The Search

Relying on one’s memory to recall moments from the past introduces deviations from reality. Time and experience mold and shape recollections of our own histories. Only by intentionally capturing experiences—through photographs or video recordings or contemporaneous written documentation or a combination thereof—can we hope to accurately secure factual evidence of who we were at any given moment in time.

Someone who sometimes seems to know me better than I know myself shared an article from The New Yorker that explores how we change. Not only do we transform from one person to another over time, the stories we tell ourselves—about ourselves—change, as well. We become different people, over time. More importantly, the people we once were change to reflect our understanding of ourselves as seen through the eyes of someone whose experiences differ through time. Today, I look back at myself at age thirty from the perspectives of a sixty-nine-year-old man. Ten years ago, my view of that thirty-year-old man-child was quite different from the way I see him today.

This morning, as I reflect on the idea of capturing who we are over time through contemporaneous images and stories, I realize we can never know who we were “back then.” Every time we attempt to recall our own histories, we view images and read stories through different eyes whose perspectives are shaped by experience. Although pictures and videos and daily diaries that maintain an “accurate” record of our lives may capture experience, their meaning will always be subject to interpretation. Interpretation that changes over time.

The thoughts that accompany my reflections lead me to realize—or, rather, to verify—we can never really know who we are because the contexts of our lives shape us on the fly. I am different from moment to moment. The instant I think I know myself, I have changed in response to my environment and the events that occur in that environment. No matter how many photographs and videos I take and no matter how little time elapses between them, I am never again the person I was when they were taken. In fact, I was never who I may have appeared to be, because the changes taking place in my perspective occurred with greater speed than the camera’s shutter could capture.

The question of who I am can no more be truthfully answered than the question of who I was. It then follows that no one can know me. And, of course, I cannot know anyone else for the same reason. Nor can anyone else know themselves. And when we look back at ourselves in photographs or films, when we read our journals or diaries, we cannot know the people in the pictures or the writers who recorded their stories. We perpetually are chasing answers to trick questions.

Perhaps this understanding of the impossibility of knowing ourselves explains feelings of emptiness and incompleteness. Perhaps it is why, somewhere deep in our psyches, we long for intimate connections to people who, we hope, will somehow enable us to know ourselves.

Illusion. Delusion. Whatever it is, I think we are on an everlasting journey, seeking a way to stop time just long enough to know who we are.

 

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Awash in Leaves

A friend who attends my church is on  hospice care at home. If she is up to it, I will visit her this morning. She and her husband were among the wonderfully caring people whose emotional support was so valuable to me during the difficult last months of my late wife’s life.  Their care and support were lessons in decency and humanity. But it wasn’t just during that dark period that their characters shone so bright. They have always modeled the virtues that are so appealing in good neighbors and friends and even caring strangers. As I think about them this morning, I wonder why the kind of goodness they exemplify sometimes seems so rare. The difficulties and challenges encountered in our lives would not be so overwhelming if everyone were to follow their example. Perhaps it is not that humanity and decency is so rare, but that the breadth and strength of my friends’ caring goes so much deeper than average. Some people are so obviously and genuinely good. I am fortunate to know my friend on hospice care; she is one of them.

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The heavy rains that pounded the roof a while ago have eased up, at least for a while. I can only imagine how the rain must have torn more leaves from the Bradford pear tree that overhangs part of the driveway and a front corner of the house. Yesterday, when I returned from my errands in Little Rock, the street near my house was covered in oak leaves. My driveway was buried under a thick coating of yellow and orange Bradford pear leaves. By mid afternoon, when the wet leaves had shed some of the water attaching them to the ground, I cleared the driveway by blowing leaves into the forest. I suppose that effort was not wasted, though the dim morning light reveals a heavy coating of leaves on the driveway, thanks to the rain. Until the trees are bare, leaves will periodically hide the concrete. Though I might be tempted to just wait until then to blow the leaves away, I know that would be a mistake. The leaves would be too heavy and thick and slick for my battery-powered blower to have any effect, were I to wait. So, I will continue to blow leaves, only to have a new batch waiting for me hours later. Years ago, I thought moving to the forest would eliminate the need for yard work. I was wrong.

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Too many thoughts swirl in my head this morning. I cannot seem to capture many coherent thoughts; my mind is awash in chaos. So I will stop trying to write. It is pointless. Perhaps I need to let my brain settle before I try to write any more. I will give myself time to empty the frenzied conglomeration of thoughts from my head. Maybe that is what I need this morning.

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We All Want Extended Warranties

The long list of medications my doctors advise me to take remind me of the replacement brake pads I will have installed on my car this morning. The drugs are intended to extend my useful life, just as replacement automobile parts are meant to extend the useful life of my car. No one claims that new brake pads will guarantee my car will last forever. And no one claims medications will assure me of everlasting life.  Yet both provide insurance of sorts that is worth the trouble and expense.

This morning’s dense fog advisory cautions me to drive with extra care when I drive to Little Rock for replacement of those rear brake pads. After the brake job has been completed, I will head home, but will stop at El Mercado Latino to pick up two dozen pork and jalapeño tamales. My tradition of enjoying tamales and chile con queso and beer on Christmas Eve has evolved over time, blending with a newer tradition of attending a  Christmas Eve church service, followed by a soup supper. I no longer consume, without fail, tamales and chile con queso on Christmas Eve; but we will partake of those traditional foods a day or two either side of that evening.

This year, I will forego the beer, thanks to doctors’ admonitions to avoid alcohol. That advice, which coincided with a short stay in the hospital for acute pancreatitis, reinforced the reality of my aging and decay. When departures from one’s sense of invincibility occur—due to health matters that dictate significant lifestyle changes—one begins to better understand  and appreciate one’s own mortality. Though abstaining from consuming alcohol (four months so far) is neither difficult nor especially noteworthy, that change in lifestyle is yet another experience that emphasizes the fact that my body is out of warranty. And the unsolicited texts, emails, and phone calls that urge me to consider variations on Medicare are akin to the flood of marketing materials that attempt to convince me to purchase an extended warranty for my seven-year-old car. Odd, I think, that we tend to treat ourselves the same way we treat our automobiles. Eventually, we either discard autos or trade them for a newer model. We wish we could trade our bodies for younger, stronger versions; instead, at some point, we discard what is left of them.

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The scales of reckoning with mortality are never evenly weighted, alas, and thus it is on the shoulders of the living that the burden of justice must continue to rest.

~ Wole Soyinka ~

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Mi novia‘s bad cold is making her miserable. NyQuil and DayQuil are attempting, without much success, to lessen the symptoms. I have avoided catching her cold thus far, though I have felt on one or two occasions that it might be attempting to invade my body. So far, though, those instances have been brief and have disappeared soon after. I’m knocking on wood that I will remain healthy; at least with regard to a cold.

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It’s nearing 7 in the morning, time for me to launch into the day. If there were a bakery on my way to the Subaru dealership, I would stop and buy a sweet treat. Alas, to my knowledge, there is no such place of business along my route. I will suffer through that deprivation; maybe I’ll go in search of some such place upon my return.

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Perspective

If we would just acknowledge that our perspectives are not necessarily “right,” we might better understand the world in which we live. If we would accept that perspectives that differ from our own may be equally as valid, and possibly more so, our hubris might morph into humility.  Wisdom arises from recognizing that the ignorance on which we rely for truth may be what holds us back from enlightenment.

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I am troubled by the arguments I hear that taxes on electric and/or hybrid vehicles constitute unreasonable penalties for environmental responsibility. In my opinion, taxes on gasoline and taxes on hybrids, etc. both represent variations on the same concept: use fees. In my opinion, vehicles, regardless of type, that use public roadways should be assessed use fees to pay for the construction and upkeep of streets and highways. Taxes on gasoline, therefore, make perfectly good sense to me. When technologies replace—or reduce the amount of—gasoline required for the operation of automobiles, the public revenue lost to more efficient gasoline engines or electric-powered vehicles must come from alternatives to gas taxes. Fees levied on electric vehicles or hybrids can provide those alternative revenue streams. Arguments might be made that users of such vehicles deserve rewards of some sort to recognize environmental responsibility, but I do not think reductions in road use taxes are appropriate ways to acknowledge good environmental stewardship. Perhaps, though, increased gasoline taxes levied on users of gasoline-powered vehicles should be implemented. Such “penalties,” over and above what is required for roadway maintenance, could be used to partially fund more environmentally responsible modes of public transportation. A negative aspect of higher gasoline taxes is that they would place proportionally greater financial burdens on low income users. That greater financial burden could be reduced by implementing reductions in income tax rates for people whose incomes fall below specific threshold limits. Whether my ideas are valid or not, I suspect solutions can be developed that will provide necessary public funds as well as ensure fairness in shared burdens. The place to start is to acknowledge that all users of public means of transportation have a responsibility to pay for the privilege.

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The greatest tragedy for any human being is going through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own.

~ Doug Baldwin ~

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Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.

~ Sterling K. Brown ~

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I have so much to learn, but not nearly enough time to learn it.

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Long Ago

Yesterday, just after mi novia returned from her visit to the urgent care clinic in Hot Springs (where her COVID-19 test came back negative—but she has a very bad cold), a little herd of deer appeared in the woods behind our house. Numbering at least ten, the group comprised what I judged to be several full-grown does and a few relatively young fawns. Based on an article I read about herds of deer, at least one or two (and perhaps more) probably were immature bucks that are too young to fraternize with their antlered male elders.

Standing at the windows on one side of the breakfast nook, we watched for at least five or ten minutes as the creatures frolicked and fed on the little greenery visible above thick layers of fallen leaves. Living in a house nestled in the natural world is a gift; I contemplate my good fortune, grateful that I stumbled into something akin to paradise.

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All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.

~ Jean Vanier ~

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The new coffee maker arrived yesterday morning around 10 and I put it to immediate use. Sitting at my desk, alternating between sips of strong, hot coffee from one cup and cool, clear water from another, I decided that’s the way to enjoy the morning. The heat and the intense flavor of coffee, counterbalanced by cool water, is magical.

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I hold French President Emmanuel Macron in high regard, though I know relatively little about him. The way he expresses himself is at once sophisticated and casual, suggestive of a person who is comfortable in his own skin and conscious of his cultural milieu. An opinion piece published online at CNN.com quoted an English translation of his Twitter feed, describing the French national dish—the baguette—as “250 grams of magic and perfection.” I love that sort of over-the-top hyperbole; it is the sort of grandiose comment I might make about something so common as a loaf of bread. But of course I share his admiration for the French baguette. It is not just a loaf of bread; it represents the struggles and the triumphs of the French people over centuries.

I pity people who consider food as mere sustenance. Such people are beyond dull. They lack the creativity and vibrancy that contribute to the enjoyment of life. They tend to focus only on the negative aspects of their environments. If those in their spheres allow it, they smother with gloomy outlooks and deep pessimism the happiness and childish appreciation that accompany simple pleasures.

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I had a dream last night that began in a Chevrolet dealer’s showroom. Someone—I cannot remember who—accompanied me as I waded through a disinterested clot of salespeople in an effort to test drive and perhaps buy a Corvette. Finally, we were directed to a cubicle where a man glumly offered us chairs. A few minutes later, another unenthusiastic man arrived and engaged me in conversation that seemed intent on revealing that I was “only looking.” I got the impression that he did not believe I was truly interested; he assumed I was financially incapable of buying an expensive car. That notwithstanding, he finally has us follow him across a parking lot that was overgrown with weeds to a car that I learned later in the dream was a 1999 Corvette. The salesman sat in the seat beside me and my companion somehow managed to climb in the car and sit behind me. The salesman directed me to cross over a freeway to a feeder road and then drive a short distance. The car’s ride was rough and the brakes were very bad. I found it difficult to stop the car when necessary, but I somehow managed to avoid hitting anything. We arrived at a ramshackle building, where we went inside and discovered a resale shop with old furniture and soft, hand-woven blankets. The salesman wandered off, engaged in conversation with the resale shop’s owner. Apparently, the salesman brought a dog along on the ride and my companion and I were left to lead the dog around the store on a leash made of thin monofilament fishing line that seemed to be perpetually tangled. At some point, my friend and I decided to drive back to the dealership, where we met with the glum man with whom we first met. We explained that we had left the salesman at the resale shop; the glum guy called the salesman, who asked that we return to give him a ride back. As we were driving back, we saw the salesman drive by us in another rather old, worn Corvette.

I had a hard time getting into and out of the Corvette, which convinced me not to buy one—even though a new car would almost certainly be more comfortable and more responsive. Still, I thought, it would be low to the ground, designed for someone younger and more agile. But it wasn’t so much the car that dissuaded me from buying; it was the arrogance and attitude of the salesman. He treated me as if my interest was artificial and that I was wasting his time. I did not like him from the moment we met. My dream seemed to end abruptly when I saw him driving by after asking that I return to give him a ride back to the dealership. Ach!

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I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

~ Pablo Neruda ~

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This morning, I happened on a post I wrote about nine years ago. It generated several comments, including one I found particularly moving. Returning to the past on occasion has value. It reminds us of who we were before circumstances changed us into who we are. Everyone is in a state of constant change, morphing from who we were to who we are and, then, who we will be. Events expose us to revision; they revise us in ways we cannot anticipate. Life and circumstances edit us as if we were a manuscript. And, indeed, we are manuscripts. Just drafts of who we will be at that moment when no more revisions are possible.

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A Welcoming Place

Damn! Mi novia is on her way to the “convenient care” clinic in Hot Springs, where she expects to be tested for COVID-19. If the test is positive, confirming the home test she administered this morning, she (and I) hope she is given the latest medication intended to treat the virus, minimizing its effects.

EDIT: The test was negative! It’s just a common cold! I am more than a little ecstatic about that!

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My driveway, which I cleared of leaves two days ago and which remained nearly leaf-free yesterday, is again littered with leaves. And not just a few. The entire concrete surface looks like it was purposely decorated with yellow and orange leaves, most of which fell from the Bradford pear tree overnight. On the one hand, I think Bradford pear trees are quite attractive and provide substantial amounts of shade. On the other, they are weak and prone to shed enormous volumes of leaves. Strong winds snap their branches like delicate toothpicks. Once all the leaves have fallen, we will arrange to have the tree trimmed so the branches do not overhand the roof of the house and to minimize the likelihood the big, brittle branches will not damage the roof with every gust of wind.

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I wish I had a friend capable of relieving my back pain by giving me a professional back massage. Not only capable, of course, but willing. Lacking someone with both the ability and the inclination, I suppose I’ll have to resort to approaching a stranger for the treatment. Not just any stranger, mind you; a professional masseuse or masseur whose hands have sufficient strength and stamina to massage my back for an hour or more.

The idea of relying on a friend to provide a much-desired massage is based simply on my wished-for frequency and timeframe of treatment. I suspect asking a professional to come around at all hours of the day and night might be viewed with suspicion. But, then, a friend might look at it the same way. Perhaps a massage chair is the answer, rather than a living, breathing massage therapist. Or maybe not. Correcting my posture might help, too. Ach. Time will tell.

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For the last couple of days, I have been reading news stories about a missing seven-year-old girl, Athena Strand, who lived in Cottondale, Texas, a community northwest of Fort Worth. I suppose it was the little girl’s photo that captured my attention and interest. The image—of a sweet, innocent child—and limited details about her disappearance made me feel a knot in the pit of my stomach; I hoped she would be found safe, but I feared her body would be found, instead. This morning, I read that the child’s body was found last night. A thirty-one-year-old contract Fed-Ex delivery driver has been charged with capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in the case. While I do not know whether he confessed to the crime, the Wise County sheriff said the suspect provided information that led investigators to the little girl’s body.

I do not support the death penalty, but I find it very hard—damn near impossible—to argue against killing the killer of that child. Though I think the perpetrator must be mentally ill to have kidnapped and killed the child, I cannot find it in me to have compassion for him. Yet I do not know the full story, so my rage against the man who has been arrested could be misplaced. I cannot be absolutely certain the Fed-Ex driver is the one who killed the child, though I am quite confident he is guilty. And, even if I were presented with proof of his guilt, I cannot know what went through his mind when he abducted and murdered Athena Strand. My compassion flows freely to the little girl’s family and friends and neighbors. My hesitance about calling for the death penalty for the killer would almost certainly enrage the child’s parents. The girl’s abduction and death leave me feeling an irreconcilable conflict between murderous rage and humanitarian protection for the mentally unbalanced killer. My distaste for taking the man’s life might disappear if I were chosen to perform his execution. I think my principles might well dissolve into white-hot hatred and a willingness to mete out my inhuman take on justice. I can only imagine the rage and emptiness and unquenchable sadness the girl’s parents must feel. Life can be impossibly painful.

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I bought a ready-to-bake apple pie yesterday. I had planned to bake it today, but that plan may be derailed for various reasons. The fact that I still have not received the coffee maker to replace the one that died does not help. Pie and coffee, together, recall a few vague memories of those rare occasions when I would travel with Dad when he drove from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande valley to visit lumberyards, which were his customers (he was a lumber wholesaler). We sometimes stopped at small town diners, where we had coffee and pie (though I think I may have had milk, rather than coffee).  My father liked his coffee strong and black, a preference I adopted when I began drinking coffee. I think my preference for black coffee—no creamer, no sugar—was modeled after him.

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If I were alone in the world, my inhibitions would disappear. I would not worry what others might say or think if I were to create (or, at least, attempt to create) an enormous sculpture in front of my house. I would not hesitate to risk failure by trying new endeavors. I would classify my life as an experiment, always ready to be conducted without regard for the consequences of either success or failure. Alas, I am too human. Others’ opinions matter to me. Sometimes too much. I’m going to work on that. Whether the world likes it or not.

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We watched the first two episodes of Three Pines last night. I have not read any of the books by Louise Penny, but I think I might, based on watching the two episodes last night. I have a sense that the books from which the series emerged seem to appeal primarily to women. I am not sure why I have that sense; but it does not matter to me, anyway. I find simple crime/detective stories appealing for some reason. Decent people in stereotypically harsh, hard-nosed roles seem at once to reflect reality and pure fantasy. Odd, that. Cynics and skeptics probably would not enjoy the books or the series; but I am a cynical skeptic, so that theory is immediately shot full of holes. Oh, well. Life is more complex than we sometimes make it out to be.

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Enjoy your day. And your life. Sing. Laugh. Make others laugh. The world will thereby become a better, more welcoming place.

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Adjustments

An hour ago, it was four in the morning. It’s five o’clock as I write this. During the time between the two moments, nothing of consequence happened in my life. At least nothing I know about. It is possible, of course, that deterioration took place in my brain or my heart or various other of the organs crucial to my survival, but I remain blissfully unaware of those changes.  I go blithely about my business, ignorant of what might be taking place in my body. I am semi-conscious of changes in my mental state as I wade through the moments available to me, but I do not know what transformations might be occurring in my physical form. My ignorance is not unique, of course. Few of us have even an inkling of how biology is changing us, second by second. Only when the changes present themselves in unmistakable ways do we pay sufficient attention to them. By then, we may or may not be able to stop or reverse those adjustments—if, indeed, they suggest a need or desire to do so. In those cases in which the changes have passed the tipping point, we truly are powerless. We simply must adjust to what may be a deeply undesirable reality. But in making adjustments, we may not actually be powerless; we may respond in ways that recognize certain routes are closed to us, but we may seek alternatives.

My lung cancer diagnosis four years ago is a case in point. I could not prevent the cancer from growing and spreading, but the surgeon and oncologist and radiologist could—with my cooperation. The alternative was to live without the lobe of my lung that had been quietly attempting to kill me. My post-surgery experience is different from my life before the diagnosis. I have less stamina. I have various other physical symptoms related to the absence of a piece of me. But I have adjusted—sometimes quite begrudgingly—to “a deeply undesirable reality.” Before I accepted that adjustment, I briefly considered letting nature take its course. I decided, though, I could not do that to my wife.

Two years later, though, no matter how many adjustments she might have been willing to make, the deterioration of her heart left her unable to make adjustments to save her life. But I still wonder whether I could have done something different in my care for her; something that would have spared her five months of lonely “rehabilitation” that ultimately let to her death. I tell myself there was nothing more I could do. I try to acknowledge that I cannot change the past and that second-guessing myself has no valid purpose. That attempt at self-salvation falls flat. Some days the grey cloud of depression makes me struggle to breathe. Sometimes I would rather just stop. But I cannot do that to mi novia or to anyone to whom I matter. I  overcome the urge to quit; I move on. I shove the anger and depression into a hidden compartment in my brain where I want it to dissolve into an innocuous mist of memory.

Maybe it is the Christmas season that causes my depression to surface. It was during this season two years ago that my wife died, six days before Christmas. That season was dark and painful. But I am determined that this Christmas season will be brighter and better. Mi novia has decorated the house with lights and candles and seasonal decorations that lift my spirits. I want this season to bring her cheer and pleasure. It’s odd, though, the competition between joy and sorrow; between happiness and mourning. Regardless, I will keep the greyness at bay.

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Lullaby

The headline reads, “AP’s top 2022 photos capture a planet bursting at the seams.” The contents of the collection of photographs are fascinating. Some images are moving; others, deeply disturbing. Taken as a whole, they offer perspectives on life and death that accentuate the differences between the usually sedate experiences of middle-class America and the chaotic fury of the rest of the world.

Casually flipping through the images would be a mistake. Only by gazing intently at each image is it possible to grasp the intensity of living through calamities unlike any we could otherwise imagine. Only by trying to imagine the feelings of terror, rage, elation, pain, and all the other emotions captured on the faces of the people in the photographs can we even begin to appreciate our extreme good fortune. Even our most difficult struggles or most spectacular achievements cannot compare to life outside the bubbles in which we live. Glimpsing powerful moments shaping the lives of strangers a world away left me with a jumble of feelings—immeasurable gratitude, extreme sympathy, gut-wrenching emptiness, deep hopelessness, boundless admiration.

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I will make another trip to Little Rock next week, a follow-up to yesterday’s visit. New tires yesterday. New rear brake pads next week. Though the demands of maintaining an aging car can be frustrating, having the wherewithal to meet those demands illustrates the meaning of “good fortune.” I could have had the work done yesterday, but I might have had to sit idle for another three or four hours. Instead, I opted to return home to blow leaves off the driveway and the street in front of my house. By returning very early one morning next week, my wait time should be considerably less than it would have been yesterday. Even counting the time required to drive to and from Little Rock, I will “save time” by returning next week. I sometimes wonder whether my impatience causes me to develop a mild case of insanity; though it may be that my insanity is responsible for my impatience. And it may not be particularly mild.

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While I tended to my aging car’s needs yesterday, mi novia joined some of her friends for lunch and a fashion show. The idea of fashion shows holds no appeal for me. Even if a fashion show were to provide an excuse for me to join friends for a jaunt into town for conversation and a meal, I probably would opt out of the experience. I suppose the differences in socialization between males and females of our species are largely responsible for males’ disinterest in such diversions; socialization in that realm of experience “took hold” for me. But socialization into most male-centric activities did not “take.” I have no interest in watching or talking about sports. Or playing golf. Or tinkering with cars. Or hunting. The absence of those areas of interest is largely responsible, I suppose, for my paucity of male friends and my distinct preference for the company of females. But socialization—of both males and females—also is responsible for the limitations of my social engagements, I suspect. I would not feel comfortable inviting friends of the opposite sex, married or not, to join me on overnight road trips to explore interesting places. And whether I felt comfortable or not, I doubt that comfort would last long in the face of the discomfort experienced by others in my personal and social realms. Even inviting a female friend to accompany me for lunch and conversation in connection with my car service appointment probably would cause discomfort to spread like wildfire. Husbands, other friends, acquaintances, and even strangers likely would interpret the invitation as a sinister move. And if the invitation were accepted, the wildfire might erupt into a nuclear conflagration. Perhaps the drama and intrigue of such matters is why I find solitude so appealing; I would rather eat and travel alone than worry about the consequence of jealousy.

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El Mercado Latino in Little Rock in the past has been a source for me for pork & jalapeño tamales. This morning, I sent a Facebook message to the store, inquiring as to the availability of tamales. I could make my own, but it would be more of an undertaking than I would like to pursue by myself—and it’s been years since I made tamales. I doubt I know enough people with enough interest to merit organizing a tamalada (that’s a tamale-making party, for the uninitiated). My rare childhood recollections include memories of buying tamales from people who, at the time, I considered “little old Mexican grandmothers.” I suspect those “little old Mexican grandmothers” were not necessarily old, nor were they necessarily grandmothers. They were just women who made extra Christmas money by making and selling tamales, continuing a tradition that probably began with their own grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers (and so on) in Mexico. I have enormous respect and regard for Mexican culture, especially Mexican culture rooted in el campo.  I suspect my admiration owes to long forgotten memories from my early childhood in Brownsville, Texas. And Corpus Christi, too. South Texas culture is imbued with Mexican influences. Despite a fairly significant sense of underlying racist superiority, South Texas Anglo culture is inextricably linked to, and grudgingly appreciates, its Mexican past.

***Edit before publication: I heard back from El Mercado Latino at 6:40 a.m. They sell fresh tamales Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; I need only to tell them what day and time I plan to pick them up! Life can be so gratifying!

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The damn owls are making too much noise! No, that is not true. But they are asserting themselves. Their “voices” are loud and entertaining. I wish I could see an owl; just so I could equate the sound with the actual creature.

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I am tired. Very tired. I’ve been up for two and one-half hours, without coffee, and I feel the need for rest. I may sit in a recliner and let my daydreams lull me to sleep.

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Renewal

A thousand thoughts flood my head. They have no theme; they compete with one another, a chaotic tangle of unrelated ideas, memories, dreams, and desires. Many of them…or is it most of them?…are unsuitable for sharing here. Or anywhere. They reveal irrational fears and grandiose wishes and an assortment of thoughts that might label me a danger to myself or others if I were to expose them to the harsh light of public view. Not dangerous to myself as if I were contemplating doing myself harm. More like the dangers inherent in crossing a busy interstate highway—blindfolded and on foot. Risk is as close as I can come to expressing those unsuitable thoughts. Why would I be in the mood to take risks? The simplest explanation might be because plunging into the unknown is the surest way to broaden one’s knowledge of matters about which one knows little or nothing.

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Sometimes, I enjoy time behind the wheel of my car, alone. Solitude gives me time to process my thoughts without the distraction of interacting with others. But I do not relish the lonely drive to Little Rock this morning—not because I am in the mood for conversation, but because sometimes…like today…I desire the quiet presence of another person. Mi novia has other plans today, so she will not accompany me on my trip to buy new tires and deal with other automobile-related matters. Circumstances like these remind me that I am, by nature, something of a loner, but one who does not always appreciate being alone. Driving alone to Little Rock this morning is not particularly consequential. I’ve done it dozens of times, many of them while in the same state of mind in which I find myself now. Today is just another day like so many others. Music and musing will be my traveling companions.

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Though I make coffee every morning, I do not drink much. Often, I replace half a cup of cold coffee with a new cup, of which I also drink only part. Writing tends to divert my attention away, leaving an abandoned hot drink to cool to the point that it holds no interest to me. But even though I normally consume only a cup or so, that cup has long been an important part of the start to my day. This morning, thanks to yesterday’s death of my coffee maker, I do not have a cup of coffee on the desk. The infusion of caffeine on which I apparently depend—at least to some extent—is unavailable. I can either delay my consumption of coffee this morning until the nearest coffee shop opens or I can forego coffee. Which choice I make depends in large part on mi novia‘s interest in going out for coffee. I look forward to receiving the coffee-producing device we bought yesterday. It should arrive within just a few days. I count the hours.

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The Lørenskog Disappearance, which Netflix labels a “limited series,” is a Norwegian crime drama based on real events. Having watched four of five episodes of what IMBd calls “season one,” I look forward to learning whatever episode five reveals. But I do not know with certainty whether season one constitutes the entire story. I suppose time will tell, as is usually the case.

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Writing does not suit me this morning. When I look out the window and see leaves littering the driveway and the street and the forest, the idea of writing anything seems preposterous. If I compare the value of my writing to the value of a thousand trees losing their leaves, my writing withers in importance. So I will stop trying, for now. Instead, I will attempt to understand the energy that flows from roots to leaves to soil and back into  roots; a perpetual cycle of decay and renewal .

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Mystical Morning

At what point does a hug become an embrace? Where is the threshold between a “peck” or a “smooch” and a kiss? How long must a handshake last before it becomes “holding hands?” Intimacy, like so many other experiences, is a matter of degrees. Rarely do we attempt to articulate the means by which we measure levels of personal engagement; but when we do, we find those measures almost impossible to quantify. Each of us, individually, just “know” the limits beyond which acceptable interactions change into awkward, unsettling experiences. Yet those individual limits differ from one person to the next. So, for example, one person may be perfectly comfortable giving someone a long, leisurely hug, while the recipient might feel uncomfortable—to the point that she feels as if the arms wrapped around her constitutes something akin to molestation.

Everyone has his own comfort zones and, conversely, discomfort zones. Except for almost imperceptible clues given by people with whom we interact, we might regularly stumble across personal boundaries. Yet when we try to precisely define those clues and those boundaries—and how we know whether and when they have been crossed—we are unsure how we know them; only that we do. Interestingly, the degree to which identical intimate behaviors are considered acceptable—or, in fact, are welcomed—can depend on the context in which they occur.  In the company of others, an embrace (whatever that is) may be perfectly acceptable, but if it takes place with no one else present, it can be awkward and uncomfortable (or exciting and desirable).

Depending on the relationship between people, a discussion of the matters addressed in the two paragraphs above can be either intriguing and educational or delicate and embarrassing. Through unspoken communication, we “know” almost automatically which will be true. The languages of human relationships are enormously complex. We learn many of those languages through simple observation. Knowledge of others comes only from excruciating experience.

Food for thought. Or flavors that prompt one to feel the need to fast or, at least, diet.

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I have thin skin. Literally. My skin used to seem thick, like a flexible protective coating. Now, though, it is thin and it looks brittle, though it is not. It is not brittle, but it is delicate; easily torn or otherwise damaged. Hidden beneath that diaphanous layer, blood flows through veins so narrow the cells must align themselves in single-file to fit through those conduits. A person could become so deeply absorbed in the intricacies of the cells and tissues and organs of his own body that he could not notice the passage of time. Days and nights and weeks and months could go by during one’s focused examination of his skin, he nails, and the almost invisible hairs that grow from his skin. A person could get lost in fascination with the way the epithelial cells align on his arms, creating striated patterns that look like mountain ranges viewed from a satellite circling a hundred miles above Earth. Imagine a conversation with a friend; a conversation that mimics these observations. If both parties to the conversation were to open up completely about the dialogue, the pair would become close. That’s what sharing intense thoughts and observations tends to do. It brings people close. It makes them feel like they are sharing intimate secrets. Or it fills one or both of them with abject fear of exploring the unknown. Often, though, we do not know which, until it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

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The pain in my clavicle has almost completely disappeared. The six-day course of steroids has done the trick, at least temporarily. I hope it lasts. But the pain in my shoulder when I reach with my arm comes quickly and intensely. It feels the way I imagine a knife to the shoulder would feel. I need to learn not to reach. Just stay immobile. Painkillers would be nice. Powerful stuff that would make me feel warm and comfortable and free of pain and worry. I think I may understand why people turn to illicit drugs; I suspect those chemicals can erase physical discomfort and can replace emotional pain with elation. Experiencing such ecstasy just once could leave a person hopelessly addicted; not necessarily to the joy, but to the absence of of agony.

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Tomorrow, I will buy four new tires. And I hope the cause of my dash brake light illuminating on sharp right turns will be discovered and corrected. Today, I will think and act and consider all sorts of things. I will indulge my fantasies and attempt to suppress anger that might bubble to the surface. I will listen to the rain and watch the leaves continue to fall, littering the driveway and the street and the forest beyond. So many things to occupy my mind and my time. Time to light another cone of incense, letting the aroma of patchouli transport me to another time and place. That, I hope, will distract me from the fact that my coffee maker died this morning before it could produce even a single cup of French roast coffee. The fact that coffee is unavailable this morning is enough to cause me to worry; how will I cope? I will be fine. I have done without coffee for months at a time in years past. I can do it again if I must. I can substitute water for coffee. I can be an ascetic for a day. And I can order a new coffee maker while I experience the refreshing feeling of swallowing cold water. If I focus my attention on the way water makes me feel, I will be happy and enlightened. And I will. I will, indeed.

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The Lesson of Empires

The evidence is pervasive, yet imprecise. Suggestions that the empire created and controlled by the United States is faltering meet with disdain. And revelations that illustrate the scope and rate of decline are harshly criticized. People uncovering clues and confirmation of the empire’s impending fall—or simply calling attention to indisputable facts—are labelled traitors. And the information they share is dismissed as bogus. Or, if pieces of the evidence are incontrovertible, politicians and other public figures claim those facts and figures are subject to improper interpretation. Most of the rest of us, though we feel uneasy about the apparent deterioration of the power and predominance of our culture, tend to reluctantly accept—at least for the moment—assurances that our position is so strong that is, effectively, eternal.

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.

~ Leonardo da Vinci ~

Whether or not we accept promises that the Western world is and will remain preeminent does not matter. Our society is unwilling to adapt and make changes that might preserve our superior influence. Because we view the flexibility and compromise that could both save our global leadership and boost the power of “lesser” cultures as evidence of weakness, we stubbornly cling to behaviors that accelerate and ensure our unfortunate destiny as a failed empire. Attitudes reflected in assertions that “our power cannot be successfully challenged” or that “it can’t happen here” virtually guarantee that we will be unable to change course, once we pass the tipping point. Or, perhaps, we already may have reached the tipping point.

Nationalism and chauvinism and individualism and runaway patriotism pave the road to ruin. All while we patiently observe the disappearance of opportunities to transform from dominance to equality. Dominance has been our objective for a long while and we seem unwilling to relinquish it. We mistakenly accept the premise that, without dominance, we would be forced to accept inferiority. In reality, the voluntary abandonment of dominance would lead to equality. Yet equality, we seem to believe, robs us of superior power.

We have been indoctrinated to believe that the absence of control is equivalent to subservience. And, so, we accept that we need an overwhelmingly powerful military whose tools of war are meant to preserve the control to which we have become accustomed. Western society has long since accepted armed conflict as the ultimate means of securing and maintaining dominance.

The disputes—and highly visible political clashes—between progressive and conservatives are simply distractions from the plunge into inferiority and irrelevance. Despite what appears to be an enormously powerful urge to hold onto world dominance, we remain blind to the fact that our very arrogance and the exercise of control that demands obedience are the chief reasons the empire is collapsing around us. The scene is like a slow-motion video, in which cars traveling from four directions speed toward one another at a central point. A witness holding the camera can see what is coming, but cannot get the attention of the drivers until it is too late to swerve to avoid a collision. We could divert the cars well before the crash takes place, but in doing so we would relinquish our claims to the contents of the cars, something we are unwilling to do. So, we just wait for the inevitable explosion and fire which will leave us in possession of twisted metal, broken glass, and ashes.

 

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Permanence

I can be deeply passionate about ideas and people and experiences and the world in general. But the depth of those passions varies, both between and among the objects of my passion. My own inconsistencies trouble me. I wish I could control the strength of my thoughts about matters I feel are important. But if I had the ability to control those degrees of strength, I would be someone else; not me. So, the question comes to my mind: would I rather have that control, thereby becoming someone else, or do I wish to remain who I am? And that question raises another: at what point do changes in one’s personality cross the line between transformation and replacement? How different could I be from who I am and still be me? When does the transformation between the old me and the new me result in the elimination of the old version and the creation of the new one?

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I took a break from blogging for a few hours this morning, opting to direct my attention elsewhere for a while. Returning to my study, I looked out the windows to see half-naked trees whose brilliant orange leaves cover less of the dark brown bark than they did yesterday and several days before. The stunning beauty of a mixed hardwood forest in autumn is hard for Nature to match. Integrating evidence of human activities by way of windows and driveways and decorative figures with a sea of natural beauty, the view outside is breathtaking. We are fortunate to live where and when we do. Despite the horrors of humankind, humanity has enormous potential that, if ever fulfilled, can firmly announce the glory of life on Earth.

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There’s a fantasy in which I steal away one night, leaving everything and everyone behind, including myself. I take only what money is available to me. When I reach a distant destination, I present myself as someone utterly unlike the man I was. Instead of someone who spent the majority of his career chained to a desk, I might claim to have been an itinerant preacher who practiced an unknown religion. Or I might be extremely secretive about my past, causing people I meet to wonder about my history. Would that curiosity be based on interest or fear?

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“Boredom.” What, exactly, is it? A dictionary definition of the word asserts that boredom means a state of weariness related to dullness, tedious repetition, unwelcome attentions, etc. While I will admit to being bored from time to time, I cannot quite understand how that state of mind comes to be. Children seem to be bored more often than their elders, which is contrary to my observation that children are far more likely than adults to be consumed by curiosity. Curiosity is the antithesis of boredom, though the Thesaurus I consult regularly does not label “curiosity” an antonym of boredom (yet “interest” is listed among the fewer than ten words that qualify as a word opposite in meaning to “boredom”). The meaning of the words, though, is not as consequential as the emotional state(s) to which the words apply.  How, I wonder, with all the gaps in our knowledge surrounding the world around us, can we effectively reject the attraction of literally billions of facts and circumstances around us? How can we claim insufficient opportunities exist to think about or engage in fascinating activities? Should not the chance to fill the gaps in our knowledge of our surroundings, or the world at large, readily overcome “boredom?”

Despite the logic that rejects the very concept of boredom, boredom is exceedingly common. There are days, for instance, when I feel dull and uninterested in even the most fascinating subjects. While one day I might be deeply intrigued to learn how the flavors of sweet foods often are more appealing than is the taste of a perfectly tasty vegetable, the next I have no interest in the subject whatsoever. Or my deep interest in learning about the religions and customs of distant cultures may dissolve in certain circumstances; instead of being replaced by something else equally as compelling, I might allow myself to wallow in pervasive disinterest.

I suspect the problem of boredom arises not from disinterest, though, but from a precipitous decline in mental energy. Perhaps boredom occurs in response to inadequate nutrition, which deprives one’s brains of the fuel for complex thought. Maybe it is not just a paucity of foods but, instead, an aberration in the body’s ability to process vitamins or minerals or other sources of either mental or physical energy (or both). There may be a thousand other contributors, any one of which could be a more important cause than another.

Suddenly, as I write about a topic that captures my imagination, my interest in it flags. There is much more to think about, to cogitate over, and to contemplate; but the fuel that powered that interest seems to have been used up. That may not be the reason for the decline in my curiosity, though. Instead, my interest may be re-directed by way of disconnected thoughts, whether related or not, that hold more power over me in the moment.

I wish I were not inclined to shift mental gears so quickly, leaving patterns of my thinking unfinished. Thoughts that anchored me to ideas and issues can vaporize without warning, leaving me inexplicably bored until the next fascinating mental image comes along.

It is not just ideas that lose their luster for me. The same can occur with people I think I might find interesting or attractive. The attraction of a person about whom I am extremely curious can disappear, leaving me thinking someone I considered intriguingly three-dimensional is, in reality, flat and one-dimensional. Fortunately, that does not often happen with people I know well; usually only with casual acquaintances and strangers. This situation, though, causes me to question the legitimacy of the idea about nutrition’s role in boredom.

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Too many words, sentences, and paragraphs. I long for the supremely simple existence reflected in brevity. One day, perhaps soon, I may revert to an old standby: haiku.

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Stimulation

I observe far more than I participate. In virtually every facet of life. Television and film were created for people like me; voyeurs who obtain satisfaction from watching and listening to strangers who intentionally behave in ways that are contrary to their “real” personas. Actors are exhibitionists who derive pleasure from being watched while they pretend to be people with whom they may share almost no common characteristics. Actors and watchers require one another to achieve their desired states of intellectual and emotional pleasure. “Intellectual pleasure.” That seems an impossibility or, at least, contrary to the idea that is so well integrated into the emotional relationship between actors and watchers; the “emotional pleasure” of which I write. Why, I wonder, do we find pleasure in dispensing with our attention to the real world around us in favor of allowing ourselves to be misled into shared fantasies? That philosophical question warrants long, meandering conversations between people whose inhibitions are suppressed by the consumption of mind-altering substances—marijuana, alcohol, etc. I am more than a little reticent to try anything stronger, yet I have a strong interest in knowing, first-hand, the effects of cocaine and its dangerous and addictive cousins. LSD, for one, seems—from what I have heard and read—like it could deliver either ecstasy or unparalleled terror. Perhaps before my expiration date arrives I will summon the courage to experiment with stuff that both terrifies and fills me with sensual craving.

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What value do I have? That question can be answered with a long list to readily sweep away a sense of worthlessness. But most of the items on that list carry artificial meaning that, on close inspection, do not convey real value. An honest assessment of the question leads one to a discovery: value and necessity do not necessarily live in the same philosophical realm. Value often is subjective and intensely personal; necessity is objective and universal. Now, would I rather be valuable or should I strive, instead, to be necessary? Necessity holds no magic, whereas value hones necessity and makes it shine. They are related, but they are not one and the same. Another philosophical nugget worthy of conversation and contemplation.

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I do not remember with certainty who expressed disdain on hearing about my past efforts to test and improve my discipline. Whoever it was, she said my endeavors were pointless wastes of energy and time. She suggested there were dozens of better ways to test myself, though I do not recall that she made any specific recommendations. This morning, as I think about my experiences of doing without, I believe those experiments caused me to examine aspects of myself that I might otherwise have ignored. Those aspects of my personality do not necessarily define me to any significant degree, but they contribute to who I am. I remain convinced my pursuit of doing without prompted me to ask myself important questions; and to answer them honestly, even when the answers were uncomfortable or troubling.

Here is how I described, four years ago, the concept of doing without, that took place roughly eleven years earlier, after the several-months-long  process took place:

My original plan was to begin with doing without coffee for the first month, alcohol the second month, meat the third month, and so on. I had in mind that I would practice this for one full year. For each deprivation, I would reward myself with a replacement. It was, essentially, controlled asceticism with a reward for sacrifice.

So, about fifteen years ago I engaged in doing without for several months. For one month at a time, I gave up something I enjoyed. Alcohol one month, coffee another, meat another, and so on, substituting something else in their place. So, in some sense, I did not really give anything up; I simply traded one thing for another. Though I remain convinced the experiment had value, it did little to truly test my discipline.

Subsequent to my initial experiences, I made a few half-hearted efforts at reprising the doing without experiment. But those exercises did not last long. I lost interest, I suppose. Or I discovered that my discipline was in tatters. Or something like that.

In late July this year, an episode of extreme abdominal pain sent me to the hospital, where the staff determined I was suffering from acute pancreatitis. Before I was released from the hospital, I was told to make some radical changes to my diet: dramatically reduce my intake of fatty foods including meats, cut down considerably on the consumption of cheese, and eliminate alcohol, among other things. For tangentially related reasons, I also was advised to refrain from consuming foods with a lot of sugar. In the four months since my release from the hospital, I have followed those recommendations reasonably closely, except for sugar. I, who have never been overly-enamored of sweets, have found sugar-laden foods more appealing. Almost irresistible, in many cases. But cutting out alcohol has been no problem, though I do especially miss the occasional glass of wine or gin & tonic. And eliminating bacon and most other fatty meats has not presented a challenge. Cheeses, though, sometimes call too loudly to me to ignore them. That prescription requires more attention; more discipline than I have heretofore exhibited.

I find it interesting that one aspect of my dietary restrictions that seems to capture the attention of people around me is the elimination of alcohol. I have been asked by several people whether I will be able to gradually reintroduce alcohol consumption to my life. And I have been asked whether I find doing without that product is difficult. Perhaps I was over-indulging in alcohol; otherwise, I wonder why people would hone in on that dietary restriction over the others? It’s something for me to consider. And I will. But more than that, I will give my mental energies over to doing without or cutting back on other things, especially sweets. But I may give myself a distant target—the new calendar year—to begin the process. In the interim, I will continue to practice what has become second nature. That is, I will avoid overconsumption of fatty meats, I will refrain from consuming alcohol, and I will be more discerning in eating cheese products.

The degree of success in exercising personal discipline divulges quite a lot about a person, I think.  My past (and recent and ongoing) failures in that facet of my life reveals that I have work to do. I will challenge myself in many ways, with the objective of determining whether I have sufficient self-control to permit myself to take pride in who I am and what I do.  Time will tell whether that is reality or simply another fantasy.

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I did not set foot out of the house yesterday. Black Friday hibernation. Staying inside and away from my car requires some self-control. I enjoy getting in the car and driving; just seeing what there is to see along the roadside. That has no value to the world in which we live, except that it might contribute to staying (or getting) sane. Both practices—vegetating indoors and filling the air with automotive pollutants—keep me from being productive in ways that matter. I get antsy when I force myself to stay inside. I want to be productive in some way, but I cannot seem to be capable of determining what kind of productivity will both satisfy me and make some sort of meaningful contribution to the world in which I live. That, too, merits my attention. And my action.

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Tin Star, the series we have been watching of late, combines the best and the worst of televised entertainment. The plot is absurdly complex, convoluted, and utterly unbelievable. The production mistakes are numerous, their sloppy obviousness almost impossible to miss. The “protagonist” is so thoroughly unlikeable as to trigger a desire in me to seek him out and kill him, which would be a gift to humankind. The eyes of one of the characters look artificial, their whites visible all the way around the iris as if open as wide as possible; the appearance of her eyes makes her look perpetually in a state of abject terror. There’s more. Much more. But something about the show draws me in; I cannot overlook the program’s innumerable flaws, but despite their magnitude I feel compelled to sit through every episode. On one hand, I want to watch something else…something better conceived and executed than Tin Star. On the other, I am drawn to it, like a moth to a flame or an observer to a grotesque and bloody traffic accident. I look forward to the program’s end so I can comfortably watch something else. Something like a foreign police procedural or an intense action flick supported by superb acting and intellectually stimulating story line.

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If I had more interest in a large audience for my posts, I would dramatically reduce the volume of words I deploy in writing them. And I would identify and stick with a theme. My posts would be brief and would incite readers to think deeply about matters they find interesting and important. But, obviously, I write for other reasons. Compelling reasons. Reasons over which I have little or no control. But that’s not true, is it? I do have control over when, what, and how much I write. Knowing my writing is too long and dull for most people, I still continue to produce long, unhinged, mind-numbingly unnecessary stuff. If the right psychologist were to take the time to read every post I have made to this blog, 4171 and counting, he or she might be able to produce an assessment of who and why I am. Maybe. I have been unable to make any such assessment; at least any assessment that contains even a shred of believability.

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It is after 9. I cannot believe I am so late in finishing this overly-long post. Perhaps whatever it is that compels me to write is especially strong today. Perhaps something I do not understand is filling me with enough emotional fuel to force me to stay at the keyboard, letting words drip from my fingers and make their way to Ether-World. Which is what I call everything outside my understanding.

Good day to you who has read this far. I would embrace you in appreciation, if only I knew who you were.

 

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Fluorescence

Here we are, Black Friday, the day set aside annually to worship avarice, excess, gluttony—unchecked greed.

Capitalism may have numerous admirable qualities, but too often they hide beneath layer upon layer of hideous flaws. I remember news reports from years gone by of people being crushed beneath the feet of bargain-hungry crowds, impatient to grab spectacularly low-priced deals. Specials so good that the killing a few of the weaker, slower shoppers may be deemed acceptable, given the incredible deals available to the fittest consumers. I hope today does not leave one or more additions to the list of capitalicide.

Needless to say, I will not be found among the throngs of shoppers responsible for transforming a religious observance into a celebration of overindulgence and raw acquisitiveness. Or will I?

Perhaps I will go online, nosing around fiercely-promoted “deals” on Amazon or trumpeted by innumerable other marketers anxious to get on board the spending frenzy. But I most certainly will not be among the riff-raff risking life and limb and clogging retailers’ doorways to satisfy the craving for more stuff. No, if I buy today, I will do it the way more refined riff-raff disguise their insufferable greed. And many of us, riff-raff or not, may consider attempting to cleanse our consciences by donating a few dollars to the Salvation Army or a few cans of food to a food bank or a few hours to what once was called a soup kitchen.

Actually, the numbers of generous, altruistic, kind, caring people are probably much higher than my skeptical skewering suggests. Many people share their time and treasure year-round. But the November and December holidays provide the rest of us—including the incredibly selfish among us—with opportunities to assuage modest levels of guilt by “reparation through donation.”

Ach! I tried to shift away from my disdain for the widespread acceptance and exercise of greed to the less common year-round application of benevolence and innate kindness. But, as usual, I slipped back into criticism and denunciation. I simply must coax my mind back into positive territory. And I will. But I will keep my disappointments readily accessible because there will come a time when they will remind me of what I value among the characteristics available to humanity.

There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.

~ Mahatma Gandhi ~

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The steroid pills, of which I’ve only completed one day and started on another (of five or six), seem to already have dramatically reduced the pain I feel in my right clavicle. And the pains in my shoulders have been reduced, as well, though not by as much. Obviously, steroids are not the long-term solution, but I deeply appreciate even a temporary reduction in pain.

Speaking of pain…it is impossible for me to compare your tolerance to pain to mine. And vice versa. Unless we can somehow inhabit another person’s body and feel what that body’s nerves transmit to its brain, we cannot know what pain is like to someone else. We can claim to be pain-tolerant or, like me, pain-averse (or pain-intolerant, I suppose), but we cannot know how our response to pain compares to another’s. We can use environmental clues (Am I screaming? Does the calm expression on your face morph into twisted contortions of pain?). But we can only surmise. We guess. We try either to empathize with or illustrate to another person. Yet we simply delude ourselves into thinking we can know the unknowable.

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The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion.

~ Bodhidharma ~

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Somewhere amidst all the arguments leading to decisions in favor of war is mental illness. That is not to say that all such arguments can be traced to mental illness, but I feel certain that mental illness informs at least some of the processes of deciding to go to war. Perhaps I should say it “infects” the process, rather than “informs” it. That probably is more descriptive; more accurate. The same process that leads to mass shootings leads to war. Somewhere along the line, someone is insane or crazy or out of their minds. Or, more correctly, mentally ill. I believe mental illness is responsible for both the provocation to war and positive responses to—acceptance of—the provocation. Mass shootings and wars are avoided when cooler heads prevail. Easier said than achieved.

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Once again, I hear the owl(s) outside my window. I wish they were fluorescent so I could see them. Hmm. Does a desire for the unattainable—like wanting owls to be fluorescent simply to satisfy my interest in seeing them—qualify as greedy? Or are my non-monetary and non-acquisitive fantasies unrelated to greed? Can I hold on to my fantasies and still escape the clutches of greed? These questions remind me of the sorts of subjects I enjoy discussing with a friend, someone with whom I too rarely have the opportunity to sit and converse. Recently, though, we got together and talked.  But it was too brief because it had been so long since the last time. There was not adequate time to talk. Well, we could have had more time, but I suppose it may take time to rebuild an environment conducive to long, aimless, deeply satisfying conversation. An interest in seeing owls rolls into a longing for deeply satisfying conversation. Perhaps my thought processes are cracked. Maybe my synapses are coated in the biological equivalent of rust.

Suddenly, the idea that the ongoing process of humans shedding their skin (skin cells dying and falling off our bodies as almost invisible “dandruff”) seems to offer evidence that humans and bars of iron have more in common that one might think. Rust is the transformation of iron into iron oxide; human skin goes through the same process. So, one might see all existence along a spectrum, or an incredibly intricate, complete, labyrinthine set of spectra. I wonder whether anyone has seriously explored the philosophical relationships between dermatological transformations and rust. A quick peek this morning at information about human skin revealed that each of us lose about 600,000 particles of skin every hour, which works out to be about 1.5 pounds of skin per year. That translates into roughly 105 pounds of skin by the time one reaches the age of seventy. If I could shed 105 pounds by my seventieth birthday, I would be almost too thin. I’d be willing to give it a try.

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I may be reaching the point at which I need to take a break from blogging for a few days or a few weeks. Time to allow my mind to settle and rest. We shall see.

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See

Thanksgiving dinner. It would be better freshly-baked, but Domino’s Pizza is not open on Thanksgiving Day, so we ordered the pizzas last night. One for Thanksgiving Eve dinner, one for the actual Day’s celebratory meal. Re-heated Thanksgiving Day pizza is a delicacy available to only a few.

Many people are unaware that Thanksgiving Eve is a thing. Well, it is. Or it can be. Every day can be a holiday. It’s simply a matter of manipulating one’s perception of the calendar. You just have to believe. If you put enough faith in the Thanksgiving Fairy, he will visit the night before the actual Day. And he will come bearing culinary gifts. Two supreme pizzas, to be specific. He will be chatty, explaining that it took a little longer than usual to make the delivery because he had several other Thanksgiving Eve deliveries to make.

I hope it is not too early to start talking about Christmas. Whether it is or not, I will do just that. I have chosen to believe, again this year, in Santa’s Stand-In, too, an elf who lived just down the street from me when I was a wee child. Santa’s Stand-In was born Julio Ensueño in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. An inadequate diet and environmental deficiencies left him with a rather stunted body; only four feet, two inches tall at maturity. But he overcame those challenges to become one of Santa’s favorite elves. One of my fondest childhood memories involves visits by Julio Ensueño, AKA Santa’s Stand-In, who came to our house every Christmas Eve. We left bowls full of carne guisada for him and he, in turn, left several dozen pork & jalapeño tamales, along with chile con queso and a six-pack or two of cerveza Doz Equis for us. It was obvious from the several empty bottles he left behind that he enjoyed beer with his meal.  Thanks to my bodily decay, I can no longer enjoy the cerveza Doz Equis but I can break the rules a bit and eat a few tamales and chile con queso. I’ll be satisfied if he will bring only the tamales. I can make the chile con queso (I prefer mine to his, actually). But making tamales is too much work without several co-conspirators. I sincerely hope Julio makes his way to the Village this year.

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The bone is not broken. It’s simply that the clavicle is attached to tendons and ligaments that are equal to its age. And what’s left of the cartilage between bones and other skeletal tissue is just as old and not as capable of performing its functions as it was when it was young and strong. A course of steroids, which begins with six temporally-spaced pills today and tapers down over several days, may provide temporary relief; so said the nurse. She told me a severe shortage of rheumatologists is the reason getting appointments scheduled is such a lengthy process. While I do not doubt there is a shortage of rheumatologists, I seriously doubt that fact makes writing in a name on a scheduling calendar is especially time-consuming. They expect me to accept irrational excuses. Actually, I have little choice but to accept any excuse they give me. I hope the steroids work, especially in light of the nurse’s admonition to take care not to take too many Motrin, which could damage my kidneys.

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The forecast calls for rain. Heavy rain, tapering off to a constant but lighter downpour later in the day. I do not know whether to believe them. It’s not that I think they lie, it’s just that weather is such an incredibly complex phenomenon that predicting its every move is almost like reading tea leaves or constructing nuclear refrigerators. I hold meteorologists in high regard; not all of them, mind you, but some of them. They communicate with Zeus and Neptune and various other officials of the natural world; I am not sure whether they give instructions to the gods or just take orders, but whatever they do, it’s damn near magical. One thing I know for certain meteorologists do is this: they create every single individual snowflake that falls. They design them, manufacture them, and distribute them globally. It’s true. I’ve watched them throughout the process. If you’re extremely nice to me, I’ll bring you along to witness the spectacle. Just don’t mention this to anyone else. It could get out of hand.

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The actual Day has begun. See?

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Oddities

My reflection in the window surprised me. For an instant, I thought what I saw in front of me, just outside the window of my study, was a deer. But it was only a hazy mirror image of my hand bringing a cup of coffee to my lips. The vision was just a translucent visual echo, as if it were a hologram, tricking my eyes into believing a story created by my gullible mind. The trickery did not end with that unexpected reflection. Even after I realized I had been deceived by my own eyes, conspiring to mislead me, another image startled me; this one purely a fantasy created by my imagination. This illusion did not involve eyesight. It took place entirely in my head, relying only on my recollection of an incident that took place quite some time ago.

In this illusion, I sat at a table inside a tiny restaurant next to a woman with whom I share certain interests. We had agreed to meet at the little place for lunch to discuss one of our common interests. I was nervous, as if there was more to our meeting than a simple discussion. The tension I felt was akin to the feeling of “butterflies” I remember feeling during a first date while I was in high school. That was why I felt nervous. I found the woman attractive and I was worried that my attraction to her would be obvious and unwelcome. There was no need to worry, I decided later, because I was adept at hiding my emotion. Even when I told her I enjoyed our conversation and suggested we meet again, my discomfort was obvious only to me. Although the fact we only met for lunch that one time might suggest either that she hid her displeasure at my attraction or that I avoided subsequent engagements to protect myself from further discomfort.

Why that fantasy came to mind on the heels of seeing the reflection of my coffee cup is beyond me. It is not uncommon for thoughts unrelated to my experiences in the moment to emerge. I cannot explain, for example, why memories of fishing on the Intracoastal Canal occasionally pop up at times when fishing is the furtherest thing from my mind. The mind is a mystery.

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I have an appointment at the “urgent care” clinic this morning, where I hope the nurse I am to see will quickly and easily determine what has been causing the pain I feel in and around my right clavicle (and in my shoulders and various other joints). I had hoped my primary care physician’s office could arrange for an x-ray (which I want because I think it may be possible that my right clavicle might have a hairline fracture, though I do not know how that might have happened). I could not get an appointment there right away, though, so they suggested I go the urgent care clinic. We shall see what, if anything, the urgent care clinic can do to relieve my pain. Probably nothing. I am not much of an optimist this morning.

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We may order a pizza this evening in lieu of a Thanksgiving dinner. If we do, we’ll re-heat the pizza tomorrow, which will serve in place of a more traditional Thanksgiving feast. Neither of us are interested in investing the time and energy in making a “normal” feast. It’s one thing to prepare a big, special meal for several family members or friends, but quite another when it’s just the two of us. I am used to non-traditional holiday meals. For most of my adult life, I have been far away from my family. Friends are busy with their own families or their own traditions, which is perfectly fine with me. I rather like being free to relax and enjoy being deeply lazy on holidays.

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Mi novia went out yesterday and bought a “pencil” Christmas tree, an artificial tree that’s tall and thin and easily stored when the season is over. It will be available for future Christmas celebrations, as will the Santa Claus pillow and the holiday decorations. Holidays in general are no longer especially appealing to me. There is little “special” about them. I do miss that sense of holiday cheer that I remember feeling as a kid (if, indeed, my memories are my own). But I can do without it.

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Time to have some avocado toast and launch into the day.

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In Perpetuity

Guilt is among the most troubling and torturous emotions. It attaches itself to one’s personality and refuses to release its death grip. Guilt grows from the assignment of blame; not by someone else, but by oneself. It insinuates itself into one’s every breath, refusing to allow even a moment’s respite. Guilt chips away at one’s sense of self-worth, leaving only an ugly shadow of the person who once inhabited his mind and body. No matter how emphatically a person is told to discard the sense of guilt, no matter how hard others try to wash that emotion away, it leaves a permanent mark. A blemish that cannot be completely erased, regardless of how thoroughly one’s psyche is subjected to cleansing through counseling or medications or time. Guilt settles into one’s brain for a reason; “if only I had behaved differently…” History cannot be revised.

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If I am not mistaken, today is the fifty-ninth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  That event stunned the world. The world has changed dramatically since then. The innocence underlying our shock and horror fifty-nine years ago is absent today. Humankind has become hardened, jaded, calloused to the horrors of which too many are capable. Fifty-nine years have transformed innocence and trauma into treachery and rage. Only by acknowledging the degradation of human decency can we be begin to overcome that decay; rebuilding civility and dignity and respect for human life. I suspect it will take far longer to retrieve innocence than it took to snatch it away from us. Perhaps we will never again be innocent, but maybe there is a chance we will become civilized and kind.

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Let wickedness escape as it may at the bar, it never fails of doing justice to itself; for every guilty person is his own hangman.

~ Seneca ~

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Volcanic Compression

When I awoke, just a few minutes before 5, the word volcano came to mind. It was not just the word, of course. The rumbling of the ground beneath my feet, as I stood at the edge of the caldera left from its last eruption, coursed through my body. Vibrations that seemed to send messages to me; alerting me to prepare for an explosive announcement of the power of the Earth. I smelled the sulfur in the air. I felt sweat drip from my brow as the warm—almost hot—humid air wrap around me. A new eruption was imminent. There was no question: when it occurred, I would be incinerated, my ashes buried beneath millions of tons of molten rock. No one would know what happened to me because no one knew I had gone to the rim surrounding the volcano’s basin. I should have let someone know, so they could at least guess what happened to me.

Obviously, I was not entirely awake. Even though I arose from bed and went through my morning routine of peeing and dressing and going into the kitchen to make coffee, my consciousness drifted slowly between wakefulness and a dream state. My imagination held me in its grip, even while the coffee sputtered from the machine, slowly filling my cup. The scenes surrounding my presence on the edge of the volcano were not vivid. They were almost transparent. Holograms overlaid atop my morning routine, not dense and sharp enough to hide reality, but sufficiently intense to make me question whether I was really awake.

By the time I got to my study, the vapor of the dream state had disappeared, leaving me fully awake and slightly confused about my half-asleep experience. As I write these words, a book I read many, many years ago comes to mind: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. I remember almost nothing of the book, but I remember hearing my creative writing professor (who recommended the book) talk about how Lowry revised various drafts of his work. A character who, in one draft, might be the protagonist’s daughter would become his wife or lover or sister (or all three) in later drafts. That revelation has stuck with me all these years later, perhaps because I tend to do that, as well. Women in the life of one of my characters, James Kneeblood, take on very different roles in different iterations of my stories. His daughters, in an early draft, are his lovers in later versions, for example. Unlike Malcolm Lowry, though, I have not been disciplined in keeping various drafts of my writing; in many cases, I simply delete files, simply to clear out rubbish that could confuse me.

Dreams that doggedly remain active even after waking may be signs of mental decay. I may be “in decline,” to use a euphemism for an irrevocable mental meltdown. But, then again, maybe not. Perhaps I am simply suffering the symptoms of intellectual exhaustion; nothing that three weeks on a nearly deserted desert island in the South Pacific could not cure.

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Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.

~ William Shakespeare ~

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Liberals and progressives (who may be one and the same) seem to cling to the belief that, if only we could provide safety and comfort and adequate food and water to everyone on the planet, wars and other forms of inexcusable violence would cease. Greed and the lust for power negate that gullible position. Perhaps violence of all kinds would diminish slightly, but it would not disappear. The belief that it would evaporate is based on the mistaken impression that humans are “just another animal.” If we were like dogs or tigers or sharks or eagles, meeting our needs for food and shelter might eliminate violent behaviors. But we are different from other creatures. We belong to a species that thrives on violence, gluttony, and control.

Conservatives, on the other hand, live in fear that violence, gluttony, and the hunger for power will overpower humanity. Decency and altruism, in the conservative mindset, do not exist; they are artificial attributes that conceal deceit and treachery.

Realists are universally hated by everyone.

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The appeal of a long, strong embrace is powerful. Hunger for that embrace is what drives us. We want to be protected by the love spoken through the language of embrace. “Free hugs” are teases. They give just an artificial taste of what a real embrace can do. An embrace can carry us through the reeds of anxiety and depression and loss and grief and guilt.

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We can forget people who hurt us. That is a good thing. But we also can forget people who are good to us; kind people who deserve to be remembered, but who get lost in the chaos of life’s evolution. I want to go back and say kind things to good people I have forgotten, but I do not know who or where they are. Most of them probably are dead. But some of them are alive and probably would be receptive to expressions of appreciation and thanks. if only I knew how to remember them and, then, how to find them and how to put into words a set of emotions I do not fully understand.

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The volcano has settled down a bit. Eventually, it will erupt. But not today.

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Just Splendid

Sitting at my desk, gazing out the window, I get the sense that I am looking at a photograph or a painting. The branches and leaves are absolutely still, as if frozen in a moment in time. Only when I see a bird or a ground squirrel streak across my field of vision is it apparent that my view is live. Except for those occasional movements, my view captures a still life; an image like a photograph taken one hundred years ago. When I contemplate what this same view might have looked like one hundred years ago, though, I see a completely different landscape. The forest was more dense then, I imagine. Animals that today avoid the prying eyes of humans probably would not have been so shy back then because they would have had fewer human encounters.

Wind is invisible, but its effects are plain to see in the forest. The invisible air that surrounds my view of the still life remains invisible when the wind blows. Though I understand that changes in air pressure causes the molecules of air to push against everything in their path, the concepts of wind and air pressure still amaze me. How can I see nothing pushing against the leaves, when I know there’s something out there causing the leaves to dance? And the leaves have, indeed, begun to dance, albeit only modestly. An occasional gust disturbs the quiet and stationary. Do the molecules of air that press against the leaves move to other parts of the forest, or do they simply stop moving and allow the forest to return to its statuesque state? These are the questions of a child, someone who has not yet been introduced to mundane explanations involving an understanding of science. My questions ignore my vague knowledge of atmospheric physics. Innocence and awe should not dissolve as we age. We should try to hold onto them for as long as we can; for a lifetime, if possible.

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I listened to an intriguing program, The Splendid Table, on NPR yesterday afternoon. One of the guests on yesterday’s program, Priya Parker, is author of a book entitled The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. Parker acknowledges the importance of hosts and hosting, but she spoke in greater depth about the value and importance of being a good guest, or “guesting.” She gave an example of how good “guesting” can make enormously important contributions to gatherings. She talked about a guest at a house-warming party who, with permission of the host, asked each of the guests to talk to the group about an aspect of the host’s new house that they found especially appealing. Parker explained that the conversation could only have been triggered successfully by a guest, not the host. And she noted that the guest’s prompt ensured that all guests were drawn into positive conversations. Finally, the positive comments about the new home helped confirm to the hosts that the guests appreciated the experience.

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.

~ Plato ~

When I lived in Dallas, I listened to The Splendid Table regularly. Its creator, Lynne Rosetto Kasper, was a superb host whose conversations about food and the culture surrounding food were, in my opinion, absolutely captivating. When we moved to Hot Springs Village, though, I lost track of the program. As far as I knew at the time, the local NPR station, KUAR, did not carry the program. And I did not bother seeking out the podcast; something made listening to the program in the car seem the only appropriate way to listen. Within the past few weeks, though, I’ve stumbled upon The Splendid Table—with a new host—Francis Lam, who replaced Lynne Rosetto Kasper—on KUAR. I am glad I did. The program is far more than a recipe-sharing program. It delves into the complexities and rewards of sharing at every stage of meals and food-related entertainment. From shopping to preparation to recipe histories to presentation to conversations and every other element relating to food and meals and social gathering. Though it has been a while since I was a regular listener, I think I will try to get back into the habit. I hope I enjoy the new host as much as I did the original one.

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One of the definitions of platonic—the definition I believe is most commonly assumed when the word is used in conversation—is “purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes.” The antonym specified in Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition, is “physical.” I would have assumed “romantic” also would have been an antonym (possibly a better one), but I suppose Roget is better equipped than I to offer “official” information about the English language. At any rate, taken together, Roget allows one to confidently state that a platonic relationship is both free of sensual desire and is non-physical. But if one or both participants in a platonic relationship harbors hidden sensual desires for the other, does that negate the application of the term “platonic” to the relationship? What term might apply to a relationship that conceals, beneath the surface, sensual or romantic attraction? Last night, while watching The Crown, I wondered about the relationships between various members of the royal family and others. They might be platonic—the behavior of people involved seem to suggest platonic relationships—but glimpses into the emotions hidden from public view suggest otherwise. Then, again, I may be misreading the characters’ emotions. They may not harbor romantic or sensual feelings toward people who are “just friends.” If I were more attuned to the history of the royal family from the 1940s to the present, I might be sufficiently knowledgeable to understand what goes on between members of the royal family and those around them.  We’re only on season two of five and I may be getting tired of The Crown. But I may stick it out to the end, if for no other reason than to better understand the fictionalized royal family.

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Church calls this morning. Time to shower, shave, and put on clothes I’d rather not wear. I have grown increasingly enamored of comfortable clothes; sweat pants, a sweat shirt, flip flops. That attire keeps me warm. Though it may not be as appealing, visually, as less casual attire, it is a wardrobe I treasure far more than black leather shoes, slacks, a button-down shirt, and a sports jacket. Fashion is equivalent to a torture chamber in a prison cell. I do not always feel this way, but it has become far more common in recent years. I long to escape the cell. If I can’t be naked, I’d rather wear soft, comfortable clothes. It matters not that the clothes may be stained with paint and/or worn thin from over-use. When I see others wearing the kind of clothes I like, I immediately take a liking to the people wearing them. We are, in one way or another, soul mates. Our taste in life and living is impeccable. Ach! I mentioned church. And so I shall move on to the next stage of the day.

 

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Meditation

Attempting meditation, my mind sometimes refuses to leave me to my serenity, insisting instead that my thoughts focus on a discussion I wish had taken a different direction than it actually took. Or my mind may stubbornly cling to an image of a person’s face. Or I revise and replay conversations in my head, my imagination altering the words spoken or the expressions on speakers’ faces. Wants. Desires. Hopes. Those are the culprits that interfere with my attempts to attain tranquility—assuming tranquility is what I am after. But that may not be the real object of my efforts. Fantasies invade my head, filling the emptiness left by my attempts at meditation. Memories from years ago—and from last week or yesterday or prospective memories of tomorrow—become crisp and clear, as if I were in the midst of experiences long since gone and forgotten. I have visions representing experiences I want to have, on one hand; on the other, my mind works hard to erase memories of experiences I want to forget. All of this takes place in the space of a nano-second. And it could then be done, except that those nano-seconds repeat themselves, piling upon one another until minutes or hours have passed. Without any successful attempts at meditation. But I then plan to try again tomorrow or the next day or day-upon-day thereafter. Meditation requires a willing mind, one that accepts the value of emptiness and that willingly discards cluttered space.

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A few minutes ago, I opened the folder that contains drafts of blog posts—unfinished writings that I found unsatisfactory as I wrote them. Among those drafts were the paragraphs that follow. Because meditation has eluded me and creativity refuses to emerge from the cave in my head where it hides, I decided to retrieve one of those unfinished pieces and let it—a piece of the past—stand in for today’s musings.

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Not long ago, I read that the Milky Way galaxy is comprised of between 200 billion to 400 billion stars. In addition to the Milky Way, the vast expanse of space is home to billions of galaxies. And the distance between each galaxy is 31 million light years. The distance between earth and the most distant galaxy must be billions of quintillions of light years.

My mind is incapable of conceiving of the number of stars in the universe. I cannot fathom the distances between stars and galaxies. I cannot comprehend the distance between the edge of the universe and its center—is that perhaps because the universe might be wrapped around itself in a perpetual, infinitesimal loop? Even that “simple” explanation describes distance and time and space in ways impossible for me to fully process. If I were looking for answers in the stars, my search would be limitlessly hopeless. The one star that might contain the answer could be hidden behind one billion quintillion stars, all perfectly aligned with one another, in galaxies separated by distances too vast for mathematics to measure, much less articulate.

As I contemplate the numbers I have just attempted to grasp, the chaotic complexity that might have described my brain smooths into a perfectly flat simplicity. No longer is my mind plagued with questions about the scope of the universe. Nor about my mind’s ability to understand the concept of time in the absence of space. Nor about anything else as imperfect and ragged as existence itself. I am unconcerned about life and death, because both simply are pinpricks in an impossibly large, impossibly thick, and utterly impermeable curtain that shields us from knowledge we are incapable of processing.

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Enough. More than enough.

 

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Intimacy

I consider myself a “has been” lately, in the context of deciding whether I really am a writer. I used to write fiction. Every day. My blog was my outlet for fiction vignettes. I rarely finished a story, but I wrote literally dozens—more likely hundreds—of scenes that I could readily adapt and incorporate into longer pieces of fiction. But I haven’t done it, despite my intentions to do exactly that.

I think everything changed when I was diagnosed with lung cancer about four years ago. Since then, most of what I’ve written has been the equivalent of a stream-of-consciousness journal. My late wife’s illness and death commanded much of my attention thereafter; still does. Those experiences seem to have altered my thinking about writing. Prior to the intrusion of my cancer and my wife’s death into my life, the fiction I wrote was important to me. I wanted to consolidate what I had written into one or more novels. But, now, the products of the time I spend writing are no longer especially important. While I still feel compelled to write, I don’t consider my writing important. Not in the least. I suppose I realize now that it never was important. I allowed myself to think the quality of my writing was good. Good enough to create a novel worthy of publication. This morning, though, I realize I deluded myself. I wanted or needed something that would verify my value and I latched onto writing as that something.

I was a writer. I felt like a writer. I said I was a writer. I intended to publish my work, offering evidence that my claims were legitimate. But I am not sufficiently interested in that any longer. I miss having an objective. A target to pursue. Something to strive for. If I were much younger, I might return to school in pursuit of something meaningful to me. Architecture. Law. Advanced sociology that could lead to research and teaching.  Hell, burnishing my limited skills at welding and improving on them could capture my interest. There are dozens of subjects and/or activities that could keep me interested. But only if I were much younger. There comes a time when almost everything seems out of reach or a waste of time. Why bother learning something new or improving one’s skills when the likelihood that one will be unable to put them to productive use grows by the day? Thinking about this is not productive, either. Why torture myself by focusing on the desirable but unattainable? It’s pointless.

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I have never been to The Old Church in Portland, Oregon or McCabes in Santa Monica, California or Freight & Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley, California. Despite my lack of experience with those places, I suspect they are the kinds of spots I would enjoy live music. I base my guess solely on the fact that Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche played those venues during their tour; the one that wrapped up several months ago. I may be wrong, but I suspect those venues are small, intimate, and conducive to music that will fill a room without shattering the eardrums of listeners. And that suspicion is based on yet another assumption; that performers in those venues and their audiences do not like music so loud it hurts. I have never been a fan of music capable of rendering deaf its listeners. Even when I was a teenager who cranked up the volume, I had personal limits. Unlike some friends who seemed to consider listening at excessive volume a measure of teen rebelliousness. I suspect those friends, with whom I lost touch the moment I left home for college, are now deaf and quite possibly brain-damaged, victims of monstrously loud noises that left each of them with a broken malleus, incus, and stapes. Deeper in their skulls, portions of their brains were liquified by the vibrations of sound waves powerful enough to transform solid granite into a wet, dust-laden slurry. My assessment of inexcusably loud music is not the predictable complaint of an old man who once enjoyed dangerous noise. Mine is the assessment of a man who always has intensely disliked over-loud music. Music that transforms one’s inner serenity into bitter, murderous anger is to be avoided at all costs because it interrupts the enjoyment of important conversations.  It drowns out important conversations and wrecks otherwise intimate communications in small places. 

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What makes old age so sad is not that our joys but our hopes cease.

~ Jean Paul ~

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David Tennant plays a vicar in the television series Inside Man, which I have been watching off and on of late.  I’m still mulling over what I think of the show. In his real life, Tennant is a 51-year-old Scottish actor who is father to five children. He often plays characters who allow the whiskers on the neck to grow unchecked. Unruly neck whiskers, ignored and allowed to grow with no attention to grooming, are hideous, in my opinion. People who permit untrimmed neck beards to sprout without any controls placed on them look awfully unkempt. When I see such people, I immediately assume they are homeless, impoverished, and quite possibly mentally deranged. Otherwise, why would they allow their appearances to look so ragged? I wonder whether David Tennant allows his neck whiskers to grow so wild when he is not playing a part? The more I see his acting, the more I wonder about his personal hygiene. The fact that he is tall and extremely thin contributes to my assessment of him. But, then, I begin to think he may have some kind of skin disease that makes shaving his neck either painful or potentially dangerous. Yet my first reaction is to judge him.

Tennant played the tenth and the fourteenth incarnations of Dr. Who in the British science fiction series. My introduction to him, though, was through his role as DI Alec Hardy in the British crime drama series, Broadchurch. That same series introduced me to Olivia Colman, who I have seen several times since in various other British television productions. I learned this morning that she was born Sarah Caroline Colman. She has to adopt a different name when she began acting professionally because Equity (the UK actors’ union) already had an actress named Sarah Colman. She kept her maiden name but adopted Olivia as her first name; one of her best friends was named Olivia and she was quite fond of the name. When she married, she became Sarah Caroline Sinclair, but she maintained the stage name, Olivia Colman.

I will not remember much about either David Tennant or Olivia Colman; I tend not to know much about actors, but what I learn about their personal lives I tend to forget quite rapidly. I suppose it would be different if I were to become friends with actors, but I cannot imagine circumstances that would lead me to befriend either Tennant or Colman. Or vice versa.

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Intimacy—closeness that fits like a tailored glove—protects us from decay. It offers us purpose and hope. But intimacy is hard to find. Intimacy requires letting one’s guard down and opening oneself to inspection. The flaws as well as the precious stones must be acknowledged. The recipient of that kind of openness must reciprocate if intimacy is to be achieved. People tend to be unwilling to expose themselves so completely, so deeply. That is a shame; but it is what it is.

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This day has potential, if only I can uncover it and expose it to air and light.

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Them’s the Brakes

“She seemed to be such a happy person.” I have read that refrain, or something like it, so many times following a suicide.  Or conversely, the decedent may have been labeled a “sad person,” suggesting his own life was almost expected. Regardless of whether we say a person is “happy” or “sad,” what criteria do we use to make those judgments about people we probably do not know? For that matter, how do we classify ourselves, and on what basis?

Happiness and sadness are subjective attributes, though objective measures of their markings can be made. Yet having a smile or a frown on one’s face or having furrowed or smooth brows does not assure correct assumptions about a person’s state of mind. But we tend to collect behavioral clues and make subjective judgments based on them. I doubt we make those judgments solely on the basis of those behavioral clues, though. We blend those clues with our perspectives, which have been shaped through experience, leading to our judgments. A different set of experiences blended with those behavioral clues might have led to a completely different judgment. In both cases, the judgment amounts to a biased guess that we might dress up by calling it something else: “an empirically solid assessment,” perhaps.

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I woke up this morning with a rather assertive backache from my mid-back to the bottom of my spine. This often happens when I sleep on my back. I always start on my side, but apparently during the night I toss and turn a bit. Frequently, I turn onto my back and stay that way for far too long. The pain may not be entirely my fault. It may be that the mattress is too soft. Or is it too hard? With a different mattress, would I tend not to roll over onto my back? Or, if I did, would I not develop aches and pains? Rather than invest in another mattress, though, perhaps I should invest in a good massage. Starting from the base of my skull and moving all the way down to the tip of my spine, a deep massage might erase the pain, turning that ache into its antithesis…whatever that might be. I would gladly pay for such a massage, delivered by someone whose strong hands and thorough knowledge of massage would deliver me from discomfort. And I just might.

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Every human voice may not be unique, but most are sufficiently different that we can identify a speaker solely from the sound of her voice. I wonder whether individuals of other species can assign specific individual identities to the intra-species sounds they hear? Does a goat hear the bleat of another goat and say to itself, “Oh, that’s the bleat of Gloria Goat?” My curiosity about whether other creatures can identify friends and family by sound was triggered this morning when I heard a rather complex, elaborate bird call. An experienced naturalist might be able to say, oh, that’s a Carolina Wren (or whatever), but he cannot identify the specific bird making the noise. But can birds differentiate between individual calls/songs? I could ask them, but they will not answer. At least not in a language I understand.

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I sometimes begin writing about something on my mind but, as I think about it, I decide to delete what I have written. I pick something else, something completely unrelated to what I had first begun to write. The reason is that I realize readers might assume the topic I had written was relevant in some way to me when, in fact, it is not. And for whatever reason, I find it easier to just avoid the topic than to attempt to explain why, given its irrelevance, I am writing about it. Odd, these little personal foibles that are damn near impossible to explain, much less defend.

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I’ve allowed too much time to pass during the last hour and a half. I’m putting on the brakes.

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Forest Creatures

Only vague scenes from my dream remain. In one, I am attempting to sweep up balls of lint from the carpeted floor of the community hall of my church, but the broom leaves most of the stuff on the floor, no matter how much I sweep. This frustrates me because an event is scheduled to take place in the room and the floor is covered with lint balls. Another scene involves people from church, but it takes place about half-way down a steep water-slide. A woman is a few feet in front of me and another one is a few feet behind me. We’re all sliding down quite fast and I am concerned that, when we reach the bottom, I will crush the one in front of me and I will be crushed by the one behind me. There’s more to the memory, but it is so smoky I cannot quite understand it. There is absolutely no “meaning” to the dreams scenes, I am sure; they are just random collections of nerve synapses responding to random triggers.

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We finally began watching The Crown a couple of nights ago. I was skeptical, unsure the story could capture my attention. After two episodes, I was convinced I will appreciate the series. It will keep us occupied on chilly nights. When we’re not watching The Crown, I might sneak in some viewing of Inside Man. Or some of the other programs I’ve sampled of late: The Trial; Loving Adults; The Lørenskog Disappearance; Good Morning, Verônica; Into the Night. There are more, I’m sure. I seem to relay on a 65-inch screen for the majority of my entertainment, these days.

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If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt ~

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At what point does the potential danger posed by someone’s mental disorder override that person’s right to enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else? Individual freedoms notwithstanding, when does that individual’s behaviors become sufficiently disruptive to merit labeling her unwelcome—persona non grata? Dealing with behavioral expressions of mental illness tests the degrees to which individuals’ and organizations’ are tolerant of behaviors that do not conform to subjective standards. In most environments, troublesome “abnormal” behaviors are relative rare and, therefore, addressing them may be awkward or embarrassing. And because such behaviors may be relatively unknown in a given situation, responses to them might tend to mimic responses to other unknowns: fear. The fight or flight response prompted by fear may be precisely the wrong way to address abnormal behaviors associated with mental illness. Yet condescension, a fairly common paternal response to “bad behavior” is unlikely to be any better. For example, an adult suffering from mental illness may understandably be offended if she is treated as if she has not developed beyond childhood. Respect can go a long way toward making difficult experiences more tolerable. Like so many other situations, the “right” way to deal with troublesome behaviors depends on the circumstances. Context matters.

I can only imagine how teachers, faced with a classroom full of kids of all shapes and sizes, have to dance on the head of a needle when delivering “custom” education to an exceptionally diverse student body. How does a teacher tailor his responses to a range of kids, from intellectually advanced to emotionally stunted? A student suffering from a mental disorder may need special attention, but providing that special attention may distract the teacher from paying adequate attention to other kids in a classroom. I can empathize, but I would be unwilling (and unable) to trade places.

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The pain I feel all along my right clavicle is sufficiently intrusive that I began to think I somehow may have cracked one or more bones. Unhappy joints could be responsible, I suppose. Google gives me reason to think my pain is not a broken clavicle, though. A broken or cracked clavicle, according to Johns Hopkins’ online resources, probably would be more painful and might even be visible. Though my pain can be pretty severe, it is not as intense as Johns Hopkins describes collar bone breaks. Pain can arise from causes other than major bone breaks: osteomyelitis (bone infection); compressed nerves; joint dislocation; distal clavicular osteolysis (cracks or breaks at the end of the bone). It just gets more complex from there, suggesting to me that self-diagnosis is definitely not the way to go.

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A brief interruption to join mi novia in watching two deer wander close to the house, enjoying a meal of grass. I like living in the forest, isolated except for the forest creatures and lots and lots of leaves.

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Contrasts

Life is a series of dramatic acts that collectively attempt to explain the inexplicable. The purpose of every scene is to make tolerable the unbearable.

Ah, I think that description—ascribing motive and purpose to life—tips the scales toward melodrama. It answers the question of “Why are we here?” with an unsophisticated “Yes,” and follows on with, “You’ll understand better when you’re older.” Well, here I am—older—and I remain in the dark. I would have thought I might have reached my age of enlightenment by now.

Ruminating about the question—why are we here?—invariably requires confronting the question of who or what is sufficiently knowledgeable and/or wise to answer it. And if life has purpose, a being or power or entity of some kind must have imputed the reason for the existence of life. Especially human life. But perhaps there is another explanation. That life creates its own purpose. That life itself is divine; is its own deity. Which negates much of the value we assign to religion.

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Often, it is the mundane that fills in the empty spaces between meaningful. If every moment were bursting with deep intrinsic significance, we perpetually would be exhausted from our attempts at understanding the meaning of everything. Fortunately, most of life is mundane. Trimming one’s nails. Showering. Shaving. Wiping dust from windowsills. Thumbing through magazines. Reading the day’s news. Doing laundry. Washing dishes. Deciding between cereal and yoghurt for breakfast. The list could go on until the edge of eternity.

While all of these endeavors is mundane, a careful examination of each one would reveal complexity hidden in plain view. Consider one’s nails, for example. According to an article on Healthline.com, fingernails grow at a rate of about 3.47 millimeters per month, which translates into roughly 1.64 inches per year. That did not seem very long to me until I held a ruler up to my fingernails. Untrimmed nails that survived unbroken for a year would look like claws. The rate of growth is not the only matter relating to fingernails that calls into question the “mundane” aspect of one’s nails.  The nails (primarily composed of keratin), as well as the hairs on our body, are made of skins cells. Structures made of skin cells are called skin appendages.

Every aspect of our experience of life is ripe with opportunities to transform the mundane into the spectacularly complex and incredibly interesting. We simply must adjust the way we think in order to make those transformations. As I glance around my desk, I see a coffee cup and a receptible for pens and a lamp and a mouse pad and various other very mundane items. But if I look at that coffee cup and imagine its transformation from raw clay—to leather hard—to greenware—to bisque—to glazed and finished cup, its simplicity dissolves into complexity. While simplicity is beautiful, beauty also resides in the complexity that undergirds it. If I go beyond simply noticing the containers of pens on my desk, examining every aspect of each container and its contents, I could spend hours in thoughtful contemplation: how the pen was assembled, the origins of its metal and plastic parts, the composition and viscosity of the ink in the pen’s barrel, the thought processes behind the decisions about the colors chosen for the pen’s shell…and on and on and on. The same is true of the lamp and the mouse pad and every other element on my desk. And I could explore the same degree of complexity behind the simplicity of the shirt I am wearing; the weave pattern, its color and softness, etc. “Mundane” hides not only the intriguing aspects of items and ideas all around us, it affords the opportunity to be lazy; to avoid delving into the intricacies of matters we lazily call “mundane.”

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I want. Uttering the pairing of those two words is equivalent to saying “greed.”  Because greed places desire ahead of need. Taming greed demands energy and a commitment to rejecting constant messages from marketers. Marketers try to convince people that desire is necessity; want, they insist, equates to need. The skills exercised by good marketers demonstrate the sophistication that leads to sales. On one hand, I hold good marketers in high regard for their remarkable creativity and their success in persuading people that their wants actually are needs. On the other hand, though, I detest the dishonesty and dismissal of attention to individuals’ circumstances exhibited by good marketers. How can the marketer—who convinces a person living in poverty to spend money on luxuries instead of necessities—live with himself?

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Another medical visit today, this one to have a growth on my neck examined. Sometime soon, I expect to visit a rheumatologist. And, of course, I have to see my primary care physician (or his staff) before long. And a delayed routine dental visit is coming soon. There are more. If the universe were a fair place, my decaying physical form could be replaced in its entirety with a freshly-minted life-like substitute into which my brain was implanted. But while I’m fantasizing, I’d like that brain to be tweaked before implantation. I want to be considerably smarter; and quick-witted. Of course, the substitute body would not require the consumption of dozens of pills and capsule every day. That, alone, would make the replacement quite desirable.

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I just heard the owl again. It sounds like it is just outside my window, but I can seen nothing because it’s still dark at a quarter after 6 in the morning. I’ve been up since 4:30; this is the first time I’ve heard the owl in almost two hours. There’s something about hearing an owl’s call that causes me to appreciate, deeply, living in a forest.

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My cup is almost empty. The half-inch remaining in the cup is cold and unfriendly. I will discard it; replace it with another cup of hot, French roast coffee. An apple fritter would taste so incredibly good with that new cup of coffee. I’d settle for a croissant. Or a scone. Or a piece of sour dough toast smeared with roasted garlic and drizzled with butter. Or a bowl of pork congee, flavored with fresh ginger and soy sauce and sambal oelek.  I may have to settle for something that does not rise to the gloriousness of my desired options.

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The terms “masculinity” and “femininity” are thrown around with abandon, yet I remain unable to define, precisely, what those terms mean. What is masculinity? Is it toughness? Strength? Resolve? And what about femininity? Fragility? Compassion? Nurturing? I suppose the terms refer to a single attribute that exists along a spectrum. At one end. we attach the label, “masculinity” and at the other, “femininity.” Along that spectrum are various traits that are more or less visible, depending where one looks along its length. For some reason, I’ve always envisioned masculinity in a context in which a cartoon character with his knuckles dragging the ground is in play; a rather negative perspective, I’d say. But that’s not the only vision. Positive markers, like gallantry and chivalry. Yet those two qualities can also be viewed as evidence of a sense of superiority, something I find extremely offensive. The definitions of masculinity and femininity flex and bend as society evolves, I think. Ultimately, I think society may arrive at acceptable definitions of the two terms, increasingly defined as levels of contrast, in both directions, with androgyny.

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It’s now almost 7, time for me to stop assaulting the keyboard. I’ll launch into the day, now.

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Indiscriminate Thinking

There are days that I ache to engage in long philosophical conversations with someone whose sensitivities parallel mine, but whose perspectives on life may deviate from mine. Someone whose life experiences may have shaped a different world-view. I want to have discussions that take unexpected twists and turns; conversations that can provide both insights and entertainment for hours at a time. The conversations may be intense, but not dead-serious. We tend to take ourselves too seriously; I want these discussions to be serious, but willing to stray into humor. Slapstick humor, on rare occasion. And these conversations might be capped off with celebratory toasts; I with a glass of sparkling water, my conversationalist partner with wine or whiskey or coffee or a shot of tequila. Or a few draws from a vape pen. Or whatever. The point is to “toast” the enjoyment of thought and conversation. The outcome of these discussions may have no intrinsic value; no value to humanity in the larger sense. Except, of course, helping participants realize the immeasurable value of human engagement.

Despite my desire to engage, the strength of my desire to disengage can be just as great. The craving for distance, privacy, isolation, seclusion—that powerful urge to be utterly alone—competes head-to-head with the more social need. Sometimes, one is stronger than the other. Sometimes they balance one another.

I understand the conflicting emotions that cause me to vacillate between the desire for communication and the longing to be alone with my thoughts. But I wonder whether others share the way my thoughts and my wishes tendency to cling to a pendulum of interests and emotions? The idea of getting into others’ minds intrigues me. I wish I could experience the way other people think. The way they experience the world around them. Every time I think of “getting into someone else’s head,” I think of a film I saw many years ago on PBS. I’ve written about it more than once before. Here’s what I said about it, roughly ten years ago:

“…I was enamored of a film called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, which starred Raúl Julia in the character of Aram Fingal, a programmer for NoviCorp, a global corporation that shared control of the dystopian society that had taken control of the world. Fingal, who had broken the corporate rules by watching a film (Casa Blanca; the arts had been banned), was punished and rehabilitated by having his mind transferred (“doppeled”) to an aging ape for a time. The plot line is long and somewhat convoluted (and I don’t recall it entirely), but this one element of the film, doppeling, intrigued me.”

The idea of doppeling into the mind of other people appeals to me. I would like to see and analyze the world through the eyes and minds of people who are close to me. And I have a similar interest in knowing, first-hand, how people who I find offensive see the world. Getting into another person’s mind has the potential to be embarrassing, though. What if, for example, I discovered while inside a woman friend’s head that she had romantic feelings for me? Or, to the contrary, what if I found that someone I thought was a friend considered me a deadly dull bore…or worse, loathed me intensely? It could be even worse: I could stumble upon a person’s memories of—or plans for—committing a crime.

In spite of my interest and willingness to get inside someone else’s head, I would mightily resist someone else getting inside mine. There’s too much up there I do not want others to know. Indiscriminate exposure of my thoughts might put me at risk for arrest by the Thought Police. I cannot justify keeping my thoughts private if I insist on getting into others’ heads, so I suppose I should let the fantasy of doppeling just quietly disappear into the ether.

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The 5:00 a.m. temperature outdoors was a brisk 28°F in Hot Springs Village; it is expected to climb to 46°F. Reykjavik, Iceland is considerably warmer at the moment, at 45°F. The high for the day in that far-off fantasy-land will reach 48°F, if the Weather Network forecast is correct.

Only a few years ago, I would have been unable to check local temperatures from the comfort of my desk. And I would not have had easy and immediate access to weather data and predictions for cities around the globe. The degree to which people have adjusted—and are adjusting—to the lightning speed of technological change varies, but the rapidity of adjustment correlates closely with age. I think there is a close relationship between the speed with which people learn a new language and the speed with which they learn to understand and apply new technologies. But my thinking may be wrong.  I suspect I could rather quickly either verify or debunk my theory if I were inclined to do the research. At the moment, though, the payoff for doing the research is not sufficiently high to merit the expenditure of my energy.

Maybe that concept applies to the levels of success I (and others) experience in learning language and technology, too. For young people, learning languages and technologies can be assumed to have a much longer pay-out than do those acquisitions for much older people. The older one gets, the shorter the time-frame available to put new knowledge and/or abilities to use. The investments of time and energy (which generally increase with age) required to learn new languages and new technologies provides ample pay-back to young people because they can apply those new abilities over a longer period of time than can older people. Whether we acknowledge it or not, perhaps older people instinctively restrict the expenditure of effort to learn new things in order to balance the investment with the return they expect from it.

Consider that a 20-year-old may need to spend two intense years to become semi-fluent in German and a 60-year-old must spend three intense years to achieve the same result. If the 20-year-old lives to age 80, his two-year investment equates to three percent of his total life-span. if the 60-year-old lives to age 80, his three year investment equates to fifteen percent of his remaining life span. What does this tell us? It tells me nothing I can easily explain or express. Mathematics, an utterly objective endeavor, may not provide the best measure of subjective emotional value; assuming, of course, one considers the value of life experience a subjective matter.

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My right shoulder aches. When I move my arm in certain ways, the ache intensifies into a sharper, more intense pain. The pain diminishes within a minute or so after I return my shoulder to a better position. Motrin has become a daily thing, along with what seems like a thousand other pills and capsules. I detest having to take so damn many medications. I am tempted to simply stop taking them to see whether my life experience changes in any measurable way. I sometimes question the legitimacy of prescriptions in response to medical complaints. Drugs are too easy. Changes in one’s lifestyle are more difficult, though arguably much more effective. I can talk a good game, but I tend not to practice what I preach. I, who wish I could receive an injection that would cure me of all my ills, rather than adjust my habits in pursuit of the same outcome.

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I’ve written too much and said too little. I will stop now. It’s time.

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