Frayed Nerves

Starting over. The thought of beginning a new chapter in one’s life prompts feelings of both excitement and fear. The idea simultaneously is inviting and daunting. But starting over is more than beginning a new chapter. Starting over erases old obstacles—and old accomplishments. Starting over rebuilds a life on an old foundation; maybe even building a new foundation on which to construct a new life. Discarding old chapter outlines to serve as guides. Weaving new fabric with fresh thread. All sorts of challenging metaphors apply. A young person with only a few years invested in building his life probably finds starting over challenging but doable. Middle age, arguably the time of life in which starting over is more commonly attempted, requires a person to abandon more of her investment in time and energy in order to try to start over. When one who has spent even more time—nearly a lifetime—writing the chapters of his life (or allowing the chapters to be written), starting over becomes considerably more difficult; circumstances may make it impossible, or almost so. Abundant and momentous challenges to beginning anew may dull whatever appeal starting over has: where to live; how to make new friends; who will join in the renewal; new doctors and other healthcare concerns; and on and on. And perhaps the most significant challenge of all: are the reasons to start over sufficient to merit the stresses and strains and loss of what is to be replaced? The reasons for starting over probably are as numerous as the people who try; certainly as numerous as the people who succeed. The core issue, of course, is whether starting over is primarily intended to change the life that heretofore has been lived or the person who has lived it? I think about this quite a lot. I never reach any steadfast conclusions. Sometimes, though, I think starting over becomes impossible at some point in a person’s life. When that point is reached, though, I think differs from person to person. And learning when that point has been reached requires a person to try, and fail, to start over. I have not stopped pondering these ideas; more to come, I suspect.

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Last night was quite enjoyable. Good food, good conversation, and lots of laughs. Casual. Comfortable. The kind of evening that is both stimulating and relaxing.

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My skepticism about the validity of  information from the internet grows with every passing day. Even sources I once I thought I could rely on for unbiased accuracy increasingly disappoint me with obvious slant and more and more frequent misinformation. Far right and far left so-called facts spread like wildfire, fueled by what seem to me intentional lies distributed by people and organizations who do not trust the truth to support their positions…so they manufacture facts to suit them. Fact-checking is becoming more and more difficult because reliable information sources are becoming harder and hard to find. I often feel it necessary to preface anything I pass along from the internet with something to the effect that “if it is true, and I would not stake my life that it is…” or “I cannot vouch for its accuracy (or its inaccuracy), but …” But I have learned that my cautions are not necessarily heard. All I can do, I think, is to express philosophies about how people should behave and how the world should work and not pass judgments on anyone or anything unless I have ALL the facts, which I typically do not. Yet what I think I can do I often fail to do. So I am as guilty as the next person for failing to direct my own thoughts to what is “right.” And  we’re all destined to suffer the same fate; humanity is doomed. We cannot be surprised, can we? We’ve had plenty of time to evolve into decent creatures but we’ve squandered our time on self-serving wars and other such power-grabs. I could go on about that for a week and a half, but I won’t. Not just now, anyway.

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I will drink another little cup of espresso. It may calm my nerves and settle my brain. It may not. Only time will tell.

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Do Not Drown

I hoped for a shorter-than-advertised session with the oncologist yesterday. Hope is wasted energy. We arrived at 8:45 a.m. We left the oncology center at 5:20 p.m. I know little more now than I did when I arrived. Apparently, though, the carboplatin desensitization process worked; after it was completed, I was given a full dose of carboplatin and, as far as I can tell, I did not die from an allergic reaction.  And I was given a full dose of taxol. And a large infusion of magnesium. And an infusion of Benadryl that made me sleepy (but did no put me to sleep), and several little doses of various other stuff. It was a LONG day. I return Monday for more blood work and then again later this month for another long (but, I hope, not quite so long) treatment. And, I hope, additional information/updates. They will have me get another PET scan about 3 months after the most recent one. Little by little, I will learn what my body is doing to/for me.  In the meantime, no month-long road trips, I suppose.

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An online essay from the July 8 edition of the New York Times, entitled “The American Elevator Explains Why Housing Costs Have Skyrocketed,” offers a fascinating perspective on underlying causes of increasing home prices. Among them, according to the author, are special interests whose financial goals often conflict with one another but whose greed run in parallel. Developers want to maximize their profits by minimizing costs; union contractors want maximize their income by maximizing pay rates. Both focus, then, on what is best for themselves, sometimes (frequently?) at the expense of their end-use customers: the people who will occupy the structures they plan and build. I would not deny reasonable income to either developers or to contractors. The problem, in my mind, is who defines reasonable. I tend to support unions far more than I do developers, but I think unions can go much too far in their battles to maximize their members’ financial positions.  And the politicians and others who bend to the demands of unions are just as guilty. In my opinion, though, developers probably use their political and financial prowess to secure political support at the expense of both contractors and home-buyers. The article, by the way, extrapolates from the elevator experience to the home-building experience.  The elevator experience is what initially attracted my interest. The author, Stephen Smith, first explained the problems with elevators in this country and then illustrated the difference in price for American versus European elevators:

Elevators in North America have become over-engineered, bespoke, handcrafted and expensive pieces of equipment that are unaffordable in all the places where they are most needed. Special interests here have run wild with an outdated, inefficient, overregulated system. Accessibility rules miss the forest for the trees. Our broken immigration system cannot supply the labor that the construction industry desperately needs. Regulators distrust global best practices and our construction rules are so heavily oriented toward single-family housing that we’ve forgotten the basics of how a city should work

A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium.

What does it matter than I have read the article and feel that I better understand some of the cost-drivers of housing and elevator construction? Will I take any actions toward addressing the inadequacies and unfairness of the system? Short of calling for a series of massively advertised, highly focused, non-political national discussions aimed toward ways of achieving maximum fairness, best practices, at the lowest costs in EVERY sector of the economy, what other windmills might I tilt at? Children and idealistic old men and women, alone, view windmills as worthy of our attention. Is there anything else we can do and be equally as ineffective?

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Off to the bank in a while to complete the transfer of officer signatories for the church accounts. And, later, dinner with mi novia‘s daughter and, I hope, with mi novia‘s daughter’s father (who is AKA known as mi novia‘s former husband). I think I’ve said before I am glad to see that people who go through a divorce can remain friends; he is an intelligent guy, very interesting and pleasant to be around. Today will be a pressure-reduction day for me, I hope, easing the stress of yesterday’s unexpectedly long day of dealing with a downside of cancer. My advice: don’t get cancer—but if you do, go with the flow and float. Fight it, but try not to get caught in the rapids and drown in the process.

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Answers Again

Today will be a long one at the oncology center. My patient portal indicates I will be there for five-and-a-half hours; my hope is that it will not take that long. But the Taxol (brand name for Paclitaxel) infusion alone, if I am to believe what I’ve read on the internet, will take around three hours. Add to that the time required for the other IV drugs and fluids, the blood draw, the conversation with the oncologist, and flushing the IV line, and I would not be surprised at five-and-a-half hours. During what I had hoped would be the only course of chemotherapy, which started in January, I often returned at least once or twice a week (if not more frequently) for blood draws and subsequent drug adjustments. It’s not like I have other pressing business, of course, but I prefer absolute freedom. Most of us do, I suspect. I hope to hear an updated prognosis, but I imagine it may be too early for that; only after the drugs have been given time to work and measures of their effectiveness taken can I legitimately expect anything more concrete than “we’ll have to wait and see.” Not that my oncologist would say that to me.  And so, Grasshopper, practice patience until that characteristic becomes your natural reaction to all thing that call for waiting.

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It’s jarring, the sense that the future is on hold until questions about its viability have been answered. But that truth is common—pervasive. We cannot know what will be until we know what is. Even then, we can only guess. And we do not seem to be able to agree of what has been. History, which cannot be changed, often is. Perception interprets reality; history is contextual and individual-specific. Two people who shared the same experience may recall completely different historical records of “what happened.”

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Enough thought for now.

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Reality, Viewed Separately Together

Apathy once was of great concern to almost everyone. But nobody cares anymore. That’s just one more deeply-fatigued manipulation of a time-worn play on words. Uniqueness in creativity becomes harder to achieve with every new-born baby. Babies are not simply cute, innocent little beings—potential competitors, every one of them. Eventually—and it could happen today or ten years from now—all fresh, new creative thoughts will have been expressed. Every single creative idea will have been previously expressed, making it impossible to unearth more—they all will have become tarnished by use. Any new expressions of creativity claimed as one’s own will be taken as incontrovertible evidence of plagiarism. The penalties for plagiarism will rise sharply when creativity disappears. Short prison sentences will be replaced by something more meaningful—death by firing squad or guillotine…or public hangings. By that time, of course, the penalties for breaking traffic laws—speeding, rolling stop at a stop sign, unsafe lane changes, etc.—will involve public flogging. At some point beyond that moment, all crimes, no matter how petty, will be addressed with the same punishment: submersal, with no breathing apparatus, in a shark cage. Jaywalking or parking in a no-parking zone or any other minor infraction will be penalized by drowning. The immediacy of sentencing and the repeal of all appeal processes will result in an early surge of executions, followed by a period of terror-induced peace.

Cavender Baker had been proud to be a police officer. He served on the force with honor for twenty-eight years, beginning when he was only twenty years old. But changes in the statutes that resulted in treating once-lawful behaviors as capital crimes turned him against the law. His retirement at forty-eight came as no surprise, inasmuch as  he said too openly and too often, “Anyone serving as a police officer today should either quit or be treated as a threat to freedom and democracy and be disposed of accordingly.

Four days after his retirement, Baker was bicycling toward his home after visiting Chamber’s Liquors when stopped by a police cruiser. The driver and his partner claimed Baker had unsafely crossed into the lane for motor vehicle traffic. Baker’s very vocal disagreement led to his forced placement inside a shark cage, now carried in all cruisers.

The police department docks were jammed with police cars and SUVs. Empty shark cages, wet from their recent submersion in the cold waters of Friendly Bay, were stacked on one side of the submersion point. Cages filled with screaming occupants littered the other side. Big metal dumpsters next to the wet shark cages were almost overflowing with big black plastic sacks. A crane swiveled over the full cages and carefully snagged one of them with a hook, when swung it over the water and lowered it into the bay. Five minutes later, the cage was hoisted out of the water, emptied of its criminals, and deposited on the stack of empty shark cages.

Cavender Baker knew a thing or two about escaping from a shark cage and disposing of morally corrupt police officers. Despite the fact that creativity was nearing extinction, it had not completely played out.

Already I’ve lost interest in what happens to Baker. Ach.

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Discard all you are not and go ever deeper. Just as a man digging a well discards what is not water, until he reaches the water-bearing strata, so must you discard what is not your own, till nothing is left which you can disown. You will find that what is left is nothing which the mind can hook on to. You are not even a human being. You just are—a point of awareness, co-extensive with time and space and beyond both, the ultimate cause, itself uncaused. If you ask me ‘Who are you?,’ my answer would be: ‘Nothing in particular. Yet, I am.’

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj ~

I am surprised at myself for, first, reading all the way through the above quote and, second, thinking I understand the author’s points and—moreover—agreeing with them. Nisargadatta Maharaj was, according to Wikipedia, an Indian guru of nondualism. Nondualism, I recently learned, is a viewpoint that questions the boundaries conventionally imposed between self and other, mind and body, observer and observed, and other dualities that help shape our perceptions of reality. In other words, nondualism seems to be one form of ‘woo-woo;’ but an unusual form I can understand and, possibly, embrace. According to someone, writing under the name Gobinda Sardar, Nisargadatta Maharaj ‘taught that there is no individual self , no world , no God , no creation , no liberation , nothing but the absolute reality which he called ‘I am,” I sometimes question the existence of the world, creation, liberation, etc. I regularly assert my disbelief in God. I wonder, though, about the self and liberation and other matters that may tend to mislead our perceptions of what and where and when we are. Most of the time, though, I keep such issues buried under mounds and mounds of irrelevant thoughts.

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Tomorrow, finally, I go back to the oncologist. I’ve been waiting more than a week to learn next steps. I learned yesterday, by viewing a document I earlier had missed in my patient portal, that my new/replacement chemo drugs will be carboplatin (after being desensitized to it) and taxol. I think I’ll still be on Keytruda, but I’m not sure. Taxol, I’ve read, causes most patients to lose their hair; it either goes away entirely or it thins a lot. I’ll ask the doc about whether I should expect to lose my hair. That does not bother me in the least. What bothers me this morning is the knowledge that this new chemo process is an experiment. There is no assurance it will work. That was true, of course, of the first set of chemotherapies, as well. We shall see.

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Shallow Pools

I do not hear the buzzing or ringing or pounding in my ears. Instead, I feel them inside me; in my head, in my chest, in my legs, everywhere. They can be loud, but not loud in the traditional aural sense. On the other hand, they can be nearly silent and almost sensually invisible; I sense them, but most people do not…as far as I know. I can only imagine what silence—absolute silence—is like. To experience the complete absence of sound and all its related vibrations must be glorious. I think about that frequently. But I cannot really imagine it, because I do not know what it is like. Noise, real and imagined, is my constant companion. Fortunately, many years of living with it has enabled me to often block much of its intrusive, annoying, irritating character. But that is equivalent to hiding noise beneath layers of different noises. Replacing the sound of piercing screams with the noise of sirens…fire trucks and ambulances and police cars. I make it sound worse than it is. Once you come to grips with it, your periods of aural rage or terror diminish in volume and frequency.

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The first taste of espresso this morning was…how do I best express this?…horrible. Another gulp confirmed the unpleasant surprise. Excessively bitter, somewhat metallic, utterly unlike the pleasing flavor I associate with coffee.  As I sit here, resigned to discarding the remainder of the wretched stuff in my cup, I wonder whether the coffee beans used in the powdery grinds went bad or whether the espresso machine has gone too long without cleaning? Or could it be something else? Perhaps a beetle or spider or other plump bug found its way into the little espresso pod, before it was sealed, where it decomposed and imparted the horrid flavor to what otherwise would be a wonderfully rich and flavorful delight. The nasty taste could be the work of the person(s) responsible for the Tylenol murders in the early 1980s—or copycats who may have gotten a macabre sense of satisfaction from imitating such unspeakable crimes. The origin of my awful experience with my morning espresso could be something entirely innocent; it might even be traceable to a combination of the taste of the toothpaste I used when brushing my teeth last night with the normal flavor of the ground intense dark roast beans used in the espresso. Whatever the source of the unpleasantness, I fervently hope it was a one-time experience. I hope, even more fervently, it was not the result of an obviously psychopathic would-be killer.

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The big television in our so-called TV Room,  not long after the pause button is pressed, displays a slow rotation of beautiful scenery from around the globe. Most of the photos are nature shots, with a few that mix nature and civilization in appealing ways (such as Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).  Those images, collectively, both sooth and create a sense of intense longing—longing to be in those places that appear to guarantee serenity. I imagine a week or a month relaxing on a huge, private country estate in Italy or enjoying the crystal clear waters and warm breezes on a private beach in the Caribbean or sitting by a roaring fire in a remote and very private lodge in the Swiss Alps. And, of course, many more places. All very private, very remote and free of obligations. No expectations imposed on me, other than abandoning all pressures and  shedding my every worry. I do not want to be expected to ski just because I am at a ski lodge, nor urged to hike just because I am in an area known for its pristine hiking trails, nor asked to swim or snorkel or dive just because I am in a place considered ideal for such activities. I simply want to be in such beautiful places; soak in the experience of sights and sounds and sensations of simply existing in those spots. Seclusion, privacy, and the freedom to simply soak-in one’s environment are available almost anywhere. I suppose I could find those luxuries almost anywhere. And I should. But adding the spectacular wonders I see in those television screens might amplify the experiences a thousand-fold.

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Trying to think deeply in shallow pools of thought is a frustrating experience.

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All the Corners

The morning hours are mine, alone, today. Yet the sense I am in control—that I have power over my direction—still eludes me. Intrusive thoughts, tearing through my brain like a runaway locomotive, twist hard steel rails into thin, flaccid fibers. Certainty dissolves into ambiguity. Serenity remains a chaotic broken promise. Perhaps more time—much more solitary time—is the cure. But that time must function like a wax candle. And those invasive thoughts must behave like drops of water—trying, but failing, to soak that wax through and through.

Sitting here, many hours after I woke, I realize this morning’s time was never mine. It belongs to listlessness and its co-conspirators. Even this blog was part of the conspiracy, refusing to let me write and add more to it—or even read what I wrote in the past. Finally, after hours of frustrated waiting, I was allowed access to my editor’s platform. By then, though, my unsuitability for the task was obvious; I was a riverboat captain’s apprentice, attempting to land a supersonic jet aircraft on a baseball diamond in Golden Gate Park. My exercise of a sense of productive control will have to wait for another time. And that is fine; gathering clouds and depressing rain are not conducive to bursts of creative energy.

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I summoned enough motivation during the last few minutes to call the auto shop to arrange work on a list of routine maintenance items; next week. And I called to get an appointment to get a haircut; tomorrow. The rest of the day belongs to lethargy; enslavement by fatigue. No searing agony; no excruciating discomfort. Just a dull emotional ache, punctuated by an occasional, but microscopically brief stabbing pain. The same tedious pin-prick-like sensations whose presence have made themselves known for quite some time. Annoying, but not intolerably so. The little symbol is simply an expression of my understanding of the universe, such as it is. However, I am not especially enamored with most symbols because their original, limited symbolism tends to expand exponentially over time with the insertion of ideas and beliefs by people who had no involvement with its creation. People like me. But my insertion tends to operate in reverse. I like minimal meaning; meaning that can be adopted and adapted by people who share some very broad ideas that parallel the original. But, in the overall scheme of things, who cares? That is an unanswerable question, of course, but it summons answers from every corner of existence.

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Jejune

If Brit-Box is a model of experience in England, a number of villages and significant areas of the English countryside are awash in murder. And, if Netflix reflects the legislative landscape throughout Scandinavia, that part of the world seethes with shocking political intrigue. Closer to home, if the old standby television companies (ABC, CBS, and NBC) accurately portray life in this country’s largest metropolitan regions, our big cities are bubbling cauldrons of violence and rage. But, of course, those representations are overblown dramas meant to invite viewership. The intrigue in those programs presents an enormously amplified depiction of fear-inducing circumstance; nothing realistic about them, right? Certainly. But, still, after watching several episodes of Blue Lights, my interest in wandering alone at night along the docks of Belfast has declined considerably. Why is it, I wonder, that we sometimes allow fiction to take control of our thought processes and emotions, manipulating our perceptions of places about which we know very little? It’s embarrassingly gullible to accept that a set of imaginary circumstances involving imaginary people doing ugly, violent, dastardly things represent reality. Hmm. The appeal of such programs rests, in part, on the knowledge that they are, in fact, fiction. If viewers who watch those shows were to believe they were watching as-it-happens documentaries, perceptions might be radically different (I would hope).

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Corn on the cob and quartered fresh tomatoes. Except for the subsequent requirement for hours-long flossing to remove corn debris from between the teeth, the meal approaches perfection. A touch of salt, some pepper, and a bit of butter to compliment the corn can turn an appealing dinner into a joyous feast. Almost any array of veggies and their kin—okra, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, scallions, carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, green beans, bell peppers, radishes, squash, etc.—can make an immensely satisfying meal. No crucial need for meat. I envy people who live close to farms where such veggies grow and have ready access year-round to a fabulous mix of food fresh-from-the-field.

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Church this morning, followed by lunch with a small group of members/friends. I am almost certain I will need a nap immediately after lunch. I won’t complain about that reality; at least not at the moment. I’ve come to appreciate that I feel considerably better…more rested and relaxed…after a nap. My age and infirmity is catching up with me.

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Mostly Talk

Some people are natural conversationalists. Some of us are not. Those of us who are not sometimes are labeled timid, quiet, reserved, dim-witted, private…the list goes on. Sometimes, the labels are radically different: pounce-ready, silently seething, brilliantly-murderous, pre-explosive, drenched in self-confidence…that list, too, extends for an eternity. Only people who spend a very long time in the presence of those of us who are simply observers or listeners can correctly (often) assign legitimate labels to us. Those labels might be legitimate for one minute or one hour or one day or one week, but they do not apply 24-7. Just like many others, observers tend to rotate between personalities. That means none of us can properly apply labels—that are reliably correct—to others. Our knowledge of people inside and outside of our spheres is, therefore, often artificial and almost always (at least partially) wrong.  We stumble blindly through individual and social experiences. No worries, though; we’re all equally as deaf, as well, and can smell a rat when we feel it biting our fingers. And even natural conversationalists often speak, unintentionally, in tongues that cannot differentiate between flavors.

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Meteorologists suggest that has-been Hurricane Beryl, now a tropical storm, may renew its “hurricane” label over the coming days as it nears the Texas coast. Forecast maps show the remnants of the storm sweeping through Arkansas on Thursday, with 25 MPH winds and some rain. Gentle rain is among the many weather events with which I have a close and personal relationship. Moderate winds, too, are my friends. That having been said, I also am enamored with shrieking, howling winds and horizontal, needle-like raindrops that appear capable of piercing steel; I prefer watching such storms from the safety of comfortable, impenetrable shelters. We shall see what actually transpires.

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Heart-burn has interrupted my evenings for two nights running. Somehow or another, I got in my head the idea that I was to stop using a prescription medication meant to prevent heartburn. Instead, I relied on Tums after-the-fact. I cannot trace the source of my apparent misunderstanding, so I will renew my nightly ritual of taking the prescribed medication. I wonder, though, if I would not have had the heartburn if the stresses an worries of the last few days had been absent. No matter how I try, I cannot seem to fully anaesthetize myself against them. I fully understand the pointless of worry; intellectual understanding and emotional sensation are entirely different experiences (as I’m sure I’ve said dozens of times). I’ll have some answers later in the week; that realization may quiet those stresses. If not the realization, maybe ****** will accomplish the task.

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A different environment. Like one on another planet, far far away.

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Ruminarian

History gives us a preview—a warning—of the future that awaits us if we ignore the lessons of experience. When we are the targets of that cautionary advice, we ignore it at our peril. Our disregard invites the repetition of past mistakes, modified and molded to suit a new time and new circumstances. More often than not, we acknowledge too late the messages that history provides. Is our proclivity toward repeating experiential mistakes a product of our stupidity, our arrogance, or both? Or is it simply a matter of failing to understand the differences between then and now are merely cosmetic?

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Friends invited us over for a wonderful meal yesterday. We enjoyed the feast they prepared and had a great time sitting and talking with them. As is often the case of late, though, I ran out of steam rather early. I understand that the processes of tests and treatments take their toll on my energy, but these latest rounds of frequent and sudden fatigue are becoming extremely annoying. I would have liked to have stayed and talked for hours, but my declining stamina insisted I should go home and recline on the loveseat. Once there, I found it impossible to stay awake and alert for long; I think I was in bed by nine. I woke many times during the night and finally decided, around 3, to get up and go about my day. Two hours have passed since I shuffled out to the kitchen. I may not write much more on this post, at least for now, because another wave of fatigue is washing over me. I sleep too much, but then when I try to stay awake, I learn I just have to acquiesce to whatever it is that requires me to nap, rest, sleep, whatever.

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This blog, long an outlet for my creativity, has become a whine-site—an outlet for my complaints about anything and everything.  I tire of it. I want to return to writing snippets of fiction—scenes that I might later weave into the fabric of stories (except for losing interest in them after a short time…is it ADHD?). If I cannot force myself to focus more time on writing, I will just have to dedicate my energies to ruling the world. “My energies?” I might need to limit the territory over which I seek control to the end of the driveway and work on the rest of the world later.

 

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Looking Inside My Lungs

According to a couple of demographers (Toshiko Kaneda and Carl Haub), who updated an earlier estimate in 2022, 109 billion of people have lived and died since 190,000 BCE. Counting the additional people alive as of their updated 2022 estimate, the number of people who have ever lived is roughly 117 billion. With relatively few exceptions, each of those who lived and died have been mourned, as if they were among a tiny cluster of people who mattered. For those who mourned them, they were people who mattered. For most of the rest of humanity, they were unknown and unworthy of tears—their lives and deaths were largely irrelevant in the macro sense.  Even in the micro sense, the relevance of most of them diminished with time. We still acknowledge plenty of them, of course: Plato, Albert Einstein, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, Julius Caesar, Kahlil Gibran, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Atilla, Emperor Shōwa…there are hundreds more. But those hundreds, or thousands—even if they number in the millions—represent only a miniscule fraction of all who have lived. The relevance of those we recognize from the past were relevant only to a limited extent; their relevance did not embed itself in the psyches of every person living at the same time they lived…and far fewer as time wore on. An argument could be made, I suppose, that one’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother remains relevant today because, absent her existence, her great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchild would not have been born. But memories and relevance do not necessarily occupy the same places in the brain. Are any of us relevant today? Will any of us be relevant in one thousand years? Who knows? I do not. I do not know whether my assertions in this paragraph are true. My fingers deliver unverified thoughts to the screen. The reader believes them with peril.

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The results of my bronchoscopy on Tuesday were not the stuff of celebration. We spent a long day at the hospital—arriving at 8 and returning home around 4. My procedure was scheduled to “fit me in” whenever the pulmonologist could. I was wheeled into the procedure room right at noon. They claim I was awake (under “moderate sedation”), but I remember nothing between being asked to bite down on a mouth guard that provides a stable entry for the scope and opening my eyes after the procedure. We then waited for the doctor to come in to discuss the findings. He showed us photos taken from the scope inside my right lung. He said the images showed that it was not Keytruda (immuno treatment drug) that was responsible for the concerning images on the PET scan. [Apparently, the purpose of the bronchoscopy was to determine whether Keytruda was to blame.] Instead, he said, “it’s the disease.” He said he could not perform a biopsy because the tangle of blood vessels all around the prospective biopsy area would have immediately filled the lung with blood and I would have to intubated. The doctor’s bedside manner was a smidgeon better than the last time I saw him, but his demeanor made me think he could have been a robot created without the usual robotic levels of compassion and empathy. Of course, my reaction to him might based on the news he delivered, rather than the way he delivered it. What matters is his technical, medical competence; everyone I spoke to about him, even people who once worked for him and said he was arrogant, offered compliments about his expertise. I expect to discuss with my oncologist next week more detail about the results of the bronchoscopy and the  next steps in dealing with the resurgence of the cancer. Tuesday night, I had some of the common side-effects of the procedure: coughing, slight fever, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. With breaks for throwing up early Tuesday evening, etc., I spent 20+ hours between the time I got home on Tuesday and yesterday afternoon sleeping. Still, I know I am much more fortunate than many, many people who deal with such matters. I am deeply unhappy that I am adding more stress to an incredibly stressful time for mi novia. Ach.

 

 

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Complaints About Gratitude

My good fortune is almost boundless, especially compared to the circumstances confronting million and millions of my fellow Earthlings. But, still, I complain about the difficulties I face. With all those difficulties, I should not have to acknowledge the bounties of my good luck; but there it is.

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Naps, I’ve decided, are shields. They provide temporary protection—in the form of unconsciousness—from the psychological damage to which a person is naturally exposed by living in today’s brutally uncaring world. Children are taught, early, to rely on naps to replenish energy and to secure protection from the harsh world of adults and adulthood. Some of us forget those childhood lessons, though, retrieving them from ancient memory banks long after extensive swaths of time have robbed us of the safety and shelter of naps. Naps reduce the pressure in our heads; they are the relief valves that prevent unnecessary explosions.

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Medical bureaucracy—infamous for its speed that rivals frigid syrup—likes to surprise skeptics. In an unexpected burst of speed, I received phone calls yesterday, while sitting in the treatment chair at the oncology clinic…to schedule my bronchoscopy for this morning. The precise timing of the procedure is more than a little indeterminate, but will be performed this morning…well, today, anyway.  Mi novia, whose calendar for today conflicts with my bronchoscopy, insists on providing my transportation (I cannot drive myself because the procedure involves general anesthesia). So, despite generous friends who were more than willing to come to may aid, she cancelled her plans to care for me. I am not quite sure what my oncologist hopes to learn from the bronchoscopy. I know, I should not have left her office without fully understanding the purpose of the procedure. But my brain becomes scrambled by the reasons for all the scans and infusions and procedures and medications; I acquiesce to the notion that “they are better equipped than I” to determine the best courses of treatment, etc.

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Still Unsure

Half of the year disappeared at a speed even faster than Time. If I were to try to be cute, I would say it was more like Time Squared. But I’m not being cute. This is profoundly serious stuff. Male Sugar Ants (those in Florida, anyway) live only about a week; so, a period we call six months is equivalent to 126 consecutive lifetimes for Sugar Ants. If human lives lasted as long, on a comparative basis, our average 80-year lifetimes would translate into 20,160  years. If Time correlates with lifetime experience, those of us who live longer than 80 years will be even more ancient when measured in Sugar-Ant-Lifetime-equivalents. But Time is not necessarily a correlate of anything. Time just is; unless you subscribe to the idea that Time simply is a notion developed to make it easy to pinpoint events relative to other events, on an imaginary line. (In much the same way monetary units were created to measure exponential increases in greed.)

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Reaching the crescendo of a temporary social wave. That is the quickly-diminishing and overly-hopeful expectation. Social waves either create rip tides and guiding currents or cause mass drownings that should have been expected. Sociology and social psychology offer the only plausible explanations for those powerful circumstances in which collective thought (which requires individual thoughts) alters the individual thoughts from which they emerged. That is, the generation of collective thought by way of digesting an almost endless supply of individual—and frequently opposite/counter—thoughts.

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My term as president of the local UU church is behind me. Not that it was legitimately onerous in any way, but I am glad to have had the shreds of pressure peeled away from me. Henceforth, when I opt not to attend a church service or other church function, I will not have to deal with as much unnecessary guilt. That, alone, has been a troubling pressure; because I am overly, irrationally sensitive. Sometimes, certain aspects of my personality irritate me no end. When they become intrusive, I should flog myself with a thick piece of wet sisal rope, thus forcing those quirks to evacuate my brain (occasionally leaving my cranial cavity completely empty).

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Instead of watching Brit-Box programs last night (who-done-its, lately), I foraged through Amazon Music to listen to a few tunes I do not hear enough:

  • Quiet Town, by the Killers
  • Sultans of Swing, by Dire Straits
  • Making a Fire, by Foo Fighters
  • Multiple selections by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ (together and separately)
  • Multiple selections by Ruthie Foster
  • And a long mix of others

Music—both the lyrics and the tunes—amplifies or solidifies or otherwise codifies one’s mood. Not always, of course, but often. When listening to music alone, I have a tendency to immerse myself in the lyrics and allow the tune to wash over me, insulating me from the world outside my insular shell. When listening with someone else (or in a setting with a few friends), the focus on the music is not as intense. I unconsciously look for clues in the faces of those around me that we share high appreciation for certain elements of a song—the emotional tone established by the tune or the path of intellectual excursions set by the lyrics. I used to get lost in music for hours at a time. Now, music is not as much of a part of my life as it once was. Yet when I immerse myself in music, I feel like I’ve shed 10 or 20 years; I should drown myself in music more often, methinks.\

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Distance shares some mysteries with Time. But Time is ever on the move, while Distance can languish, eventually becoming meaningless by virtue of its stagnation. Philosophies about travel vary widely; frequently, philosophies are diametrically opposed to one another. “Travel is the best way to know the world and yourself.” or “Time away from home is time of lost understanding.” Something like that. Both are woven from the same fabric and both are true to some extent.

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Another visit to the oncologist this afternoon, this time to spend one or two hours getting an infusion of magnesium—the mineral in my blood that seems perpetually low. I hope to learn the scope and schedule of my new treatment regimen, though details on those matters may have to wait on the as-yet-unscheduled bronchoscopy and the desensitization process which will enable use of the chemo as a treatment to which I earlier developed an allergy.  That’s an embarrassingly long sentence. After writing such a convoluted string of words, I feel dirty. I need to shower.

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Things Are Not Always the Way They Are

Sometimes, restraining the tendency to ascribe human emotions to Mother Nature is hard—almost impossible. Acres of huge trees, each massive piece of timber weighing thousands of pounds, slammed to the ground by tornadic winds. Streams, transformed by endless rainfall into oceans of fast-moving rapids, consume huge and stately houses as swirling water and mud devour once-dry-land turned into river banks. Glaciers break into giant melting icebergs, increasing sea levels enough to drown ocean-front communities. The examples of Natural rage are too numerous to name. Mother Nature can no longer be considered a cooperative companion. Instead, she has become an enraged, vindictive adversary, bent on inflicting maximum pain on us. We treated her as a slave and servant to our desires; revenge is now hers. She has only just begun to unleash her wrath on humankind. Be warned.

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Mi novia is now in possession of a new vehicle, replacing the low-mileage aging auto she has driven for several years. I sat back and watched as she deftly negotiated a very favorable deal. Her interchange with the sales associate and sales manager went quickly; it was a painless process. The challenge to me, now, is to avoid catching a case of incurable new-car-fever. My vehicle, a year older and with twice the mileage of the one she discarded like an old shoe, continues to serve me well—but it is asking me to invest an enormous amount of money for expected major maintenance. My discipline is in the balance.

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The difficulty (one of them, anyway) with Time is this: it speeds by when we want it to linger, but it is painfully slow when we need it to hurry to answer pressing questions. I do not want to wait to know exactly what to expect with regard to my new treatment regimen and when to expect it. But Time has its own agenda. It thinks it can teach me patience, so it puts me through a slow-motion process of acquiring information…not knowledge, just information. What makes Time think it can teach me patience? How utterly arrogant! And cruel! Time is much like Nature in that regard; both are unwilling to cede control over our experiences. That’s why I fantasize. Fantasy gives me significantly greater control over life’s experiences than does Reality. Contrary to the way it is so often depicted, Madness can be an extraordinarily pleasing experience. So I’ve been told.

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Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence.

~ Edgar Allan Poe ~

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Additional Context

Time has a sound—like a whispered hiss; its volume so low only Time itself can hear it. In fact, no other sound has volume so low. Because Time is the perpetual companion of the Universe, situations in which sound is absent are impossible. The idea silence is the opposite of sound is mythic; based on faulty information. In fact, silence is the word created specifically to apply to the sound Time makes. Someone recently—or long ago—published assertions that the imposition of complete removal of external sound causes a person to hear the body’s blood flow. Then, after no more than 45 seconds, the poor person goes mad. Now, whether this came from a reliable source or from The Ambulance Chaser and Gossip Spreader Monthly Magazine, I do not know. I choose to believe the assertion probably has elements of Truth and its opposite, Falsehood. This brief obsession with opposites is making my mind wander. What about Time? Does Time have an opposite? Always and Never are subsets of Time, of course, so perhaps the subset provides legitimacy to the idea that Time has an opposite.

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An apple turnover would be the perfect peacemaker between today and me. There are times I cannot smile without the opulent taste of sugar in my mouth; this is one such time. I am tempted (that is, I am in the process of tempting myself) to get in my car and drive to a nearby doughnut shop. But I probably won’t. Actually, I’m close to certain I won’t. Damn it. Ach! I rarely feel such a strong need to eat sweets; I hope my discipline is strong enough to resist the urge this morning.

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Mi novia has an unquenchable desire to investigate. She spent many years as a fraud investigator. That experience infected her with a chronic desire to know more about places, times, things, people…everything. Consequently, almost immediately after meeting people, she knows where they live, the value of their homes, whether they have criminal records, their marital status, their approximate net worth, and possibly the last piece of clothing they purchased online from Macy’s. I share her desire to learn more through investigation. Have I mentioned that I am considering becoming a working private investigator (PI)? We could become a PI team; perhaps call it BS Investigations. No, the idea of going through a boatload of bureaucratic nonsense to get a license is off-putting to me. I may have to do it under the table. Maybe call it Anonymous Investigations.

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Two hours is almost inconceivably short, compared to the age of the universe. But two hours, in essence, is more than a lifetime to a newborn baby. Context defines every aspect of our experience. I’ve written it so many times, but I have not been able to get across the significance of context. Its level of importance often exceeds that of the events that place in the middle of it.

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We Pretend Hope is Real

Today, June 28, is a day of reflection for me. In one sense, it is a normal day—a day like any other. But in an another way the day has deep personal significance. This day impels me to think deeply, with mixed gratitude and regret, about how I came to be who I am and to acknowledge that the past sets the stage for the future. Today, my emotions are complex; a tangle of joy and anguish about all the yesterdays and the promise of every tomorrow. As powerful as today’s imprint is on me, though, it is not about me. Words lack the power to explain the inexplicable.

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Yesterday’s morning’s visit with my oncologist confirmed that the results of my PET scan were not what I had hoped for. The changes in my body went in the wrong direction, leading the doctor to make some changes in treatment. The intent, from the start, was for me to have a four-course round of chemo treatments, followed by two years of immunotherapy. Tuesday’s results revealed that the progress initially made during chemo was largely “undone.” So, the oncologist plans to use a different combination of chemo therapies, including one to which I had developed an allergy early on; she will use a process intended to “desensitize” me to that drug. Assuming that process is effective, she will combine that drug with some others (plus immunotherapy) to continue chemo. She also referred me to a pulmonologist for a bronchoscopy, which may help identify certain attributes of some areas of concern revealed by the PET scan. I have yet to learn when that procedure will be scheduled. Mi novia pointed out to me that the oncologist did not appear panicked by the results (if she had appeared panicked, I might be a tad more concerned). The magnesium level in my blood remains inadequately low, so yesterday’s office visit was capped by a one-hour infusion; an attempt to overcome that stubborn inadequacy. I will have another magnesium infusion on Monday. My hope for a respite from taking up residence in the oncology center seems to have been dashed. 🙂 So it goes.

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We watched and listened in horror to last night’s Presidential Debate. Just a few minutes in, both of us began to cringe at every one of Biden’s unintelligible responses, his failure to call out Trump’s inexhaustible supply of lies, and visual clues about the President’s confusion. I like Joe Biden, but his performance during last night’s debate was horrendous. During the debate, mi novia and I described our reactions to the situation; the talking heads’ discussions after the debate echoed our deep, deep concerns. I cannot imagine Biden successfully recovering from such an abysmal performance. Even in the face of the oh-so-obvious lies that spewed from Trump’s mouth, Biden could not seem to collect his thoughts to respond. I do not see a way out; even if Biden were to leave the race, I cannot imagine Harris (or anyone else) gathering enough steam to overcome last night’s debacle. I will (with more than a little distaste in my mouth) vote for whoever is at the top of the Democratic ticket, of course; a second Trump term would be (and, I’m afraid, will be) utterly disastrous. Damn it!

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Oklahoma says it will require the Bible to be taught in public schools. Louisiana will require the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the state’s classrooms. Religious zealots all over the country (but especially in the South) are pulling out all the stops to try to get judgements from the Supreme Court that would tear down all remnants of the wall between church and state. Welcome to the End Times.

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I wish I could find an inspiring quotation—extolling the power of hope—that could convince me of its own validity. But every time I find one that seems to hold promise, it implodes on itself. Are all “hopograms” as substantively imaginary as holograms?

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Moments

Imagine watching an entire video clip, which normally would take ten minutes, in just one minute. But, instead of seeing blurred images race by at ten times actual speed, imagine that the entire video appears to take place in real-time—yet events outside the video take place occur at a much faster pace; accelerated in a ten-to-one ratio. Though such a scenario may be difficult to envision or understand, that experience plays out for me most mornings. During the ten minutes it takes me each morning to take my first round of daily pills, feed the cat, make a cup of espresso, and sit down at my computer, more than an hour and a half of the day has flown by. Whether I am dividing my experience between two dimensions of space and time or simply repeating a daily mental break, I do not know; perhaps both. This morning, darkness became full-on daylight in less time than is required to inhale and then exhale a single breath. But the clock claimed otherwise, insisting that more than an hour elapsed between breaths. At precisely the moment I want time to slow, its speed quadruples—or more—but when I want time to hurry along, it flows like thick, cold molasses. I am not ready for hours to behave as if they were seconds. Yet, seconds can tend to plod along as if they were days or weeks…when I would much rather jump past periods in which time indelibly etches certain experiences into my brain. Maybe my experience with time is entirely artificial. But I think not.

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A tiny flying insect buzzes by—and then into—my ear. My hand, attempting to swat the creature into oblivion, is far too slow. The pest easily evades my attempt at insecticide. I think I hear its microvocal  laugh as it disappears into the vast emptiness of the air in my office. I had hoped, incidentally, that I had coined a fresh new neologism with microvocal. But, no, the word is not mine; others imagined it long before I decided I needed a new word to describe miniature sound the way microscopic applies to miniature size/sight. How can a person create new words when the chosen words have already been taken?  Ach, I’ve rolled off into a mental ditch again; thoughts should be subject to control through the installation of tracks to prevent distractcidents. Another futile effort at word-craft.

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That damnable flying beast is at it again, this time attempting to reach my lungs through my nose. If it continues, I may turn to serious measures, such as stabbing it with an icepick. Before I attempt to take such drastic action, I will want to feel absolutely confident in my ability to stop the icepick’s movement at precisely the moment the weapon pierce’s the monster’s heart; otherwise, I might have to uncomfortably explain why I jammed an icepick up my nose or, worse, into my brain.

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Two hours from now, I will visit my oncologist to hear her explain the results of my PET scan. Though I have no control over the results (and so should not be worried about them), I will admit to feel apprehensive…anxious…a tad fretful about listening to her tell me what the scan revealed and what the results suggest for further treatments. Too much of my train of thought revolves around my diagnosis. I do not want to be fixated on what is only a possibility, not a certainty. Yet I cannot seem to help thinking the news could be bad and it could suggest my previous thoughts—that any “worst case” outcome would be at some unimaginable time in the future—may have been overly optimistic. But I will try to think positive; I have far too much on my agenda to let such obstacles take control of my optimism. And, again, worrying about things over which I have little or no control is a waste of time, energy, and emotion. Instead, I’ll make it my mission to enjoy all the moments I can.

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Later today, I will preside over my last church board meeting. I am happy to pass the chalice (we have no gavel, as far as I know) to my successor. Despite the fact that the role has not been burdensome, its potential to be demanding has been enough to make me feel a bit of pressure. I welcome the opportunity to let someone else assume my worries (and enjoy the challenges). I want to take a vacation from Hot Springs Village, leaving behind for a while all the demands on my time…not that they are particularly heavy nor onerous. A week in an ocean-side cabin, watching the Pacific Ocean while sitting in a hot tub and wallowing in decadence, would be just fine.

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Seething

Even when people are found guilty of a heinous crime and subsequently and irreversibly  sentenced to death, they tend to hold out hope that something—the State, the Universe, God, anything—will intervene to save them. People diagnosed with an incurable, terminal disease may cling to the same futile wish for salvation. Facing the certainty of one’s own impending demise is very nearly impossible to comprehend; even highly intelligent, extremely rational people often find inconceivable the possibility that their lives may really end. Belief in an afterlife is one way of coping with the inevitable. In the absence of such belief, though, they may “accept” their own death. But they might envision “seeing” themselves dead…as if consciousness extends after their life ends. Why, I wonder, do we find it so difficult to comprehend the incomprehensible?

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Yesterday’s PET scan took significantly less time than usual (the technicians told me they were uncharacteristically ahead of schedule), but the time I spent being examined by the machine seemed longer than normal. While I waited for the injected radioactive dye to circulate through my body, I heard a technician comfort and reassure another patient whose procedure was to follow mine. The patient’s husband had been undergoing cancer treatment and, now, she was getting a PET scan to help determine whether she, too, has some form of cancer. A wave of compassion washed over me as I listened to her frail voice admit to being afraid. Hearing the technician attempt to calm her nerves, I felt admiration for him. He must frequently need to help patients get through a very stressful experience; though he might have been trained to handle such situations, he sounded to me absolutely genuine as he tried to comfort her. I think even heartless, highly-trained liars cannot fake compassion. This guy’s tone of voice and his choice of words sounded to me absolutely authentic.

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When I learned I had a recurrence of cancer, I was surprised. I felt sure, five years after my diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I had beat the beast. I knew, though, from shortly after my oncologist told me of the recurrence, it was serious. I asked her, directly, whether the treatments she would use to combat the cancer were expected to cure me or whether they would be intended to extent my life. She said her intent was to extend my life. That honest response jolted me a bit, but I am glad she did not try to sugar coat her answer. Research I had done revealed that the five-year survival rate after a diagnosis like mine was not as high as I would like. Ten-year rates and beyond were even less uplifting. But I had already slightly beaten the odds at five years, so I was ahead of the game. The last PET scan before yesterday revealed the cancer was responding as hoped to the chemo treatments. I will find out tomorrow whether that trend has continued. If so, great. If not, I’ll ask whether additional therapies are in order. No matter how much I would like to be lackadaisical about it, I can’t seem to muster as much stoicism as I would like. But I am reconciled with the fact that I have limited control over the progress of the disease. I hope, of course, to get good news. As in all things miniscule and mighty, time will tell.

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Greed and growth are not necessarily synonymous, but they often exist in the mindsets of the same people. They share the attitude that “more” is sacred. Power and profit are sacrosanct elements of their philosophies. I want to train to immerse myself in the beauty of minimalism; the serenity of “less.” But that serenity is difficult to achieve, after a lifetime of social pressure. Competition to accumulate, to win, to spread, to increase, to thrive as measured by aggrandizement. “I want” can be an ugly word pairing. Yet I used it in this snippet of thought as an objective. We confuse ourselves by saying we want to eliminate poverty while hoarding food that could feed the starving and by building McMansions rather than providing shelter to people who need a place to sleep.

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Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

~ Edward Abbey ~

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I do not know the object of my anger, only that rage threatens to consume my animosity as if anger were an ice cube.

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Enough for Now

What if…

Sounds had flavor? Every color had a unique odor? Vision was always accompanied by a noise exclusive to the sight being seen?

Would our experience of life be radically different from today’s “normal?” Or would those variations from what we consider natural, today, go unnoticed? Curiosity is not necessarily instructive or informative; some might say unanswered curiosity is just wasted thought. The jury’s still out on that one, I think. And it will remain so well beyond the end of Time.
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A “bite” has suddenly appeared on the outside of my right elbow. The itch and the raised, round evidence that a nearly-invisible creature recently attacked me suggests I have been targeted by a chigger. But I have not been outside for well over 24 hours…so how could a chigger have managed to make its way to my outer-elbow and bite me within the last ten minutes? It is a mystery to me. A distressing mystery. A worrisome, alarming, annoying, irritating mystery. If anything positive were to come out of the incineration of Planet Earth in an impossibly gigantic thermonuclear blast, one of the most appealing outcomes would be the extinction of chiggers. And, of course, Peace on Earth. Let’s not forget Peace on Earth.

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In preparation for today’s PET scan, I ate very little yesterday: a bagel with cream cheese along with a peach yoghurt for breakfast and some tuna salad for lunch; no dinner. I was instructed to consume no carbs and no sweets/sugars of any kind after 10 yesterday morning. And nothing but water after 6 this morning. I can feel and hear my gut twisting and churning, as if is in the process of digesting itself. Surprisingly, though, I do not feel especially hungry. Unless, of course, I have moved beyond hunger and into the starvation phase; I doubt it.

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My brain is empty of creativity. Again. I’ll stop attempting to perform the impossible; enough for now.

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Slow Recall

A bank in Huntsville, Texas once lent me money to buy a pair of glasses to replace a pair that broke—I think. I was living hand-to-mouth at the time, with my income as a prison system research intern barely enough to cover basic living expenses. If my recall is accurate, the loan was $200 or less. The memory is vague, at best. It could be entirely artificial. But why would my brain manufacture such a mundane, synthetic memory? I suppose the mind can fill in blank spaces around incomplete recollections simply to give otherwise meaningless pieces of pointless consciousness some relevance. Yet does the brain need relevance in every shred of memory? My guess is that relevance is not necessary to justify remembering specific moments. On the other hand, maybe only experiences that were—or seem to be—relevant in some way qualify for registration in the brain as memories. Most of our lives’ experiences probably are irrelevant; otherwise, we might all have photographic memories. While trying to make sense this morning of my thoughts surrounding the subject, I learned another term for such precise recall: eidetic memory. But photographic memory and eidetic memory are slightly different; the former is limited to visual experiences, whereas the latter includes recall of auditory and other sensory experiences. I will not remember the distinction between the two, of course; nor will I remember the meaning of eidetic. For now, though, the differences and similarities may be relevant. Or may not be of any value whatsoever. I am almost certain that I no longer have any physical record of the bank loan transaction; if, indeed, it actually took place. It does not matter, of course. The importance of the memory—whether real or false—does not rise to the level of relevant. So, why does it exist? Dunno.

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Speaking of memories, they are unreliable. Even crisp, clear, vivid recollections sometimes are distortions; similar to reality, perhaps, but not dependably accurate. That being said, maybe “false” memories are not truly false. Perhaps they simply are misrepresentations of historical experience—efforts to fashion full-blown memories out of bent and broken fragments. Some dreams may arise from similar attempts. But a dream (or a “memory”) in which the recollection involves one’s service in the Union Army during the Civil War probably has not connection to reality. Probably? Huh!

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Beginning at roughly 10 this morning, I must refrain from consuming sugars, starches, and dairy until 6 tomorrow morning, at which time I must refrain from eating and drinking until after tomorrow’s PET scan. The instructions I was given were oral; by phone. Ideally, I would have been given a sheet of paper (or an online reference) with more details; such as whether the sugars in strawberries and blueberries are off limits or, instead, just the raw stuff. What can I eat? Steak? Bacon? Lettuce? Earthworms? Brussels sprouts? Fasting probably is the safest route to take. I should recommend to the medical folks, though, that incomplete oral instructions should be replaced with more comprehensive written materials. But will I?

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Never question the relevance of truth, but always question the truth of relevance.

~ Craig Bruce ~

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Pain triggers fear. Not always, but often enough to give it credence. “It?” Referring to which, pain or fear? Everyone is a heartbeat or a brainwave away from “the end.” Yet we assume that last heartbeat or final brainwave will be much, much later. At least we hope so.

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Health

I, who lately have made too many trips to the hospital with my own ailments, was not the one who needed last night’s visit to the hospital ER. The culmination of mi novia‘s week-long fatigue, multiple (and long-lasting) nose bleeds with subsequent headaches, and abnormally high blood pressure prompted the trip to CHI in Hot Springs. The doctor who saw her seemed to agree that recent stressful situations (the death of her sister-in-law and her mother just days apart, coupled with travel to and from California and related strains and stresses) shouldered much of the responsibility for those symptoms. But he referred her to an ENT specialist for the nose bleed and gave her a prescription to address the blood pressure issue if it reaches a certain level. And he suggested an over-the-counter medication to deal with any addition nose bleeds. He instructed us to return to the ER, though, if the nose bleed returned and could not be controlled. Stress-relief and rest, too, were mentioned as treatments. Fortunately, when we arrived at the hospital around 8:00 p.m., there was no Saturday night ER frenzy (yet), so she was seen by nurses and the ER doctor right away. We were home by around 10. Of course, the evening’s excitement left us both wired, so we got to bed late (for me, anyway). So, we’re skipping church again (we missed last week to spend time with visiting family). Today will be a day of rest and relaxation for mi novia, provided I can persuade her to let me handle our to-do list by myself. My responsibilities as caregiver pale in comparison to what she has had to deal with over the past many months—but they remind me of what that role requires.

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Early this morning I read an article on the AP website about onigiri, a Japanese dish of rice balls typically stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in seaweed (nori). The fillings (called gu) range from umeboshi (salted plum) to mentaiko (hot, spicy roe) and all manner of things in between. Onigiri are simple; made by hand of sticky rice, gu, and nori, though only the rice is absolutely required. The article mentioned various ingredients for gu,  some of which I might find to locate: salmon, shrimp, miso-flavored ginger, a pungent Japanese pickle (iburigakko), edible kelp (kombu). That notwithstanding, I think I’d like to try my hand at making onigiri one day before long. Feel free to join me. My understanding is that it’s healthy.

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Even the Associated Press (AP) news website has allowed advertisements to creep in, though they appear on the home page only near the bottom. But CNN and FoxNews seem unconcerned that advertisements might be confused for news. In fact, I wonder whether the confusion is exactly what they are after; advertisers may pay more for something that looks like a genuine information source, rather than an obvious piece of propaganda hawking products or politics. The NPR website probably is nearly (or maybe even completely) free of ads-as-news, but I’m not as certain today as I was five years ago. Aljazeera includes ads on its various region-specific home pages; those ads, though, are quite obviously advertisements and not blatant attempts to trick visitors into believing they are dependable news resources. I understand their need to generate revenue, but I cannot trust news from sites that do so by misleading customers. I harp on this topic more often than I’d like, but it’s something I feel must be done. Though I doubt most visitors to this, my blog, site would be confused by the attempted misdirection. I’m just annoyed that news sources cannot be trusted to deliver news that can be trusted.

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I have been up since around 5 this morning, very early for me of late. Until late last year, I was (generally) reliably up between 4:30 and 6. These days, no matter when I get up, I am sure to feel tired and in need of a nap within two or three hours of waking. I feel that need now. Ach! I’d rather feel energized and ready to take on the world. Instead, I get the impression the world is ready to take me on; and win. Perhaps another hit of espresso will provide the injection of fuel I need to overcome the desire to sleep. I’ll give it a try; if it doesn’t work, I’ll give in to my body’s desire for more rest. That, I’m told, is good for one’s health.

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Ruminations Again

Comfort and anxiety are like two magnets attempting to establish dominance over the other. Each one repels the other. But anxiety is the more powerful of the two. Anxiety is covertly muscular and subtly assertive. Comfort tends to quickly acquiesce to its stronger opponent’s implied—or actual—ferocity. But even in its suggested savagery, anxiety is not as strong as fear. And comfort is not synonymous with luxury. Similes often lose their persuasive qualities when confronted with metaphorical insistence.

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Life is wasted on the living.

~ Douglas Adams ~

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Never is not the opposite of sometimes. Always is not an antonym of occasionally. Live (liv) and live (līv) look alike, but sound different from one another…and have different (though related) meanings. Language fascinates me, but not to the extent that I would want to devote my life’s work to understanding all the intricacies and conflicts and confounding curiosities of any language; even the one whose fluency I continue to pursue (but not with dogged determination). What, exactly, is one’s life work, by the way? What has mine been?

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It is hard for me to say, with a straight face, that I have spent my life’s work becoming an accomplished association executive (or manager or whatever). Associations are just clubs that have decided to clothe themselves in slacks, button-down shirts, and shiny leather shoes. Clubs are satisfied to wear cut-off jeans, paint-stained t-shirts, and flip-flops. Oh, there’s more to it than the attire, of course, but that provides an adequate illustration of their differences to create sufficient understanding. But people who take the “profession” of association management seriously (too seriously, in my view) would argue that managing such organizations requires extensive knowledge, communications skills, an understanding of  and ability to apply organizational psychology, managerial expertise, diplomacy, tact, and much, much more. Having done the work, I smirk at many of those assertions; I have seen many trained seals celebrated for doing a perfectly adequate job. A slight exaggeration, yes; but only very slight. And I was one of them. My life’s work. I beam with pride. Don’t get me wrong. I know many extremely intelligent, remarkably capable people who are or have been association executives—but those people could have spent their careers doing work that could have made a positive difference in the world.

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I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

~ William Shakespeare ~

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The arrival of Saturday…it has happened again.

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Mixed Messages

Stacks of individual sheets from newspapers. A poem, typed on a single 8 x 11 sheet of paper, missing from those stacks. Broken hand-held garden trimmers. Weed killer, meant to supplant those broken trimmers, sprayed indiscriminately on prized decorative garden plants. A trio of arrogant salesmen, whose especially obnoxious leader is later revealed to be entirely artificial, who refuse to leave the premises, even after the police were summoned. Unkempt, smelly passengers—on a chartered motor coach—discussing topics about which they were badly misinformed. A broken deadbolt lock that triggered a delay in beginning a long walk to a critically important, time-sensitive distant meeting. Growing panic caused by the realization that I had only two weeks to complete almost twelve months’ worth of administrative preparation that I had utterly ignored for a year. Some of these scenarios may have been related to others, but then again maybe not. They all were waiting for my brain to sort out when I awoke this morning. My brain has yet to sort them out. Some of them may have been leftovers from brief moments of sleep from the night before. Again, though, maybe not. But they seem to have been fragments of dreams—dreams that were in the process of being carved into nightmares of one kind or another. Sleep and dreams and time share mysteries I cannot understand. No matter the impeccable logic used to explain them, they remain mysterious and threatening and impossible to avoid.

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A temperature of absolute zero would be, according to Google’s latest announcement (this morning), 0 kelvin, or -273.15 degrees Celsius, or -460 degrees Fahrenheit. That, theoretically, is the coldest temperature possible. Depending on which theory one chooses to believe, the hottest temperature might be 10 trillion degrees Kelvin (1012 K). But that is relatively cool, compared to the Planck temperature, which some theorists say is 1032 K. Having never been able to comprehend conversations about the magical mysteries of physics, I do not (nor do I want to make the effort to) understand such extreme numbers. But even in my luxurious ignorance, such stuff fascinates me. If only I could be given an injection of pure understanding and maximum knowledge, I think I would be happy to know what, at present, I do not. But if I have to work for it…no. I am mentally retired. Yet I would like to understand Hagedorn temperature but, again, only if a painless injection would accomplish that state of awareness.

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My first real “date” took place well before I had my driver’s license. My father drove Maggie and me to the theatre, where she and I watched Fantastic Voyage. I have very little memory of subsequent dates, except one with Nancy, who tickled me before we got out of the car (I was driving by then) to go inside the theatre. I have no idea of what we went to see. I remember only that I walked Nancy to her front door afterward, where she kissed me with a fervency I rarely experienced thereafter. Dating seems, to me, overly formal. Enjoying time spent with someone for whom one feels a budding attraction need not be labeled. The label can carry too much weight, especially for external observers who sometimes think it merits more seriousness than it deserves.

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If governments spent as much on medical research as they do on space exploration, military might, and/or warfare, I might be able to stop in at Healthy Replacement Store #71 and pick up new eyeballs that would give me comfort, perfect vision, and cosmetic choice. The same store could provide me with replacement lungs (unlimited warranty, of course), a new and improved bladder, fresh kidneys, a pristine liver, the perfect pancreas, and a full-length intestinal tract. And more, naturally. But warfare and its supporting services line the pockets of a greater number of greed-mongers than does healthcare (even though healthcare does a fair amount of pocket-lining of its own). The idea of off-the-shelf, high-quality body parts has significant appeal. But so does on-demand transplantation. Yet on-demand organ-harvesting presents some ethical issues. Does the donor have a say in the matter? Or does “on-demand” mean I could select anyone to be a donor? Even if the donor had to be agreeable to giving, would I be required to accept any healthy organ offered to me? What if I rejected an organ from a healthy donor (alive or dead) I considered unacceptably stupid? (Who wants a kidney from a donor who’s dumber than a rock?) Would the sketchy ethics of my bigotry be enough to stop the transaction? Or would I be “punished” by being forced to accept the organ? So many questions. So many possibilities.

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The time is almost 9 a.m. I’ve wasted half the damn day by getting up late, plodding along with this blog, and otherwise being lazy and unproductive. Such is life.

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Formula

Most of them are vague—memories that seem to emerge from a different life—but a few are so crystal clear as to be deceitful. Those vivid remembrances confuse the brain, insisting the experiences are taking place again, for the first time, in the here and now. Yet those recollections are fictional fabrics, woven from real threads combined with imaginary fibers. They are so real and so synthetic they call into question the truth of even those memories about which there can be no doubts. All reminiscences become suspect; are all the elements of the full catalog of memories artificial? Can thoughts about the past be trusted? And if the past is dubious, what of the present? If the future relies on the present for a foundation, a future based on a vaporous, unreliable present must be unstable. Like a cloud of invisible gas that may exist—or may not. Certainty is only a fantasy; like a dream constructed of ice placed in a hot kiln.

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Magic tricks are meant to deceive. We applaud them for their ingenuity and their dishonesty. “Do not tell lies, children, unless they are all in good fun.” Mixed messages muddle the mind with madness. Confusion negates opportunities to learn the lessons we try to teach. Trust evaporates when a child is encouraged to lick the bottom of an ice tray. Perhaps that is the point; educating the child about the dangers of the real world. Instilling doubt and distrust in a young mind as a means of equipping the child to be wary of a cruel, uncaring world.

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The seeds of the distressed little town I planted in my mind are growing. They might grow faster if I were to devote a solid month to nourishing the budding buildings and the people who occupy them. The place has a tangled history and a fragile present. Flawed personalities and imperfect compassion litter the streets. Greedy developers have all fled the place, having failed in their attempts to turn a handsome profit by selling impossible dreams. Boarded windows and chipped paint remain as evidence of the developers’ departure. But a small cadre of townsfolk who sent the developers packing remain, intent on preserving the skeletal remains of the town and draping new flesh on its old bones.  The story will change—radically, I suspect—over time. I hope to refuse to acquiesce to the easy way out, in which formulaic solutions to the town’s problems save the day. Unless I stop mulling it over, though, and get busy writing it, the story will not be told. I must either torture myself into getting the job done or promise all manner of goodies and treats to encourage myself to willingly keep going.

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Time for more espresso and, perhaps, a cookie.

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The Need for Numbers

Astrophysicists and other experts tell us the sun will begin to die in about 5 billion years, when its supply of hydrogen is depleted. That unfathomable length of time is easy to dismiss as “nothing to worry about.” Surely some other cataclysmic event will occur long before then to end human habitation of Planet Earth. Whatever that event might be, it will take place so far in the future we need not worry about it today…right? But the scientists might be wrong. While I write this morning’s post, a heretofore unknown but absolutely natural “bomb” at the center of our favorite star may be nearing the critical temperature at which it will detonate. That super-explosive component, previously unknown to humans, might have uncontrollable violent power several hundred million times greater than the combined energy of the fifty stars nearest to us. When that power is unleashed—in five minutes or five days or five billion years—our current expectation that the sun will wither into a cooling white dwarf will be irrelevant. A large section of the Milky Way and several nearby galaxies instantly will be consumed by incinerating heat. The pressure of the explosion will cause the universe to fracture into multiple dimensions that are so far beyond anything that exists today that no one can even begin to describe them. Not that it matters, of course, in that no one will exist to attempt to describe them. We might see some warning signs of the impending end, though. Pieces of the exterior surface of the sun may peel off in shreds, piercing space at speeds rivaling the speed of light, and pass near Earth in a frightening display of atmospheric terror. So, we may well have time to panic—pointlessly—before our bodies instantly meld with empty space and celestial debris. But this is all supposition; these potentials may not be possible. So, all we can do is live in dread or concoct our own scenarios about the actual end of the world as we know it.

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How many gallons of cow’s milk are produced, worldwide, every twenty-four hours? How many grains of sand exist, today, on Planet Earth? And what about leaves—is anyone responsible for keeping a running count of the number of leaves on all the trees on the planet? At what point do numbers become meaningless—is there such a point? How much is too much? How little is too little? I think numbers become useless and irrelevant when the context of their measures becomes so large that all meaning is lost. Though it is possible for the number of grains of sand in a ten by ten foot by ten foot room to be counted, when the context (the room) is increased to over two-hundred-thousand acres. But where is the dividing line? When does possible become impossible? If I were asked to count backward to zero from 500-billion multiplied by itself, I would not know where to start; fulfilling that request would be, for me, impossible. There is a point beyond which everything is absurd. But is there a mathematical formula that can be used to calculate that dividing line? If so, what’s the point?

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I was more than a little tired yesterday, so after lunch I napped while the rest of the folks in the house went off in search of shoes. Last night, when I went to bed, I had a hard time getting to sleep. In fact, I was awake for much of the night, which probably means I will be quite tired today. My body needs rest; I know that. And I am happy to provide opportunities for it to get what it needs. But there’s a point beyond which sleep may be inviting but unnecessary. I suspect I reached that point yesterday. Ach!

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Fatigue is the best pillow.

~ Benjamin Franklin ~

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Time for more espresso. The machine is not working properly, but even in its stinginess it gives me enough caffeine to begin to engage with the day.

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Sake and Such

We have family visiting for a week, so our often dull routines have been replaced to a great extent with more interesting activities. Even sitting around the dining table with additional people, just talking, is a welcome change. A visit with family over a period of several days is like a reinvigorating retreat from much the rest of the world. National news is largely ignored for a while; its absence is an incredible stress reliever. For a while, at least, many of the day-to-day demands of life are put on “pause,” and the world seems to be not as demanding as usual. So many years have passed since I was living with a sizeable cluster of close blood relatives, that I cannot remember exactly what “family life” was like when surrounded by several people with whom I felt completely comfortable. But even with this small cadre of family, I think that is what “family life” in my youth must have felt that way. At least sometimes. My memories, though, are utterly unreliable, except when they are even sharper than high-resolution video with crystal clear sound. Is that clarity due to the memories’ fresh manufacture in my brain, or are certain circumstances so sharply etched into the mind that they seem to be occurring in real time?

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Though I did not attend church on Sunday, I was pleased to see the video report that—close to the very last minute of the pledge drive and by the skin of our teeth—the congregation succeeded in meeting its pledge drive goal. That means we will not have to cut the budget; we will have the resources to accomplish our plans for the year. I have less than half a month left in my year as president of the church; I look forward to shedding that admittedly not-especially-stressful role. Who would have thought, ten years ago, that I would regularly attend a church and, even more surprisingly, be a member of the governing board? I am not quite ready to call it a miracle, but close.

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A broken promise…of rain. Dark clouds and distant thunder offered false assurances that, soon, the sky would weep. Those meaningless pledges, as it turned out, were not worth the thin, vaporous clouds on which they were written with invisible ink. Often, promises made by the heavens shatter into pieces of jagged betrayal. The reason? Accountability…or lack thereof. No repercussions follow when the atmosphere reneges on its vow of spilling fierce winds and heavy rain and electric blue flashes in the air. If consequences followed such deceptions, indications of coming storms would become more reliable. It probably is past the point of no return now, though. No matter who or what tries, the sky will reject out of hand any attempts to exert control over it.  If humankind had taken actions as late at the 1930s, we might have had a chance to gain at least a shred of power over natural phenomena. But our failure to seize authority when the option was available means we can never have the power we want. Ach. Such a shame that such a golden opportunity was squandered.

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White Lotus. A Thousand Cranes. Above the Fold. All three distinct products from Origami Sake are excellent, in my opinion, but White Lotus was my slight favorite from day-before-yesterday’s tour and tasting. Above the Fold has extremely limited availability (at the brewery only, I believe), but the other two increasingly are available in liquor stores in and around Arkansas. Origami also brews and bottles a few “test” brews that are available in extremely limited quantities only at the brewery. Origami Sake is Arkansas’ first (and, as of today, only) sake brewery. Located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the brewery prides itself on using natural water from an on-site well and Arkansas-grown rice to brew its sake. The recent brewery tour was interesting and educational; I had known virtually nothing about how sake is made until hearing Justin Potts, Director of Brewery Relations, describe the process and take a group of about ten on a tour of the facility. I was impressed with the complexity and sophistication of the operation. And the tastes reminded me that I enjoy sake.

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I wish everyone in the world would allow their minds to be open to new ideas, conflicting philosophies, and divergent points of view. Wish. Wish. That accomplishes nothing. Then again, it might if properly employed in circumstances where opportunities have at least a shred of a chance.

 

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