Cool, Clear, Imaginary Water

Recently, I’ve engaged in conversations about places that, for various reasons, attract me. Among them: New Mexico and parts of Arizona, as well as several other places where rain is not as common, by far, as it is where I live now. During those conversations, I’ve expressed concerns about some of those places, due to the potential for water shortages.  Yesterday, a CNN headline online caught my attention: First-ever Colorado River water shortage is now almost certain, new projections show. My vague worries about an ill-defined point in the “future” are coming into focus, far clearer than heretofore. Right-wing climate deniers might refute the projections. And they could, conceivably, be right about causation (though I seriously doubt it). But denial of causation seems to carry with it denial of demonstrable facts; like, we’re running out of water in a lot of places. Whatever the cause, we have to do something. And that might include killing lawns, redirecting water from golf courses to city drinking water supplies (okay, I hear the unhappy murmuring of golfers as they reach for their torches and pitchforks), and planting crops that maximize nutrition and minimize water use. And, finally, we may have to insist that people who want to live in the desert are on their own when it comes to water, except that we must limit how much they take out of the ground.

This discussion seems to out of place as I look out the window at miles and miles of wetness. It’s too wet for me even to comfortably walk out onto the deck to hand the hummingbird feeders. I assert that it’s not out of place.


And now for something out of the ordinary.

How shocking would it be for people to learn that I suddenly left Arkansas in the company of a woman, destined for Christchurch, New Zealand. The surprise would grow when the circumstances of my departure became known. I had been hired to handle international marketing for the Te Pae Christchurch Convention and Exhibition Centre. The shock would grow exponentially when the identity of the woman who accompanied me became known. A married woman who was understood to be morally steadfast and devoted to her husband. Yet it was clear; she was not just in my company, she was my intensely romantic companion. As we waited together in the LAX departure lounge, she took a selfie while giving me a passionate French kiss and sent the image, attached to a text message, to her closest friend. “Willard will never understand, Lela, but I hope you can and will. Please try to comfort him and assure him that I love him, though it may not seem that way now. But I need this excitement, this passion, in my life.”

Tongues would wag for months. Poor Willard, though initially stunned and hurt, would eventually find comfort in the arms of Letitia, a beautician from El Dorado. And Lela would join us in Christchurch a year later, bringing her new lover, a jazz violinist named Galileo Smart, with her. Lela, too, would have discovered what Susanna and I had long since learned: life lived wrapped in the barbed wire chains of a moral code more suited to a Victorian age than to modernity, can be intolerable. Infidelity and raw romantic excitement, as we say, are as natural as breathing; maybe more so. Lela’s husband, Barney, eventually recovered, more or less. He and Willard spent their days playing pickle-golf and drinking Geritol-laced vodka tonics.

Obviously, I have a bias against unquestioning adherence to irrational social convention turned into compulsory manipulation that serves only to keep us subjugated in the master/slave relationship, where “master” is cleverly disguised as the church or the body politic. And I realize mocking Willard and Barney for sport is an indecent failing, a flaw I am trying to correct. I promise. But the freedom to pursue the forbidden fruit of what most consider illicit passion is a privilege I refuse to surrender.

That’s a tiny part of the backstory. The reality of this unexpected vignette has yet to be played out in my head. Which may be best for everyone who stumbles upon this twisted fiction. Or what might best be called twisted friction. Written from an intricately woven first, second, and third person point of view, this never-to-be-finished piece would engage the reader in direct conversation with the writer while exposing elements of the experience that could be revealed only in third person (well, maybe a better writer could do it better from a whole different perspective, but…I am the one with the keyboard and morally corrupt fingers). Okay, that’s enough of a foray into fiction for the moment.


I am hosting a religious, Republican couple for dinner at my house tonight. I’ll roast a pork loin (smoking it is no longer an option, thanks to the untimely death of my electric smoker). I do not know what else I’ll serve. Whatever it is will require me to go grocery shopping. Maybe a salad, some sort of potato dish, perhaps corn or green beans. And for dessert? Will  I even serve dessert? I am not much of a dessert eater, but I will eat it if it’s placed in front of me. It is extremely rare for me to order dessert at a restaurant (it’s not rare; it’s extinct). But I need to do something. Maybe ice cream? And after dinner? Cognac? Do I have any cognac? Do I have any cigars? Will my television set willingly display FOX News? Just kidding. It feels odd for me to host dinner by myself. I can’t say it’s a comfortable feeling, either. It’s more an obligatory feeling of reciprocity (these folks, as different as they are from me, have been caring and have been very kind to me in response to my loss of my wife, so I should stop being such a jerk about religion and politics). I’m doing something just like it next week; a different couple, but also at opposite ends of my spectra. And responding to my own sense of obligation; but also wanting to express my real appreciation.

It occurs to me that I should invite several other individuals to come over for dinner, for the same reasons. But these are people who share much with me in the way of political and philosophical sensibilities. They are women who delivered food to me in the aftermath of my wife’s illness and death. I wonder whether it would be unseemly for me to invite them over, one by one, for candle-lit dinners? The invitations would exclude their husbands, of course. My twisted sense of humor remains intact, I think. Actually, I have to admit, though, I probably would be far more comfortable with them than their husbands. Their husbands, on the other hand, might not be comfortable with that scenario. Especially if they read any of my old (or new) fiction vignettes involving torrid affairs and the like. They probably would wonder, legitimately, whether my moral compass registers true north. Sometimes, I think I am intentionally demonic in one sense and prone to provocation (would the word “provocative” be more appropriate here?) in another.


A few days ago, during a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that I have in mind reinventing myself (and I’ve probably written the same here). My friend suggested I could do that right where I am; I don’t need to go anywhere to do that. But as I think about it, I have to say I disagree. I’m relatively sure it would be much harder to dislodge others’ perceptions of me, based on their experience with me, than to create new perceptions untainted by prior knowledge. In a new environment (with enough effort on my part), I could become a gregarious, outgoing extrovert. That would be essentially impossible where I am; too many people know me as I am (gregarious, outgoing, extroverted on the page, but withdrawn, introverted, and generally uncomfortable when social settings become too big or insufficiently intimate).  In a setting where people do not know me, I could present myself as a retired police investigator or as having been the owner of an art studio before retirement. Or a practitioner of placebo medicine; sort of like placebos in drug trials, but in a medical office setting…the real doctor would work in one set of examination rooms, I would work in another. The real doctor would prescribe treatments and medications and so forth, whereas I would simply ask patients to disrobe and watch them, in their discomfort, while they describe to me their symptoms.

One of these days, I’m going to be imprisoned for my ideas. They’re going to be so far outside the mainstream that people will feel uncomfortable in my presence. Hell, that may already be true.


I need a drink of water right now. But there’s none to be had. I’ll just drink from my coffee cup and pretend it’s water. That’s the ticket.


Too much of what I write involves me. I. I. I. I. Who gives a flying…? People should care about themselves, of course, but not at the expense of others. The balance between one’s own happiness and the comfort and happiness of other people in our world is a difficult one to achieve. So here is something that might help cement that balance in at least one life:

He who loves
does not think about his own life;
to love truly,
a man must forget about himself.
If your desires do not accord with your spirit,
sacrifice them,
and you will come to the end of your journey.
If the body of desire obstructs the way,
reject it; then fix your eyes
in front and contemplate.

~ Attar ~

And thus ends another exploration of tortured madness.

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face.

About John Swinburn

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