Reading letters or emails or text messages a person sends can give clues about the sender. Spending hours reading her personal diary can provide a modicum of wisdom about her. Looking at the images he posts online can offer hints about his emotional or intellectual condition. But those mechanical expressions of an individual’s fundamental state of mind—the core of who he is, at his core—are just pointers. They give tips about who’s “there” behind the public mask. Only by face-to-face interaction does one stand a chance of really knowing someone. Even then, she may reveal who she is only after weeks or months or even years. And that revelation may be made to such a small number of others that only a sliver of his social sphere may have a reliable inkling of who he is. In fact, the revelation may be made only to a mirror. Or not at all. The “real” person may be forever buried beneath layer upon layer of intentional or inadvertent artifice.

I’ve probably written something like this before. That’s because I regularly encounter surprises. People I think I know by virtue of distant interactions suddenly seem to be someone else. Even people with whom I’ve had casual, amiable relationships can reveal a fiery, dangerous core unlike the calm, cool one I thought was resting comfortably inside. It’s best, then, to figuratively undress a person, face-to-face. Remove the protective cladding that conceals sharp edges or soft spots. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, remove the protective sheets that mask the person’s unvarnished self. Engage. Talk. Let one’s guard down, in the hope the person in front of your eyes does the same. Listen and watch and assess. The skeptic in me urges me always to be ready to second-guess one’s earlier opinion of someone else. But the optimist in me insists I should reject that mistrustful attitude.

Nothing in particular prompted these thoughts. Well, that’s not true. Something did, but that something was far more innocuous than these paragraphs suggest. I tend to over-think and over-analyze. Another couple of my innumerable flaws. Which are revealed not just in person, but in writing, as well.


I woke again around 4 this morning, this time from a worrisome point in a hard-driving dream. It was hard-driving because I was either walking alongside or riding a poor-quality mountain bike most of the time. During the first part of the dream, possibly “day one” of an unwelcome adventure, I was with a group of younger people participating in an organized ride on a mountainous trail. Everyone else on the trek was stronger and more experienced than I, but I somehow managed to follow them to a pickup spot. There, while we waited for our ride back to the base camp, we twice saw a vehicle come to a stop at a stop sign, then take off down the road again. Both times, the same dog was behind the wheel and another dog—again, the same in both instances—sat upright in the passenger seat. I was only modestly surprised. In the second part of the dream, the biking group was of similar make-up, except my friends Lana and Mel were included. The trail, this time, seemed to be outside Austin, Texas; I’m not sure how I know this. Unlike the first day, this day’s trek began with the group splitting up. I followed Lana and one other bicyclist, but they quickly left me behind, as I had a very hard time just getting the bicycle wheels to turn. Another bicyclist was beside me at first. He told me Mel was in a group behind us that would start heading our way later in the morning. The other cyclist and I got separated soon after we started. I reached a point where the trail seemed to end at a road; I started heading right, but quickly decided it was the wrong direction. I turned around and headed up the road and into a old neighborhood filled with ramshackle old frame homes. Alleys behind the houses suggested they must be part of the trail. In both parts of the dream, the trail often followed rock outcroppings that looked like the rock had once been worn smooth by water. And, often, the trail required jumping over gaps in the rock; sometimes, the gaps were in fact narrow but deep canyons. Finally, I saw a group of riders ahead of me, stopped at the top of an overlook. Lana was among them. They seemed concerned that we had gone the wrong direction and there was no way back to our starting point. After that point, I have no recollection of the dream. I suppose it ended when I woke.

Though I don’t know why, I expected to sleep through the night last night. My expectation was dashed when, around 1:30, I woke with a need to pee. Getting back to sleep was a bit of a lengthy undertaking, but I finally returned to my slumbers. Sometime later, I woke again, uncomfortable with my position. I tossed and turned a bit, but finally succeeded in getting back to sleep. Then, I woke from the dream. If I can force myself to refrain from even a short cat-nap today, perhaps I can force myself to sleep through the night tonight.


Today looks dreary in the extreme. I long for sunlight and a climate suited to short sleeved shirts and shorts. Year-round. With occasional bursts of rain, cold, and even snow. But only occasionally.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Occasionally

  1. I appreciate and am enjoying the conversation, David! No matter how much I try to paint myself as understanding of and compassionate toward those folks who are rotten to the core, I know it’s just an act on my part! 😉 We’re a lot alike in that we’re both sarcastic smart-ass curmudgeons; but my graduation was “only” 50 years ago.

    All my best for a Happy New Year to you and yours, too!

  2. davidlegan says:

    Call them layers if you choose…I just see diversions. Unlike onions, where one might say “well, underneath that layer of grumpiness there is a herart of gold…” I see a person who is rotten on the outside as being rotten to his slimy core. Of course there are exceptions. Facades. Folks who were hurt and put on a hard shell covering, e.g. But you will not find someone to be outwardly kindly, but an asshole at heart. Or vice versa. Beauty ain’t just skin deep. Finally, you might be right…people MIGHT be able to change. But they don’t. Shit, they won’t even change THEIR MINDS. And I know that I am still the same sarcastic smart-ass that graduated from high school 53 years ago.

    All my best for a Happy New Year!

  3. David, I think you’re correct…in a general sort of way. People tend to hide elements of themselves from almost everyone; sometimes, absolutely everyone, including themselves. We all have secrets we dare not share with anyone. Again, that sometimes includes ourselves. And I suppose you could legitimately say the decision to obscure that part of them is premeditated; purely intentional. I disagree, though, about the layers. I think people often surround themselves with diversionary personal and/or psychological characteristics. I consider those to be layers. Maybe those layers are clouds, like stratus clouds; made up of a vapor that is shaped and molded by the pressure of surrounding air. Beneath them…yes, we are solid. But we can change, just like igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks can transform from one type to another. It just takes time and the application of sufficiently powerful agents of change.

  4. davidlegan says:

    Folks NEVER reveal their true selves. NEVER. Even when they seem to…perhaps by revealing something dreadful, or revealing a heretofore unknown weakness (or talent)…even then, those revelations are simply another step, probably premeditated, in their never-ending efforts to obscure any vision into their deeper selves. Their efforts may not be conscious…the person might even think of themselves as an “open book,” but that, too, is part of the ruse. We tend to think of people as revealing themslves in layers. But that is incorrect. There are no “layers.” They are covered in clouds…like the planet Venus…their surface totally obscured by vapor and smoke, but from surface to core as solid and unchangeable as rock.

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