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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

About John Swinburn

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