The Wisdom of Legitimate Philosophers

As I try to think cogent thoughts this morning, I encounter obstacles. Nothing is pertinent. Nothing is believable or relevant. Everything is imaginary. All of the customs of the culture are artificial. Jobs, social institutions like religions and governments—even families that once formed the core of modern home life—are the results of deceit, trickery, and and bald-faced lies. Packaged, of course, in such a way as to permanently hide their origins and the fundamental purposes to which they are being put. If all existence is simply a joke, though, who or what told it? We can’t blame God, because the tale was told even before the idea of God was born.

While the preceding paragraph was written for the sole purpose of asserting ideas contrary to what little we know about reality, arguments could be made for the rectitude of its content. And arguments against. And dismissive waves of the hands, as if to say, “I can’t be bothered by such meaningless drivel.” That’s the way my hands talk. Abrupt and insensitive. Downright rude and offensive, I’d say.  This is what happens when one’s mind is as close to a piece of damp cardboard as possible. One cannot think when one’s mind is buried under a foot of silt, muck, and disillusionment.

The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

~ Plato ~

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Why is it, I sometimes wonder, that twenty-first century readers and writers…and others, I suppose…regularly quote Plato, his teacher (Socrates), and his student (Aristotle)? Is it because their wisdom transcends time? Or is it because they reportedly made wise statements that correspond to today’s wisdom? Or, perhaps, another reason? Regardless of the reasons, I admire their perspectives on humanity and the world in which they lived. Their words reveal ancient wisdom. Modern understanding echoes their expressions. Centuries after they first wrote or spoke about the concepts in their Greek language, we earnestly embrace the English translations.

Based on my limited knowledge of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle (and others), I believe they must have been, intellectually, quite sophisticated. Many of their ideas remain complex even today. Politically and philosophically, (and mathematically, it seems), Plato and his crowd were refined. Plato was born more than four hundred years before a well-known religious philosopher is said to have spent time in and around Bethlehem. The descriptive information to which I have been exposed suggests Jesus lived in a much more primitive environment than did Plato. Or is that perception a product of my imagination? It might be interesting to see a head-to-head comparison between those two environments; graphic form might be more impactful.

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I surrender. For now, at least. I admit defeat. I fell in defeat to a weak enemy. Who is, for now, me. Battling oneself for supremacy is guaranteed to lead to an unsatisfactory outcome. Yet we do it every day. Or, I should say, I seem to position myself at odds with myself when both of us are equally powerless. It’s like punching at an empty, wet piñata that’s just out of reach—it doesn’t matter that there’s nothing inside but paper towels soaked in water.

Perhaps the day will improve with age. Or maybe I will.

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The Art of Seeing

Do not go gentle into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~ Dylan Thomas ~

For a while after I awoke at around 4 this morning, and for several minutes after I swallowed numerous medications prescribed to keep me either alive or comfortable, I felt proud of myself. My weight continues to drift downward, a direction I value. But, then, I discovered my blood sugar was higher than it was yesterday. I cannot imagine it was because of what I ate…but maybe it was. This new lifestyle of restricted consumption and regular exercise has not yet become second nature to me. It must. Or else I will need to find a source of powerful painkillers to consume when my decline reaches the critical point of no return. I prefer for the routine to become second nature. I will rage against the dying of the light.

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I miss one-on-one philosophical conversations with like-minded individuals; a close friend, for example. Debates between people who espouse opposing points of view are fine, as they tend to sharpen one’s wits. But the presence or absence of mutually supportive dialogues can be the difference between happiness and depression. Perhaps philosophy has little to do with it, though; maybe it’s all about feeling safe and loved. And, maybe, it’s the unique sense of connection that is possible only between two individuals; threesomes or more may seriously dilute the sense of emotional bonding.

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.

~ Jonathan Swift ~

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A couple of years ago, an acquaintance offered the following observation to me: …diversity becomes easier with age, especially if one is well educated, retired, white, and not in need of food stamps. I have wrestled with that statement ever since, wondering whether “diversity” is code for “tolerance.” And I have wondered, instead, whether “diversity” might be a synonym for “a sense of superiority?” Does the statement suggest that diversity or tolerance or a sense of superiority are luxuries available only to well educated, retired, white, financially comfortable people getting along in age?” When I force myself to think deeply about such matters, I believe I can see the same images as those seen through the eyes of people on the far-right fringes of political and social conservatism. And through the eyes of African Americans who view their white “allies” who pat themselves on the back for their paternal “defense” of people of color.

Conflicts between warnings issued by the National Weather Service in text form differ significantly from predictions displayed on interactive weather maps. While Hot Springs Village is located in an area for which the maps identify as within an “ice storm warning” area, the animation on the maps forecasts sleet and/or freezing rain south and east of he Village, but not in or immediately adjacent to the Village itself. Because it’s still relatively early—not yet 6:30 as I write this—it’s too dark outside for me to see whether last night’s precipitation clings to the environment surrounding me. I will have to wait until dawn to illuminate the world around me. Until then, I can only guess what I will see through the windows in my study.

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Ridding oneself of the tendency to make snap judgments about people requires commitment and practice. The propensity to categorize or classify another on the basis of a single observation or interaction is a hard habit to break. Yet, if one allows oneself even a moment to wonder why another person behaves in a certain way, that bad habit begins to weaken.

Seldom is a person’s one-off behavior reliably indicative of his core personality. More often, that behavior is triggered by exposure to an external stimulus. His core personality may be especially susceptible to exhibiting out-of-character behaviors when exposed to environmental triggers. But most of the time he is apt to be even-tempered and generally pleasant.  That explanation notwithstanding, exposure to a single instance of such out-of-character behavior often has the effect of negatively labeling the actor. That effect can interfere with a desire to understand a person at her core. Instead, offensive behavior or troubling words can provide the opportunity to justify one’s condemnation of the “guilty” party.

This little detour responds to my penchant for becoming witness and judge after observing certain behaviors. I ask myself why, if I do not like that component of my personality, I nourish it? For as long as I remember, I have believed people should be given at least one second chance; preferably several. Well, that’s hypocrisy on the hoof; that’s how I would label the shameful proclivity to harshly judge on the basis of a single experience.

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Embrace the Day

Maybe the appeal of live music concerts is rooted in the energy of the audience. Or the novelty of seeing performers display their talents. Or both. Or a combination of those facets, coupled with the merger of sounds of voices and musical instruments. I am speculating here; live music concerts hold very little appeal to me. Large venues and large crowds, especially, do not captivate me. In fact, I find dense crowds and their attendant noise and their intrusive consumption of space unappealing in the extreme. Even attending events in small venues can be distracting and troublesome and anxiety-producing for me. And while I truly enjoy music, I like the comfort and control afforded through technology, distance, relative isolation, and comfortable seating.

The foregoing to the contrary notwithstanding—and because yesterday was the fifth Sunday of the month, in lieu of a traditional worship service—Music on Barcelona was held. The event offers an hour of music in the sanctuary. I was enthralled by Maria Richardson’s performance at the Unitarian Universal Village church yesterday. Seven of the nine jazz-based pieces she sang (accompanied on piano by Clyde Pound) were the music of Melody Gardot, a songwriter and singer of quiet jazz. In a word, Richardson’s performance was superb; in another word, it was outstanding; and in another, it was delightful. I am not much of a fan of vocal jazz, but yesterday’s experience might suggest otherwise. It just has to be the right jazz and the right jazz singer.

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Only yesterday, thanks to a photograph posted on a Facebook group called A View from My Window, I learned that Kibera, in Kenya, is Africa’s largest urban slum. This morning, I read another reference to Kibera in an Associated Press (or has its name been officially shortened to AP?) article. The Athi River crosses Kibera, a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya. The news I read this morning, in an article of the same name, explored the question of “Is there hope for a dying river in Kenya’s growing capital?”

Compassion is the basis of morality.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer ~

I am deeply concerned about natural waterways the world over. After skimming the article, I am even more intensely concerned about the Athi River. But my exploration this morning drifted away from the river and focused my attention on Kibera. Estimates of the population of Kibera run between a figure of 170,170 (from the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census) to well over 1 or 2 million. Whatever its size, seeing photographs of the slum and reading about the searing poverty experienced by its residents rends my heart in two. I simply cannot fathom why world governments do not band together in common cause to extract residents of such excruciatingly unlivable places and provide them with at least minimal necessities and comfort. Oh, yes I can. Politics. Stubborn adherence to inhumane concepts of responsibility and blame. The absence of compassion. Constituents who are more interested in minimizing the effects of taxation on their prized luxuries than in exercising compassion for their fellow human beings.

But we, the taxpayers, often express pity for the less fortunate. And we attempt to assuage our guilt about what might be our partial responsibility for their plight by making “significant” donations to good causes. As I think about the concepts of charity and compassion, I suspect many people tend to contribute to such causes only after they have been gently reminded. And only after their own consciences—and concerns about others’ potential judgments in the absence of expressions of overt and significant displays of compassion—shame them into participating in an anemic effort to “solve the problem.” When I said “they,” I should have said “we.” If I were truly committed to putting forth efforts to approach a solution, I would insist on paying more taxes or otherwise committing as much as I possibly could to the cause.

My attitude may be seen as an argument for “all or nothing.” While that is not the case, my statements are too “back and white,” implying there is a “right” proportion of an individual’s wealth that should be dedicated to collective efforts to solve social ills. In fact, there is an enormous grey area along the spectrum of caring. One finds maximum altruism on one end and maximum selfishness on the other end of the spectrum. Somewhere along that spectrum is a sub-spectrum, both ends of which are vague and ill-defined. If humans could collectively strive to place themselves within that sub-spectrum and act accordingly, I suspect most of our social ills could be solved. But I am a pessimist in that regard. A defeatist who sees no realist possibility of ever reaching that state of nirvana.

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From almost the first time I read his work, the writings of liberal Christian pastor, blogger, and author, John Pavlovitz impressed me. Even though I did not and do not share his expressed belief in God, I share the definitions of justice and goodwill about which he writes. But over time—three years or more—my esteem for him has declined. The more I read his strident statements about social and political issues, the less I believe in his commitment to liberal causes. Oh, he may well believe in them, but I get the distinct sense he is using his persuasive skills to position himself to be the willing recipient of generosity. Though he may not have reached the heights of “successful” right-wing evangelical ministers, I strongly suspect he writes to an audience who, he believes, will convert their support for his words into money in his pocket.

Why has my opinion changed? I can refer to nothing more than a gut feel. His words seem, to me, increasingly inauthentic. Nowadays, when I read what he writes, I recoil in distaste that approaches disgust. If my suspicions are correct, he is a skilled deceiver and practiced opportunist. But I may be wrong. He may well be as committed to his left-leaning (and sometimes far left) positions as he purports to be. If I can be persuaded to reverse my current perception about him, I will hang my head in shame for condemning him. But, until then, I will avoid reading his blog and his other work, lest my blood pressure get out of control in response.

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I have mixed feelings about tipping. On one hand, I believe businesses should pay their employees a living wage; enough that the employee would not have to rely on tips to make ends meet. It irritates me to think that I am expected to overtly express generosity in the form of extra spending, whether or not I am financially able. On the other hand, I think some service workers deserve the extra recognition and financial reward that comes from tipping. But I wonder whether the size of the financial reward sometimes gets out of hand. Lately, the number of news items about extraordinarily large tips has grown enormously. Reading about a waitperson being recognized with a $100 or $1000 tip can be heart-warming. But is it even remotely realistic? And does it inadvertently send a message suggesting, even obliquely, that larger tips should become routine entitlements?

Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.

~ Confucius ~

Admittedly, I have felt good—even a little giddy—leaving an especially large tip. For example, I have on occasion left a $10 bill in payment for a $3 cup of coffee or a $20 bill for a $7 sandwich. I felt good about surprising the server and, from what I could tell, the server was at least minimally appreciative of an unexpected windfall. I think my sense of the unfairness of tipping may be responsible for my generosity in such cases, though.

Servers who work in high-end establishments, where checks for lunch might exceed $50 per person, might receive $10 to $20 in tips for the meal. Servers at a diner, where the average check is $10, might receive $2 or $3 in tips. I cannot imagine that the better compensated servers are worth the differential. And, in my view, tradespeople who set their own rates of compensation do not merit tips unless they go far “over and above” the expected levels of provision or performance. Yet I do not know whether the respective servers are compensated by their employers in ways that might level their financial positions; perhaps the server who does not receive big tips is paid considerably more than his counterpart in the expensive place. But I doubt it. And the tradespeople might under-price themselves in response to pressure to keep their rates low or risk losing business. I think I can tell if that’s the case, though.

My most significant problem with tipping, though, is the fact that it is so often expected. It is rarely viewed today as a reward for superior service. I favor the European model, in which tipping is relatively rare and, when done, is in recognition for superior service that the tipper values more than the amount she is charged.

Give me a week or a month and I might argue against everything I have written here about tipping. I would like to be certain, but I sometimes see too many perspectives to permit certainty to get its grip on me.

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Today’s agenda: get a haircut and see a rheumatologist. And perhaps visit Costco. And fill my gas tank? Hmm. I remember yesterday being told that in yesterday’s blog post I wrote “due point” instead of “dew point.” I know the difference, but apparently I was distracted when I wrote it. I corrected the mistake, but I was embarrassed I had made it. Ach. When I am concerned about such mistakes, I wonder who I am writing this for?

It is nearing 7, so I had better shave and shower in preparation to embrace the day. And off I go.

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One Year On

Fog partially conceals trees in the distance, coloring the space between them with an atmosphere of light blue-grey. Looking skyward, I see that the fog is low. Filtered sunlight through the cloud cover is strong enough to make the blue sky above the clouds barely visible. The weather app on my phone reports the dew point: 50°F. The temperature, according to an app on my computer: 51°F. That explains the dampness I sense on everything within my view that is the still-life outside my windows. Outside, there is not even a breath of breeze. I could be looking at an image captured by a camera. No motion. None. Utter stillness. From the looks of it, the day could be in mourning. The view suggests solemn images of meticulously staged graveyard scenes in movies. Everything about those scenes—and this one—seems designed to evoke disconsolate loss. But Nature is not sentient; one’s mental setting is molded by one’s state of mind.

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

~ Marcus Aurelius ~

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One year ago today, shortly after midnight, my brother who was closest in age to me of my other siblings died. He had been hospitalized for several weeks and had undergone all manner of medical procedures that he, and the rest of us, hoped would ease his pain, improve his quality of life, and prolong his life. But a planned surgical procedure he had hoped and believed would accomplish all of that was cancelled by doctors who determined it would likely fail and would take his life in the process. Just a short while—only hours or less—after he had been transferred from a hospital to an in-patient hospice facility, he died. His death was not a surprise, but it was a jolt, nonetheless. He and I were not especially close—and the strength of our relationship had ebbed and flowed most of our lives—yet I think of him frequently, as I did while he was alive. Sometimes, my thoughts are mired in guilt because I recall times when our conversations were mutually unkind. Sometimes, my memories are more gentle and pleasant when I think of times when our brotherly love was both apparent and mutually valued. Mortality. It is irrevocable.

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My dissatisfaction with the writing component of my morning routine continues, though it travels over hills and through valleys. This morning, I arose much later than normal; I got out of bed around 7, after a night of fitful sleep. I blame the damned bipap machine, or at least its cumbersome mask, for my inability to remain in a deep sleep for long last night. Maybe the machine is similarly responsible for my displeasure about my efforts to write. Ach, it’s probably just a temporary phase that will slip into history in short order. In the interim, I will silently complain. But is a complaint silent when, without vocalizing it, it is broadcast worldwide through the internet? A question worthy of consideration, if not one that has any intrinsic value. Enough of this. I will now attempt to get on with this grey day.

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The Happy, Healing Touch

I will have the house to myself today while mi novia trots off to a day-long reiki course. My deep skepticism about the legitimacy of such approaches to healing has been tempered. In particular, this approach, which is based on ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings, seems to have a degree of validity. Both my limited personal experience and the recognition by the Cleveland Clinic that the practice has merit have mitigated my doubts. The Cleveland Clinic, in discussing the potential benefits of reiki, refers to several studies summarized on the National Library of Medicine’s website. From a personal standpoint, during a brief demonstration in which I was a recipient of the practice, I felt the energy/heat from a practitioner’s hands as she gently touched my shoulders. While the energy may well have been simply the body heat of her hands, its intensity surprised me. It felt soothing; I liked it quite a lot. According to the Cleveland Clinic’s website, “Mikao Usui developed reiki in the early 1900s, deriving the term from the Japanese words rei, meaning ‘universal,’ and ki, which refers to the vital life force energy that flows through all living things.” The Cleveland Clinic calls reiki “an energy healing technique that promotes relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety through gentle touch.”  While I have been an adamant disbeliever in things I call woo-woo practices my entire life, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that my lack of understanding of the mechanisms of such mysterious processes does not necessarily negate their potential value. Though I am by no means an ardent proponent of reiki (yet), my mind is now far more open to such stuff than it has been heretofore. If a reiki practitioner can, through touch, dramatically reduce my shoulder pain, I just might enthusiastically embrace the practice. With that result, I would happily discard my core skepticism. If nothing else, I like being touched. That does not make me a deviant…a pervert…a degenerate freak…does it?

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.

~ Plato ~

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Finally, this morning, I awoke at a reasonable hour. I was up by 4:30 and had my first cup of coffee in hand by 4:40. During the ten minutes between getting out of bed and heading to my study, I weighed myself, got dressed in my morning attire, stabbed my finger for the fifteenth consecutive morning, and swallowed a handful of prescription drugs. In the two weeks since I began the morning bloodletting—to check my blood sugar—my early-morning blood sugar level has dropped dramatically into the “normal” range. And my weight has slid a bit. These changes are due in part to diet, exercise, and (I suppose) the introduction of a new drug to my already extensive list of pharmaceutical “nourishment.” The fact that I call my drugs “nourishment” is based only half-jokingly on my sense that the volume of medications I take seems damn near equal to my intake of food. I hope my lifestyle regimen will lead to a significant reduction in the number and type of medications my doctors expect me to consume. My skepticism be damned: If I thought it would reduce my contribution to the pharmaceutical industry’s enormous misfortune-based wealth, I might be willing to give myself over to witchcraft or faith healing.

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The second definition of orgy—after the one referring to revelries involving sex with multiple participantswhich cites actions or proceedings marked by unbridled indulgence of passions—appeals to me. Though I do not recall engaging in such actions or proceedings in the past, I think I might enjoy them, provided the passions were not of the sort involving dangerous and hurtful passions like blind rage or fierce hatred. Though the definition does not explicitly say so, I envision that an orgy involves groups of people. Letting loose one’s passions as part of a passionate mass of humanity seems like it might be a way to conquer stress. Karaoke might be such a group expression of unbridled passion, indulging a fervor for singing and music and the energy of crowds invested with similar interests. Successful karaoke, I have reason to believe, often involves the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Drinking alcohol tends to cause people to shed many of their inhibitions, thus making singing in public less intimidating and fare more interesting. I suspect alcohol similarly is a key lubricant for revelries associated with the primary definition of orgy, as well. I doubt I would ever be a participant in the public sharing of multiple sex partners, regardless of the amount of alcohol I consumed. But I might be willing to reveal myself as very bad singer. Sadly, I can no longer consume alcohol, thanks to an uncooperative pancreas, so my very bad voice will remain acoustically hidden. But I might watch and listen.

The thought process that brought the matter of orgies to mind originated with a question in my mind about what causes groups of people to unleash their passions, whatever those passions are, publicly. And I wondered whether only extroverts are likely to display their passions in such public ways or whether introverts might. As I think back over the years, I realize I have done so. Years ago, while attending a client association’s conference, I was lured to a karaoke bar by two women who owned a company that belonged to the association. They plied me with liquor (that’s the way I tell it, anyway) and bullied me into joining them in singing Under the Boardwalk. It was just as painful as I could have imagined it to be. Singing in public was not then and is not now my passion, yet I did it. The two women, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the raucous environment and the part they played in creating it.  Hmm. I think I have drifted away from what caused me to explore the topic of orgies. I am sure I will come back to it one day.

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I rarely have more than two cups of coffee in the morning. This morning is no exception. I am on my second cup now; if my history is any indication of what is to come, I will not finish it before it becomes to cold to drink enjoyably. Sometimes, I wonder whether simply having a warm cup nearby is all I need to comfort me; to protect me from the harshness of the onslaught of brutal daylight. I prefer early the darkness of the wee hours and the dimness of daybreak to the brilliance of blazing sunlight. As I look outside now, I cannot yet tell whether the clouds hiding the blue sky are thick or simply translucent and temporary. I will keep watching until I know.

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Shedding Skills

I wonder how many skills, recipes, and processes common in the 1600s have long since been lost to modern society? The same question applies to more recent timelines: the 1700s and 1800s and early, mid, and late 1900s; even since the beginning of the first quarter of the twenty-first century? Incidentally, by recipes I do not mean instructions for making a cake or a casserole, though those guidelines are encompassed by my query. When I contemplate how people in the seventeenth century must have lived, their stamina and their ingenuity amaze me. Without the aid of modern equipment and technology, they were able to mine for lead and tin. They must have had methods of developing reliable sources of water. They preserved food without the benefit of modern canning equipment. Artistic painters, or the people who supplied the materials used in their work, knew how to create paint that would stand up to the ravages of wide variations in temperature and humidity and that could survive exposure to sunlight and soot from candles and fires for heating the places where they lived and worked. Of course many of the recipes and processes no longer in common use have been memorialized of late on the internet, so we assume they have not been “lost.”

Progress, unfortunately, is not necessarily additive.

But have we truly preserved them? If, God forbid, the internet were utterly destroyed to the point of being irretrievably unusable, how many among us would be able to resurrect the lost information? I suspect modern humans have, over time, lost enormous volumes of knowledge and skills, much of which we do not even know we once knew of or could master. Progress, unfortunately, is not necessarily additive; it tends to replace the old with the new, leaving what was to wither and die. Who among the living, today, could successfully orchestrate the duplication of the great pyramids of Egypt without using any modern tools or processes? The skills required for such a feat probably no longer exist; even if they did, who could translate those skills into an identical outcome?

I have no particular reason for writing about this subject today; it just happens to be a topic about which I have been curious for many years. And my curiosity and back-of-mind concern remains.

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My bizarre dream, the one in which I was immersed when I awoke this morning, is too complex and convoluted for me to attempt to document here. But it worries me a little; somehow, my subconscious seems to have fractured into sharp pieces. I am concerned that those fragments might slice into my consciousness. I suspect that mental bloodletting serves as evidence of either madness or desire or fear blossoming into panic. Okay, that last sentence could be a smidge over-dramatic.

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My mornings are too short. I wake later than I want. I think and write slower than I would like. Once again, I threaten myself with setting an alarm clock if this tendency to stay in bed too long lingers. As for the viscous thought processes, I am not sure how to cure that affliction. Perhaps I could find a safe stand-in for amphetamines; something that would unlock my capacity to think clearly at high speed? I do not know what that alternative could be, though. I may investigate and act accordingly. But in the meantime I will launch into another cold, clear Friday morning.

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Life Goes On

Until it doesn’t, life goes on. That is the message I get as a “watcher.”

By the way, I had planned on using another word for “watcher” but, fortunately, I learned early enough the error of my belief that the other word was not exclusively a synonym for scopophiliac. I thought an alternative definition of the word voyeur was “secretive watcher.” Apparently not, according to the dictionary I consulted. The only definition of voyeur in that source is “a person who engages in voyeurism.” And the definition of voyeurism is “the practice of obtaining sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts, especially secretively.” Though scopophiliac is among the synonyms for voyeur, its definition is not exactly the same: “the obtaining of sexual pleasure by looking at nude bodies, erotic photographs, etc.” Close enough. Watcher is a more appropriate choice. Certainly safer. Labeling myself a voyeur could create all manner of turmoil. So I’ll call myself a watcher. Better choice. Back to the matter at hand.

No matter the experiences of war, mass murder, genocide, global climatic catastrophe, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and dozens of other horrors, we humans continue plugging along. Even as we watch reality crush our dreams…as our loved ones die…as careers get derailed…as addictions claim our friends or ourselves…even then, life goes on. In the midst of all this excruciatingly painful chaos, we continue to strive for some kind of sanity-saving normalcy. We do our best to counter the negative aspects of human existence—agonizing interactions with matters from hyper-local to global and even beyond—with what some might call trivial or insignificant. But the insignificant can become crucial to our survival, or at least to our ability to tolerate our life experiences with a modicum of comfort.

A local example of a sanity-saving endeavor that some people may consider irrelevant in the face of human suffering is the Hot Springs Village Animal Welfare League–an organization dedicated to humane treatment, prevention of cruelty, and relief of suffering among animals; the organization trades in compassion. Another example, combining whimsy with intellectual pursuits and interests, is the Bureau of Linguistical Reality (BLR),created for the purpose of creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene. The BLR and its mission are intriguing. I can imagine getting deeply involved in its mission.

Millions of other examples exist: golf, sewing, practicing tai chi, genealogical research, painting, amateur meteorology, bridge, poker…the list of such endeavors is endless. As I watch people immerse themselves in these activities and more, it is evident to me that they are distractions from the more serious matters like war, mass murder, genocide, global climatic catastrophe, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. In the absence of the capability, individually, to bring these horrors to an end, people must continue to live their lives. They must attempt to bring as much normalcy to existence as possible until they cease to exist. These endeavors—distractions or whatever one might call them—take our time until our time comes to an end. Life goes on, until it doesn’t.

It occurs to me that voyeurism and scopophilia might be among the distractions some people use as tools to maintain their sanity. Those tools may not be suited for the job, but who am I to judge? Maybe there are better options than watching, too, but I am satisfied with it, more or less. I expect to keep it up until I am no more.

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Confusing, Competing Ideas

Our way of life is threated both by mass shootings and by clandestine efforts by foreign governments to accelerate the collapse of western coalition governments and/or  our civil cohesion.

I used the word “accelerate” instead of “cause” for a reason.

The ready availability of assault style weapons helps fuel mass shootings, though such attacks can depend on more traditional weaponry. Calls for “gun control,” despite the solid logic behind those pleas, tend to unify vocal extremist proponents of their interpretation of the Second Amendment. These gun-loving groups fear that efforts to limit access to military-style weapons are the first steps toward prohibition and confiscation. The shrillness of entreaties to limit availability of certain weapons and the demands to control access to guns in general amplify the concerns of gun advocates. There appears to be no middle ground between those who wish to control availability and ownership of guns and those who demand unfettered access. The two sides seem poised to pounce on the other at every opportunity.

News of high level Russian defections and reports of covert Russian attempts to find and neutralize the defectors is, I suspect, the tip of the iceberg. Defections are not limited to Russians, of course. A search on Google reveals a list of eighteen U.S. defectors. A more recent U.S. “defection” challenges the usual definition of the word. Edward Snowden, who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency, fled to Russia to avoid capture and punishment by the U.S. government; his crime was ostensibly prompted by his disillusionment with U.S. intelligence practices.

Most clandestine operations—outright spying and secret efforts to obtain intelligence on foreign governments’ plans and activities—remain hidden from the public. Our knowledge of such activities is extremely limited. But we can make realistic assumptions about such actions and programs by paying attention. It seems to me, for example, that our government’s early warning that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine must have been based on intelligence obtained through clandestine efforts. And the sheer volume of books and films about spying and other clandestine operations, while mostly fiction but likely based at least loosely on reality, is telling.

Neither mass shootings nor spying by foreign governments cause the deterioration of the prosperity and comforts we enjoy. They are symptoms. Symptoms of intense social stresses that reveal the dissolution of equality and social cohesion, in the case of mass shootings. And symptomatic of competitions between political and social philosophies between governments. The decay in our way of life is not caused by mass shootings and political intrigue. The causes are far more complex and more deeply ingrained in our society. The cohesion that we remember may not have been cohesion at all; it may have been collective concerns or fears. Do we actually “remember” a time when we were a more cohesive society? Or is our imagination tricking us into believing that our wishes had been granted?

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I am tired of writing. I have spent far too long on what I have written thus far; I remain dissatisfied with it. My thoughts are not as precise and clear as I had hoped they would be. I have not been able to satisfactorily express my ideas. These words are inadequate and misleading. Time to quit while I am behind. I have strong opinions, but they may change. They often do. I see too many sides of the same issue; I understand and agree with all the competing arguments. I wish I could clutch certainty in my hands for long enough to be confident that I really believe in something. Ach! I will go have breakfast now and wonder what’s next. A haircut this afternoon. Perhaps that will clear my head.

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Searching for Profundity

Certain circumstances exist in which, given a choice between the two, a person might opt to experience physical pain rather than emotional pain. It depends, of course, on the causes of the pain. Like chronic physical pain, chronic emotional pain can become so overwhelmingly burdensome as to cause a person to willingly submit to almost anything to make it stop—or, at least, to reduce its intensity to more tolerable levels. The types and magnitudes of pain—physical or emotional—dictate a person’s response and the choice between the two.

These thoughts are abstract. Concrete hypothetical and personal examples could quickly illustrate circumstances in which a person might choose to experience physical pain in place of emotional pain. But offering any such examples might open the floodgates to emotions too intense to tolerate. So, instead, I turn to experts to provide a hypothetical example. The Mayo Clinic has this to say:

Nonsuicidal self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of harming your own body on purpose, such as by cutting or burning yourself. It’s usually not meant as a suicide attempt. This type of self-injury is a harmful way to cope with emotional pain, sadness, anger and stress.

Even though the Mayo Clinic’s example, which facilitates the understanding of the concept, is straightforward, the idea remains impersonal and distant. I suspect that until one experiences extraordinarily acute emotional pain, the notion of choosing to experience physical over emotional pain is speculative or theoretical. Maybe understanding the notion becomes clearer if one considers that choosing physical pain is a desperate attempt to dull the ferocity of the anguish one feels: anguish that often accompanies the death of a loved one. A person might be able to cope with that anguish for a relative short while. But when it lingers and its intensity remains high or even grows deeper and more fierce, a person might attempt to mute or distract from it through the introduction of physical pain.

I am by no means an expert in the psychology of exchanging emotional for physical pain. However, even though I have never experienced it, I understand the idea. I understand that emotional pain can become so fierce a person might attempt to overcome it through physical pain. Emotional pain usually is relatively easy to hide, whereas physical pain is far more difficult to conceal. Mysterious or inexplicable physical pain may be evidence of  fierce, but hidden, emotional anguish.

Where does all this lead? What answers are offered through this reflection? Nowhere and none. Just another topic rattling around in my head, needing to escape through my fingers.

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Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.

~ Epictetus ~

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The instant a moment passes, it is gone. Time sheds itself like a snake sheds its skin. But the snake leaves physical evidence. The only evidence of moments is memory, an imaginary experience. There may be physical evidence of events that took place during a moment in time, but the moment itself is gone, never to be resurrected. Time is not like an event captured on a video recording. Time cannot be recorded and replayed. The idea that it may be possible to “go back in time” is ludicrous. Moments in time are vaporous; they disappear into the ether of existence. If memory serves me correctly, chaos theory suggests the movement of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon can cause disturbances in the atmosphere in China…or something like that. It is part of the idea of deterministic chaos. Once the wing moves, it disrupts the molecules of air around it, which in turn disrupt them molecules of air around those molecules, infinitum. It is impossible to reverse the effect, even by returning the butterfly’s wings to the precise position they were in before their effects were felt. The extended effects of the butterfly’s wing movement have already taken place. There is no “going back” to the moment its wings had not yet moved. And there is no “going back” to a moment before a bullet left the barrel of a gun; to think otherwise is delusional. Fundamentally flawed and irrational. Yet for all the evidence to the contrary, many of us—perhaps most of us—occasionally wish we could go back; to a gentler or happier or more peaceful time. To a time before the butterfly or the bullet had irrevocably altered the universe. We know that time is gone forever, yet still we long for it. We search through the evidence, sifting through the memories in our brains in the hope of finding and replaying it. Though we knew going in that the search was pointless and would fail, we tried anyway. We encountered and experienced our expected disappointment. We told ourselves we would not allow ourselves to again be tricked into believing in hope. Yet, buried beneath the ashes of wishes and layers of past disappointments, we will search again, only to fail again. A perpetual cycle of wishes and dashed dreams. Just part of life.

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How different our lives would be if we insisted on surrounding ourselves only with the few practical tools we need to survive. No colorful clothes, no simple conveniences, no clocks, no music, etc. I prefer a world in which color and art and leisure and convenience exist alongside the mentally or physically taxing obligations that plague us. I think I am spoiled. As are many of the other people who occupy this planet. Would that everyone had the same opportunities to live in unnecessary luxury, as thin and weak as it is.

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Off into another day. A day in which a clot of meteorologists is forecasting a wintry mix. We shall see, as we always do.

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Wonder

We sometimes assume we know ourselves, but in fact we know only how we appear from a limited perspective. One cannot know oneself until he looks at himself through both a prism and a magnifying glass. Even then, we cannot see ourselves through others’ eyes. Our self-knowledge, then, is based on an incomplete and distorted perspective. Am I the person I see in the mirror and whose brain harbors every thought that crosses my mind? Or am I the man seen through another’s eyes and who reacts to the world around him in response to how I think I look to someone else? Can I accurately predict how I might react to a situation in which a stranger flashes a gun and begins shooting indiscriminately at people all around me? Can I accurately predict how I might react to the same situation but, instead of a stranger, the person with the weapon is someone I know well? So many questions, the answers to which cannot be known until after the fact. Even then, though, predicting what we will do in specific circumstances, based on how well we know ourselves, is a crapshoot. We do not necessarily know ourselves as well as we may think. We are unpredictable. That can be an attractive attribute. Or it can be terrifying.

I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?

~ Zhuangzi ~

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The reason stars and planets are spherical, according to my limited understanding of physics, is that an object’s gravitational pull draws toward the center of its mass. If sufficiently large—like stars and planets—objects exert gravity strong enough to cause it to reach hydrostatic equilibrium. That is the point at which gravity is balanced by a pressure-gradient force—that state in which an object’s tendency to expand is restricted by its own gravitational pull. My knowledge of hydrostatic equilibrium did not exist when I went to bed last night, nor when I awoke this morning; it came to inhabit my brain only after I consulted reliable—I hope—online sources. I did not need to know why celestial bodies (and the planet on which I live) are spherical. But for some reason, not long after I woke, I suddenly was consumed by a strong curiosity about the matter. I suspect the reason had something to do with stumbling upon an image of innumerable white dots against a black background—an artist’s rendering of the glow of stars and planets against the darkness of space.

As I think about my curiosity this morning, it occurs to me that the thirst for answers competes with the sense of wonder that goes hand in hand with the appreciation of mystery. Looking into a clear, dark night sky, untainted by humans’ light pollution, engenders awe at the sheer beauty and vastness of the universe. Even absent that crystal clear view, a look skyward launches an immeasurable sense of both curiosity and humility. Billions of humans have had the experience of wonder at the immensity of the universe. As unique as the experience feels, it is common; not unique at all. But it feels intensely private, as if no one else could possibly feel the almost overwhelming sense of awe that accompanies a long, deep look into the dark sky. The pursuit of understanding—and the reliance on the laws of physics as a means of achieving it—need not diminish the emotional experience of awe. But keeping understanding and awe in separate compartments in one’s brain just might allow both experiences to reach their fullest potentials. However, as I consider how young children of 5 or 7 or 9 years of age seem to demonstrate both, simultaneously, I wonder whether adults simply lose the ability to reconcile competing experiences. I will continue to wonder, inasmuch as I hold out no hope that I will ever know the answer.

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The benefits of youth are sometimes under-appreciated until they suddenly are snatched away. Yet those benefits could have been so much more enriching and fulfilling, had they existed earlier—in concert with the wisdom attainable only through sufficient experience which comes only with advancing age. What, exactly, is fairness? It depends on one’s perspective. One thing about fairness is clear, though: it is not a birthright.

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I have few obligations today that cannot be adjusted. I will use that flexibility to imagine a twenty minute experience. A flight of fancy. An imaginary trip through a delightful future.  Ah, yes. I can see it now.

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Curiositas

In a few weeks, if anyone signs up for the program, I will facilitate a five-session “course” about Articulating Your Unitarian Universalist Faith.

Faith. The definition that applies to the word in the context of the course is “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion.” Inasmuch as I do not subscribe to the idea that a supernatural being or force or entity exists, my focus will be on the fundamental premises of Unitarian Universalism (UU). I may be among the least likely people to facilitate such a program, given my innate skepticism. Even some of the aspects of foundational UU philosophies challenge me to some extent, so my belief in the “doctrines or teaching of” UU may be subject to question. But, as I think about the core ideas that appeal to me about UU, expressing one’s doubts in the course of searching for answers that may never be found might be precisely what merits contemplation. The idea for the program is to enable participants to explain, in a 30-second “elevator speech,” the foundations of their adherence to UU. We’ll see how that goes.

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My recollection of the Eugene O’Neill’s play, Mourning Becomes Electra, is almost nonexistent. I read it in high school or college—maybe both—but as I tried to recall the story this morning, it eluded me. Only after exploring it online did the fact that the play was a retelling of the Oresteia, the Greek trilogy. I remember learning, only vaguely, that the characters in O’Neill’s play were based on the original play by Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian. Some of the characters from the Aeschylus play, such as Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, are familiar to me, though I am not sure whether that familiarity comes from studying O’Neill’s play or, instead, from learning about Greek tragedies. Regardless, I have retained next to nothing from whatever early exposure I had to either. Until I came across references to the length of the modern play, my foray this morning into O’Neill’s  literary masterpiece tempted me to consider reading it again. But the time involved in reading it, must less grasping the relationship between O’Neill’s story and the original Greek tragedy, would be extraordinary. I am not sufficiently interested to invest that much of my diminishing time in something that might well leave me no more enlightened than I am this morning. And my enlightenment this morning is nothing to cheer about. I do not know what prompted me to explore Mourning Becomes Electra shortly after I awoke today. It was a fluke. A meaningless oddity that led nowhere. And that is where it ended. I will depart nowhere now, in search of somewhere…more interesting or intriguing.

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The time has come for me to take a shower and get dressed for church. Some Sunday mornings, like this one, I have absolutely no interest in going to church. I would rather isolate myself from people and simply think. Or meditate. Or otherwise insulate myself against the intrusion of thoughts that interfere with my hermit-like behavior. Usually, though, I manage to at least tolerate engagement with others; and that tolerance more often than not morphs into interest. Whether that adaptation is just a self-defense mechanism or is a real transition in my attitude is unclear. I may never know.

 

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Hold

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the ways in which secretaries free their colleagues to be more productive. I lamented not having a secretary at the moment I wrote those words because of my study’s disorder. This morning, it occurs to me that my years of being secretary-free after having had secretaries earlier in my career might have been to my benefit. In the absence of secretarial support, I typed my own letters, reports, articles, etc., etc. The more I typed, the more confident and faster I became. Not that I have blazing fingers on the keyboard, but I can get by more than comfortably. I have long since not needed to look at the keyboard while I type, except when needing to find with my fingers characters my fingers rarely need to find. So, in hindsight, while secretarial support might have made me more productive, it might have stunted my keyboard skills. Every issue has at least two sides.

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Morning sunlight is leaking into the sky to the north-northwest. Above and behind the trees, the atmosphere is dim but slowly brightening. Soon, the sun will illuminate the sky at a faster and faster pace until the morning is in full bloom. Once the sun begins to peek over the horizon, the day has begun in earnest—it cannot be held back. No matter how much one might wish to freeze time, or to return to an earlier period, it cannot be done.

Not yet, anyway. Not in the reality we have come to believe is the only reality. But the reality upon which we rely to make sense of the world may simply be the equivalent of the substance of a digital video. One day, scientists and searchers may discover that everything within our perception is an editable record of potential experience, captured among the protons and electrons and neutrons that densely pack the space we think we occupy. And if that were to occur, the discovery could lead to an ability to replay instances from the past. And the future. I am not referring to science fiction here, but to something else, something we have yet to name. This is as real as real can be in the context of an imaginary existence.

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I have nothing intensely personal to share today. Sharing some of one’s innermost thoughts can make a person extremely vulnerable. It leads to emotional dissolution; that is, emotions become dry, withered wisps that blow away in the slightest breeze. In their place, dense, thick lengths of protective, unemotional rope encircle one’s psyche and tie him to an anchor of indifference. But that might be an overstatement, if not a lie.

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For some reason, I am distracted this morning. My thoughts skip from one thing to another, never long enough to develop fully. The idea from the preceding sentence made me think of a dull aluminum structure, like the skeleton of a small building. And from there my mind’s eye sees a pond in the middle of a Nebraska prairie and in that pond are hundreds of sandhill cranes. Then, it’s a big kitchen with an enormous island, filled with appliances—mixers and the like—that will be used in making sausage kolaches. Next, I wonder how humans ever came to believe that love should be exclusive. Valentine’s Day springs from that thought, which leads to hearts and arrows and indigenous people trekking across barren landscapes in search of food. I had better stop or I’ll have to recommend a 72-hour psychiatric hold.

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Sour

Even on days like today, when my calendar is empty and I generally am free of obligations, I can feel trapped; cornered, as if my choices are limited and none of them are good. I suspect this troublesome attitude can be traced to my anticipation of current and future commitments—knowing this brief reprieve from real or imagined constraints on my time will not last. Of course, when I examine my obligations carefully, I discover that most are not cast in stone. I have freedom of choice, in most instances. Often, though, the ramifications of exercising choices by dismissing obligations argue against doing so. I realize, of course, that most of those so-called “obligations” are so minor as to be unworthy of concern. Their irrelevance notwithstanding, too often I allow them to control me by artificially limiting my choices. I do not need a calendar to box me in. My brain does that on its own, without relying on tools. I curtail my freedom by interpreting others’ and my own expectations. I tend to give too much weight to what others will think of me if I abandon commitments. I ignore the fact that others probably will not think of me, regardless of whether I do or do not fulfill what I think of as a commitment. Rarely do I consciously evaluate whether valid expectations exist anywhere but my head. One would think all of this philosophical detritus would have been swept out of my head long, long ago. But, no, it remains today just as it was during my teenage years and all through the maturation process that has led me to today. If I had a shiny, sharp psychological scalpel, I would excise damaged remnants from my psyche. Ach! My attitude this morning suggests the best course of action would be to sleep through the day and let my sour mood morph into something more palatable. We shall see.

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I dreamed last night that my late wife and I were searching for a cardiologist who held some sort of key to information we wanted. The information was not necessarily related to coronary matters, but I do not recall what we were seeking. I cannot describe the visual scenes I saw in the dream, because they remain quite fuzzy in my head. I woke from the dream around 5:30. It is past 7 now and I still am trying to remember more of it. The more I think about it, though, the more difficult it is to remember the dream. It becomes more blurry with each passing minute.

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Perhaps my unpleasant mood can be linked to the restrictions on my diet, in response to the diagnosis of diabetes. Or, possibly it is not diet. Maybe it is the mere fact that I can track my physical decay by looking at a calendar timeline on which injuries and illnesses and diseases are displayed. On the left side of the timeline, depicting the earliest moments of my life, my healthy young face is displayed. As the eyes move to the right, following the evolution from youth to old age, the face loses its pink freshness, giving way to an increasingly dry, grey, gaunt, and wrinkled countenance. I can see it in my mind’s eye; a sight not at all pleasing to me.

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Last night’s post-documentary-viewing dinner at the church consisted of chili. With beans. The documentary was interesting and informative. The chili tasted very good. But my blood glucose level this morning jumped up a bit from the day before. I think that increase was in response to the ingredients in the chili. It is amazing to me how quickly food can affect the content of the blood. As fascinating as that is, though, I am not happy about it.

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Time to respond to the morning sky.

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Adaptation

Many years ago, I had secretaries. I relied on them to perform functions that I could have done myself, but that I would not have done as well. Their contributions enabled me to be far more productive than I would have been without them. Over time, though, employing secretaries—in my line of work—came to be viewed as elitist and (because most of them were women) sexist. So, rather than dictating letters and reports, I typed them myself. And I made my own travel arrangements. And I created my own spreadsheets. And I screened my own calls. And I created and employed my own files and filing systems. And I developed my own PowerPoint presentations. And I performed the myriad other tasks and functions that once had been handled by secretaries (or administrative assistants, a title that came to be more palatable). Though I was reasonably good at handling those duties, I never became as proficient as people whose roles were dedicated exclusively to handling such functions. During the transition to handling my own “secretarial” duties and long, long afterward, I bought into the idea that having a secretary was more of a matter of status than an efficient way of doing business.

This morning, as I looked around my study—especially my desk—I thought back to the time I had secretaries. The really good ones were extraordinarily well-organized and efficient. They would never have allowed my desk to be so cluttered and in such disarray. They freed me to focus on the core functions of my work, too, rather than attempt to do for myself what they did so much more effectively than I could have done. A look around my desk this morning made me finally realize how unproductive it was to stop relying on secretaries. And, this morning, as I think back to all the years of doing without secretaries or, at least, employing minimal secretarial support, I wonder how much more effective I would have been, had I not subscribed to the idea that having secretaries/administrative assistants was more about status than about productivity.  This morning, I wish I had a secretary who would swoop in and organize my study, freeing me from trying (and failing) to get and stay organized. Oh, how I wish it were so.

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The popular intuitive assessment that coffee pods are among the most environmentally damaging ways of making coffee may be off the mark. An article on the BBC.com website reports that a Canadian study by the University of Quebec challenges that assessment. Additional information on the study is available on The Conversation’s website. The study suggests that making coffee using pods is less environmentally damaging than making coffee with traditional coffee makers. Evaluating the life-cycle of coffee, the researchers found that by far the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions is the harvesting and production of coffee beans. Traditional coffee makers contribute more CO2 than do pods, according to the study authors. An author of the study, Luciano Rodrigues Viana, is quoted as saying, “I don’t think that capsules are a miracle solution. But it is a good example that illustrates our cognitive biases.” The upshot of the research is that wasting coffee and water in the process of making a cup of coffee with traditional coffee makers has a larger carbon footprint than using coffee capsules. Apparently, we tend to make assumptions without considering all the facts. Based on my reading of the Canadian study and some other relevant information, it seems an investment in reducing the environmental impact of coffee harvesting and production would have the largest impact on the reduction of  CO2. Perhaps dramatically cutting coffee consumption is the answer. Of course, that would have negative repercussions on coffee growers and the people whose lives are dependent on coffee production. Solutions are never simple, are they?

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A formal diagnosis of diabetes leads to paying close attention to the potential impact of one’s habits on his health. I spent part of the afternoon yesterday with two diabetes educators, re-learning about some of the intricacies of the ways in which diet affects the body. This was not new, of course, but the relevance of the information was far clearer to me than it had been before. Prior to learning that my A1C blood test results confirmed the diagnosis, consideration of the impact of diet was a purely academic exercise. Now, though, it is more immediate and personal. As luck would have it, the effects of the condition have thus far been negligible. If they are to remain that way, though, I have to change my eating and exercise habits in important ways. I should have done so long, long ago. My invincibility is again called into question. Live and learn.

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The news of Jacinda Ardern’s decision to step down as New Zealand’s prime minister surprised me this morning. Though I have not closely followed news about her of late, I have been deeply impressed by her since her election in 2017.  Her principled leadership— along with her energy, and vitality—are models of the possibilities toward which national politicians may strive when they put the interests of their countries and their constituents above their own personal desires. Unfortunately, she has suffered what many politicians encounter after serving their constituencies well for an extended period: what once was appreciated for its better-than-expected performance morphs into an attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” Though her reasons for leaving her post are reported to be personal, I would not be surprised to learn that the significant dip in her popularity contributed to her decision. I wish her well. And I hope her successors will be as successful in leading New Zealand as she has been.

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It is still early, not yet 6:15, but I am ready to put today’s post to bed. And I am hungry, but I will wait to eat until I meet with several other guys from my church for the weekly gathering at a breakfast spot in the Village. I will have to be careful in making my choice of breakfast to ensure that it fits into my new dietary regime. Adaptation. That’s what every day is about.

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Cleansing

Something is afoot. Pardon the pun, but…atmospheric changes are in the air. Meteorological precipitation maps show the onslaught. At this moment, if one believes those illustrations, Fayetteville is experiencing torrential rain. The direction of motion of rainstorms to the north and west suggests the Village will receive its share of                           water from the sky during the course of the day today. Zeus is at work. Or perhaps the coming weather reveals he is, rather, at play. One rarely, if ever, thinks of Zeus in his playful mood, but even the ruler, protector, and father of all gods has to let off steam from time to time.  Among the ways in which he does so is by frolicking through the sky, squeezing the trigger of his squirt gun and laughing hysterically as umbrellas spring open below him like little black flowers.

That image—of black umbrellas popping open in response to rain showers—causes me to wonder: why are most umbrellas black? I realize, of course, that more colorful umbrellas have grown more prevalent in recent years, but the majority of them are, still, black. At least the ones intended to protect against rain. Umbrellas meant to shelter one’s head from the sun’s heat tend to be more colorful, but most of the ones designed exclusively to shed water from the sky are black. That, by the way, is based only on my perception. I have no empirical data upon which to base my assertion. But anecdotal evidence suggests black in the old standby. Naturally, my curiosity led me to inquire whether others might have had the same question. And, of course, I am not unique. Mother Google revealed to me that many others have posed the same question. The answers (none of which are accompanied by evidence) about why black is the preferred color for most umbrellas are: 1) black fabrics absorb heat and, therefore, dry more quickly than brighter colored fabrics; 2) black is of extraordinary significance to people in general; and 3) black umbrellas tend to provide better insulation than colorful ones. I have my doubts about the veracity of those answers. But, for now, they will have to do, because I am not interested in investing my time in pursuing the truth about the reasons for ubiquitous umbrellas blackness. [N.B. My secret belief is that, long ago, Zeus threw a thunderbolt down at a bright yellow umbrella, burning its surface and turning it black. Ever since, people have assumed that was Zeus’ way of revealing his preference for black umbrellas and have responded accordingly. Just my opinion, of course.]

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Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within.

~ Arthur Erickson ~

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Once again, I have allowed myself to overcommit. I have filled blank spots on the calendar with obligations, thereby eliminating the possibility of spontaneity. Impromptu road trips have become increasingly unlikely because I have things to do or places to be or promises to fulfill. Either I am punishing myself for reasons I have yet to understand or I am filling my time out of fear I might discover I have no value in the absence of obligation. There could be other reasons, as well. Whatever the rationale, the fact is my calendar is awash in duties. Every time I recognize I have done this to myself, I consider making a break from the agreements I have made; just backing away from them and saying, “I’m done! I’m sorry, but I shouldn’t have agreed to tie myself down. Consider my promise broken—shattered in a thousand pieces!” But I cannot do that. I could not live with myself. It is hard enough knowing how much I wish I could. It would be impossibly hard if I actually did it. Ach!

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The rain has come. If the weather were warmer, I would think of going outside—without an umbrella—to stand in the rain, letting the water gently cleanse me of the grit of daily life. The idea of giving myself over to Nature has enormous appeal. Leaving the clutter and smudges behind, letting whatever purity there is blossom in an environment free of contaminants and abrasive intrusions. Delusion. Simple delusion.

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My computer suddenly announced it had detected a location change and had changed my clock to Eastern Standard Time. What the hell?? Another sign that my purchase of a new computer, soon to arrive, was made at the right moment. Either that, or I have been magically transported to a place far, far away from the center of Arkansas. No matter which time zone I am in, it is time for me to stop writing this morning. It is time for me to turn to something else. Something more productive. Something less dangerous than imagining myself in another world.

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Understanding and Kindness

There is a significant difference in value between doing and watching—between actively participating and observing.  Involvement sometimes occurs at the expense of awareness. That is because, in the midst of taking part in an activity, one can overlook elements that influence it. The big picture fades into a blurry backdrop when the lens aims exclusively on bringing the details into precise, high-resolution focus.  “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Observation frequently equates to understanding. At what point in our maturation does that lesson finally find its way into our consciousness? For some, the lesson is lost. For others, it is the key to unlocking the ability to truly see all aspects of the environment in which we live.

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The foundation of National Public Radio (NPR), I have come to believe, is kindness. Whether intentionally or not, NPR teaches kindness and compassion. That fact was brought home to me this morning as I listened to a couple of audio clips. The first, from a regular feature called My Unsung Hero, told about a man whose kindness essentially saved a couple who had been left stranded along an Alaskan highway. The second was a segment of Story Corps from last July, which related the story of the kindness shown through a doctor’s letter of condolences to the family of an 11-year-old child who had died of leukemia. Of course Story Corps seems designed to elicit tears from listeners, but those tears often are in response to stories that demonstrate the overwhelming power of kindness.

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You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

I wonder whether, if you were to look just beneath the stoical surface of men (and some women) who seem unfazed by facts and stories that would cause me to melt into puddles of tears, there is a powder keg of emotions just a spark away from exploding? Or are they as unmoved by tragedy and joy as they seem? How, I wonder, can such apparent indifference be taught? More importantly, why is it taught? Why does masculinity seem to be measured by the ability to demonstrate immunity to the effects of emotional firestorms? No answers. Just questions.

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Daylight is beginning to make its way through the windows, a sign that my early quiet and solitude are coming to their daily pause. They will return again tomorrow. And I will be here to greet them.

 

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Deeper

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~

Each time I read those words, or hear them spoken, they resonate with me. They capture, as well as any words can, the truth about the dangers of injustice, especially the perils that arise when we remain blind to or silent in the face of injustice. If we ignore injustice unless it affects us directly, we are complicit in its ravages; we pave the way for more injustice. Eventually, turning a blind eye to inequity or oppression robs us of the ability to successfully fight when we become targets.

Those words of Martin Luther King, Jr. were spoken during the NAACP prayer breakfast I attended on Saturday. I heard them again from the UUVC minister yesterday. And I read them again this morning, this holiday that recognizes Dr. King’s birthday. I think our world would be a better place if we spoke those words, in place of the Pledge of Allegiance, every time the Pledge is spoken. I would not object, in the least, if school children were asked to recite Dr. King’s insightful words every day before classes began—and then discuss their meaning. By the way, pledging allegiance to a flag, in my opinion, is an example of mindless obedience, in and of itself an affront to the concept of freedom. The addition of “and to the Republic, for which it stands” hardly excuses the forced indoctrination implicit in the recitation. Patriotism is one thing; nationalism is another.

Today (January 16) is the official Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the Monday assigned as the annual placeholder for his actual birth date (January 15). The idea of adjusting holiday dates simply to give us three day weekends is, in my view, tasteless. While I suppose holiday is the right word to celebrate the birthday of figures whose actions transformed society in some way, I detest the use of the word to describe solemn occasions—occasions like Memorial Day. Memorial Day is not a holiday. It should be a day of mourning or reflection about the horrible price of war. Uh, yes, I deviated from my main point. But I was finished. For now.

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I am not “fast on my feet.” I wish I were. Unfortunately, I usually have to take time to mull matters over before I feel comfortable making a definitive statement about them. My vague recollections about my performance in classroom debates tells me I always have been slow to think things through. My brain just does not work at the speed of light. And, even after reflecting on issues under discussion, often I discover I have nothing of consequence to add to the conversation. This is not always true, of course. On occasion, I can be quick to react on matters that touch a nerve. Too often, though, reactive responses fail to consider all the relevant factors, making my response seem either irrelevant or unconsidered. During sixty some-odd years of making such mistakes, I have learned to remain silent much of the time. While staying silent while debate rages around me can make me appear stupid, reacting without adequate time to reflect can confirm that the appearance is spot-on. For these reasons and others, I far prefer to write than to speak. I think faster with my fingers than with my tongue.

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I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.

~ Khalil Gibran ~

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What are people in my sphere really like? What does through their heads? I wish I could engage in long, one-on-one conversations with them, with their guards down and their inhibitions cast aside. Honest, deeply personal and absolutely confidential sharing of wishes and regrets and hopes and fears and a thousand other secrets. The trust inherent in such openness is hard to come by. One would have to be absolutely confident that shared secrets would be locked in two impenetrable vaults. Breaking that confidence would be fatal to the relationship. But having absolute confidence that the vault would remain locked would further cement and deepen the relationship. The problem, of course, is that such absolute trust requires both mutual interest and mutual willingness to invest in the relationship. Rare, indeed.

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I wonder what kind of child I was? And what sort of teenager? And I wonder how my mind worked—and what went through it—as a young man? How, I wonder, have I changed over the course of my life? If I could remember more of myself as I evolved, I might better understand who I became—who I am becoming. It is rare, I think, for individuals to recognize that they undergo constant, fundamental, changes for their entire lives. Events affect us; how we perceive the world around us and how our minds process our experiences. And our minds, reacting to the external world, flex and bend in ways we do not recognize until we reflect on who we once were…if we remember enough about that person. Even as I write this morning, I am a little surprised at how different I am today from who I was five years ago. The tightly-wound spring has relaxed quite a lot, And some of the righteous certainty has almost completely dissolved into regret for the failure to realize the fatal errors of my utterly unjustified self-confidence…and the damaging impact that over-confidence had on people around me. Yet on reflection I finally realize much bravado overcompensates for justified self-doubt.

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I bought a new computer yesterday. I won’t have it in hand and operating until later this month. I hope my sick and injured laptop survives long enough to see me through the inauguration of new technology. We shall see.

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Morning’s early grey light is upon us. I can see the outline of the trees as if the darkness of the night has remained there, but behind them the world is casting night off in favor of a dim but brightening light. What will today hold? I am not sure. Off we go.

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This Is More Like It

Kolbjørn Landvik and Calypso Kneeblood and Lineoleum Price have suddenly come back into my life, returning after a years-long absence. They appeared at my figurative mental doorstep, looking thin, dirty, and bedraggled, their pleading eyes enough to make me open the door and let them in. These men were not the same ones who left without me. When they headed north, toward the Canadian wilderness, they were full of fierce bluster and bravado, convinced that living a demanding, isolated life far from the hypocrisy of modern society would cleanse their souls and let them relive their youths. When they returned, the look of defeat was in their eyes. Perhaps they would have had more success had they made their pilgrimage when they were young men. But storming off into the far reaches of places unknown—as each of them approached their seventieth birthday—was almost certain to be too much for them. They had to learn that sad truth for themselves, though. Only after trying and failing to recapture and relive youth could they begin to come to grips with an unfortunate reality. If a person misses his chance to pursue challenge and adventure in his youth, that chance is gone. For good. Though missing the idiocy of running with the bulls in Pamplona is no doubt good fortune, failing to take advantage of opportunities to experience life as a youthful vagabond closes doors that can never again be opened.

Kolbjørn and Calypso and Lineoleum, their faces frozen in perpetual sad frowns, came back as dejected old men. They regaled me with tales of what they wished they had done with their lives. But what they had done, in reality, was far less enthralling. They had followed a path that minimized risk at the expense of joy. Their mundane lives, hidden behind fictional stories of heart-stopping adventure, were like the lives of so many others: dull and predictable and embarrassingly pointless. When they left for the far reaches of northern Canada, the three of them hoped they could overcome the soul-crushing emptiness of lives lived far from the edge. They hoped they could atone for safe, predictable, uneventful lives.

Atonement cannot be had. There is but one chance to live each moment. Once that moment is gone, it cannot be retrieved. History devours every minute, every second. Life experiences cannot be snatched from the ravenous jaws of time. We can delude ourselves into believing otherwise, but even our delusions cannot hide the painful truth.

So, where does that leave me? Have I become the caregiver for Kolbjørn and Calypso and Lineoleum? Must I now attempt to ease their transition into old age and all the regret it brings with it? Must I endeavor to change their wished-for adventures into believable artificial memories, recreating lives never lived?

Perhaps it is I who is living a fantasy. Perhaps they have lived wildly full lives, experiencing all the madness and folly and ecstasy of life on the cutting edge of joy. Maybe their foray into the Canadian wilderness left them with memories of experiences more joyful than expected, even in their wildest dreams! Are their eyes really pleading, or am I projecting my emotions onto them?

Time will tell.

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I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations— one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it—you will regret both.

~ Søren Kierkegaard ~

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I awoke before 4 this morning and immediately went about my new routine. I may find it a bit tough to adjust to the new morning ritual. Challenging or not, though, I must get used to it. Or suffer the potential consequences somewhere down the road. Those consequences might take years to surface. Or they could occur almost immediately. So, unless I have a desire to experience, first-hand, a plunge into something unknown and unpleasant, I must adjust. And, so, I will. Dammit. There are so many things I wish I could change about the past. I wish I had never been a smoker. I wish I had taken better care of my physical and mental health over the years. I wish I had allowed/forced myself to more aggressively take risks. I wish I had done many of the things I wanted, but was too afraid, to do. I wish I had never been the inexcusably cruel bastard who lived inside my body for so long. I suppose I was angry with myself for being who I was, rather than who I wanted to be, and lashed out at the people around me rather than take it out on myself. Forgiveness for the unforgiveable is an unobtainable fantasy.

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I burned my last cone of incense this morning. A new supply should arrive this week. The aroma of incense does not sooth me. It is my reaction to the smell that sometimes causes me to relax. It is my imagination. I trick myself into believing the wafting scent has a calming effect on me. I see through that ploy, but I play along. Or maybe I don’t see through it. Maybe I tell myself I do because I do not want to be manipulated by a belief that has no foundation in fact. Either way, it does not matter. Such a small, insignificant issue does not deserve any attention at all. Yet I devote time and space on the computer screen to it. Why? Because that’s what I do. I fill my computer screen with words that convey ideas that do not matter. Some days, I feel like I should have joined Kolbjørn and Calypso and Lineoleum on their misguided journey in their search for meaning. But had I done so, I probably would have died, shivering in the frigid cold.

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Here it is, 6 a.m., and I am ready to call it a day. For the blog, at least. Time for me to plunge into the day in an effort to make it worth my waking. Breakfast is hours away. It’s a good thing I am not hungry. I am pleased I woke early today. It allowed me time to reflect and time to recover from that reflection. Onward toward dawn!

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Later Than Normal

All that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.

~ Lewis Carroll ~

Today began when I was awakened by the obnoxious sound of my smart phone’s alarm, which I set last night before going to bed. In normal times (whatever they are), I would have been awake before the alarm sounded. But lately I have been unable to depend on my usual habit of arising very early, so I set the alarm for 5:30. I was sound asleep, deep in a dream (about which I remember absolutely nothing, other than the fact that I was dreaming), when the noise interrupted my slumbers. The fact that I woke briefly several times during the night might explain my sleeping-in this morning. Or maybe not.

After showering and shaving, I followed what will become a new morning routine: Weigh myself, swallow a handful of pills, jab myself to measure blood glucose, take my blood pressure and measure blood O2 level, and record all the measurements. While my reaction to the new normal is not especially positive, I view it with some measure of gratitude; unlike millions the world over, I am able to invest the time and energy necessary to have a fighting chance of being healthy enough to live a reasonably comfortable life.

The reason I set the alarm, rather than simply waiting to get up when the mood struck me, was a commitment to attend a breakfast of the local branch of the NAACP. Recently, I wrote about joining NAACP and planning to attend the breakfast. The fact that the event was the 25th anniversary prayer breakfast for the branch did not register with me until a day or two ago. I have never attended a prayer breakfast, nor have I ever had the desire to do so, but we were committed, so we went. I have long since gotten over my overwhelming distaste of traditional religious ritual, having learned to tune out and tolerate when necessary, so I was prepared to ignore much of the program. Surprisingly (to me), the program was quite interesting and informative. Even the call and response interactions between speakers and audience were intriguing and entertaining. The speeches and entertainment, too, were engaging. I was pleasantly surprised to see the large ballroom of the convention center filled to compacity, too. I expected that my church group of 18 to 20 would be among the only White folks in the room, but I was happy to see quite a few other white faces supporting the positive work of the local NAACP branch. Live and learn.

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The new acacia wood dining table, along with the wool rug now beneath it, was delivered yesterday. On one hand, I am delighted with both of them; they look wonderful. On the other, I am disappointed in myself for succumbing, again, to unnecessary acquisitiveness. Though the purchases represented a net zero increase in home furnishings (we donated the antique oak dining table and the throw rug beneath it), my lust for “pretty things” seems not to have diminished in the least. At this rate, I will never be a minimalist. Not that the label has any real emotional meaning to me, but I do wish my desire for things I do not need could be more aggressively reined in. Buying things simply because they are visually appealing illustrates a personality flaw in me. And doing so even in light of the fact that I have told myself, repeatedly, that I think it best to save money than to spend it reveals an aberration in my thought processes. Regardless of all that, though, the table and rug are beautiful.

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It’s mid-afternoon. Not at all the time for me to be blogging. It does not feel right, so I will stop. For now.

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The Clock Strikes Six

The time is closing in on five o’clock as I begin writing. I have been up since just before four. My mind has been struggling, without success, to remember a perplexing dream. I recall only that the dream was intense and quite vivid. That monstrously vague recollection—more a feeling than a memory—of my dreamscape is frustrating. Maddening. I almost can feel my blood pressure spike. The muscles in my jaw and neck remain tight, even after deliberately trying to relax them. The dream is responsible for the tension, I think. But I can summon almost nothing about the dream experience, except for its intensity. That, and the anxiety the nocturnal mystery seems to have caused. Perhaps it was spillover from watching the short Belgian crime drama series, entitled The Twelve (original Flemish title De Twaalf), we watched the last couple of nights. The storyline revolves around the jury charged with making  a determination of the innocence or guilt of a woman accused of two murders, including that of her own child. Several characters in The Twelve were played by actors we had seen just a few nights ago, while watching another Belgian series, Under Fire (Onder Vuur). I find it intriguing that Netflix seems to have an algorithm that selects the service’s recommended offerings for me to view. The Netflix AI must have believed in recent weeks that I am either Belgian or French. In the past months and weeks, Netflix apparently decided I was Norwegian or Danish or Finnish or Icelandic. On those rare occasions lately when I have watched programs in which the characters speak English throughout, I have felt oddly out of place and deeply unsophisticated. I blame Netflix for my ennui, but it’s clearly an affliction for which my brain is responsible.

Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

~ Leon Trotsky ~

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I tried to see a therapist or counselor several days ago, only to be told by the staff at the Ouachita Behavioral Health check-in desk that I could not be seen because, at present, none of the available counselors can accept Medicare patients. When I offered to pay out of pocket, I was told that is illegal. I was offered the option of being put on a waiting list, which was already sixty names deep, but that list seems never to grow any smaller, the woman told me. She sent me on my way with a list of referrals who might accept Medicare patients. Or who are legally able and willing to accept cash payments. The experience was beyond frustrating. When I have calmed sufficiently (it may take another week or two…), I will explore some of the referred counselors and therapists. And I may write a letter to someone (though I know not who) to complain about the stupidity of the Catch-22 bureaucratic obstacle to providing healthcare services.

The reason for my attempt to visit with a counselor/therapist is that I think I agree with mi novia and others who believe I am, and have been, depressed. Not all the time, mind you, nor especially deep. But, still, somewhat anxious and depressed; or just down. A reaction, possibly, to feelings of guilt and regret.

Lately I have become acutely aware of some of the failings of the healthcare system in this country (some of which I think can be directly linked to the mindless bureaucracy of Medicare). I have waited since the latter part of October for a rheumatologist to give me an appointment, after being referred by my primary care physician’s office. When, finally, I spoke to human by phone, I was told I could see the referred doctor in Hot Springs in late May. Or, I could get an earlier appointment if I were willing to go to Little Rock for the appointment. Another flaw in the system was revealed to me when I tried to fill a new prescription for a glucometer and test strips a week ago today. Medicare apparently requires a mass of paperwork before authorizing the Part B supplier to fill the prescription. Finally, late yesterday afternoon, I received a call telling me I could pick up the prescribed device and accompanying materials. There is more, but I must keep my blood pressure in check.

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It was an oversight. I had removed my shampoo from the shower the day before and forgot to return it to its normal spot. I was already in the shower when I discovered my blunder. But it was no big deal; I would simply use mi novia‘s shampoo. My ability to see close-up without glasses, though, is abysmal. So I had to strain to read the text on the container, but I was satisfied it read “shampoo.” I pushed on the top of the plastic bottle, releasing what appeared to be a beige gelatinous substance. I smeared the gel on my hair and rubbed my scalp furiously. After I rinsed my hair, my scalp felt rather oily. Not liking the way my hair felt, I decided to wash my hair again, this time using the suds from a bar of Dove soap to accomplish the task. The conversation that followed my shower, when I mentioned to her that I had used her shampoo, led mi novia to the realization that I had used her shaving gel. No wonder my hair felt strangely oily after applying it to my scalp.

That gaffe brought to mind a mistake my mother made when I was  living at home, perhaps when I was still in high school. Somehow, she managed to absent-mindedly pour from a bottle of lemon oil (the stuff used to polish wood furniture) rather than the bottle of vegetable oil when making an oil and vinegar salad dressing. Fortunately, the mistake was discovered before anyone ate the salad. My recollection of that misstep makes me wonder: was there a genetic component to my screw-up with the shampoo?

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What great idea might I be in a position to pursue at this point in my life? I suspect that pursuit would require my fatigue and mental exhaustion to be replaced by vigor and intellectual energy. The idea of exerting myself to conquer the emotional equivalents to surrender is almost too much to confront. Too much work. A struggle that requires too much effort. The thing is, I am relatively young compared to, say, a nonagenarian. I might have twenty more years to overcome the struggle, with a positive, attractive, appealing outcome. But that train may have left the station, thanks to our society’s worship of youth. When faced with a choice between wisdom and youth, wisdom usually is discarded without fanfare. The fanfare is reserved for youth. That is true in the world of work and the world of entertainment. And most other aspects of life. I read a report this morning that says aging can be reversed. The report, featuring the work of Professor David Sinclair (professor of genetics at Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and codirector of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research) and others, is intriguing. According to the article, Our bodies hold a backup copy of our youth that can be triggered to regenerate. If I could physically reboot and install that backup copy, I am relatively certain I would change a number of bad or unhealthy habits from my youth. And my middle age. And my golden years.

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The clocks soon will proclaim we have reached the six o’clock hour. Time for more coffee. And time to burn one of two remaining cones of patchouli incense as I reflect on matters meaningful and mundane. I entered an order yesterday to replenish my supply of patchouli cones. I should have done it sooner.

 

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The Natural World

The grey sky, pale and cloudless, is visible behind swaying trees. Waves of sound—mimicking the cacophony of the ocean shore—keep time with the trees’ movement. In one instant, the entire forest seems to bend back and forth in response to strong gusts of wind. In the next, absolute stillness takes hold, as if the scene had been captured by a still camera. Watching and hearing those transitions between frenetic motion and cool tranquility, I get the sense that weather is a sentient being.

Weather. The word is an abbreviation for humans’ perception of a changing physical environment. The dictionary definition is the state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. That seems so sterile and empty. Hurricanes and tornadoes and snow storms are not so antiseptic. Driving rain and floods are not so dull and impersonal. Weather is the natural world around us, in all its frantic moods and sleepy laziness.

Now, the wind is howling. The trees are lurching back and forth, as if they are trying to extract their roots that shackle them to the ground. The wind howls, a low, guttural noise laden with menace. But the wind has no intent. It simply exists. Humans sometimes attribute all manner of motives to the natural world, as if the world around us were as emotionally fragile as we so often are. Nature is not angry. The wind and the waves and the driving rain of powerful storms are not fierce. Ferocity implies savagery. Yet the natural world does not possess emotions nor intentions. Wind does not rage. But we insist on assigning human qualities to the natural world. That is absurd. Or is it? When we are not drowning in the flood of emotions, we dismiss the idea that weather—and the whole of the natural world—is conscious. We laugh at the idea that all living creatures, except us, can feel the same emotions that drive us. Oh, we acknowledge that animals can feel fear. But we refuse to accept that plants can communicate with one another. Or that tomato plants, for example, can feel agony when their fruit is ripped from their stems. What nonsense! Right? Yes, if one accepts that humans truly understand the nature of Nature. But No, if one accepts that humans cannot—at least not yet—fathom the possibility that pain and pleasure and a thousand other sensations we feel may be echoed in the natural world, but in ways we cannot appreciate because we lack the physical and chemical and biological structures that enable the natural world to experience itself.

It is late. I awoke very late today. I went to bed early last night. Something must be awry. Or I am evolving or devolving or otherwise changing. I should inquire of African violets; might they know more than I about what causes aberrations in patterns of sleep? Possibly. But the very idea of asking African violets to answer questions is preposterous. A sure sign of madness or, even worse, acceptance of one’s innate ignorance.

All right. I will stop for now. I will try to launch into a more reasonable form of consciousness than this mystical morass that has, thus far today, enveloped me.

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Pausing

Today, after a phone visit with a fellow church member to discuss a “workshop” I have agreed to facilitate, I will stop by another church member’s house to copy a video onto a flash drive. That is in preparation for facilitating discussion after the video has been shown to interested participants. Then, I will drive to Benton to run a few errands. And, then, I may go to Costco.  Or someplace else. Who knows? My brain is in a fog this morning; no reason, just the dullness associated with uncertainty.

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If there are precipitating factors, I do not know what they are. Whatever triggers the experience, certain memories—like wave upon wave of  white-hot metal strips touching delicate, sensitive skin—cause me to shrink from the world. When that happens, I seek ways to burrow into a protective nest, hidden from sight. Though I seek, I never find. Because there is no safe refuge. No place to escape the torment that comes in the form of remnants of shredded comfort…transformed from soft sheets of smooth cotton to rigid strips of petrified steel and sharp rocky outcroppings.

Those soft, protective passages keep me from dissolving into a withered lump of wet bone and clumsy fear. But they expose me to the harshness that resides within reflections of the eyes’ images. These are the kinds of delusional hallucinations that merit intense privacy. They warrant a conversation that includes petrified steel and diamond-hard stone in battle against soft, supple fabric. That is all the chaos I am prepared to share at the moment.

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An hour already has passed. In the blink of an eye, that river of time has dried up, revealing scorched banks. When I write, I tend to incorporate drama into the dullest of dull passages. No one else seems inclined to do that. But they willingly laugh when I retrieve overly-long words and phrases and sentences borrowed from pre-history to emphasize contempt. The laughs are derisive. They are not servile attempts to erase the derision.

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I will pause now. Until tomorrow? Today? Sometime.

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Tight

Muscles in the back of the neck become tight. The shoulders and upper back stiffen, as well. The tension causes knots to form within long strips of rigid, contracted muscle. Ribbons of tendons, stretched almost to the point of snapping, surround and strangle sensitive tangles of snarled nerves.

Thus is the onset and expression of the kind of cramps caused by stress. Anxiety. Tension. When the worst of the cramps subside, the body remains poised to react to the slightest provocation. No significant loosening of the bindings. No relaxation. Just a moderate diminution of the hard-edged pain. A slight transformation, from cords of braided steel to braided cords of rock-hard, brittle rubber.

Those sensations are like old memories, pulled from deep within a morass of dusty recollections. Neither the sensations nor the memories are welcome. They bring back experiences I hoped would have dissolved—and did, for a while. But now they are rubber bands, stretched beyond the breaking point yet refusing to break.

Some of the more recent experiences were brought on by exposure to incredibly outlandish bureaucratic Catch-22 situations. And simple bureaucratic stupidity, baked into mindless bureaucratic interactions. Yesterday, for the first time in months, I felt like screaming, breaking glass, and roaring like a lion that had been poked one too many times.

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The wood from acacia trees is harvested, primarily, in Asia and Australia. It is said to be a sustainable source of wood, with wide-ranging uses including furniture, flooring, and wooden musical instruments (e.g, guitars). In my opinion, it is beautiful wood, with colors ranging from orange to yellow to red to deep, mahogany brown. I mention acacia wood because, when we were out shopping for a replacement for a rug beneath the table in the dining room, we bought a replacement for the table. The live edge acacia wood table has black metal legs, the live edge an angular base giving the table a distinctly modern look. Oh, we bought a rug, too. Both are to be delivered Friday.

We both were drawn to table when we first laid eyes on the wooden top. Perhaps it is the fact that the flooring in our house, composed of luxury vinyl planks, was manufactured to mimic the look of acacia. We had come to the conclusion that we could easily live with the antique oak table that belonged to mi novia’s abuela. But happenstance can change the course of a day in an instant.

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We had a superb, turmeric-laden lentil soup for dinner last night. My sister-in-law brought it over yesterday morning, as she is wont to do; when she makes a big batch of soup, she often shares it with us. And she makes excellent soup. Mi novia, while she liked the flavor quite a lot, was not as much a fan of the soup as am I. I am a huge fan of lentil-based dishes; she is not. She would have liked the soup even more if the lentils had, instead, been peas. I suspect I could enjoy a pea version, too, but in my view lentils belonged in that soup. It was spicy, but not overly spicy. While the soup was heating, I added some vegetable broth and a bunch of fresh spinach to the pot, as instructed by my SIL. Excellent flavor. Healthy. Comforting. Satisfying. I am a fan of soup. Not really an aficionado, but I could become one with just a little more exposure. This morning, for breakfast, I will finish off the tiny bit remaining. That will make me happy for a while.

Ennui is the echo in us of time tearing itself apart.

~ Emil Cioran ~

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I vaguely remember the feeling. Bursting with excitement. Ecstatic, with a sense that I knew precisely what constituted happiness. Giddy. Alive! But I do not remember what caused me to feel those sensations. I know they were brought about by simple experiences, but I do not know exactly what. Could it have been the first time I caught sight of a glacier? Yes. Or could it have been watching a friend achieve and be recognized for achieving a long-time goal? Yes, that, too. Could it have been boarding a plane with my late wife, taking off for an adventure in Europe? Yes. So many things once sparked such overwhelming excitement. Today, though, the exuberant feeling that I have encountered the pinnacle of delight is less than scarce.  It is exceedingly rare. How does one get that back?

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Mornings are fast. They are speed-skaters on steep, smooth sheets of ice. Blink and they are gone. They are blurs that refuse to come into focus for even for a moment. It is not just time that races by. It is life. Always too late to do or say what should have been done or said.

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High School Memories and More

A chance event can behave like a stick of dynamite that, when detonated, breaches the mental dam that holds back a flood of memories. After more than fifty years, long lost recollections can rush in, hydrating layer upon layer of forgotten experiences with freshly resurrected memories. When the dam breaks, dry, brittle sheets of experience that buried history for decades can wash away, revealing years of detritus left by the tides of time.

Recently, a friend from high school—someone with whom I have not been in touch for more than fifty years—contacted me, more or less by a fluke. He found my blog, then contacted me by email. And he wrote and mailed a letter to me, even before I responded to his email message. His messages unearthed memories I did not even realize were hidden deep in my brain and made me think of old friends who I have not seen since I graduated from high school in 1972. His mention of a group of guys, of which I was part, called the Schlitz Seven triggered recollections of good times when our carefree cadre of under-age friends drank beer, grilled ribeye steaks, and otherwise paid homage to the calls of banality and decadence that many guys in their late teens hear. I really did not know some of those memories were actually in my head, retrievable only by breaking the dam and unleashing the flood. I look forward to dredging up more of those memories, bringing them to the surface, cleaning them up, and drying them off. My memories of my youth are few and far between. Now, though, I know at least some of them have not disappeared. They are accessible by diving beneath the surface.

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As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can.

~ Julius Caesar ~

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Penny, if you read this, I want you to know I sent you an email. 🙂

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World events of late disturb me. Right-wing attacks on government institutions (Brazil), horrendous floods (Pakistan), the ravages of war (Ukraine), and the collapse of the environment (the disappearance of glaciers) play havoc with my serenity. I can do little to nothing about any of these world events so, according to logic and advice, I should not worry about them. That advice is easy to give, hard to live. As a human being sensitive to the plight of other human beings, it is hard to dismiss the horrors that surround us. Yet the advice (do not worry about things you cannot control) is crucial to maintaining one’s sanity (or, in my case, retaining what’s left of it). What is the tipping point between care and worry? I wish I knew.

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I joined the NAACP yesterday. I have intended for quite some time to lend my support to the organization, but lethargy and procrastination were in control until yesterday. Yesterday, during an “Insight” service at church, the young man who is president of the local NAACP (Marsalis Weatherspoon) spoke about the organization, what it is, and what it has been trying to achieve. That was the push I needed to take action. That, and mi novia‘s decision to do the same. I support the organization’s mission and I would like to further its ability to fulfill it. We are joining eighteen other church members at an NAACP breakfast next Saturday, held in conjunction with celebrations of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Later in the month, we will attend a film screening of We Have Just Begun: The 1919 Elaine Massacre and Dispossession, a documentary about the Elaine, Arkansas massacre that left hundreds of African American men, women, and children dead.

Too many historical events, like the massacre in Elaine and the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre that took place on and around Black Wall Street, have been shielded from public view for decades. The more people who are made aware of these atrocities in our history, the more people will come to realize that our country needs to hear apologies and to witness some way of making reparations to the descendants of such horrific events. And not only to direct descendants: an entire culture, Black and White, has been impacted by these hidden depravities. Ach! I sometimes am embarrassed to be human.

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My computer is failing me. It regularly shuts down Wi-Fi, requiring me to go through several steps to restore it. I have been talking about buying a new notebook for some time. This trouble with Wi-Fi, coupled with the fact that the beast is increasingly slow, slow, slow, has convinced me. But I am confounded by the millions of choices. And I am deterred by the fact that, whenever I buy a new one, I will have to go through hours of set-up to get the damn thing to work. I would gladly pay someone to experience the frustration on my behalf, but I do not know of anyone who does such stuff. Oh, well. That’s life.

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Enough of my rambling. I have to get on with the day. I hope you and I have a very good, productive, satisfying one.

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Dangers

Question everything. Believe nothing, least of all the stories you tell yourself. Your certainty scorches the thin layer of ice under your feet…your only protection from the boiling cauldron of misjudgment beneath you.

~ John Swinburn ~

Roughly three and one half years ago, with those words, I proclaimed the dangers of certainty.  Yet even in light of that proclamation, too often I stand on the icy edge of an active volcano’s caldera, behaving as if the risk of being swept into the bubbling magma is worth the thrill of invincible faith. Like both fire and ice, certainty is dangerous. Certainty forms an impenetrable seal around the mind, preventing doubt from entering. In the absence of doubt, one ignores challenges to his perspectives. He dismisses possibilities that threaten to undermine his convictions—convictions woven from threads so delicate a sideways glance could shatter them into a million pieces. Infallible knowledge—which constitutes the way in which we view certainty—is far more dangerous than doubt. Doubt, in fact, tethers us to multiple, often conflicting, possibilities. Possibilities that can keep us from falling headlong into the abyss. I am wary of certainty in other people; even more wary when it takes hold in myself.

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The problem with arguments against certainty, of course, is that nothing is assured. Absent certainty, we cannot trust anyone else. But it goes even deeper…we cannot trust ourselves. Without certainty, we must question everything—we cannot be sure of others’ motives, nor can we be sure of our own emotions, no matter how intense. Doubt can serve as armor against all sorts of ordnance, but it also can serve as an almost impervious wall.  A continuum between certainty and doubt must exist; we must move back and forth along its contradictory length, choosing the proper perspectives for every set of circumstances. Bouncing between certainty and doubt can drive a person mad, but failing to do so cements the insanity in perpetuity.

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I do not hate vegans, nor vegetarians, nor flexitarians nor pescatarians. But some of them hate me—perhaps not me, personally, but people who behave as I do—because I live outside the tiny sphere of behaviors they find acceptable. I find it odd that we tend to choose limited characteristics or attributes or behaviors as the triggers for our loathing. Nutrition (or food preferences). Religion. Political philosophy. A person can find dozens, maybe hundreds, of other reasons to hate or, at least, dislike people who do not share our worldview. Or, if not our entire worldview, the view from a tiny window. Oddly enough, some of these detesters express great appreciation for diversity—but only when that diversity coincides with their own worldview. I wonder whether a cattle rancher who loathes vegans would be as adamant if the vegans he loathes were not so condemnatory of the way he earns his living?

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As usual, the morning has zipped by with astonishing speed. It’s now about 7:30 and I need to rush to shower, shave, and get dressed for an Insight service at church. Though I would rather stay home and loll about in my casual morning clothes, I suspect I will be glad I made the effort to go to church, once I have done the deed. At least I hope so.

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