real world, focusing instead on fantasy in the trees.

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A Facebook friend, who lives with her golf-course designer husband in Traverse City, Michigan, periodically writes about some of her favorite places about town. Often, they involve exercise…gyms and so forth…which do not capture my interest, but for which I applaud her, nonetheless. Occasionally, though, she writes about/recommends restaurants and other places she finds worthy. I thought about her Traverse City recommendations this morning while reading a travel piece about the city in the NYT. And I thought about a high school classmate, who I have not seen since 1972 but with whom I am a Facebook friend, who recently moved to Traverse City. He extolls the virtues of the area and all its delightful offerings. I have never been to Traverse City, but I hope I will go one day. It seems like a place I would enjoy. But not in the winter.

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I have been a blameless victim in collisions at the intersection of expressing concern and invading privacy. Sometimes, though, there has been no evidence that concern was involved in the impact; the crash occurred in the midst of meddling intrusiveness. The term I remember hearing, as a kid, to describe the invasion of privacy involving car wrecks was “rubber-necking.” I think my mother called it “morbid curiosity.” That is the term I would use to name behavior in which an “interested” party inquires about my “stage” of cancer. The same words would fit when the probing inquiry (posed by the same person) asks whether I had ceased receiving treatment for cancer (hoping to verify, it seems, that treatment was futile). Such a query made by a very casual acquaintance does not merit a response. Only close friends and relatives have a legitimate, vested interest in answers to those questions. And I would happily ease their minds. But the prying vulture, hungry for carrion, need not ask again.

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Some days refuse to welcome me. They try to convince me that being awake is equivalent to aggravation. Dreamless sleep, they tell me, is far preferable to dullness and boredom, the two trademarks of consciousness. Those days—which constitute most days of late—are persuasive. When I follow their recommendations, I return to bed and fall asleep, sometimes waking two or three hours (or more) later. Then, after I wake, I realize they are right. Chunks of the day that would have crept by in dreary monotony, as if measured by a half-time clock, have disappeared. But, still, even when I tell myself I must really need my extra sleep, I feel like sleep is an excuse. An escape. A way to elude melancholia. Such is life.

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Today is Memorial Day, a day honoring members of the armed forces who died in service to the country. I sometimes think we should have one such day to honor all those who died  in service to the country and another to honor those who died unnecessarily after being ordered into service to fight unjust wars and imperialistic misadventures. If we continue to avoid acknowledging those latter fatal mistakes, we will continue to make them. I hate the fact that calling attention to “bad” wars and police actions is seen by so many as unpatriotic. In my view, honoring the principles of democracy—rather than “my country, right or wrong”—is the pinnacle of patriotism.

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Inexplicable

Today is one of those Saturdays the universe calls upon to mete out punishment for an unknown—to me, anyway—infraction. The day is not appreciably different from most others, but something about it expresses a need to inflict revenge on me. Perhaps the imprecise color of the sky is the trigger that urges the universe to treat me to torture of one kind or another. Maybe a power even greater than the universe insists on exacting retribution—without even the courtesy of an explanation of my transgression. There’s no point in speculation, of course. The universe is under no obligation to explain itself. Its motives are forever hidden behind the same hazy cloud that spits lightning, torrential rain, hail, and other mayhem into the air. The rumble of thunder shattered my sleep again last night, before midnight. Later, I woke to the pillow case and sheets wet with cold sweat. The indentation of my chest, too, was filled with icy perspiration that drenched the bottom sheet when I rolled onto my side, refreshing my discomfort. The sky at that hour of the night is invisible—so it wasn’t the dull color of the atmosphere that precipitated my abuse. Something did, though. Something transformed the sheets into cold, wet rags that made me flinch when I touched them as I returned to bed after drying my chest and arms. That was the moment I knew to how to classify today. No matter how the rest of the day plays out, I can expect punishment for bad behavior; or bad thoughts. It could be something as simple as wishing I could push a certain politician in front of a fast-moving train; or wanting to douse with merthiolate a right-wing minister’s back after carving the entire Old Testament into him. I doubt I could find the courage to do either; but you never know. Today is odd and unfriendly, though; I know that.

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In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.

~ John Steinbeck ~

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La Chandelle

Paraffin. Paraffin wax was first created in 1830 by German chemist Karl von Reichenbach. Among its many uses, it first offered an especially valuable use in candle-making because it burned very cleanly and was cheaper to make than other candle materials like beeswax and tallow—the latter of which, by the way, is an interesting product. Tallow, strictly defined, consists of rendered beef or mutton suet. In practical use in commerce, though, tallow that meets specific technical criteria may contain fat from other animals like lard from pigs. It can be derived from plant sources, as well.

My curiosity about paraffin grew by leaps and bounds when I learned how broad its uses are. Paraffin has dozens of uses, from forensic investigations of shootings to food additives and from use in lava lamps to lubricant for bullets. It touches our lives in numerous ways, many of which are completely unexpected by the average person. If my interest in paraffin were considerably stronger than it is—even though it is fairly strong—I could conduct intensive research into the stuff and could write about its history and go on endlessly about its extraordinary utility. But, of course, my interest erupts explosively, only to quickly burn to dull, dry, cool ashes. It’s a shame, really, that I cannot seem to maintain a high degree of interest in many fascinating topics; if I could, I might be able to polish a reputation as a Renaissance Man. Alas, I am incapable of honing my interest to such a degree; my inquisitiveness is wide, but shallow. In the absence of an unquenchable interest in any specific subject, one cannot become an expert in anything.

By the way, the photo is non-contextual. It’s just there, for no apparent reason. I did string the beads, though, in answer to any curiosity along those lines you may have.

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Echoes

A brilliant blue bolt of lightning preceded the explosive crack of thunder by a fraction of a second. Then, nothing. No deep, guttural sounds rolling across the landscape. No additional flashes of light. For a moment, I thought the sight and sound might not have been lightning and thunder at all but, instead, a nearby power transformer blowing up. But there was no evidence of even a momentary power loss. A few moments later I heard thunder, again, and through the trees saw a flash of blue light. Weather. The early morning sky darkened. Rain began to fall. The sound of water flowing through the rain gutters grew louder and louder. Larger raindrops fell. The pauses I sensed between them striking the roof got shorter. More thunder; growling and echoing in the distance. I enjoy distinctly aggressive weather; but I prefer to stay home to listen and watch it. Today, I have to drive quite a bit. This morning, in just a few minutes, I’m off to see the oncologist; tests, treatment, and a “check-in.” I hope to be told my ongoing fatigue/constant need for excessive sleep soon will fade. If not, I may invest in comfortable “house clothes” that do not appear too casual—could be mistaken for “business casual”—and could be worn while I nap.

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I feel rushed. I much prefer to engage with the day in a leisurely fashion. No deadlines, no appointments, no pressing obligations that could cause stress—for me or anyone else—if I were to ignore them. Selfish and demanding, perhaps, but genuinely freeing. Today, though, that is not to be. A church board meeting follows immediately after my visit with the doctor. And, this evening, a “world tour of wines” dinner. That will be enjoyable, of course, but sometimes even pleasant experiences tend to infringe on one’s exemption from expectations.

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Time to put this post to bed and drive out into the pouring rain.

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Unplanned Appreciation

Had traffic have been considerably lighter, I might have pulled to the side of the road to stare at the sky. But I was driving on a relatively busy four-lane divided highway, so I could not safely pull over. I had to be satisfied with periodically glancing upward at the spectacle. The sight that so captivated me consisted of dozens of clumps of nearly-stationary clouds against the clear blue sky and—far above the clouds—several fading contrails of airplanes. The translucent white condensate appeared to be moving horizontally at considerable speed above the clouds, as if the air surrounding the contrails moved them in unison. What fascinated me was the appearance that the contrails were moving at high speed, perpendicular to the direction of the jets that left them. In trying to understand what I was seeing, I came to the conclusion that the contrails were caught in the jet stream, which sped them horizontally across the sky—the clouds below them, if they moved at all, moved across the sky at a far more leisurely pace. For some reason, witnessing the visible intersection between natural phenomena and humans’ manipulation of the sky left me mesmerized. I was awestruck by something I may have seen hundreds of times before but, until yesterday, I had failed to notice. I wish I had been able to get a better, more intense, look at the phenomenon, but those fleeting glances were enough to leave me amazed and delighted. Life can deliver remarkable surprises.

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On several occasions, I’ve used or dedicated a post to an adage my mother used to say when referring to someone less fortunate: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Ten years ago last January, I did a bit of research into and wrote about its origin. I learned that John Bradford, who was burned at the stake on January 31, 1555, spoke those words when he watched as men were led by, on their way to their own executions. For me, the phrase has become a secular acknowledgement that I have escaped unpleasant circumstances that have befallen others. The frequency with which I have chosen to use the adage suggests to me that it holds a special meaning to me; more than the “average” trite expression.

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I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.

~ Anne Lamott ~

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We have been watching a series, American Rust, in which Jeff Daniels and Maura Tierney (among others) star. The first season was produced by Showtime; the second (which we just started watching) by Amazon Prime. I enjoyed the first season; the second seems to me, so far, almost like a different and considerably less engaging series. I should not judge it quite yet, so I’ll give it a more thorough chance. For some reason, I find Maura Tierney quite attractive, even though I cannot articulate just what I find attractive about her…she’s not especially appealing, physically, but there’s something…

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My expected five-hour series of tests yesterday lasted only two and a half hours. The schedule I was given and the descriptions I had read suggested the longer period. I was quite happy to finish in half the time I had expected. The cardiologist has not yet called me to discuss the results, but her written assessments I read on my patient portal seem to confirm that my heart is healthy, save for a few very minor and very common glitches that merit no significant concern. I will, of course, wait to celebrate until the doctor calls, but I feel confident that I will have reason to celebrate. I hope so, anyway.

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Gratitude is a welcome emotion.

 

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Driftless Mind Wandering

Five hours of cardiac testing this morning. A nuclear medicine Myocardial Perfusion (MIBI) exam and other stress echo test(s) will assess the state of my heart. I have undergone such a series of tests in the past; many, many years past, while still living in Dallas and still working at my management company. I suppose it’s time to evaluate the stability or decline of my cardiac health. I would like to think my heart is pumping as intended; I imagine I will get the results of the measurements within the next several days. Medical care tends to take over one’s time. I can’t very well refuse it, though, unless I were to decide the results—whatever they are—do not matter. I cannot decide that. There’s too much riding on the outcome of the tests. Time will tell.

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I need more sleep. Far more sleep than I’ve ever needed in the past. An additional three to six hours of sleep, beyond my rather lengthy nighttime sleep. Ach! As much as I find the need for more sleep to be annoying, getting in bed during the day has become enjoyable. Refreshing. Pleasant. I think I could sleep around the clock if I could hide the fact from the rest of the world.

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The sound of my heart pumping is overwhelming. That sound can keep me awake when I want nothing more than to sleep. Tinnitus. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with the malady, but I’m reasonably sure that’s what causes the disturbing noise. Maybe I’ll ask the technicians today about the problem; they will look at one another knowingly. Unspoken, but obvious behind those knowing looks, will be this thought: “Why does this geezer think nuclear medicine techs should be able to answer questions about tinnitus?” I will respond, in a sharp and accusatory voice: “I can hear what you’re thinking! How dare you label me a geezer?!”

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Stake

Killing time is no less a crime than murder; and its punishment equally severe, yet just as pointless.

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We speak of time, using terms like hours and weeks and years and centuries and eons; as if time existed in pieces to be strung together like beads. That concept is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of time—a belief that time is a tool created by humankind to give schedules a reason to exist. Schedules need no reason; no more than time needs a purpose. Time simply is. The same is true of space. Space, too, simply is. We use space—like we use time—as a placeholder, a place where emptiness is treated as if it were reserved for something important. When we finally learn that nothing is important—that space and time neither have intrinsic value nor do they impart value—meaning collapses into no more than an obstacle. Meaning becomes eternal distance; nothing more. And we are left wondering whether life or death have any value. Or whether they, like everything else, are simply nondirectional clues leading nowhere. Spherical logic leading everywhere and no place at all.

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When, as usual, I woke at 1:30 this morning, it occurred to me that I could go back to sleep and never wake up. Immediately, I thought that would be a tragedy because of the way it would impact people around me. But, then, I realized I was looking at death as if my consciousness of the world around me would continue. It would not. Tragedy would no longer be something I could sense; nor could I sense or feel anything else. Death relieves us of all those troubling emotions. And the joyous ones, too, of course. The point of my revelation was that all aspects of life…every single one…would cease to be. I would no longer care. I would no longer have awareness of anything. Not life, not death, nothing at all. I’ve read—many times recently—that humans cannot conceive of their own demise. We cannot imagine utter emptiness; not a shred of consciousness forevermore. I think that must be true—that the very idea that we no longer exist simply has no foothold in our brains. Because, of course, our brains are always “on.” Once they go “off,” every memory, every experience, every emotion…everything…ceases to be. As if we never existed. The void. Endless nothingness; without awareness of the nothingness (or anything else).

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And another day begins, as if calling this cycle of life by a name gives it any more credence than ignoring it entirely. This headache refuses to release me. More espresso might do it.

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Prisoner of the Mind

I was the sole male in the presence of four females at last night’s dinner. Though it is impossible for me to accurately describe the dynamics of discussions in which I constitute a twenty-percent minority, suffice it to say they differ considerably from the dynamics of conversations in which genders are more evenly paired. I tend to be more relaxed among women than among men, but my experience in extreme minority situations can take on an almost surreal character…as if I am observing a frog being dissected. As I noted, I find impossible the challenge of accurately describing the situation.  That having been said, I greatly enjoyed last night’s food, company, and conversation. It was unfortunate that a fifth female and second male were unable to participate due in part to a phenomenon occasionally called “nurses sometimes make the worst patients.” By the way, I was the recipient of a lovely gift from a pair of friends at last night’s casual, comfortable, and delightful shindig; an octopus figure that has now joined my growing collection of eight-tentacled cephalopods. When I am “out” later than usual, it takes me a few hours to unwind. Consequently, it was past midnight before we got to bed, making this morning a bit difficult to welcome with open arms. Whether we/I/either of us get to church remains to be seen. Inasmuch as it’s close to a quarter past 8, the likelihood is looking quite slim.

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Anne Boleyn, second wife of England’s King Henry VIII, was beheaded on May 19 after being convicted of adultery. Though questions of her date of birth remain, it is generally agreed she would have been either 517 or 523 years old today, had she survived following her beheading in 1536. Beheading seems somewhat harsh for adultery. In fact, beheading seems overly severe for all but the most inexcusable and unforgiveable crimes—those are defined differently for different people, of course.

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Gazpacho. I love the flavor, the texture, and the way it brings joy to my tastebuds. But I have never had enough gazpacho; never enough volume at a single sitting and insufficiently frequent opportunities to enjoy it.  I am to blame for the dearth of gazpacho in my life. But it’s never too late to overcome what may seem to be insurmountable challenges! And making gazpacho is easy! I almost cannot believe it could have been so long ago, but I think I enjoyed my last bowl of gazpacho at a little neighborhood restaurant in New York City…years ago. That is inexcusable, of course. I promise to rectify that horrible oversight. I intend to start by following Alton Brown’s recipe. Then, I’ll branch out, trying different versions along the way. This may be the way I reacquaint myself with the joys of the kitchen. Too much time has passed since I lost myself in the delights of the stove-top and spice cabinet and spending time at greengrocers’ stands. This morning, I feel certain I could become vegetarian if I put my mind to it. And I just might.

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Every. Damn. Day. I get up and—just a few hours later—I need a nap. On the one hand, I’ve come to appreciate the extra sleep or, if not sleep, quiet relaxation. On the other, my productivity has taken a sharp dive. I must need the rest. I keep telling myself that is the reason for feeling tired. I just wish the amount of rest I need would decline more—and more quickly—than it has to date. Mi novia needs rest more than I do, I think. She has taken on the role of caregiver and caregiver proxy and several other responsibilities that can drain one’s energy and sap one’s strength. Taking time for oneself can be far more important than giving time to others, especially when serving others grows increasingly wearying. It is time for me to come up with solutions. Solve the situation. Solvents?

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When I begin to feel that I have not accomplished all I hope to accomplish in my life, I need only to remind myself how far I’ve come since I was in prison. I may not be rich and powerful, but at least I’m no longer in prison.

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Desperately Seeking Satisfaction

Do some people enjoy their lives of crime because they get to choose their victims? I wonder whether they would find as much fulfillment if they had no choice in picking their victims? And how many people would choose a life of crime if they: 1) got to choose their victims; and 2) were assured they would not be caught or prosecuted?  I can imagine a sense of satisfaction by subjecting some people—many people—to victimhood. Roughly eighty-eight percent of Republican politicians and sixty-six percent of their Democratic colleagues might fall into that group. The legend of Robin Hood has its roots partly in the concept of economic vengeance—economics of certain stripes and politics exist together in a symbiotic-parasitic relationship. Generosity and compassion have no place in that miserable affiliation. There would be little or no crime if humanity put more emphasis on generosity and compassion than we do on greed and power. But if satisfaction is what we seek, are we looking in all the wrong places?

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The memory is there, but hidden. Just beneath the surface of awareness, it waits. The deeply troubling dream experience that took place while I slipped in and out of semi-consciousness last night is poised to spring on me at any moment. And when it does, I feel certain I will react with horror, as if the incident had been real. Perhaps it was real. Perhaps reality need not be physical to be real. Maybe purely mental and emotional reality, absent most of the physical characteristics of what we normally think constitutes experience, can be just as authentic. Just as satisfying. Just as horrifying. I do not know what took place in my mind while I slept, but if that memory suddenly emerges, I will be terrified.

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I had hoped my fatigue would fade, once I completed the planned course of chemotherapy. And it did. And it didn’t. Exhaustion/tiredness/sleepiness/etc. is one of the common side-effects of the follow-up drug that is dripped into me once every three weeks for two years. It is one of the side-effects I continue to experience with some frequency. I sleep a lot. In fact, it has gotten to the point that I have begun to actually look forward to taking naps during the day. Sleeping for an hour or two or three frees me from the monotony of simply being. Some days…many days…I think I would be happy to sleep around the clock. But only if I can avoid those horrifying nighttime experiences.

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In yesterday’s blog post, I mistakenly expressed an interest in assisted living arrangements. I intended to write independent. I have no interest in being looked after or cared for or otherwise managed; my interest is in freedom, not in being bound by gentle shackles.

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I swam across a smooth body of water (I think it was in Corpus Christi) to a point where a man was standing on the far shore. He worked for the Dallas Morning News. He was promoting a course the newspaper sponsored. The course seemed to me to be intended to teach about a bogus rip-off of a bogus psychological testing process. I went up a sand dune and into an auditorium. I sat near the back, where a few chairs remained open. I spoke up, pointing out the deficiencies in the psychological testing package; the audience of mostly women laughed at me, as if I did not have a clue was I was talking about. At some point I left, sliding back into the water and swimming across the smooth body of water back to the marina from whence I came. As far as I know, this was a deeply unsatisfying dream, as well.

Somewhere, far removed from the frenzy of towns and cities, is a stunningly beautiful, sleepy little village where residents actively avoid national and world news. People in this village are proudly self-sufficient, growing their own food crops and raising their own animals. The population of the village and the small communities nearby are friendly, generous, and caring. If only…

 

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Splinters

In a world unencumbered by human pettiness, knowing what to call the days of the week would be utterly pointless. That world would not have words for Monday or Thursday or Saturday; what possible need could there be? Only when humans concern themselves with irrelevance must we cope with unnecessary complexities like naming days of the week, months of the year, etc. Would it be possible for us to survive in the absence of words like Wednesday or September? Of course it would. We could get along quite nicely, too, without 1959 or 2024 or 1976. Those words/numbers are simply artificial expressions of periods of time; we could just as easily call them, respectively, Cynthia, sausage, and jewelry. Or, better yet, we could opt not to name them at all. While on the subject of unnecessary terms, what is the point of access to a vocabulary that includes both aware and cognizant? Is the purpose, I wonder, to separate the chaff from the wheat, as it were? That is, to differentiate between regular people and word snobs? Speaking of human pettiness…

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When I returned home yesterday afternoon from a function, I was told my behavior was a bit out of the ordinary. I was asked, more than once, “Are you high?” I responded in the negative, of course, because I had not knowingly consumed anything that would have altered my mental state in a way that would have made me seem “high.” Knowingly. Hmm. This morning, it occurred to me that, at the function, I ate two cookies. They could have been laced with a special ingredient; those cookies could have influenced my behavior. But I doubt it.

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Over time, I have become pretty good at hiding emotional distress behind a façade of silly humor. Not perfect, but pretty good. Even when I am in the midst of a near-perfectly disguised emotional meltdown, my state of mind might be unknown by those around me. Sometimes, though, I teeter on the edge of abandoning the charade and revealing the emotional shipwreck beneath the waves. I protect the real emotions from prying eyes and minds, though, because the complexities of thought that might explain my state of mind would not be apparent to onlookers/witnesses. I might be judged mentally unhinged, or worse.  So I cover the obvious signs of damage with absurdity. No one is the wiser.

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The demands of home ownership—requiring ongoing expenditures of both time and money—are no longer as satisfying as they once were. There was a time when I enjoyed putting my handyman skills to the test: sweating copper pipes to repair water lines; caulking; painting; yardwork; patching sheetrock; replacing broken window panes; and on and on and on. I no longer equate my masculinity in any way, shape, manner, or form to my capabilities to perform home repair and maintenance. And the unpredictable nature of when and how much I will need to spend to have someone else do the work is not even remotely appealing to me. I would much rather be able to simply make a call to report a need for repair; and it would be done. As for maintenance, I would rather someone else track the need for routine upkeep and handle it without a need for my intervention. Other home-related chores have lost their luster, too. I would like to cook only on those increasingly rare occasions when I’m in the mood. And I value a dust-free, well-ordered, and otherwise sparkling clean house. But I have no interest in handling the cleaning; I would rather engage someone younger and more agile and more energetic to do the work, Yet I do not want to be responsible for hiring and firing; I just want the work to be arranged and completed without any appreciable need for my intervention. In other words, the concept of assisted living is becoming far more appealing to me. Yet I think I want more control over my day-to-day experiences than I suspect would be available in most assisted living situations. Perhaps the solution would be to engage a property management company (like an organization one might hire to look after one’s rental properties) that would be willing to take on responsibilities for employing a personal chef/shopper. I suspect money would take on a much larger part of the challenges of such arrangements, though. Like so many other solutions to problems and challenges facing us in our lives, the fix may be easy: limitless wealth. Of course, I could be wrong. Money may not be the answer. I’m willing to give it a try, though. Any assistance anyone may be willing to provide in that regard will be deeply and eternally appreciated.

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Until my niece sent an email yesterday evening, advising that she and her husband were okay, I did not know about yesterday’s fierce storms in and around Houston. The storms left much of Harris County and surrounding areas without power and otherwise suffering from wind and water damage. My niece said their house had some minor damage, but nothing catastrophic. Recent floods, windstorms, and other dangerous weather phenomena around southeast Texas may or may not have been caused by a rapidly-warming climate; but I suspect that cause is as likely as any other.

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Tiny wooden splinters can irritate the skin. Larger splinters, resembling sharpened dowels, can play havoc with one’s mind. Massive posts, the kind used for telephone poles, can keep live wires from causing horrible ends to otherwise good days.

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