You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh ~


I vacillate between believing in the wisdom of people like Thích Nhất Hạnh and drenching myself in skepticism and setting it ablaze by striking matches made of disbelief. I prefer the way I feel when I think simple wisdom is the best guide to living a good, valuable, meaningful life. But I must admit that I feel that way less frequently than I’d like. I get frustrated. Upset. Angry at the world. “Why can’t we just…?” Is my fallback question when I think humankind is on the brink between perfection and irrevocable chaos. That is, usually.

But when I force myself to empty my mind of distractions and focus on the tangerine (a metaphor, in my way of thinking, for incredibly beautiful simplicity), the wisdom floods through as if a dam had been breached. Truth and love and palpable magic flows like silken honey. It’s really quite spectacular, albeit brief. Brief because I quickly realize the impossibility of getting everyone on the same “wavelength.” Oh, well.


I feel as though I am being watched. Like someone is viewing me from a distance, tracking my moves. I sense someone’s eyes following me from the bedroom into the kitchen as I get up in the morning to make coffee and begin my day. A detective, perhaps, but not a police officer. And not someone paid to gather intelligence about me; no, it’s not a private investigator. Instead, I think I am being assessed. Evaluated. Sized up. The watcher—the voyeur—doesn’t see my every move. Probably doesn’t see me much, if at all. But she—if, indeed, the follower is a she—deduces what I am doing by analyzing what I say. And she infers, by carefully watching my shadow, the routes my body takes when it leaves one place and goes to another.

You probably have decided by now my story of being watched is just that; a story. Yes, it is. But it’s also tinged with suspicion. Suspicion is not the right word. No, curiosity is more like it. Is someone following my thoughts by reading what’s on my mind? Does someone I’ve never met extrapolate my broader thoughts by reading snippets of what’s on my mind in my blog posts?

What I’ve just suggested describes the way I sometimes create characters when I write fiction. I watch people in restaurants, in grocery stores, in their cars, etc., etc. And as I watch them, I take cues from their behaviors; those cues tell me what the people are thinking, where they live, how they make their living, and a million other details. Watching and listening, I get hints about others’ lives. I get enough to be able to get inside their heads so I can find motives for what they do and say. Eventually, I no longer have to watch and listen. Eventually, they do as they please and simply transcribe their thoughts and actions for me. My fingers sort and organize the letters into words and sentences, but they do the heavy lifting by telling me what to say.

Somewhere between being watched and allowing my fingers to respond to the commands of characters who exist in my head (often, though, because of characters who exist elsewhere), is the intersection between reality and fantasy. It is where the two merge that I find myself most comfortable. The real world is too harsh and demanding. The fantasy world is not sufficiently believable. Only where they come together does life feel natural and worth the investment of whatever it is we’re giving up to get it.

That’s an interesting concept, I think. Consider that life itself is a commodity we’re purchasing. Or is it purely an investment? What is the form of exchange we use to buy it? In Capitalist thinking, we must be investing life itself in the hope and/or expectation that we will have more of it to spend over time. That, of course, is ludicrous. Except that it’s not. No, by spending/investing wisely, we enhance the amount of life available to us. So, with proper food, shelter, and an environment conducive to sustaining life, we have more life to spend. Similar arguments could be made on behalf of other economic models, of course. Communism or socialism could demonstrate the same relationships.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This statement is not necessarily restricted to material goods or monetary units. It may apply just as well to emotional capabilities and requirements. If you have love available to give and I am in need of love, we have a deal. Except what do you get in return for giving? Or is reciprocity necessary in such an emotional exchange?


Sometimes, writing is dangerous. Sometimes, the fingers want to express thoughts that must not be expressed  publicly if one wants tranquility to prevail. If I were to write what’s on my mind right now, I might offend some people, thrill others, and put myself in the position of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. One serves oneself and the world at large by keeping one’s own counsel. Yet, perhaps openness and honesty can bring about extreme clarity. One might discover that one’s thoughts are not entirely out of synch with the way others see the world. Hmm. That’s a risk sometimes worth taking. And sometimes not.


I may make sardines with grits for breakfast this morning. Just for me. I think I’m the only one in the house who finds such stuff appealing.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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