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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Please

I read an intriguing article this morning. Entitled Why Do People Make Music?, the piece reported on a study by 75 researchers of songs sung in 55 languages. Though the article did not offer a definitive answer to the question it posed, it offered some possibilities. Among them: “Across cultures, the researchers found, songs share certain features not found in speech, suggesting that Darwin might have been right: Despite its diversity today, music might have evolved in our distant ancestors.” (Darwin, incidentally, suggested music may have been a tactic used to solicit mates.) I’ve often wondered why people—why I—enjoy music. What is it, I wonder, that makes music pleasing to the ear and to the brain that absorbs the sounds? At the same time, I wonder about apparent generational rivalries between music; why does classical music seem to appeal to some generations, while rock n’ roll does not? And vice versa? And what causes a person’s taste in music to change over time? There was a time I considered traditional country music nothing but offensive noise; though I am not an enthusiastic fan today, I find some country music very satisfying. Similarly, I once was not enamored of most classical music, whereas today I find much of it quite appealing—even moving in the extreme. Many other examples exist; they offer no answers, just more questions.

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Sitting here in my cluttered study, my thoughts turn away from hearing to other senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and touch. Taste and smell seem in some ways closest to hearing, in that people have strong preferences (or dislikes) for certain foods and odors. I like the flavors of cumin and cilantro and the smell of grapefruit juice and I am strongly attracted to certain styles of folk music rock. My taste and smell preferences could be driven by genetics (it is my understanding that people either love cilantro or hate it, the latter because a certain genetic characteristic in some people makes it taste like soap). Could that be true of music/sound? Of course it could be; but is it? I have the same questions about what pleases the eye—is my appreciation of what I consider beauty related to my DNA or have I been taught, culturally, what is pretty and what is not?  And touch…the gentleness of a person’s fingers stroking my neck might give me either a pleasant sensation or disturbing shivers; it is the touch, itself, or ownership of the fingers? Did I learn that reaction, whichever it is, or is it encoded in my DNA?

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None of my questions are new. Most, if not all, have been answered by someone at some point; either I did not hear/see/appreciate the answers or I did not believe them. Or, perhaps, I simply do not remember what I once understood. The brain either is reliably inconsistent or we do not know how to fully interpret or recall the signals it receives. Whatever the reason, the inability to remember everything…EVERYTHING…is more than mildly maddening. I sometimes feel the urge to beat myself bloody and unconscious with a cast iron skillet, thinking that treatment might unlock all the memories my brain refuses to release to my consciousness.  [No. Not really. I have an allergy to pain.] But possessing an imperfect memory is frustrating in the extreme. Yet I might find it impossible to live with absolute recall. Perhaps my copious flaws are simple mechanisms of self-protection. That’s a charitable way of looking at it.

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Where does one go to get truly professional instruction on proper care of stainless steel knives? Not just someone who “learned from experience” and is satisfied that the experience qualifies the person as an expert. No, I am looking for someone regarded by experts as an expert. My ability to sharpen stainless steel knives is better than it used to be, but I suspect learning on my own was not the best way to learn. I want to be really good at it. I’ve never been good at using whetstones. But I’ve gotten considerably better at using honing/sharpening rods. I want to use them the RIGHT way, though. And I want to be good at using whetstones. Or whatever is the best way. The longest-lasting way. Tell me. Please.

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Gift of the Sky

Some automobile insurers—most, if word on the street can be believed—may not be the good neighbors they once claimed to be. Good neighbors do not pick locks, steal wallets, empty savings accounts, and snatch purses. In reality, automobile insurers do not behave quite that badly, either, but their reputations are getting worse with almost every passing day, thanks to the rising costs of insurance premiums. The costs of car insurance increased by roughly 14% last year, the largest jump in more than 15 years. The chief insurance officer at the Insurance Information Institute expects rates to climb another 13% this year. Already this year, costs have climbed about 22%, though that figure may decline as the year wears on. Many factors have played into significant increases in the cost of premiums in recent years—COVID and the supply problems associated with the pandemic; out-of-practice shut-in drivers returning to their vehicles (and having more accidents); increasing prices of car repairs, especially with new technologies costing considerably more than in years past; etc. The latter cause had not occurred to me. It makes sense, though, in that car manufacturers are being told to incorporate more and more expensive technologies into their cars…and those technologies cost more to repair. Mid-way through the worst of COVID, the reduction in the amount of driving seemed destined to cut the cost of car insurance, but only to those of us who failed to give sufficient thought and analysis to “unintended consequences” of the changes we should have been able to predict. Oh, well. Would we have been prepared for big increases, had we given the matter enough critical thought? Probably not. We are not especially good at anticipating the many ramifications of change as change ripples through systems. With adequate analyses, we might foresee the impact on car prices of the costs of launching GPS satellites into space, but humans spend our time, instead, predicting winners and losers of the Super Bowl and other such vital human endeavors. I wrote about the subject of car insurance premiums no long ago; I wonder whether my thoughts were closely aligned, then, with my thoughts today? Not that it matters; my thinking will have no impact on what I pay for insurance.

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Spices from India are undergoing evaluation by various governments around the world because some have been found to contain various pesticides, etc. that are harmful to humans. That is bad news, from my perspective. I love Indian food (though I rarely have it); if it is potentially dangerous, though, I probably will steer clear of it. That having been said, I will try to keep my eyes open to news about tainted Indian spices; I’ll keep an eye on BBC.com, where I first read about the matter, and will read Consumer Reports for news of product recalls and product warnings. It worries me that I feel obligated to allow governmental warnings and alerts to dictate my consumption of foodstuff. The world is different from the one our ancestors knew; and it is different from the one in which future generations will live.

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One hundred years hence, no one in my present circle of friends, family, and acquaintances will be alive. That includes me, of course. Yet I have read that I cannot fathom my own death; I have read that none of us can. Hmm. There is nothing to fathom, I suppose. Life and death are two sides of the same coin; at least that’s what we tell ourselves, as if that statement has any practical meaning or value whatsoever. I should think we long ago would have learned that, after billions and billions of humans have been born and died, pretending each life is somehow sacred and unique and deeply meaningful is pointless. The vast majority of the billions who have lived and died have been thoroughly forgotten. Their familial relationships no longer matter, nor do the relationships with and between their friends or enemies or acquaintances. I suppose this artificial sense of majesty and wonder that surrounds our lives does us no lasting harm; but it might cause considerable grief in the short term. Why, I wonder, do we feel compelled to attach such reverence to life? Perhaps it is because consciousness is the only experience we know; and we equate consciousness with life. Or maybe it’s something else. I doubt I will ever know; not with certainty, anyway. Most people are satisfied to believe life teaches us eternal, sacred lessons. Wisdom accrues as we age. But so does gullibility, I think.

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Days drift by aimlessly. World events occur without my consent. I have absolutely no impact on the movement of the Sun, nor on its temperature. If I had the ability to see, first-hand and unaided by technology, the dark side of the Moon, would that vision have any effect on the universe? My powers of persuasion are not adequate to allow me to succeed, but if they were I would like to convince the world’s population that every single day’s sunrise is sheer magic and is not assured…and that we should wake and express thanks to the sky for delivering light again on this day. Perhaps we’d all be happier?

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Failed Attempt

When properly employed, humor masks anxiety, depression, fear, and other potentially troubling emotions. Humor shields and protects the privacy of the person using it, of course, but it also gives other people in the setting a defensive cover. Humor erases—or minimizes, at least—the discomfort of engaging in painful conversations. Yet, instead of a defense, humor often is a spontaneous expression of lowered inhibitions, amusement, and comic relief. Humor breaks the ice, too, in situations in which social barriers tend to exist. But because of those incongruous applications, misunderstandings about what constitutes humor occur.  For that reason, what I call “defensive humor” should be described with a completely different term. I do not have a term for it,, though. Not one, anyway, I would recommend.

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I’ve tried. I just do not have it in me this morning. I will give up, for now, my attempt at blogging.

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Erratic Thinking

Somewhere along a very long, irrational continuum, optimism becomes blind idealism. That transition whittles a piece  of solid hardwood into shavings and sawdust. Reasonable hope for the future transforms into misplaced certainty. Opposing opinions begin to look—to holders of each—like safe havens. The remote idea that others’ points of view may have even a shred of merit disappears into intractable impossibility. Friendships dissolve into cauldrons of animosity. Fear invades even the most innocuous social interaction. People who once calmly debated their disparate points of view begin to make their arguments with threats and weapons. Neither side is right, of course, but neither is willing to admit that the other’s position may have any substance. When rage and fear accompany blind idealism, conversations are impossible; olive branches are carved into spears. Civility is treated as weakness. Compromise is tantamount to surrender.

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I was treated to a delightful dinner and conversation last night with two friends from church. Three, in my opinion, is a perfect number for conversation; with more than three, the likelihood of crosstalk increases.  The intimacy of conversation is endangered with each addition to that perfect number. That is not to say larger groups cannot have interesting, enjoyable conversations; only that such conversations are not as likely to be quite as satisfying as smaller ones. Casual conversations between a group of three people are, I think, my favorite conversations. Obviously, I find them appealing. Last night certainly was appealing. I will try to discipline myself to take the initiative to arrange the next gathering in the not-too-distant future.

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Little puffs of fog attached to branches of pine trees and oak trees alternate between being obvious and almost hidden. When they fade, they remind me of translucent fragments of lint caught by the filter in the clothes dryer. A small load of clothes may leave a thin film of barely-visible lint on the filter, while a larger load of heavier fabrics can leave something that resembles colorful felt. In the time it took me to type these few sentences, most of the fog has dissolved into clear air. But I still see remnants of a few thin clumps near the tops of trees. It’s odd, I think, that something as natural as fog triggered my brain with a connection to something as unnatural as the contents of a lint filter. The amount of lint shed during a drying cycle illustrates just how much dust we carry on our clothes. If we would train ourselves to be comfortable with our own bodies (and everyone else’s), the air in our homes could be made much cleaner. Wearing clothes only for our own physical comfort could have a significant positive effect on our health. Maybe.

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During last night’s dinner, one of the participants told us about an appointment she had with a physician who is a pain specialist. Somehow, she learned that there were service dogs in the doctor’s office. My friend called the doctor’s office to express that she was not comfortable around dogs; after a brief interchange between the nurse/office manager and my friend, my friend was told she would have to find another doctor. The hilarity of the story does not come through as clearly through my fingers as it did through live conversation last night. The thought that “the doctor keeps dogs in his office” struck me as incredibly funny. All three of us thought it odd for a medical office to have canines wandering around. I wonder whether a doctor with an office full of ferrets or goats would seem as strange as a doctor’s office with dogs.

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When laws and regulations are too complex to be understandable without expert interpretation, they are too damn complex. But, then, what would we do with all the lawyers? One of my nephews is a lawyer; I would not want to simplify laws to the extent that the simplification would require him to change careers. Perhaps our society could offer lawyers a retraining program, though? Medical school, perhaps? Hmm. I can imagine an operating room conversation among surgeon/lawyers:

“Isn’t it true, Dr. Smith, that this patient’s appendix had not yet burst when you operated…and that you decided to remove it simply as a precaution?”

“Dr. Jones, my decision was based on prudence; if I had not removed his appendix, it could have burst after I closed the incision in his gut…which could have killed him.”

“But you admit, Dr. Smith, that it had not burst, correct? And, now, the patient will never have the opportunity to experience a true medically-necessary appendectomy! Is it your testimony that your “prudence” should be given greater weight than the patient’s rights to decide whether his appendix should have been removed?”

“Oh, piss off, you scalpel-slinging, ambulance-chasing mail-order doctor! If you make any more accusations against me I will arrange a video viewing of your most recent bungled lung transplant for the Medical Board!”

Time for another tiny cup of high-test caffeine.

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Disappearance

For as long as I can remember, I periodically have experienced the desire to abandon the life I have been living—leave absolutely everything and everyone—and start over as someone new in a new place.  The fundamental problem with that fantasy, of course, is the “everyone” I would leave; among them are people I simply could not bear to hurt. There are other obstacles, of course. I am very reserved in person-to-person relationships, meaning it takes a long time before I become sufficiently comfortable with others to have more than a loose acquaintanceship, much less a real friendship. That trait would make for long stretches of loneliness while adjusting to new places and new people. And I imagine doing what is necessary to change one’s identity, while retaining necessary financial resources, would be difficult, time-consuming, and fraught with other pitfalls I cannot imagine. But those complexities might be worth the trouble, inasmuch as all one’s history—all the emotional baggage—could be left behind. Yet two questions arise from that possibility: First, would leaving that emotional baggage behind really be possible? Second, How difficult might it be to construct and readily remember an entirely new history? Somewhere along the line, I imagine some elements of the elaborate lie required to create a new identity would come to the surface; any trust other people might have developed in the new stranger could be shattered.

According to a questionable statistic I found online, roughly 630,000 people are reported missing each year; about 6,000 of them remain missing. It is impossible to know how many of either group intended to disappear, either temporarily or permanently. And it is equally impossible to know how many of the permanently missing remain alive. But it is reasonable to assume quite a few of them intentionally and successfully disappear, living a new life as a new person. I wonder how they view the transition? Did the circumstances that prompted one’s disappearance evaporate? Is the post-disappearance life significantly better or less stressful than the one left behind? Was severing personal ties and relationships as painfully difficult as I might expect? Getting answers to those and many other questions probably would be hard; someone who abandoned his old life is not likely to want to reveal that he did it, nor to explain or dissect his reasons.

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I could manufacture my disappearance in the form of fiction. It would not be the same as the real-world upheaval of my life, but the accompanying pain would be equally as artificial as the experience.

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Seasonal Transition

Despite the fact that there are still remnants of yellow pollen on everything outdoors, being outside is finally more than just tolerable. Sitting outside on the deck yesterday afternoon was delightful. The calls of several birds, the occasional sounds of wind chimes, and the air’s warmth joined forces to create an incredibly pleasing environment. Sitting on comfortable cushioned chairs, sipping on a cold drink, and feeling completely free for awhile of all normal obligations represent the rewards of retirement. I recommend entering it as early as possible.

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There was no aurora in my line of sight last night. I went to bed quite early. The photos I have seen posted online this morning make me wish I had stayed up, but I gather that the colors were visible only through the lens of a phone’s camera. Still, it would have been exciting. My enthusiasm for rarely-seen events in and around our Milky Way Galaxy seems to have waned over the years. There was a time I would have set my alarm to remind me to get up and go outside at 2 a.m. Maybe I have been disappointed at the results when I did that before. Perhaps I tend to let my interest and excitement grow beyond what is reasonable; so, when the “real world” shows itself, I fee let down. Who knows? I imagine the decline in intellectual and emotional interest may be closely aligned with advancing age. Until a year ago, I felt like I was only a fraction of my physical age; today, it’s more like I feel like I am 125% of my actual age. I may need a nap this morning. And, quite possibly, again this afternoon.

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I had a conversation yesterday about writing retreats. Several years ago, I participated in two such retreats. The opportunity to spend a few days in relative seclusion, focusing much of my time almost exclusively on writing, was valuable. I joined a few other people—who also belonged to my local writers’ group—thinking that keeping company with them would help keep me focused on writing. It did not turn out quite that way. Some of us used more of our time than we should have done to socialize. Lesson learned. If I try it again (and, increasingly, I want to), I will strictly limit social time. My success will be measured by my productivity, both in volume of output and in quality of my writing.

I have in mind developing and fleshing out the stories of characters who live in and around a fairly small, semi-rural town. The town, once on the path to fast growth and an appealing standard of living, is decaying, thanks to the sudden departure a few years earlier of the community’s largest employer. A group of locals, mostly long-time residents but with a couple of relative newcomers, gather regularly at a failing bar & grille to discuss their own futures and the town’s potential for rebirth.  Businesses that had blossomed in the town’s heyday—including a bank, a newspaper, a few restaurants, the bar & grille, a grocery store, and a few others—either had shrunk or disappeared.

This description of what I hope to write could go on, of course. But I think I should stop thinking about writing the story and, instead, should record the words and the story sliding out of my brain. Retreats—perhaps a week at a time—could provide the environment for the story to evolve, like the medium in a Petri dish. One of my almost countless flaws, though, is my tendency to get bored with myself. When that happens, the ideas for a story or a book I once thought were worth pursuing lose their appeal. I haven’t decided whether it’s my boredom or my laziness that slows—and then quickly stops—my progress. I would need to get a handle on that flaw and refuse my automatic efforts to replace it with another.

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Consequences

Humans’ understanding of space—and the stars and planets and the intergalactic debris between them—is infinitesimal. There simply are too many facts and processes and interactions between them for our remarkable (but crudely aboriginal) brains to comprehend. I suspect we know an equally small proportion of what can be known about Earth’s oceans—and the life forms and prehistoric clues to “origin” hidden beneath miles of water. Our brains’ limitations, too, will keep us from knowing more than a tiny fraction of what is knowable. We (I should say they, inasmuch as I am not involved in the endeavor) keep trying, though. The search for knowledge is admirable, if futile. It’s the futility of the undertaking that makes the effort so commendable. To reach the unreachable. The nobility of the idea is breathtaking. Stunning. But delusional. The romantic notion that humans are pursuing—and will continue to pursue—the impossible is a source of pride. Embarrassment, too; depending on one’s perspectives. The strength of that pride, though, usually is sufficient to overwhelm the sense of shame that accompanies attempting the preposterous.

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I woke periodically during the night, each time feeling like I must have been asleep for hours. Invariably, though, only 20 to 30 minutes had passed since my most recent glance at the clock. I thought I had taken quite some time to fall asleep again after noting the time; but it could not have been terribly long—because the 20 or 30 minutes had included the time it took for me to get back to sleep. When I got up at a quarter past four this morning, I felt like the night had been extraordinarily long, but I had gone to bed only a bit more than six hours earlier. Having arisen so early (like in the “old days”), I decided to take advantage of the extra time available to me. The second of two loads of laundry is in the washer and the first one is in the dryer. I’ve finished my first espresso. I’ve scanned the morning news (which was a rehash of yesterday, reminding me of the absurd movie, Groundhog Day). And I’ve devoted dribs and drabs of time to this post. By 7 pm this evening—thanks to my early spurt of energy—I may be ready to go to sleep again.

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Time cannot be recycled. At least that’s my thinking on the matter this morning. Once a moment has passed, it cannot be recovered. It cannot be relived. After it has been experienced, an instance of time cannot be experienced again—not a second, not a minute, not an hour, not a year, not an eternity. That being the case, the idea of time travel is a pointless, wasted concept. Science fiction, in my view, should portray something that could conceivably be possible at some point in the future, given potential advances in science. If the experiences of moments of time are “one and done,” then they have not legitimate place in science fiction. They arguably may have a place in science fantasy, but not science fiction. And science fantasy is whimsical garbage. Sue me; I’m in a judgmental mood this morning. I may become more forgiving of the idea at some point, but I’m relatively sure that point will not take place today. And I’m absolutely certainly it will not take place at some point in the past.

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Poetry is the emotional equivalent of sandpaper. Poetry smooths the rough edges of ideas and words, removing sharp edges that hide truth or understanding. But, like sandpaper, poetry can accentuate those same sharp edges, revealing the pain and discomfort of reality. This morning, I think poetry is too often subjected to unnecessary analysis—it can be categorized, pigeon-holed, examined microscopically, and otherwise dissected and evaluated and criticized. On the other hand, haphazardly stringing words together does not constitute poetry. Poetry weaves words and phrases into either physical or intellectual images (or both) that may evoke different emotions in different people. Poetry encodes insights that might not be understandable in “standard” prose. But beautiful prose can—sometimes inexplicably—carry poetic qualities. I choose not to spend my time and energy trying to classify poetry by type or style or mechanical attribute. Scientific evaluation tends to replace the mysteries of poetry with artificial armatures; the original is a living, breathing life-form, while the examined version is a mannequin.

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For some reason, drinking tomato juice jazzed up with several drops of Tabasco sauce makes me feel virtuous. I might feel both virtuous and dangerous if I added a bit of vodka to the mix, but I’ll be satisfied this morning to leave the vodka for another time.  It’s after 6:30; I’ve let half the day slide by. At least I’ve accomplished something of consequence; clean laundry is naturally consequential.

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Naturally Calm

Pods of bottlenose dolphins, schools of silvery fish changing direction in unison, swarms or blooms or smacks of jellyfish. NBC or YouTubeTV treated us to a brief, soothing, underwater video between newscasts last night, apparently in lieu of pharmaceutical commercials. My attention this morning drifted away from the serenity of last night’s video, focusing instead on the collective nouns assigned to groups of animals. If I can, I will redirect my attention back to the beautiful sights and sounds of those lovely sea creatures. The sight of the translucent bodies and tentacles of jellyfish, as they propel themselves through clear seawater, is mesmerizing. That is true, as well, of the gentle acrobatics of dolphins and the precision with which huge schools of tiny fish collectively decide—at exactly the same instant—to swerve or reverse direction or pause their movement. As impressive as a marching band on an athletic field may be, its collective movements are crude and imprecise in comparison to the magic visible in nature. Simultaneously complex in the extreme and starkly simple, the unified movements of groups of animals swimming or flying or running are stunning. When I allow my attention and my intense admiration to be completely captured by natural phenomena, I experience freedom from stress. Though the absence of anxiety is brief, the sensation is sufficient to renew my strength and replace tension with peace and relaxation. I think I should give myself a daily gift of 30 minutes of meditative seclusion—while, perhaps, watching a calming video like the one I watched last night. Though I talk about meditation, it is mostly just talk; calm, regular practice in lieu of inaction is what I need. Maybe I need to be coached for a while until I succeed in turning intent into habit.

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The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) describes several drugs/ pharmaceuticals as empathogens, which “increase a person’s feeling of empathy and benevolence towards others, as well as feelings of being socially accepted and connected…and…can increase friendliness and playfulness, but can also cause mood swings, dehydration and depression.” It’s too bad that ecstasy and mephedrone and other “stand-in” empathogens are not better understood and more readily controllable (to ensure their negative effects on the body are eliminated or minimized). My fear of what such drugs might do—both short term and long term—to my body or mind has prevented me from ever trying them. It is unfortunate that (as far as I know) pharmaceutical experimentation with modification of those drugs generally is prohibited; if research on how to eliminate the negative effects of the drugs were actively encouraged, we might be able to medicate our way to an empathetic and truly benevolent society. The very idea, though, would be anathema to über-conservatives and adherents to religious fascism. And other groups, probably.

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Rest is a means of recovery. Rejuvenation. I will accept that as one of many truths.

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Damage

Video of what appears to have been a tornado on the south side of Hot Springs confirms that last night’s weather was fierce. Claps of thunder shook the ground here in the Village, twenty miles away, but as far as I know we were spared the worst of the storms. But blue flashes of lightning and growls of thunder kept sleep at bay for an hour or more. Heavy rain beat against the siding and the roof as if the downpour was intent on breaking through to the warm bed. This morning, though, grey skies and water-logged trees are the only evidence I can see of last night’s atmospheric assault. And the temperatures have cooled considerably, I think. I wonder whether high winds, strobe-like bolts of lightning, torrential rain, and earth-shaking thunder cause panic in deer, rabbits, skunks, foxes, and the rest of the forest creatures that find themselves unprotected—at the mercy of unknown forces that might seem to turn the animals’ lives upside down? Some people suggest forest creatures are “accustomed” to chaotic weather and, therefore, are not afraid when it strikes. That attitude, I think, has its roots in both ignorance and emotional avoidance. I could be wrong, of course; I have not done any research on these matters because I do not have the energy at the moment and I do not feel up to learning something I would rather not know. If there was any serious damage last night, I am sure I will see photos before the day is out.

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A retired rabbi will deliver the “insight” service at church next Sunday. He is invited to speak at least two or three times a year, I believe. And I always find his comments interesting. His sense of humor, too, often elicits applause and loud laughter.  I have gotten out of the habit of attending church every Sunday, thanks to the exhaustion that has accompanied my chemotherapy. But that fatigue has diminished quite a bit, making attendance far less of a burden. Next Sunday, mi novia will be visiting her mother so if I got to church, I will go to church alone. I am leaning toward attending; I really enjoy the rabbi’s comments.

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Golf is not necessarily a rich person’s pastime, but neither is it readily available to people of limited means. As far as I know, no one in my immediate family (and possibly no one in my extended family) has been a golfer. While my brothers and sisters and I were growing up, my family had limited means…I think. My siblings (there were five of them) may have had a somewhat different experience, though. The first few may have enjoyed the “good life” to a greater extent than did I, but I rather doubt it. Instead of golf clubs, though, some of my siblings were given shotguns. By the time I was born, that phase had passed. I heard stories of white-wing hunting, but I was never given the opportunity. Still, I think hunting was much more in line with my father’s interests than golf would have been. This assumes I knew my father’s interests, which is not an entirely reasonable assumption. Now that I think about it, I  do not remember ever hearing of my sisters having shotguns or going hunting. Perhaps my family, especially early on, accepted gender stereotypes: toy trucks for boys, dolls for girls. I simply do not remember; my childhood remains—for the most part—a mystery to me. I can imagine that I was switched—a few years after birth—for a child with entirely different experiences and memories than mine. With six children in tow, my mother may have gone to a routine doctor’s appointment; when she was ready to leave, she corralled the children and headed home…but she accidentally left her original youngest child in the waiting room, taking me home instead. All babies look the same, so I can easily imagine she did not notice that I was not part of the brood. None of this explains why I was never given a shotgun. Maybe the people who reared me saw traits in me that argued strenuously against equipping me with a weapon. This is all sheer fantasy. Possibly.

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I learned last night that Amna Nawaz had her children’s names tattooed on her wrists. I also learned (or relearned) that, in December 2019, she became the first Asian American and first Muslim to moderate a United States presidential debate when she co-moderated a Democratic Party presidential debate. She is now co-anchor of the PBS Newshour. I watched last night as she, with obvious enjoyment, interviewed Brittney Griner. Griner is a very tall basketball player who spent time as a Russian prisoner. I do not need to know this, but I know it, nevertheless.

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According to India’s largest hospitality education website, “Sauces are made with a liquid base and are often thinner and more pourable, while gravies are made with the drippings from cooked meats and are thicker and more viscous.” The more you know, the better you feel.

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Conflict

Conflict often puts me in competition with myself. That clash takes the form of a struggle between the sometimes irrational desire for more personal possessions and the intense longing for serenity—austere simplicity. I want the luxury of more or better and I want the tranquility of less. The rivalry between two ends of that emotional spectrum describes a kind of hypocrisy; obligations or responsibilities (i.e., ownership) on one end and freedom (i.e., extreme flexibility) on the other. The emotional needs (if that is what they are) associated with the competing urges are incompatible; satisfying either one makes it impossible to satisfy the other. Attempting to mollify them by accepting both fewer possessions and more complexity achieves nothing but permanent dissatisfaction. Hard choices involve rejecting one or the other: either extreme wealth and the responsibilities and commitments that come with it or the freedoms and spartan existence that accompany poverty. I tend not to make the hard choices, as if I believe compromise is possible. I know better, but do not have the discipline to come to grips with reality.

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I am not worried about humankind. The species either will successful overcome existential challenges or it won’t. If humans are unable to meet those challenges, my hope would be for the species’ end to come from a sudden, catastrophic, instantaneous event. But my hope will not have any influence on how quickly or slowly an extinction might take place. And, of course, there is no assurance that extinction will come. “We” may implement solutions to meet any and all challenges. I will have no influence on any such solutions, either. I expect to be gone long before those solutions are employed. In fact, I imagine all living things—human and otherwise—here today will be long gone, too. How many cycles of life and death, I wonder, will take place between now and our eventual success or failure? My curiosity, I am afraid, will not be satisfied. I am resigned to the fact that some form of human frailty or exhaustion will claim my life well in advance of the answer revealing itself. We’re all in the same boat. Unless, of course, the answer is upon us. I’ll wait as long as I can.

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Who is responsible for all the myths we’re told? Who told each of the stories for the first time? Was there meaning in those stories, or were the stories simply diversions from the drudgery of daily life? Mythology is one of dozens of disciplines that did not receive enough attention from me when I my brain was more receptive to learning. Dozens may be an optimistic number; it might be hundreds, or more.

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I expect to participate in a Zoom call with my siblings, et al in a few hours. By then, the plumbers may have come and gone, along with one or two other contractors who will make the house more suitable to human habitation. Could I really ever prefer a life of asceticism? Or am I a romantic delusionist?

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Warren Commission

What, exactly, is entertainment? That question came to me during my quick skim this morning of a few web sites of popular news media. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, the  juxtaposition on those sites’ pages between what I call hard news and enjoyment—or amusing diversion. With few exceptions, these news media sites seem to intentionally place hard news and amusing diversions in close proximity, with the former usually featured more prominently. But, in what appears to me purposeful placement, the web page designers put diversions—seemingly designed to mitigate anxieties produced by hard news—in close proximity. Articles and video clips involving sports, cooking, games, art, theater, lifestyle, travel, and other analgesic diversions from the frequent unpleasantness of hard news provide relief. That observation—though it might be simply my opinion—led me to think of entertainment as a cleverly-disguised distraction from the pain of daily life. A protective relief valve that serves to reduce blood pressure, lessen fear and anxiety, and otherwise impact the body’s physical response to the environment. In much the same way many prescription pharmaceuticals function, then, entertainment behaves like a drug. Hmm. I suspect physical and behavioral scientists have long viewed entertainment in the same context. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that my eureka moment was based on something I read or heard long, long ago. But thinking through the idea is quite different from simply being fed the concept. And, of course, my assessment of the concept may well be based on faulty logic. But I enjoy allowing my mind to drag me through the rabbit warren, anyway. I think it’s time to establish a Warren Commission.

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I long to return to a place I’ve never been, a place littered with the bones of futile wars and pointless victories. There, beneath rusted swords thick with dust and empty promises, neither victors nor the vanquished triumphed. Tales unburdened by truth are merely shadows under cover of darkness; invisible in the absence of light. That place, that dark and blameless place, hides the collected mistakes of a thousand generations of mindless warriors. The place is not at fault; it is just a repository where malice goes to die.

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Cat hair on my keyboard is intolerable. Cat hair in my mouth is worse. Cat teeth in my flesh falls somewhere along that spectrum.

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Very, Very Little

Torrential rain and hail—that grew from the size of peas to the size of hefty marbles—interrupted the early May serenity yesterday afternoon. Weather reports from across the nation and around the world reinforced my sense that the climate has lost its patience with us. Mother Nature has become belligerent; angry, surly, and lacking in compassion. She has stopped sending strong warnings. In their place, she has begun unleashing raw, unfettered contempt. The mid-March tornado that tore through large swaths of Hot Springs Village was her final threat. Henceforth, her watchword will be rage. She will exact revenge on humans, of course, but her wrath will extend far beyond humanity. Innocent animals, plants, and the very ground on which we tread will become targets for her boiling animosity. After sending us countless advisories, Mother Nature is no longer willing to give us opportunities to redeem ourselves and the planet we call home. Her foul mood has crossed the threshold between vile and vicious. We do not deserve pity, of course, but we want it badly. We long for the sweet taste of mercy, yet the only tastes in our mouths are the remnants of pungent bitterness. All our opportunities to be treated with tenderness have been squandered.

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Our sun is a tiny speck in an endless universe. Stars one million times the size and brightness of our sun are common. Our sun. As if we own it or control it or otherwise have any influence over its behavior. And if we are infinitely small and powerless, all of existence surrounding us is boundlessly vast. And powerful beyond limits. Even with all the remarkable progress we have made as a species over countless millennia, our advances are utterly insignificant in the broader scheme of all existence. Our pride is embarrassingly laughable. Yet it is so infinitesimally valueless that it does not merit even a grin; much less, laughter.

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In light of the vastness of the scope of a universe so huge and timeless, how is it possible for humans to think we can be anything but unimportant? The only answer is that we delude ourselves. We lie to ourselves and to one another. We tell stories that make us feel larger than we are, ignoring the size of the sky above us.

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Artifice

No matter what I might write this morning, the reader will not believe me. Not because I would tell lies, but because the truth I would tell would simply seem  too improbable to be based in fact. My words would strike the reader as utterly too far-fetched. Only a dim-witted, deeply gullible, overly-trusting, incredibly naive person would buy into stories so obviously contrived. Yet what I might write would be based entirely on truth as I understand it—reality scraped clean and polished with dusty, dry remnants of decayed strips of leather. Truth, you see, is awkward and potentially dangerous. A deep breath at the wrong moment can ruin even the most glorious experience. Whether this might be one such experience is a tale yet untold.

My tale begins as I hear the rusted hinges of the Gates of Hell creak. The pre-dawn darkness, though deep and unsettling, is imbued with an eerie, grey glow. Barely visible light with no discernible source filtered through fog as thick as honey. But the fog does not smell like honey; its odor is more like the rotting corpses of flies, with just a hint of sulfur and jasmine. Corroded flecks of metal, cast off by the slow, grinding movement of metallic hinges frozen for hundreds of years, leave copper-colored dust on the ground; like dried orange peel left to wither long before the collapse of Rome.

There is no point, is there? No matter how pure, the truth is unbelievable. I might as well claim to write the autobiography of Jesus or the a book entitled The Life and Times of Socrates, as Told to His Great-Grandfather’s Oldest Aunt. But those, too, are true. They arose from memories contained within the fragments of molecules floating freely through space and time. Facts are subject to manipulation when tiny pieces of the detritus of the universe as it once was collide with shavings from the rubble of what might yet be. These concepts are difficult to fully comprehend, but understanding them is vital to a complete appreciation of truth in all its forms. But, no, you aren’t buying it. This, to you, is merely whimsy. It is irrelevant to “real” experience. As if experience is ever “real.” We manufacture reality from shreds of incomplete thought, never accepting for even a tiny slice of a miniscule component of time that the existence we build is even remotely possible. Have we ever considered that the reality we collectively experience is merely an artificial manifestation of the way blocks of paraffin interact with the atmosphere of Planet Earth? Every single thing we see, think, feel, touch, smell, taste, hear, or otherwise experience could be the product of our own engagement (as chunks of paraffin) with the world around us as we willfully exchange wax for dreams. We believe we can light candles and watch them burn. In fact, though, we are those candles. We unknowingly play a hideous joke on ourselves, not realizing that we mock each other for being so thoroughly taken in by an imaginary universe. What fools!

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I should not have answered the phone late yesterday afternoon, especially given that I could tell it was the oncologist’s office. Magnesium remains low. Potassium is high. “Come on in on Monday.”  I ran out of magnesium pills, but the APRN called in a new prescription; maybe I can pick them up today? Tricked by the universe again.

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If my head were clear earlier in the day, I would visit a pastry shop/bakery to buy sausage rolls. Instead, I have to think what I can eat, instead. Old eggs? Very old eggs? Can eating old eggs make a person sick? Can eating old eggs lead to a person’s death? Put another way (from an ancient memory of mine), is it possible to “die of old eggs?” Soylent green; it’s what’s for breakfast.

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Fast

The incessant sound of water flowing through the downspout just outside my study grates on my already frayed nerves. Big black crows try to drown the noise with their loud squawks. But to no avail. Like me, the birds seem to be losing patience with the strident commotion. I can imagine, at any moment, the window panes shattering in response to the crush of a murder of birds smashing into the glass. But the birds almost certainly understand—as do I—that breaking the windows’ glass would have no effect on the unrelenting pandemonium caused by flowing water at war with unyielding aluminum. The temporary disruption would only make matters worse. Such chaos might send the crows into a frenzied rage. And I would follow in the paths of their massive wings. Police cars, their sirens blaring and their occupants waving guns, would converge in front of my house. Immediately behind them, a stream of veterinary ambulances would arrive to tend to injured birds. And a team of roofers would soon follow, tasked with removing gutters and downspouts, with the objective of restoring quiet to the cacophony. Depending on how disciplined—or undisciplined—the police officers might be, my life could be hanging on by a thread, thanks to the cops’ unrelenting discharge of their weapons in my direction. Downspouts can be dangerous. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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While I was experiencing my downspout-inspired mental meltdown, the volume of water flowing through the downspouts dropped considerably, reducing the insufferable noise to tolerable levels. Gazing out at the trees, I wonder just how much water their leaves and branches must hold at this very moment. Though I see no obvious signs of strain, I suspect the branches and twigs and clusters of leaves are under an enormous level of stress. The weight of rainwater must be almost too much for the trees to hold. At any moment, the entire forest could collapse under the load. Squirrels and birds and all manner of other tree-dependent creatures could be crushed under the weight of water-logged leaves and branches. Moments like these cause me to consider the potential benefits of moving to prairies or deserts or other less lethal environments. But everyplace has its challenges. Only the emptiness of space has real appeal. Yet the absence of oxygen and the danger of being struck by asteroids argues against space as a retirement destination.

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Halibut ceviche holds enormous appeal to me. The same is true of shrimp ceviche, tilapia ceviche, and various other kinds of seafood ceviche. “Cooking” various types of seafood in lime juice (that contains diced jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, and such) delivers a wonderful flavor that pleases my palate. Coupled with a nice New Zealand cabernet sauvignon, ceviche can transform a day from adequate to astonishing. I have not had ceviche in far too long. It it time to live again.

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My visit to my oncologist yesterday was generally positive. In addition to getting lab work done, I was infused with a magical elixir that may or may not enjoy success in killing or otherwise keeping at bay cancer cells. And I got the news that I no longer (for now, at least) have to swallow two huge bricks of magnesium every morning. And I do not have to have magnesium in liquid form pumped into my body any longer (for now, at least). And no more need (now, anyway) for rather painful injections of some sort of deadly poison that has a side-effect of keeping my supply of healthy red-blood-cells sufficiently high. But I still have to return next Thursday for more labs to verify the legitimacy of eliminating drugs and drug-like poisons from my body. Hallelujah. For now, at any rate. I do not want to get too enthusiastic, too early.

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I am hungry, again. It’s almost 8:30…almost too late for food. I’ll hurry, though, to avoid fasting for too many hours.

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Cycle of Raw…

What a surprise it would be if the grey sky suddenly changed from vapor and emptiness into thick sheets of jagged glass and semi-transparent plastic. Watching pieces of the sky crash down, smashing trees into splinters, would be an experience unlike any I have had before. I might actually enjoy watching it, if I were far enough from the action to avoid being torn to bits by sharp fragments. I might be afraid, though. How quickly can one erase fear and replace it with curiosity? Can it be done on command? You tell me; I think you’ve witnessed such magic.

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Another visit to the oncologist today. I am tired of making the trip to see her. I wonder whether, now that I have finished a full course of chemo treatment, I might survive comfortably for a year or more without subjecting myself to immunotherapy “treatments” that offer no guarantees—just hope that may or may not be fully justified. Selfishness, though, is not a sufficiently powerful reason to ignore the doctor’s advice. And it is not the sort of behavior that should be forced upon others, either; especially others who are emotionally invested in a hopeful, positive outcome. Too much sleep, sometimes, is not enough.

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I did not sleep well last night. I think I drifted off to sleep sometime after midnight, roughly two hours after I went to bed. But I woke shortly thereafter and was up and down for much of the rest of the night. Sleep eluded me for most of that time. My mind was occupied with matters I would rather ignore; but my obligations are such that I would be unable to erase them from my thoughts. Damn! When I am awake for so much of the night, my mood becomes surly and generally unpleasant; I cannot stand being around myself when I reach that condition. Negativity and unchecked anger flood my brain. I am immune to reason then. I curse the world around me and blame myself for it. Sometimes I manufacture stories to describe my attitudes in those moments. Describing my experience as akin to feeling corrosive acid flowing through my veins and arteries, with periodic geysers erupting through blood-soaked holes in my skin would be inadequate. Inadequate, at least, to capture the rage I feel. Bah!

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One does not “wake” from a sleepless night, though dreamlike experiences may make one feel as if brief periods of sleep interrupted hours of wakefulness. Dreamlike experiences, though, are not the same as dreams. They mimic dreams to the extent that reality is temporarily paused while the “dreams” take place. But one can feel perspiration-soaked sheets during the pause. And the “dreamer” feels confined by the “dream.” Yet he knows he is in a state of deeply troubling semi-consciousness from which there is no reliable escape—only when the the terror threatens to cut off oxygen to the brain is a brief respite possible. Thrashing wildly, in an effort to avoid the extreme discomfort of sheets wet with sweat, one crashes into solid barriers that do not exist except in the far reaches of the mind. When, finally, one emerges fully awake from the depths of Hell, the deepest form of fatigue sets in. Exhaustion so powerful one willingly would accept death as an alternative experience just to escape the intensity of the profound weariness. Recovering from such a sleepless night can take a week or more. Up to a month—or even longer—if the experience was especially cruel; the most severe incidents can transform the mental breakdown into life-threatening physical damage to the body.

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Every single newspaper article, each and every online news story, all opinion pieces, every radio station’s news readers, and grave-faced television anchors, regardless of channel, carry the same themes. Hopelessness. A bleak future. The collapse of civil society. No way out. If today is bad, tomorrow will be a thousand times worse. And tomorrow will pale in comparison to the day after. Mass-suicide by self-immolation will be the least painful escape from what promises to be the most excruciating experience in all of human history. There is no “good news;” only brief moments in which absolute terror pauses just long enough to enable us to exact unthinkable pain on the deserving throng. We train to inflict the greatest experience of utter despair—and to prolong the ordeal to deliver the maximum measure of agony. Brutality becomes a yardstick; hatred an emotional “high.” All in the name of humanity.

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I could sleep for days, I think, if I could just clear my mind. That would be such a refreshing way to spend the better part of a week. Asleep. My brain functioning only as necessary to keep me reasonably healthy and reliably alive.

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When I return to read this post, will I feel embarrassed by my raw negativity? If, when I return, I feel like I do now, the answer will be clear: No.

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Avoidance

Dangerously powerful—or powerfully dangerous—people have the capacity to spread misery worldwide. Rather than acting early to derail the damage those individuals may inflict, though, society tends to take an attitude of “wait and see.” Our failure to take action early can be based on any number of things. Fear of reprisal may deter us. Conflicting thoughts about the morality of preemptive actions might restrain us. Simply realizing that some forms of preemption may be treated as criminal and/or immoral acts could stop us from acting early enough to prevent the possibility of chaos and carnage. No matter the reasons, delay can make avoiding potential misery impossible. Yet preemptive actions taken in the absence of overwhelming evidence of the need to act can lead to equally awful horrors. Evidence, though, no matter how overwhelmingly strong, is not proof—witnessing a man pointing a gun at someone may be evidence of aggression, but viewing that scene does not prove the gun-wielding man will pull the trigger. Political assassinations intended to prevent dictatorships can have unintended consequences far worse than the problems they were intended to solve. Sometimes, though, the risk of doing nothing may be far greater than the risk of taking action. But unexpected outcomes of actions are impossible to anticipate. Taking calculated risks has the potential to exacerbate already bad circumstances, but failing to take them can be worse. Life is an exercise in assumptions and risks and irrevocable actions. Certainty is rarely achievable. We either forge ahead or we don’t. The consequences of either action or inaction will be what they will be.

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I do not know whether my occasional memories of green grape pie are triggered by a specific odor or sound or circumstance. I know only that I have a very distinct memory of my mother serving me a piece of green grape pie. The taste of the grapes combined sweetness and tartness. The memory is the only one I have of that pie. I must have been very young, perhaps as young as four or five; odd that the memory corresponds in my mind with an image of myself as a little boy.

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Time, paused for a while this morning, has recovered from its temporary stillness. Somehow, the clock now asserts that the 9 o’clock hour is here. That could mean only one thing: I need to eat something to avoid starvation.

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More or Less

I know the trees outside my window are surrounded by fog—not because I can see the fog, but because the trees’ images in my eyes are vague and dreamlike. Invisible vapor conceals parts of what otherwise would be a crisp vision, leaving only that which the fog is willing to reveal.  Except for the relative brightness of the morning behind the low ceiling of the sky, the picture before me could be a model for a midnight scene in a horror film. Behind wisps of fog barely visible among the highest reaches of the tallest trees, pine needles appear dull, almost sage grey. The setting could suit all sorts of tantalizing stories. But, instead, the view is just one monotonous aspect of a dreary, repetitive tale. A cat sitting on my desk, peering out the windows, imagining life beyond the walls of the house that is her permanent prison. An empty glass cup in front of me, dried espresso clinging to its inside surfaces. The scene changes in such miniscule ways that it seems constant from day to day. The piles of envelopes and papers are not the same from week to week, but they repeat the same stories. An automatic payment was made to this utility or that. A hospital seeks my invaluable input in the form of a lengthy questionnaire. Credit card receipts stare at me accusingly, reminders of money that would have better gone unspent. An endless cycle of minor variations on a theme by paper pushers invading my house, my study, my life. And the fog thickens; the view outside now look like a mundane still life behind a sheet of dull grey and off-white paraffin. More and more and more of the same. A road trip—circling through Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas—might cure the incessant sameness. Monstrous expanses of prairies and deserts, fields of maturing grain, skies so wide they make imagining an endless universe easy. One day. If ever the treatments are judged to have worked or to be pointless exercises in wasted time. Suddenly, at 8:22, the fog lifts. Leaves brighten. The segments of the sky visible behind the trees become brilliant blue.

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Soon, the plumber should arrive to take care of a few annoyances. It only took me two years to force myself to find someone. I left a message for a plumber a couple of weeks ago; no return call to date. But yesterday, my call was picked up on the second ring. If all goes according to the promise, a plumber will be here soon. And the day may brighten just a little.

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And so it goes. Another day in another week in the midst of a month as the Earth turns toward what we have collectively decided to call mid-year, more or less.

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Plenty

Somewhere between artist and artisan, value and worth begin to take on different meanings and different forms. Those forms and meanings vary, depending on perspective, but regardless of their differences, they share one distinct commonality: judgment. The creative output of artists is, generally speaking, valued more highly than the work of artisans. Yet a precise and reliable way to measure whether a person is an artist or an artisan does not exist, as far as I know. The clarity of the spectrum upon which both concepts rest is naturally muddled. Absent the blur, a defining point that differentiates one from the other would be easy to see. But, even under a perfectly focused microscope, the mental and visual images of the two can be hazy, running together like watercolors on a soaking wet substrate.  We rely on our eyes and our minds to create sharpness where none exists. We trick ourselves into seeing what we want to see—or what we expect to see. We assign value in circumstances in which value—in a traditional, monetized sense—is irrelevant. And we know it. But we continue to make an attempt to justify the mistake. We elevate opinion to fact…belief to truth. The moment we realize reality depends on context is the point at which we learn vision is unique to the specific sets of eyes through which each of us sees the world.

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I haven’t had a Bloody Mary in a very long time. Nor have I consumed a Screwdriver in quite some time. Those celebratory mixed drinks punctuated special occasions—usually brunch—in my younger years; years when adulthood was still a novelty. Irish Coffee, too, was a much-appreciated specialty drink, though later in the day, for some reason. There were others, of course. Whiskey Sours. Gin Gimlets. Many, many more. Over time, the efforts involved in making the drinks—and cleaning up the bar-ware afterward—began to feel like work. Even though bartenders often did not live up to my expectations, it became much easier to let them do the work; quality took a back seat to convenience. But bar drinks represent a frivolous waste of money; even so, I sometimes allow myself to pretend I enjoy throwing away money unnecessarily. Not often, though. I have retained my miserliness into my early seventies. Nowadays, though, I tend to prefer a nice, dry cabernet sauvignon (or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc). Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic also tends to please my taste buds. But not this early in the morning. Just the thought of the stuff is beginning to make me feel a little queasy.

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Plenty for now.

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Simplicity

If Calypso had written complex stories—cobbled together from fragments of confusing and deeply disturbing dreams—they would have only reinforced beliefs held by some people that his mental state was, charitably, unstable. But “if” suggests Calypso had a clear choice. He did not. He was compelled, by the voices that spoke to him in those bizarre dreams, to document the stories that emerged from clusters of those nocturnal experiences. Calypso learned long ago he could not choose what to write; his fingers were driven by those irrepressible voices to attack the keyboard with a vengeance. Scenes from his dreams, often seeming utterly unrelated to one another, required him to imagine ways of connecting them so his stories might make at least a shred of sense. But only Calypso could make sense of the links between dream sequences. Everyone else who read or heard the convoluted, often nonsensical, stories took them as simply more evidence of his madness. When Calypso disappeared, leaving a lengthy written explanation for his reasons for leaving and suggesting he might one day return, his departure added to the assumed evidence of his neurosis or psychosis or whatever it was that caused him to behave so strangely. But his behavior really was not strange; the oddity was  in his stories. People often assumed his behavior was influenced by what he wrote, but that was not the case. In fact, it was quite the opposite; no one, though, could make sense of that concept—and that remains true today.

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Like Calypso, my writing often combines fiction with reality, making almost impossible a clear understanding of its meaning, if indeed it has meaning. Frequently, I write in a style I call stream of semi-consciousness, threading observable circumstances in between vague, dream-like veils that may be entirely fictitious or based in altered reality. Or, perhaps, I am making this up. Maybe I am writing with the objective of confusing the reader into believing I am the manifestation of Calypso. It could be something completely different, of course, but there is no point now in trying to explain; doubts already have been sewn into readers’ minds.

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Sleep remains far more attractive to me than I would like. Though I feel much better than I have in the past three months or so, I have been unable to shake being tired much of the time. Mi novia insists I need to listen to my body, which she says is telling me I need recuperative sleep to recover from the beating my body has taken from chemotherapy drugs and related poisons. On one hand, I find sleep quite pleasant (except when invaded by deeply troubling dreams), but on the other I feel I am sleeping a significant part of my life away. Never before have I slept so many hours every night, only to follow the next day with hours-long naps interrupted by brief periods of being awake. It may be improving, though. My periods of wakefulness may be getting longer.

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We went to dinner last night with a small group from church. Mi novia brought a to-go box home with her; she said I should have the leftovers for breakfast today. And I may well do that. But watermelon sounds more appealing to me right now. If I were more energetic, I might take the whole (but quite small) melon out of the refrigerator and cut it into small, bite-sized chunks. Alas, I am not especially energetic. So I may nuke some of the leftovers; I have enough energy to do that, I think. And, then, I will get dressed. For today, for the first time in a good while, I will go to church. The program today, which will be delivered by a member of the congregation, will be celebration (and warning, I suspect, of what might happen if we continue to ignore Mother Earth) about Earth Day.

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Once a person reaches age 70, he or she should be provided with round-the-clock servants. Said servants could be provided to geezers as part of a national service program, in which youths would serve for a period of three years to repay in part their debts for being born and reared. These kids would not be slaves, of course; they would simply be assistants and helpers. Assuming a person lives to age 91, he or she could provide service opportunities to seven young people during the receipt of service. Quite a good idea, I think. It might require us to work out a few kinks, but nothing is simple, is it?

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