Freedom from Routine

Yesterday morning, on a whim, we drove to Lake Village, AR, located about 125 miles southeast of Little Rock. Because we got something of a late start, we spent only a short time there; enough time to know we want to return when we can spend more time exploring the village. Lake Village is on Lake Chicot, which is on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Lake Chicot, an oxbow lake, was created by the Mississippi River during a period of meandering. The lake is the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America.

Our first stop in Lake Village was at Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales and Pies. The place looks worn beyond recovery, as if every scrap of wood and every drop of paint has lived well past its useful life. Yet the “open” sign said it was not yet ready to be razed and replaced by something made of glass and stainless steel and polished granite. The decrepit little place invited us inside.

We each opted for one of the day’s soul food specials. My plate consisted of fried chicken, beans, boiled cabbage with flavored with strips of pork, macaroni & cheese, and a piece of cornbread. Miss Rhoda Adams, the founder and owner of the place, sat with her husband at one of the few tables in the tiny place. Mi novia got into a conversation with her and with the woman at the counter, who is Miss Rhoda’s daughter (one of ten or eleven children). As a child, Miss Rhoda had a similar number of siblings in her home. Intriguing place; we definitely want to go back for tamales.

After lunch, we drove along the Great River Road to Lake Chicot State Park. The drive along the river road revealed an interesting layout. The road is very near the lake’s shore. On the opposite side of the road from the river, some nice homes with very large yards afford views of the lake, across the road. Behind those houses, though, is a sea of decaying mobile homes and a few stick-built houses that appear to be on their last legs. The poverty on display one street back from the imposing waterfront homes is stunning.

We plan to spend more time wandering Lake Village and places nearby, including the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee, Arkansas, roughly twenty miles north of Lake Village. We’ll put Lake Village on our list of places to go when we have more than a few hours to spend. Yesterday’s whirlwind day trip ended when we got back to the house as darkness fell.


My adventurous friend, who recently cruised the Norwegian coast in pursuit of adventure and a sustained opportunity to see the “Northern Lights,” is now in Iceland. Having viewed, and captured on film, the aurora borealis, she is shivering in the cold beauty of Iceland. Iceland is one of those countries that holds a special appeal for me. I am sure the appeal is based in significant part on how I perceive Iceland as much as the reality of Iceland. My understanding of Iceland is based not on personal experience; it is based on superficial exposure to my interpretation of living vicariously through others’ experiences. And, of course, Icelandic television series. One of my many unfinished stories (short stories, books, etc.) is set, in part, on a flight from Paris to Reykjavik. The story begins with my protagonist leaving money and a note for a Parisian prostitute when he departs his hotel room for Charles De Galle Airport, where he catches a flight to New York, which has one stop in Reykjavik. During the flight, he becomes acquainted with an Iceland woman who lives in Paris but who is returning to Iceland for her ex-husband’s funeral. Despite having assured his girlfriend in New York, before beginning his trip, that he misses her deeply, my protagonist is extremely attracted to the Icelandic woman, who he learns is a writer. Rather than simply laying over in Reykjavik, as he had intended, my guy decides to spend a few days in Iceland, where he skillfully maneuvers between multiple romantic relationships of convenience.

I’ve done it again. I’ve allowed my attention to my adventurous friend to veer off in another direction, embracing and incorporating another target of my imagination. My brain surprises me when unexpectedly charges off course in hot pursuit of shreds of an overactive imagination. My imagination is fueled by the kind of passion usually reserved for people whose special skills are so advanced they require expression to maintain them at peak performance. But my imagination is not especially advanced; but it is constantly in action, providing me with enough artificial experience to falsely suggest otherwise.


A couple of nights ago, we began watching The Watcher. Two episodes. If we do not watch any more of the program, I will not weep at the loss of entertainment. Last night, we watched a movie entitled The Good Nurse, which is based on a true story about a nurse who is a serial killer. As we sat down to watch…something, anything…we mentioned to one another how much we want to pick something that satisfies as much as How to Get Away with Murder, with Viola Davis. That series kept our rapt attention over ninety episodes spread out over six seasons. Of course we binge-watched, thanks to the series’ availability on Netflix. I’ll just have to keep looking for the next riveting, long-running series.


As I write this, the results continue trickling in from yesterday’s votes. Not surprising to me, but sickening nonetheless, is the fact that Sarah Huckabee Sanders won the governorship of the State of Arkansas. And Greg Abbot retained his death grip on the State of Texas. We probably won’t know all the results for several days, possibly longer, but I think I know enough to say the Republicans had a good night. Perhaps not quite as good as they might have hoped, but enough to cause me enormous concern about the near-term future of this country. Still, the votes were not entirely one-sided. Close to half of the voting electorate chose moderate and left-of-moderate candidates in many places, tempering the “mandate” the Republicans will claim they received from the election. As the final results come in, I may change my assessment; but until then, I will remain moody and unhappy with a political system that allows—perhaps even encourages—right-wing zealots to hold public office.


Poetry and beauty are always making peace. When you read something beautiful you find coexistence; it breaks walls down.

~ Mahmoud Darwish ~


Although I have a very long list of things to do  around the house, I needed yesterday’s pure freedom. And I may need another day of it. Today’s calendar is absolutely empty. I could fill it with hundreds of nagging chores, but I feel like that will not happen. I may be in the mood, again, to get away from the mundane and explore something new and exciting. Or, at least, new and different. For now, I will try to smooth my rough surfaces and sooth my anxious mind by thinking pleasant thoughts and envisioning beauty. This, I hope, will free me from rigid routines and thrust me into a pleasurable dream-state. We shall see; we always do.

About John Swinburn

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