Brevity is Not a Personality Flaw, I Say

I wrote some fiction last night, the first time I’ve attempted truly creative writing in a long time. I did not get much done, though, because it became clear to me early on that the characters and their experiences were much, much darker than I needed to go. Their stories arose from the intersections of their two very different childhoods; one was exceptionally fortunate in terms of material possessions and the other lived in extreme poverty. Their emotional and intellectual experiences were diametrically opposite, too; the well-off child learned to equate love with material gifts and surroundings, while the poor child learned to equate love with the tenderness and safety provided by a neighbor, in the extended work-related absence of the child’s parents. The outcome, which has yet to be written (as has moist of the actual story surrounding what I’ve just written), will be dual tragedies visited upon both of the children when they reach adulthood. I did not need to write that story, nor to think more about it. So I abandoned it in favor of a little Evan Williams over ice and some mindless channel surfing. Apparently, neither the channel surfing nor the bourbon was sufficiently engaging to keep me awake. I opened my eyes around 10:30 to view a television commercial and see an almost untouched rocks glass half filled with diluted whiskey. What a waste.


Before my failed attempt to watch television, I spoke to two of my three brothers and to my sister by telephone, the first time I’ve spoken to them in several weeks. I intended to call my other brother and his wife, who live in Mexico, but I decided to delay that call and make it a Zoom conversation, instead, with another brother and my sister. The third brother cannot seem to get his computer to connect to Zoom. It’s interesting how vastly different the lives of the remaining five siblings have evolved since childhood. As the youngest of six children, I remember very little about my oldest siblings until I was in high school and beyond. They had gone on to college and/or other pursuits by the time I became fully conscious of how different my family seemed to be, compared to other families. The difference was, again, the absence of siblings. Most of the other kids around me in school, etc. had the full complement of family present during their formative years; I spent my formative years with one brother, the one closest in age to me at five years my senior. As I contemplate my siblings’ formative years, their formative familial experiences were much more in line with other families, whose full families remained intact until late teenage years in most cases. I believe the children of considerably older than average parents experience a very different experience than do their peers. And I think other people who have not had that experience are unlikely to understand how vastly different the experiences are. I hear stories, for example, of my father taking my older siblings hunting or playing ball with them. I did not have that experience. My memories of childhood are sketchy, at best, so I cannot clearly recall all the differences, but I’ve always felt them. One of these days, I may try to piece together recollections of my formative years and try to compare them with what I believed with more traditional experiences of my friends and older siblings. I may be all wrong; but I think not.


There is little to say about my brief visit with my wife yesterday. She was sitting up in a wheelchair, her eyes fixed on the television most of the time. Occasionally, she turned toward us (her sister and me), responding to most questions with a nod or a weak, one-word answer. When I asked whether she would like me to call her in the evenings, she said she would rather I not.


The sky is overcast and the current temperature is 40 degrees. Today’s high is expected to to reach 43 and tonight’s low should drop to around 30. The weather futurists expect rain to develop this morning. Sunrise should take place in about an hour. That is the extent of my understanding of today’s microclimate.


The pain in my shoulder migrated to my neck (becoming a full-on crick in the neck) during the course of the day on Saturday, reminding me that the body is capable of taking revenge on its host for myriad transgressions. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by that, but there’s no doubt about the sincerity of the statement, even in its mysterious befuddlement. Let me try again: my body is exacting retribution for my actions and omissions that caused it to experience discomfort. The pain I feel, therefore, must be deserved. Punishment, pure and simple. A penalty for living as I do. The body knows when infractions take place, whether physical or mental, and responds accordingly. Hence my now dormant (knock on wood) Crohn’s disease, the intestinal resection, my double bypass surgery, the missing lobe of my right lung, and every other illness or damaging incident visited upon me. The body, as an educational experience, takes revenge. There, I’ve explained myself, against my will and better judgment.

Yesterday, around midday, another example took place. I was in the midst of swallowing a bit of smoked turkey (delivered to me by a very nice neighbor) when I took a sip of water. Suddenly, I was in the midst of a convulsive cough, thanks to aspirating a bit of water combined with chewed turkey. The cough triggered an intake of breath that  exacerbated the aspiration and prompting me to choke. Though I probably was in no danger of choking to death, I felt like I was. I could not control my breathing nor my coughing. I made my way to the kitchen sink, where my coughs led me to begin to expel previously swallowed turkey and water. Tears flowed from my eyes, my sinuses filled with God knows what, my nose began to spray like a torn fire hose, and I could not catch my breath. Bottom line: this experience lasted what seemed several minutes until, finally, I seemed to be reasonably close to “normal.” That is, if normal involves, when  blowing one’s nose repeatedly, releasing pint after pint of unpleasant-looking whitish goo. That’s all behind me now, though. My body pronounced judgment on me for what it considered apparently gluttonous consumption of smoked turkey.


It’s 6:30, time to replenish my coffee and think about something to eat that will not choke me to death. Let’s see, apple sauce or bacon & eggs? I have no apple sauce, so bacon & eggs it is. Whatever happened to my passion for international breakfasts? Whatever happened to my passion in general? Passion keeps people alive. I need to ignite some passion in my life; these cooling embers are unable to provide adequate warmth. Perhaps congee flavored with harissa paste. Time will tell.

About John Swinburn

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