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The forest beyond my window may be full of night creatures—deer, racoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and so on—but the pre-dawn darkness holds fast to the mysteries of the night, refusing to visually reveal those beasts.

By lighting a cone of incense in the dim light of my study, I attempt to create an enforced tranquility. The blanket of darkness, still thick and happily sullen, cooperates fully with my efforts. Here, where I am utterly alone, I am out of reach of the turbulence of daylight, with human voices and the hum of machinery and the sounds of delivery trucks in the distance, straining as they climb steep hills. My isolation in this room, where the odor of incense is strong and calming, imposes on me what I know to be a temporary serenity.

In this room—at this hour, in the early morning darkness—I can pretend only I exist in the world. I can imagine that I need not be concerned with the effects on other people of my actions or my absence. The peace extracted from the emptiness is mine to do with what I wish. This refuge I create with the juxtaposition of the odor of incense and the illumination of dim light in a small room with a small desk belongs only to me. Not just the physical me; the man sitting at this desk. This refuge belongs to the mind that inhabits this body.  It is the refuge of aloneness. The refuge of selfish solitude. The refuge of withdrawal.

For years, a strange, long-standing fantasy has occasionally resurrected itself in the deep recesses of my brain. The fantasy is always there, just beneath the surface; sometimes it  emerges  like a whale suddenly breaching from that serenity.  That fantasy breached this morning, even before I woke and got out of bed. There it was, in my mind’s eye. The fantasy is that I have entered a monastic order, a context that requires a vow of solitude and silence. This monastery, a complex of old but elaborate stone buildings, is in a rural setting within walking distance to a village.

My fantasy is half dream and half vision. It is an impossibility that refuses to succumb to practical reality. There is no religious aspect to the monastery, nor to the vows of silence and solitude. Yet the commitment to respect and adhere to the vows is deep and somber, as if it were embedded in the core of my being; living in accord with the vows is the price that must be paid for the gift of life. The “gift of life” aspect is difficult to grasp, because it sounds and feels religious. But it is not. It is transactional, like exchanging money for goods. A simple expression of the free market. Yet so, so, so much more meaningful. Sufficiently powerful that it can behave like a monstrously potent emotional windstorm that scours one’s attitudes and ideas, taking them down to their foundations. I can envision those storms, but I cannot adequately describe them; they are overwhelmingly powerful and unwilling to be pinned down to fit a description.

Some of the dialogue from a program I watched last night was especially thought-provoking. A conversation took place between two characters, in which they discussed a third character. The conversation revolved around the third character’s lifelong efforts to forgive himself for the way he had treated a fourth character, who was presumed to have died years before.  Forgiving oneself. It is an impossibility. Only the person who was “wronged” can forgive. If that person is no longer living, forgiveness is eternally inaccessible.

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A couple of articles on the China Daily website have caught my attention. The articles revolve around the dramatic growth in China of new energy vehicles (NEVs) within the past year. If my reading of the articles is correct, NEVs are electric-powered vehicles that operate on extremely energy-efficient batteries. One of the photos accompanying one of the articles shows a driverless electric tractor that was on display during the 19th China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Expo. While a couple of articles are insufficient to confirm a trend, I suspect there is, indeed, a trend among Chinese companies to develop and sell an extensive array of NEVs. Driverless tractors, passenger cars, fork-lifts…who knows what else? The development of NEV technologies seems to be driven in part by government investing and governmental policies and regulations designed to benefit companies that advance NEV technology development. To my knowledge, if that sort of government investing, etc. is taking place in the “west,” the level of investment is small in comparison to the Chinese market. I imagine we soon will depend almost entirely on Chinese products and technologies to power our own NEVs.

In reading the articles, I learned of some Chinese auto brands: Neta, Hozon Auto, and Wuling. Learning of those manufacturers prompted me to explore what others exist. From what I found, the major Chinese automakers are: SAIC Motor, Dongfeng, FAW, Chang’an, Geely, Beijing Automotive Group, Brilliance Automotive, BYD, Chery, Guangzhou Automobile Group, Great Wall and Jianghuai (JAC). I can imagine that, ten or fifteen or twenty years from now. American highways will be full of Chinese cars, the same as our highways today are full of Japanese and Korean cars.

If not for the potentially negative geopolitical aspects and ramifications of advances in Chinese automotive research and development, I would be pulling for the Chinese automakers. Simply because I an intrigued by technological ingenuity. If, in some blast of magic, planet Earth’s unique populations and their respective world governments would join forces, I would get behind all of it in a big way.

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It is Sunday. I must shave and shower and prepare for church. Back to the routine.

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The Sources of Emptiness

People can be magnificent, giving, caring creatures. But they can be monsters, as well. There’s a battle going on, an undeclared war between humanity as we wish it to be and humanity as it is. We’re soldiers in that war, fighting against an enemy we cannot readily recognize. We are not sure which side we’re on, nor how to identify who is with us and who is against us. The battle is chaotic, confusing, complex. The battlefield is hidden by smoke. We cannot hear gunshots from rifles and pistols, thanks to the explosive percussion of cannons that have rendered us deaf. So we fire our weapons indiscriminately, hoping the damage they do will inflict more pain on the enemy, whoever that is, than on ourselves.

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Hard to believe. The second Saturday in October already is upon us. If I lived near the Great River Road in Iowa or Wisconsin, day trips into the countryside would yield autumn experiences; Roadside stands selling pumpkins and small bales of hay. Leaves turning yellow and gold and orange and red. Country markets where caramel apples and winter vegetables beckon travelers in to spend their money. The smell of wood smoke, conjuring images of families sitting around the fireplace, relating their days’ experiences. But I do not live anywhere near the Great River Road. I am distant from Iowa and Wisconsin. I rely on semi-rural Arkansas to to provide an almost real autumn experience. Colorful printed flags on display, in place of changing leaves and actual pumpkins. The smell of asphalt as local roads are skim-coated, readying the roads for the onslaught of winter, whatever winter in an era of climate change may bring.

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I feel a need to escape. Escape from this time and place to a more hospitable moment, when humankind was kinder. Less judgmental. Not so greedy. Compassionate. Friendlier. I know, I know. There was never such a time. Humans have never been better than they are today. Selfishness has defined the species from the moment the transition from homo erectus to homo sapiens was complete. Though I wasn’t there, I suspect selfishness was an embedded characteristic even of homo erectus. I cannot imagine selfishness growing into such a powerful force of nature just in the time our species has existed. Selfishness of that depth and breadth and unfathomable weight must have taker much longer to develop. At least that’s what I think.

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The words immediately struck me: “…kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.”  The attribution for those words, which may or may not be valid, was reported as Revelation of Lao Tsu – The Tao. Ultimately, as I think about those words, it becomes clear to me: neither the originator of those words or the concept behind them matter. Nor do the words, in and of themselves, matter. What matters is the mental, intellectual, or emotional outcome that arises from the person who hears or reads or simply thinks about the words. And, if their impact goes so far, the physical expression that emerges as a consequence of exposure to, or thoughts about, the words.

The words that preceded the ones I quoted above are these:

When you realize where you came from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused

and then the words that captured my imagination:

kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.”

where you came from… Aha! That gets at the issue. Where is not a place, but a source. The source of the words purports to deliver the source for all…

Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source.

If I contemplated for long enough, I am sure I would dream up dozens of sources: the universe, light from distant galaxies, God (or some semblance of such an entity), the visual “screams” of stars exploding and disappearing into the inky blackness of space, and dozens of additional possibilities. Perhaps, though, there is no true source beyond one’s own mind. Our common source either is everything or nothing. Whatever fills the empty spaces inside our heads—those place-holders are the hiding places for the sources of everything, except for the place-holders themselves. Contemplation consumes one’s intellectual purity, leaving behind an impure mixture of recollection and wishes. And that, as they say, is that. The residue of an inexplicably impossible-to-comprehend experience and thought process.

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I woke up so very late this morning; it was after 7:15. For that reason, I feel I’ve wasted a good part of the day, the part of day that begins in darkness. I’ve used time in daylight to perform the functions usually reserved for pre-daylight hours, thus using up daylight hours that could have been devoted to pre-daylight thinking. It’s a shame.  A crying shame.

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Youth and Power

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

~ Thomas Paine ~

“…mentally faithful to himself.” Hmm. The idea of professing to believe what I do not believe is odd. Although I might do it in jest, I cannot imagine doing it (at least not in a way that others would find believable). I cannot imagine being a politician who speaks fervently in support of or in opposition to a bill, while privately having a diametrically opposed position. But it happens. All the time. So, is it the politicians? Is it the circumstance? Is it simple political expediency? Whatever it is…it smells bad and I can only imagine it tastes worse.

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When Maren Grøthe was elected to Norway’s Storting, the country’s national assembly, she became Norway’s youngest national politician in history, at twenty years old. Her youth—though she is the youngest member of the Storting in the country’s history—is not as big a deviation from “average” as it would be in the U.S. The average age of members of the Storting is 46, while the average age in the U.S. Senate is 64 and in the U.S. House of Representatives, 58.

Source: BBC.com

Though I am firmly ensconced in geezerhood, I favor the cleansing of both houses of the U.S. Congress through the introduction of a much younger collection of representatives. Young people, I think, are less likely to accept “that’s just the way things are” as a rationale for maintaining an unworkable status quo. That having been said, wisdom accrues from personal experience, so the presence of more advanced age and experience in those deliberative bodies is equally as important. But the current advanced average age of the U.S. Senate (one year shy of traditional “retirement age”) should be lowered considerably if that legislative body is to be truly representative of issues important to both current generations and those to come. Young people are more flexible, more adaptable, and more likely to consider compromises, regardless of whether a meeting of the minds might clash with the official philosophies or platforms of one party or the other.

As I read the article from which the information above was extracted, the following information caught my attention:

“They [the researchers at Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)] argue that while political parties do not typically have a youth strategy, youth organisations – particularly on the Republican side – have garnered more visibility and funding.”

My concern is that, if young Republicans are getting more visibility and funding, Democrats will face increasingly steep and powerful opposition in coming years. If Democrats expect to maintain a strong presence in political discourse, a much more organized and better-funded approach to youth involvement is and will continue to be critical. If I had my way, “civics” classes would begin very early (perhaps fifth or sixth grades) and continue through high school. By the time children would complete high school, they would have a comprehensive grasp of the legislative process and would understand the importance of the concept that “all politics is local.” Democrats would be well-advised to recruit young, extremely intelligent, intellectually flexible people to run in both local/regional and national elections. Young people, before they have been subjected to so much propaganda and such intense indoctrination in the “ways of the old guard,” could reshape politics on a global scale.

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My convoluted thinking—after I read and mulled over and wrote about the article mentioned above—led me to a consideration of civilian versus military power structures and thought processes. That consideration led me to reach the following, perhaps obvious, conclusion: the military mindset is not compatible with democracy. While I think I understand the fundamental importance of adherence to the chain of command in a military context, I think the rigidity of military discipline may be the weakest link in a democracy. Democracy is “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system,” according to a definition advanced by dictionary.com. In a military setting, the power is vested in a chain of command created and maintained through rigid discipline and unwavering adherence to “rules” that govern virtually all aspects of behavior. Theoretically, participants in a democracy can reject politically-based mandates by recalling and/or replacing incumbents. Rank and file members of the military do not have the luxury of control that their civilian counterparts enjoy. Members of the military cannot lawfully decide, collectively, to reject orders given to them by their superior officers; such rejection would be considered mutiny, a crime for which punishment may well seem excessive, as well as “cruel and unusual.”

Yet the incompatibility of military and civilian philosophies is what allows the supremacy of civilian rule. As long as military leaders at every level understand and agree to be bound by recognition that civilian authority reigns supreme, the model may work. Because militaries are equipped with weapons that are far more powerful than those available to their civilian counterparts, the ultimate supremacy of civilian rule must be inculcated into the heads of members of the military at every level. Especially, the top levels, where orders could be catastrophic to civilian rule. Yet, as long as the military accepts its role as “defender of democracy” as opposed to blind obedience to authoritarian rule, military “protection” of civilian rule may be the glue that holds opposing factions together.

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The problem with entrusting young people to properly use the political process to control the direction countries take is this: their youth. I know, I argued in favor of “cleansing” both houses of Congress through the injection of youth. I did not say, though, I favor giving over absolute control to young members of Congress.  Youth, by its very nature, prevents the young from having experiences they might have as they age. Those experiences can help shape one’s thought processes and one’s understanding of the world around them. Wisdom, in other words. Some members of Congress, with sufficient age-based “power” to facilitate or to suppress legislative initiatives must remain, if for no other reason to serve as tethers and to rein-in the power and potentially catastrophically consequences of youthful exuberance.  I am arguing both for and against myself; I know that. Perhaps there is not solution but to place one’s blind, but watchful, trust in the young—being ready at a moment’s notice to exercise the power of age and experience to protect civilization from the bumbling mistakes of youth.

Ultimately, of course, it’s not age that dictates the success or failure of political engagement. It is intelligence and wisdom. When we vote to put people in the House of Representatives or the Senate, we ought not to spend so much time trying to ensure that we are voting for people who mirror our philosophies and our intelligence. We should focus, almost exclusively, on voting for people who are more intelligent than we are. And we should vote for people whose philosophies align with our fundamental humanitarian principles; not necessarily people whose votes always will correspond to the way we would vote.

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The town of San Miguel Totolapan in the Mexican state of Guerrero suffered a massive attack on Wednesday afternoon. The mayor of the town and 17 others were killed; at least three others were injured in the attack, which has been attributed to Los Tequileros, a criminal gang. Though a motive for the attack has not been suggested in public media reports, the history of drug gang violence suggests that the attack was designed to frighten the remaining (and future) local politicians into compliance with demands for protection for the gang’s drug runners.

I think criminal gangs may have more in common with the military that we would like to think. They seem to operate on a rigid chain of command structure that requires absolute loyalty to the leader of the gang and willing adherence to the commands issued by leaders at every level of the gang’s organization. I have no solutions; only subjective opinions and observations.

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There’s so much more on my mind this morning, but transcribing my thoughts and laying them out here for the world to see might cause more trouble than my thoughts are worth. So I will leave them to fester inside my head.

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Psychic Farming

I grew up in reasonably close proximity to farm fields, but I never got close enough to learn anything of consequence about them. I recall—but only vaguely—when the stubble remaining in the fields was set ablaze after harvest. Heavy smoke poured from the fire-line. The dry organic fuel was at ground level and limited in volume, so even when the smoldering embers of parched brush burst into flames, the fire was short-lived and never high enough to ignite the surrounding vegetation.

At least that’s what I believe I remember.  I may be making it up, though, so if I were a person reading this paragraph, I would take the statements of “fact” with a grain of salt. I know that’s how I’m taking the words I write. With some skepticism. Born of experience with memories that arise not from experience but from stories others tell.

These ideas emerged response to my experience of driving through thick, smoky hazes on rural highways as the recently-harvested fields were set ablaze; readying the ground for the next crop. Mile after mile of fields of corn and soybeans and cotton smoldered and burned, reducing visibility and filling the skies with smoky agricultural pollution. As I drove down those roads—roads I grew up calling Farm-to-Market roads—I questioned whether the memories I felt welling up in my head were real or artificial. No, I decided, many of them must have been artificial. My memories of rural south Texas could not be quite as vivid as those I was experiencing.

The realization that at least some of my memories were “planted” in my head—inadvertently, I assume—causes me to question whether other memories were planted, as well. Perhaps my entire life, at least the snippets about it I think I recall, could have been programmed into my memory. The person I believe to be me might have been created in someone else’s head. In fact, the thoughts I’m thinking right now could have been slipped into my consciousness on a bio-magnetic card; a cross between a silicon chip and a self-replicating virus that configures tiny pathways in the hippocampus, the neocortex and the amygdala. No? Well, it is within the realm of possibility, is it not? Hasn’t science successfully blurred the lines between fact and fantasy enough in days past to convince us that hybrid biomechanical forms are not only possible, but inevitable? Might a deep dive into my genealogy reveal both human royalty and sweet corn-soy hybrids among my ancestors?

The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.

~ Salvador Dali ~

Science fiction is a genre of stunning possibilities. I think scientific breakthroughs follow on the heels of explosive literary creativity (or, at least, creatively-told stories). Stories provide the fuel for scientific exploration; without dreams, in the form of science fiction, humankind might not have evolved into the troublesome clot of mistakes we have become.

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Several years ago, I read Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. I remember only microscopic bits and pieces of the novel, but I do recall how extremely impressed I was with Ng’s writing. This morning, I read a short review of Ng’s latest book, Our Missing Hearts. And I skimmed a review/synopsis of another of her books, the New York Times bestseller, Little Fires Everywhere. Based on my miniscule history of reading Ng’s work, coupled with my limited exposure to “selling words” relating to her other books, I know now I want to read more of her writing. But I’d rather “have read” her work than go through the process of actually reading it. One day, that possibility will come to pass. If I live long enough, I one day will be able to select literary experiences from an enormous menu of choices. After paying the requisite fee for what I’ll call “intellectual absorption,” the full text of literary works (along with the imagined experiences that text triggers) will flood into my brain. In a matter of microseconds, I will have “read” the literary work. Moreover, I will feel like I actually experienced the story. This artificially-created experience will feel just as real as any true experience I have ever had. But this experience will take place only at brain level; physically, otherwise, I will not have experienced the story. Yet my recollection of the experience will be just as vivid, just as real, as any experience I have ever had.

This just barely touches on what will be available to me in the time to come. I will be able to craft experiences based on a combination of actual interactions and pure fantasies. For example, I could retrieve from my memory innocuous snippets of an interaction with someone I find intriguing but who I know only in passing. That snippet could, thanks to the amazing power of “intellectual absorption,” morph into thorough engagement with the person. On my end of the interaction, I would experience deep involvement with the person. But that interaction would not cross over into that person’s experiences. Except that it COULD! Because my transformation could lead to actual interactions, which would of course change that person’s experiences. And those experiences would involve me. So, my selection of an innocuous snippet of an interaction could evolve from an imaginary exchange into an experience that could be recorded as audio and video reality.

There’s more. Much more. But I cannot write about it because to do so would cross the line between reality and fantasy. I would risk entering a level of  “intellectual absorption” from which it might be impossible to return. And then where would we be? Exactly.

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More coffee. That is what I crave. Among other things.

 

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Crawl

Which is stronger: an oak tree or a single reed of bamboo? I suppose the question requires amplification; and explanation of qualifiers, if any. Amplification of matters such as both absolute and relative ages of the oak and bamboo. And revelation about the strength x weight relationships. And a host of other factors. Yet the question did not interject those elements of analysis. The question was simple. Which is stronger. A simple question. Yet one that cannot be answered in simple terms without introducing massive complexity to the question, first. There are no simple questions. And no simple answers.

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If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.

Khalil Gibran

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This morning’s news triggered a memory from my childhood. News about Hurricane Orelene hitting Mexico’s Pacific coast southeast of Mazatlán brought back a recollection involving my childhood friend, Steve Scaff. At least once, and perhaps several times, Steve and his family vacationed in Mazatlán, where Steve’s addiction to surfing really took hold. Apparently, surfing along the Texas coast off of Padre Island or Mustang Island was barely “okay.” Surfing in the Pacific off of Mazatlán was superior in every way. According to Steve. I’ve never been to Mazatlán. And I haven’t seen Steve in more than fifty years. Only once during that long absence have I spoken to him; by phone, ten or fifteen years years ago, when I learned that striking up a phone conversation after so very long emphasized the impermanence of childhood friendship. But I remember Steve’s tales of surfing at Mazatlán.

Hmm. Childhood vacations. I have no recollection of vacations as a child. If my family took vacations, they did so after I was born. Or else my memory of those times has been erased. I suspect there were no vacations after I was born. The sixth of six kids has no legitimate expectation that his family will take a vacation; all the money that would have paid for a vacation went, instead, to buy groceries to feed those ravenous little mouths.

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Once again, Americans should prepare for significantly rising gas prices. OPEC, meeting today, is expected to cut production. I imagine the meeting might already have taken place, considering time zones. If that happens, it suggests to me that OPEC ministers would rather deal with U.S. Republican politicians than with Democrats. Taking actions that would have the effect of raising gas prices a few weeks before the mid-term elections would, if those cuts materialize, be the next closest thing to proof that OPEC ministers are doing what they can to impact the elections. Rising gas prices hurt Democrats (since they are “in power”). I don’t like it. So I plan to will a different OPEC outcome. If OPEC does not dramatically cut production, you can thank me and my application of psychic pressure.

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I have more words to spill, but not enough motive to spill them. So I will stop for the moment and crawl into the day.

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Illumination

News of the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Ian is troubling. So is news of the worsening drought that threatens to do immense—and possibly catastrophic—damage to agricultural concerns in the western U.S. and to potable water supplies throughout the west, southwest, and scattered other parts of this country. Looking ahead to the coming months and the inevitable calamities brought on by frigid winter storms, I wonder whether humankind might finally begin to understand, too late, the fragility of our planet. I doubt it. Only when circumstances are so inarguably grim that the collapse of civilization is hours away will we collectively recoil in horror at what we have done to our home. It will be too late then, too, but by then the certainty of our fate will be undeniable. Today, too many of us still cannot quite grasp the reality of what we have done and are doing. Testing of nuclear-capable-missiles by North Korea and saber-rattling by Vladimir Putin dozens of military threats and counter-threats should give us sufficient warning of the potential that we are on the verge of irreversible cataclysmic erasure. But we’ve grown used to such stuff. We have recovered from all the previous instances in which we were micro-seconds away from annihilation; we seem to believe we can rely on history to announce our salvation from another near-miss. One day, maybe today, we will be shocked to watch as  extinction plays out in real-time before us. On that day, a few people will have fleeting thoughts about the effects on the planet of human extinction; the rest will stare in selfish horror at the utter carnage leading to the elimination of their tiny part of the universe.

But it may not play out that way. It may be a much slower, more agonizing experience. Starvation. Dehydration. Over-exposure to “the elements.” Who knows? And I’ll admit that we may have another one or two…or several…lucky breaks, permitting us to escape the certainty of human annihilation again. Briefly. Yet one day will be the very last day that the plague of locusts in human form decimate this miniscule dot in an incomprehensibly large and ever-expanding universe.

And a cheerful good day to you!

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Watching Fox News is always an upsetting experience, but on occasion I do it anyway because I want to know what right-wingnuts are saying and hearing. Rarely, I encounter something I think I should have heard or seen on reliably nonpartisan media but did not. That was the case this morning when I watched a segment in which a deeply-biased Fox reporter feigned shock when she played a video clip of Biden scanning the audience and calling for a dead Congressional Representative. Rep. Jackie Walorski died in a car wreck last month, yet on Wednesday President Biden wondered aloud where she was as he spoke at a White House conference on hunger. Some people say he might have been referring to a different Jackie, but after reading and watching other conservative media “gotcha” pieces, I am convinced Biden simply had a senior moment. And I’m convinced left-wing and reliably partisan media deliberately opted not to make mention of the incident. Because they, too, are biased. Just in the other direction. I would rather not have seen Biden’s faux pas, but I’m of the opinion that it’s better to acknowledge it than to deny or try to excuse it. There’s no legitimate counter to the Fox News absurd contention that Biden’s gaffe is evidence of dementia. Actually, it may not be absurd. Regardless, trying to downplay it by not reporting it is, in my view, the kind of mistake that fuels right-wingers’ claims that the mainstream media is under the thumb of liberals and, therefore, is not to be trusted. That’s the sort of thing that helps right-wing media boost its approval ratings, even in the face of blatant lies; because right-wing media can use such failures by other media to solidify the right’s claims about medial bias.

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What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

~ George Eliot ~

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Most of what is on my mind right now is personal. Not political, social, environmental, etc. The issues and topics swirling around in my head are, by and large, purely personal and quite possibly imaginary. But I am not going to post my thoughts about those matters; not here. I have done that too much in days past. I think my tendency to unload my thoughts on these pages has misled some readers into thinking I may be perpetually depressed or constantly in the throes of troubling matters that have the potential of pushing me into the abyss. My apologies if I’ve overstated things. It may be a simple matter of my tendency toward drama. I may over-emphasize emotionally difficult experiences or, more likely, I may overreact to experiences I do not “report on” that trigger emotions that may seem related to unrelated matters.  This could get extremely convoluted and complex, so I’ll just stop here. Bottom line is  that I’m not planning to step in front of a bus in the immediate future. If that changes, I’ll try to announce it here first.

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The day has long since exposed itself as a carrier of light. I will use the light to illuminate my part of the day.

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Restlessness and Religion and Such

Long for me as I for you, forgetting, what will be inevitable, the long black aftermath of pain.

~ Malcolm Lowry ~

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The demons remain. Perhaps they always will. There is considerable literature out in the world that counsels people to forgive themselves for whatever “sins” they think they have committed. Absent that self-forgiveness, the self-help gurus assert, one can never be truly happy with oneself. But what if true happiness is undeserved because the sins we committed are too grave to be subject to self-forgiveness?  How do we know? If we permit ourselves forgiveness, despite believing forgiveness is undeserved, will true happiness follow? Or will that ill-gained peace of mind one day dissolve into a rank, sticky muck, leaving us with what amounts to eternal damnation for as long as we live? These are rhetorical questions that will never yield satisfactory answers in response because there are no answers; certainly no satisfactory answers. But if I could take a pill that would deliver permanent answers and self-forgiveness, I would take it.

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Imagine a single moment—a second or ten seconds, no more than a minute—when every human on Earth is honest. During that brief instance, no lies would cross the lips of any human on the planet. No corrupt deals would be sealed. No cheating. No screaming in anger at another person; because anger erupts, either directly or indirectly, from some form of dishonesty. Just a tiny snippet of time in which decency prevailed. And decency would prevail during that moment because a moment in which everyone is honest about everything cause decency to spreads like a wildfire fueled by gasoline sprayed from high-power nozzles.

Hell, it’s hard to imagine this scenario because it’s such on obviously unreachable, utterly impossible fantasy.  It’s a fairytale told by a skeptic who is in no mood to tell fairytales. So the story flexes and bends and crawls under a few poorly-lit bridges until it comes to a squadron of beavers busily building a brightly-lit bridge over Río Decencia. And that’s where the story falls to pieces. There is no Río Decencia. It’s a lie, told by un engañador profesional. A professional deceiver. A liar by trade. The squadron of beavers will not permit the spread of such deceitful, hateful, decidedly unhelpful stories. Those are the kinds of stories that could cause the beavers’ bridges to weaken during the rainy season, subjecting them to hydraulic forces so massive that even the best beaver bridge could not hold back the flood. So, the beavers un-tell the story, alphabetical character by alphabetical character. Words dissolve into piles of letters. Sentences collapse into chaotic strings of what once were words but, now, are nothing more than collections of symbols representing noises. Paragraphs disintegrate, the fictional stream that fills the non-existent channel of Río Decencia full of the shredded dreams and visions of  imaginary beings.

It’s all vapor. Or vapour, if you prefer. It depends, I suppose, on your passion for things Canadian. Or British. Or related items. But the emptiness of what could have been a package unrelentingly stuffed with  deep meaning lingers beyond it natural dissipation. That emptiness withstands the passage of time and the dissolution of meaning; when everything becomes pointless. When the continuing existence of the planet no longer matters. In the least. A dystopian forecast, to be sure. There’s quite a measure of certainty hidden under that unlikely optimism. Facetious; that’s the word you’re looking for.

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The world inside my head, sometimes, is more livable than the one I see outside myself. That world can be unpleasant and unforgiving. That world can lack empathy or compassion or common decency. It can be brutal and unmoved by the pain sprawled in and around it. But, protected inside my skull, after I shut my eyes and ears and disable the interpretive engine that forces me to contend with the external world, I can live out moments, at least, in peace so gentle and soothing they make me forget the ugliness on the other side of my eyelids, the hideousness staring back at me from the computer screen. Or is that the mirror?

+++

The hypocrisy of some of the followers of religions is beyond difficult to believe. It is astounding. How a person can assert his or her devotion to God or Allah or whoever/ whatever while simultaneously engaging in behavior that is so utterly at odds with the teaching of the religion? I suppose it’s easy; as easy as lying about anything or excusing anything or otherwise defending anything that crosses the line between moral and immoral. And, of course, the simplicity of crossing that line becomes even less difficult when one can move the line at will, defining what is moral (or immoral) as whatever serves one’s purposes at the moment.

One need not claim devotion to a religion or a deity (or a collection of deities) to be hypocritical. One need not assert a belief system of any kind. If one lives in a society—which is tantamount to accepting the rules for living in that society—and breaks that society’s rules, one is a hypocrite. And, therefore, one cannot be trusted; not just in areas of life with which the infraction is involved, but in all aspects of one’s life. One is not “somewhat hypocritical.” One either is or is not a hypocrite. And who among us is not. If that is the case, though, how do we judge a person? Judgement must rely on some measure or degree of “badness.” So, then, is hypocrisy measured on a scale of “not hypocritical in the least” to “hypocritical at all times in every facet of life?” I don’t know. But I suspect hypocrisy is measured on a scale of severity, coupled with a mitigating scale of some more positive trait: Philanthropy. Generosity. Compassion. Though how those are compatible, to any degree, with Hypocrisy, I do not quite understand. I suppose it’s just more evidence (if any more were necessary) of the complexity of humanity or humankind. Or both. Because, who can satisfactorily define the difference between the two? Or their precise similarities?

+++

There’s always at least a fragment of me that wants to stay where I am. It’s the piece of me that demands consistency and familiarity with my surroundings. Most of the time, it’s a fairly big piece of me. But when it shrinks to the point of being almost microscopic, I grow restless and impatient and ready to explore. And that can be a difficult position. Because few of us can just drop everything and examine new possibilities. New places, new roles to play, new opportunities. New risks. Yet when I feel the wind at my back, pushing me toward the door, I have to put my foot down and refuse to move. Because it’s not the place I want to leave. I want to leave myself behind, but that cannot happen because no matter where you go, you carry  yourself with you. And even if you rebuild yourself from the ground up, you’re still there; just a new look make from the same parts.

+++

Off I go to face the day, regardless of the weather.

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A Lingering Memory

Wisdom is nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life.

~ Hermann Hesse ~

As I walked into my study this morning, I detected the lingering scent of patchouli incense—evidence of my efforts, yesterday and many days before, to return to a time and place I never experienced. The closest I came to immersion in such a place at that long-gone time must have been in my last year or two of high school or my early college years, when I returned home to spend time with friends who were a few years older than I. And there was once, during a seasonal break from college, when I worked during the summer in San Antonio, that I drove back to Austin. A friend there introduced me to the bong and the effects of its illegal contents. It was a one-time experience, as I had to drive back to San Antonio and I think he moved on to school in Chicago. I suspect patchouli was the aroma of choice when he and his girlfriend, who had a child in Chicago, filled their apartment with odors reminiscent of a hippie head shop.

Patchouli has a somewhat conflicted past. It is an aroma either loved or loathed, it seems, with little room for olfactory concession The smell of patchouli has long been associated with hippie head shops, though it finds its way into high society from time to time. An online article promoting an August, 2019 evening seminar entitled Smell & Tell: The Aromatic Allure of Patchouli offered by the Ann Arbor District Library says this about patchouli: “Patchouli is not all hippie stank. Jackie O’s signature fragrance was patchouli. Aristotle Onassis gave her a bottle of Lovely Patchouli 55 by Krigler on the same day he put a 40-karat diamond engagement ring on her finger, and it became her signature fragrance.” For me, the allure of patchouli is neither its association with head shops nor Jacki O’s attachment to the smell; it is an odd combination of how the scent is suggestive of both the two distinct social strata, refined in my youth to fit my personal illusions and delusions and flights of fancy.

At any rate, I sensed the scent of patchouli as I neared my study. That hint of odor was enough to prompt me to light another cone of the stuff, turning my little study into a den of memory-laden fantasy. So, here I am, pretending to be younger. Pretending that I have my whole life ahead of me. Pretending that I live in a time and place that never were, nor ever will be. Often, that is what writing is about for me. It’s like reading a good book, but instead of the author taking me to places and times I find exciting or intriguing or chilling, it’s my own imagination doing the work. And it can be more realistic than translating someone else’s words into visions that fit nicely into one’s brain. I suspect no reader has ever had the same experience in reading the words of a novelist or short-story writer as that writer had when writing those words. “Suspect” is a weak, wishy-washy word; if I were writing this (and I am), I would replace “suspect” with “seriously doubt, almost to the point of certainty.”  There. That more closely represents my thoughts on the matter.

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

~ Cesare Pavese ~

Until this morning, though, I had never associated Jackie O with the scent of patchouli. I wonder what Lovely Patchouli 55 by Krigler  smells like? I doubt I’ll ever know, given that I’ve never been seduced by a woman wearing the stuff and it’s bloody unlikely I will pay the $455 for a 50 ml (about 1.7 ounces) bottle, offered online by Krigler. I suspect the aroma of my massive supplies of patchouli incense (I bought a box of four 10-cone packs for $9.90) is close enough that I just could not justify the additional $445.10. Although, the descriptive language, on the Krigler website, used in an attempt to describe the scent and the allure of the stuff is powerful: “Magnetically stimulating with an artistic embellishment of bewitching patchouli rising above a strong amber base. Offering the provocative warmth of leather and bergamot.” Until moments ago, I did not recognize the word ‘bergamot.’ Mother Google explained to me that bergamot is also known as citrus bergamia, or bergamot organge. It’s a citrusy smell. Hmmm. I do not detect a distinct citrusy smell in my patchouli; perhaps it’s because of my perpetually stuffy nose.

+++

It took me 742 words to describe my experience entering my study this morning. I sense my verbosity is being fed with an unrestricted menu of letters, syllables, words, sentences, and paragraphs. Obviously, I need to go on a diet; no more than fifteen words per sentence, a maximum of three sentences per paragraph, and no more than one hundred words per topic. I would commit to following that dietary advice, except that I’d probably die of digestive asphyxiation (also known, more commonly, as starvation). So, what’s the point of trying? Absurd. Just give it up, John. Get used to the idea that you’re trying to emulate writers who can produced thousand-word sentences and million-word epics. Hah! I do not even proofread my blog posts (quite evident, I’m sure, to anyone who reads this drivel). C’est la vie.

+++

A stadium with a capacity of 38,000, for which 42,000 tickets were sold. The current death toll from Indonesia’s Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy earlier today stands at 131, dwarfing the Hillsoborough disaster in England in 1989, when 92 Liverpool spectactors were crushed to death. The Hillsborough tragedy was one of the triggers for what was then called the Crowd Management Seminar (by what is now the International Association of Venue Managers). Several years later, when I successfully promoted the idea of a magazine called Crowd Management, the Hillsborough tragedy—along with deaths and injuries at rock concerts, sporting events, etc.—served as justification for the publication. Unfortunately, the board of the association refused to let the magazine continue after one year because it did not meet the board’s financial expectations. That still rankles me. Ach! It’s hard to believe 131 people can die as a result of sports-fueled madness. But it happened. And it continues to happen over time because people allow their fervor over sports to take over their human decency.

+++

Stories inside my head are bubbling and brewing and they are aching to escape the confines of my skull. But my fingers and my attention span are refusing to accommodate them, instead suggesting brief blurbs about what’s on my mind at any given moment. That is intolerable. I must give myself an ultimatum; either perform or keep away from the keyboard.

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The Calming Effect of Distance

Faint sounds in the distance. Whispers? Dogs barking? Animals rustling through the underbrush? Birds shuffling through leaves of the trees, far enough above me to be invisible? If I devote my attention to sounds too distant or indistinct to hear clearly, my mind clears of the troubling and mundane, focusing instead on the occasional beauty of noise.

~ John Swinburn ~

Eight years ago yesterday, I wrote the sentences above. I posted that paragraph, without explanation, in my blog. Here.

Eight years later, I recall writing the post. I recall my frame of mind. I remember how I was able to find peace, albeit briefly, by focusing on sounds; unintelligible noise. Maybe that is what I need, now. Perhaps I should find a place where I can listen, intently, to noise too distant and too indistinct to be meaningful. With just enough volume to drown out the world, but not enough to do permanent damage to my ears or my psyche. Eight years ago, I think there was something mystical about the thoughts behind that post. Today, I think the mystery has been worn away by experience; today, mystery has been replaced by practicality. It amounts to preserving one’s sanity by filtering out the “bad,” deliberate, angry noise and replacing it with comforting, instinctive, joyous noise.

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Memories: sharp or blunt. Heavy or weightless. Dark or brightly lit. Merciful or vindictive. Yes, vindictive. Those are the sharp, heavy, dark memories with sufficient emotional weaponry to do massive damage to one’s mental well-being; and they have the motives to carry out the carnage. There must be a name for those memories. Psychologists must have identified them and named them. But I have neither the patience nor the toughness of spirit necessary to look for the name and its genesis. So I’ll just satisfy myself with the belief that I am not sitting alone in the universe; alone with unnamed vindictive memories that want to tear me apart.

The ferocity of memories has no relationship to the “size” of the memory. An instance as fleeting as a sideways glance can produce a much larger than life recollection, a memory that seems to find nourishment in simply “showing up.” These malignant memories grow more and more intent on filling one’s head until, one day, they accomplish with a flash of insignificant memory what should require a year’s worth of experience. And the context of memory—whether memorable or not—has no bearing on its power.

The thing is, vindictive memories only come when they are deserved. Other damaging memories can simply stumble through the wrong door. Vindictive memories are stalkers. They watch every door and every window, choosing the weakest and least visible to the outside world as the point of entry. They pry open windows and pick the locks in doors. Once they are inside and the point of entry has been sealed, getting them to leave may require removal of the host.

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This morning, I clicked on the link to FoxNews, as I do from time to time to keep up with the right-wing fringe. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was quoted as warning potential looters that “We’re a Second Amendment State,” inviting his citizens to kill people who, days after the storm has passed, may be desperate for food or water.  I am not a proponent of looting; far from it—I’m sometimes in favor of inflicting some corporal punishment on thieves— but I do not support the idea of killing people for property crimes. Or, for that matter, even suggesting the idea has legitimacy or merit.

Okay, so the FoxNews website is chock-full of pure propaganda, masquerading as news. Only an idiot would be blind to the obvious bigotry and bias demonstrated by FoxNews. I feel the same about CNN. It is so obviously biased in the other direction that it’s almost embarrassing to view the company’s website. But the people who believe CNN‘s left-slanted news are equally as idiotic. Wait, though. I feel confident some of my friends, who buy the propaganda fed through CNN’s newsfeed, are not idiots; not in the least. They are thoughtful, intelligent people. Which leads me to wonder: is it possible that my instant judgment of FoxNews viewers  is premature? Should I wait to judge them until I have a conversation with them? Yes. If I were a better person, I would insist on it. But I’ll have to work on that major personality flaw. Later. After the others. And that may take an eon or two.

+++

A while ago, I thought and wrote about the calming effects of sounds. Since then, I’ve wondered how much of an impact distance has on the effects of sounds. I’ve concluded that distance, or the illusion of distance, is crucial to the effectiveness of noise to be calming. Nearby noises, or noises that mimic nearby sounds, are irritating. Distant, indistinguishable sounds tend to be soothing. That’s just me, though. I think distance and distant sounds both can be soothing, calming, relaxing. The distance of the open road is a soothing distance. The sounds of tires rolling over pavement is a hypnotic noise.  I’ll mull on that for a while.

+++

It’s 6:23 and I’ve been up since a few minutes past 4. I’m sleepy. And tired. But I’m up for the day. Yet, maybe I’ll try to rest for a bit…

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In Pursuit of Happiness

Florida needs significant emergency aid to begin recovering from Hurricane Ian. I am confident aid will come, soon, from the federal government. I wish there could be a way to ensure that DeSantis does not get credit for the assistance the feds will provide. Regardless, the assistance must be given right away. Recovery from a storm as monstrous and powerful as Ian will take a very long time and a very large infusion of financial aid. Even if DeSantis screws up and does not follow the bureaucratic process of requesting federal aid, Biden must order the aid to be deployed; he cannot allow the speed of assistance (or lack thereof) to be influenced by political grandstanding. I hate that I have to be concerned that our political leaders might be so despicable and grotesque as to play political football with people in crisis. But I am. More about DeSantis than Biden, but I am not so naïve as to think Democrats cannot be just as malevolent. I just hope both ends of the political spectrum surprise me by coming together to address a critical, common need.

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The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

~ William Shakespeare ~

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I have not made a habit of watching The Daily Show; I do not have cable, so it would have been impossible lately, even if I wanted to watch it. But when I was able to watch it when Jon Stewart hosted, I liked it. And when I watched it with Trevor Noah as host, I liked it.  Trevor Noah has announced his departure, which will come at an unannounced time in what I understand is the not-too-distant future, recently. I wonder whether the show will continue and, if so, who will host?

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Occam’s Razor. Or Ockham’s Razor. Or Ocham’s Razor. The principle of parsimony. The law of parsimony. Whatever one calls it, it is the principle that “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Translated into less abstract form: the simplest explanation of a phenomenon is that, when presented with competing hypotheses about the same prediction, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. In the vulgar vernacular, “keep it simple, stupid.” KISS. I try to adhere to the principle, but it is so easy to drift into convoluted explanations whose very complexity distracts from the phenomenon one is attempting to explain. The same is true of my writing. While there is nothing wrong with my tendency to write long, elaborate, sometimes overly involved sentences, the longer the sentence, the more likely the receiver of the information presented in that sentence will fail to fully understand the message sent and may, in fact, completely misinterpret the message. It might be best to avoid such lengthy communications when involved in a heated argument with one’s enemy, the outcome of said argument which could lead to nuclear holocaust.

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.

~ Dōgen Zenji,  Zen Buddhist Teacher/Master ~

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I am in the mood for seafood. Fresh-caught halibut, preferably. Fish that was swimming happily until hours before it was put on a plate in front of me. And then, as I consider this, I feel guilt; responsibility for causing the death of a living creature. But, micro-seconds later, I try to dismiss the guilt by envisioning the natural order in front of me, as a lion takes down a zebra and drags the corpse of the dead animal back to the lion’s den for a family feast. At what point on the food chain does killing and consuming the remains of dead animals become morally repugnant? Or, going in the other direction, at what point does the horror of living creatures killing other living creatures become an acceptable and fascinating fact of nature? One does not assign the label “immoral” to bears catching salmon in their teeth in the rapids of a river. One does not call the eagle that swoops down to catch a mouse in its claws a murderer. Does the fact that the bear and the eagle are killing for food absolve them of “sin?” And, so, if I were to catch the halibut, it’s okay for me to arrange for its demise? And, if I were to pay a grocery store for a chicken that I will eat, is that acceptable? Or, because my mind and body are both capable of surviving without killing of animals for food, does my consumption of the chicken or the halibut validate assigning a label of “morally repugnant” to me? The morality of survival, at one end of the spectrum, versus decadence at the other end, is a complex matter. One which tends to arouse emotions much more quickly than it sparks dispassionate debate. I do not attach derogatory labels to vegetarians or vegans, but some of them tend to attach extremely derogatory labels to human omnivores. I feel a hint of bias rising up in me, so I should back away from an argument I am having with myself. This topic merits serious discussion: not for the purpose of changing my behavior or for someone else changing theirs, but for the purpose of enhancing my understanding of the world in which I live. I would like to have a conversation about this very wide-ranging topic with people who may feel passionately about it but who can discuss it without letting that passion consume the conversation, burning it to embers and then ashes. Were that to happen, the value of the conversation would be no more than smoke.

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The wishes and dreams that feed on the soul are relentless, obdurately ravenous beasts that will stop at nothing until their hunger is sated; when the flesh is gone and all that remains is gristle and bone.

~ John Swinburn ~

It’s late. Time to engage with the day, with the objective of extracting from it every ounce of happiness it can provide. I wish good luck, to you and to me, in the pursuit of joy, today and every day.

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Compromise

When I woke up this morning, my body acted as if it was supposed to repeat my experience from yesterday. Almost all of my body was sore; elbows, wrists, neck, knees, ankles, lower back, hands, shoulders, clavicles, etc., etc. I suppose “joints” might have been the better word, but “body” feels more representative of the experience. My body felt angry and oppressed, as if I had been tortured while under anesthesia and awakened to relive the experience of anguish: severe bodily torment. It’s too early to say with certainty whether the same sensations will remain with me today, but based solely on how I feel at the moment, I think it would be safe to bet that, physically, today’s pains will mimic yesterday’s. That, I must say, is a drag. A drag multiplied exponentially and increased several-fold. That confident statement notwithstanding, I hope to be compelled to issue a retraction later in the day. I should make note that these aches and pains are, with very little doubt, simply manifestations of the degradation of my increasingly old body.

In less than a month, I will be eligible to celebrate the transition from one age marker to the next. The obligatory recognition of a milestone in one’s evolution: a birthday. I wonder whether all societies observe birthdays with such…anticipation and celebration…and dread…as does ours? Do the more “primitive” tribes hidden in the African jungles or Amazonian forests treat birthdays with such reverence? I checked, though I did not attempt to explore beyond a single country (neither in Africa nor South America): Bhutan. Bhutanese tradition does not celebrate birthdays, but younger people in today’s Bhutanese society (especially in larger towns and cities) are moving toward acknowledging birthdays. According to one article I read, the Bhutanese acknowledge that everyone turn 1 year older on 1st January every year, thus celebrating their birthdays on New Year’s Day! The same article calls Bhutan the “happiest country in the world.” It goes on to say  the country’s people believe “leading a happy life is much more important than how many years you’ve been alive on this planet.”  Before I get too wrapped up in that idea, I should consider another assertion I found online: “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays.” Yes, that is true, as well. I cannot affirm nor dispute that Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the world’s happiest people; I won’t even try. Simple association is not sufficient to impute causation. I think I remember that statement, presented as fact, from a college sociology course. But the study of sociology has changed, I think, since that time long ago. I suspect the subject of cultural differences in recognizing and celebrating birthdays was addressed in a sociology class along the way; but I do not remember that discussion. I do remember, albeit vaguely, talking in sociology classes about various age-related events, such as the “sweet sixteen” parties for girls in the U.S. and Canada (and maybe other places) and the “quinceañeras.” Other cultures/religions celebrate the attainment of specific ages. The bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah in Jewish culture celebrates the thirteenth and twelfth or thirteenth birthdays, respectively, of boys and girls. In Japan, the Coming of Age Day is commonly celebrated when a person reaches his or her twentieth birthday. If I kept looking, I probably could find dozens of other unique traditions. And only a few that do not give some sort of special recognition to birthdays in general or attainment of specific ages in particular. Not that it matters…not in the grand scheme of human evolution. So I’ll leave it at that.

We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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An acquaintance of mine wrote a book a few years ago (not published and, as far as I know, not intended for publication) based on the premise (among several others) that “the elderly” maintain powerful libidos, almost equivalent to the horniness of hormone-driven teenagers, well into their nineties and beyond. Well, that’s the premise of the book from my perspective/reading; I cannot say whether the author shares that perspective with me. Regardless of the presumption, the book was well-written and entertaining (the author let me borrow a copy). And, inasmuch as it was written by an almost seventy-something woman, I suspect it was written from at least some degree of personal experience (I say that, knowing the writer and her propensity to talk freely about what would cause many other people to blush and turn away). I found it interesting that the connections in the book always were between oldsters; never did an elderly person consort with someone younger (if my memory serves…).

We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.

~ J. William Fulbright ~

I hate the word “elderly.” It conveys physical feebleness and mental fragility. And it suggests an inability to take care of oneself. Admittedly, it is not uncommon for older people to need assistance in their day-to-day lives, but it is not universal. There should be another term to describe older people who are reasonably healthy, alert, and possessing of mental acuity. “Geezer” might be a term I would use, but I’ve heard so much negative feedback about that word that I would use it only in the presence of people who are progressive, fun-loving, and non-judgmental. I could come up with dozens of neologisms in response to the need for an appropriate word. Maybe. Or not.

+++

The day is doing its best to get away from me. I will not let it. I will grab it by the ****s and force it to comply with my wishes. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll sit down and work out an acceptable compromise.

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Burning Memories

Today, my mother’s birthday, I will think about a flower—a yellow rose—that was her favorite. And I will try to remember some of the cherished moments I spent with her before she died thirty-six years ago. Recollections of time spent with loved ones before death took them cannot, in my experience, be limited to memories of that one person who triggered them. One’s mind does not permit memories to be limited exclusively to one person or one moment. The mind is like an hungry animal with an insatiable appetite; always searching through a labyrinth in pursuit of food for thought.

Memories of one person’s death spark memories of others who died. In my case, remembering my mother on her birthday causes memories of my late wife to surface. Remembering my mother does not cause a drowning flood of grief to consume me. But it causes the grief of losing my wife—less than two years ago—to emerge from deep within me. It feels just as fresh and raw and unspeakably painful as it did the day she died. The pain will subside as the day wears on; whenever the pain erupts like a volcano, I know it will ebb over the next few hours or days. But I suspect it will never disappear. It is always there, like a clump of molten rock, in my chest. If I do not devote considerable energy to keeping it from bursting into open flames, it tends to consume me and scorch the earth all around me.  I am sure I am not alone with this perpetual burning ball of memory inside me. I know people survive it every day. I feel confident I will survive it, again, as I have so many days before. And, today, I will insist that it pause for at least a moment, so I can devote some mental energy to honor my mother’s memory.

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GoDaddy and Jetpack each claim the problem with my accessing my blog (and subscribers being notified of new posts) rests with the other entity. After spending far too much money on getting a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate for my site, which GoDaddy assured me was the issue, Jetpack identified several additional concerns with the way GoDaddy is handling requests for Jetpack. It’s all far too involved and convoluted for my limited technical knowledge; I wish I could through senior engineers from both companies into a ring, where they would battle it out. The victor would take full responsibility and would be required to correct the problem within one hour or face stunningly horrific consequences. My praise two days ago for GoDaddy‘s responsiveness has been tempered by time and experience. That is, too often, the way of the world.

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I would not be surprised at news that Russia has deployed nuclear weapons in its effort to absorb and control Ukraine. Perhaps my expectations are fueled by media suggestions of Putin’s state of mind. Which, of course, must be fueled by manipulative governmental propaganda. Which serves the important purpose of helping to ensure adequate support for the regime that’s responsible for spreading the rumors.

It matters not whether Democrats or Republicans are in control; both parties are conniving, manipulative, and driven by the hunger for control. While I find the rationale the Democrats use to justify their lies and manipulative behavior far more acceptable, I do not excuse their actions. I wonder what U.S. policies would look like if the people crafting them were more committed to their constituents than to their hold on power.

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Propaganda is to a democracy what violence is to a dictatorship.

~ William Blum ~

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It is the season for pumpkins and leaves changing colors. It is the season for cooler days and crisp Fall nights. It is a time to begin thinking about winter soup recipes and sitting in front of a warm fire, toasting marshmallows. I prefer Fall to Summer, but I prefer Spring to Fall. And I prefer Spring and Fall to winter. I prefer all other seasons to Summer; Summer would not be so bad if it were cooler and more suitable to comfortable outdoor pursuits. I suppose winter would be better were it a bit warmer and if it were not accompanied by ice and snow.

+++

I am glad I am not hunkered down in the Tampa Bay area, waiting on the arrival of Hurricane Ian. Hurricane and their accompanying high tides can be massively ugly. I would be willing to tolerate the heat and humidity of living on the coast if I could find a nice, isolated, very private place; just so long as I could get reliable assurances that hurricanes and storm surge would not be permitted on that part of the coast.

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You’re on my mind this morning. Yes, you are.

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Reportage About My Thoughtage

The housing market seems to be not nearly as robust as it was just a few months ago, at least not in areas I have been following off and on. Hot Springs Village seems to be losing a little of the crazy levels of demand it was experiencing. But in other places, the housing market seems to changing, rather than slowing. From what I’ve read, housing demand in Fayetteville, Tulsa, and various smaller but in-demand markets in Wisconsin, Michigan, and a few other places I’ve watched from time to time is changing. Buyers are looking for smaller spaces, lawns that are smaller and/or require little upkeep, and—even more than in the past—excellent location. People want to be near amenities like restaurants, grocery stores, bike trails, walking trails, theater, etc., etc. Obviously, that is not true of every location, but the “ideal” location is coming into clearer focus as the market adjusts to changes in the society in which we live.

As for me, I want access to all those delightful amenities. And I have a high preference for the availability of those amenities within walking distance. But I have an equally strong preference for privacy and, to the extent possible within the context of my other desires, isolation. The privacy and isolation I want would be best served in a location where I own a few acres or more, along with a tractor (fully outfitted with all sorts of implements), outbuildings, and where I could easily secure help from young and strong people who respond well to instruction and direction. Of course, this is pure fantasy. If I ever expected to achieve my desired lifestyle, I should have acted on my dreams years ago. But when I could have been acting on my dreams, I was tethered to a desk and to the security that desk afforded. I took risks, but the risks I took were too small and too tentative to achieve anything of consequence. I could have taken greater risks. I think my late wife would have supported me in taking them. But I was lacking in courage.

How the hell did I drift from rambling about the housing market to rambling about my timidity? I know exactly how I did it; I allowed my stream-of-consciousness to steer me down a side channel, away from the main flow. I do that a lot. I recognize it. I permit it. I suppose it allows me to daydream while still anchored to the safety of knowing I am risk-averse and acting accordingly.

I wonder why the idea of taking risks is captivating to people? Why does seeing someone taking risks seem so appealing? Why does it seem that people who take risks are attractive?  There’s something machismo about it, I suppose. But as I think about it, it makes no sense to me; why would putting oneself in either physical or emotional danger be attractive? It’s madness, really. The running of the bulls in Pamplona is idiotic; I once admired people who did it and I wanted to do it myself. Insanity! Yet I have an understanding, somewhere deep inside, of the appeal of putting oneself in danger, with the objective of accomplishing something only a few others—or no one—have done.  I think there’s a short-circuit in our wiring that permits us to seek out the possibility that we will be consumed by the heat as the circuits melt, causing strands of metal to merge into thick bands of hot, congealed copper.

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As far as I know, I had never heard of Hilaree Nelson until this morning. I learned about her while reading a news story on BBC.com. The story reported that she is missing, after apparently skiing (by accident) into a 2,000-foot crevasse only fifteen minutes after she and her climbing partner, Jim Morrison, reached the summit of Mount Manaslu in Nepal. Out of curiosity (because I had not seen any reference to the incident in any U.S. media I had skimmed earlier), I searched for other reports about her apparent disappearance. The earliest report I found was from Men’s Journal, eighteen hours ago. Most other reports were from climbing-related publications: Climbing Magazine, The Himalayan Times, Out There Colorado, Adventure Journal, etc. However, the New York Times, Seattle Times, and The Guardian also had pieces that reported her missing. My point in searching for which media outlets first reported on the matter is difficult to explain; it involves both my skepticism about U.S. media and my vague sense that mainstream media sometimes gets some of the “meat” of its material from highly-focused specialty media. Not that it matters, really. But it sort of matters to me; because I am increasingly distrustful of the integrity of corporate-owned media that seems (to me) to be distancing itself from journalistic excellence, in favor of volume. In some cases, reporting on matters that are not especially relevant to the majority of media consumers is cheaper and easier than investigative reporting on matters of vital importance and urgency. I really am sorry to learn of Ms. Nelson’s apparent demise. Yet, with the exception of the climbing-related publications, I am not sure why her disappearance into a 2,000-foot crevasse is especially newsworthy.

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I think it’s a shame that people are so quick to put you in a box; sometimes it’s as if you do one thing, and that’s all you’re allowed to do.

~ Lewis Hamilton ~

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My road trips this year have taken me more than 8,600 miles so far. And there is more to come. But, for now, I will think about breakfast and what I might eat if I were having a morning meal of sea creatures freshly-caught off the coast of Maryland. Granted, it’s an odd thought but it is just so damned appealing!

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Back in Business, For Now

Well, the site is up…at least temporarily. Apparently, there is some kind of glitch with a “plugin” that I use to make the site easier for me to manage and for the visitor to comment, “like,” and otherwise engage with the site. For the time being, I will post short bits, at least, as I try to find out how to return the site to full functionality. I must say nice things about the GoDaddy (my site’s host) support team; my contact there this morning got the site back up and gave me access to the admin area very quickly. Now, I am communicating with Jetpack, the plugin folks, to see how I can correct the issue for the long term.

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Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.

~ Dorothea Lange ~

We are debating which direction we should head next in our wandering. I’m thinking about heading down to the town where I grew up, Corpus Christi, just to take a look. But I’m curious about the Arkansas delta area. And the tamale trail in eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi is intriguing, as well. Friends have told us interesting things about places to visit in Mississippi. And I would like to spend a little more time around Fayetteville, Arkansas and environs. So many places to go and see; so much money to make the dreams reach fruition. We shall see.

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There is nothing as sweet as a comeback, when you are down and out, about to lose, and out of time.

~ Anne Lamott ~

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My desire to be productive and creative is at odds with my interest in taking a long, leisurely, uninterrupted rest. But both of them compete with my wish to simultaneously be creative and slovenly. If I could will things to be done, I would do it. Today. But my will is not as strong as my lethargy.

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Pointless

I am too tired to think. Too tired to write anything of consequence. Not physically tired. Just worn out, mentally. Tired of trying to understand the world I have created. Too tired to attempt to make sense of chaos. Exhausted from thrashing about in a mire created and cultivated by boors and bigots and barbarians. Certain that I am one of them. Terrified there is nothing I can do about it. Everything I have said and written is tainted by ugly reality. Nothing can be done to recover from a lifetime laced with conscious mistakes. Absolution is out of reach. Eternal grief is the penalty for who I have been and who I am. I am beyond redemption; atonement is a fantasy. I am confident neither life nor death can bring resolution to endless regret. And so I write, in the pointless pursuit of forgiveness that cannot be given by anyone but God, yet knowing there is no God to give it.

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Moving Along

I woke several times last night and this morning, once around 2:00 a.m. when I heard an odd repetitive noise I thought was an alarm emanating from my computer. When I got up, I discovered it was a strange car alarm in the parking lot below the motel room. I heard voices coming from the parking lot, too, but could not see anyone when I peered out the window. After that, I woke at least half a dozen times. Suffice it to say I did not get a good night’s sleep. I finally got out of bed around 6.

My insomnia could have arisen from my unhappiness with the dump of a motel that SHOULD have been a nice place—a Hampton by Hilton in Frostburg, Maryland. From the moment we walked in, it was obvious that the property was old and tired, but had been given some superficial “upgrades” to make it more presentable. On the way to the room, I noticed wallpaper in a hallway barely clinging to the wall. Inside the room, we discovered the toilet tank was empty; I took the lid off the tank (revealing a nasty brown and dirty pressure tank) and succeeded in jiggling the apparatus so that water filled the tank. But, each time it flushed, the same process had to be followed to get the tank to fill. And, during the night, we discovered that the tank emptied, requiring more fussing. From there, more and more flaws became apparent. We complained. The offer to “compensate” for the problems was insulting and I told the front desk staff as much. Mi novia was more tactful. We shall see what the bill looks like this morning. But I realize, of course, such an experience is not the end of the world; so, we will chalk it up to road trip experience and move on.

Our trip from Schenectady yesterday took us through Pennsylvania and into Maryland. When we leave here today, we will wander into West Virginia and, perhaps, into Kentucky, as we make our way south and west. We may slide south into Virginia and into North Carolina. There is no plan, as yet. We’re just road-tripping. We drove more than seven hours and covered about 450 miles yesterday. We could have stopped along the way to see some interesting places, such as the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania, but I was not in the proper frame of mind to be a tourist. Nor am I at the moment, for some reason. We shall see.

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The sky outside my window is ominous, dark clouds swirling at high speed. Though it is not raining, the ground is wet from last night, when Nature wrung water from the clouds like wet sponges. I hope the wind and the clouds do not present obstacles today—but, if they do, we shall confront them and deal with them appropriately. Road trips cannot be planned around weather guarantees, for no such assurances exist. One simply must adjust appropriately to experiences as they unfold. And we shall.

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By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer.

~ Helen Hunt Jackson ~

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Whatever the day offers, I will take and turn it to my benefit. There’s no point in yielding to anything but the best every day has to offer.

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Wolves

Ever since I experienced problems with a WordPress “plugin” that prevented the distribution by emails of notifications of new posts, the number of readers of my blog has dropped dramatically. I think readers who rely on receiving notice about new posts assume I am not writing while on my journey. The same problem removed the “like” button from my blog, so readers cannot even signal that they saw what I wrote. I suspect I can correct the problem, but it will take considerable dedicated time; time I am unwilling to spend while “on the road.” Consequently, I suspect very few people read about my travels and my thoughts while I am away. Once I correct the problem (assuming I really can correct it without paying for help to do it), I may post a summary, with links to older posts that may have gone unnoticed and unread. Or I may not. The readership of this blog is small, to start, so the work involved in attempting to recover from the issue may not be worth the trouble. Sometimes, technology can be a pain in the ass. Maybe I should just rely on Word to record my thoughts and memories for myself. We’ll see. Indeed we will.

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Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.

~ Saul Bellow ~

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Dan Rather’s persona as a journalist always has made me cringe a bit. Though I believe his reporting has toed the line of journalistic integrity, on more than one occasion the way he reported the facts seemed, to me, to border on the overly dramatic. I vaguely remember him reporting on the devastating power of a hurricane. Despite the intensity of the storm, the words he chose and the manner in which he held his body—as if the wind and waves were about to plunge him into a watery grave—seemed overly sensational. That not withstanding, the information he provided has been believable, reliable, and honest. In other words, he performed admirably as a journalist. This morning, I read a piece he and Elliot Kirchner published in the blog/newsletter, Steady, on the Substack platform. I wish everyone, especially Trump supporters, would find it and give it a fair reading. This piece is not overly dramatic; it is honest and quite sobering.

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Yesterday, we drove all over Schenectady and beyond. We saw locks of the Erie Canal. We spent time sitting in a wonderful coffee shop in the Stockade district of Schenectady. We drove by houses where mi novia’s family used to live. We stopped for lunch at a Caribbean diner/restaurant. The day before, we went to the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery—located in the village of Schuylerville in Saratoga County, New York—and found the headstone of her father’s grave. While in Schenectady, we wandered about the historic Vale Cemetery, where we found the headstone of her grandparents’ graves. And she showed me the house where she lived until she was ten years old. And, as has been our custom in recent months, we looked at houses for sale, trying to find that perfect house in that perfect location—the place that would be “perfect” for us, should we decide to uproot ourselves from our home in the hot, humid, maddeningly ultra-conservative South. Our time in Schenectady, though only a few days, has been delightful. Today, we depart for (as yet) places unknown.

Our route may take us through Pennsylvania, a corner of Maryland, across West Virginia, and into Kentucky as we make our way southwest toward home. Or we may opt for a different route, one that takes us across New York state, clips the edge of Pennsylvania, and crosses Ohio and Kentucky. In either case (or another, different, path), we’ll eventually slide across Tennessee into Arkansas and then home. Whichever route we take, we probably will arrive back home considerably earlier than we had planned; we thought we would be gone at least three weeks, maybe four or more. But we are considering the possibility of shortening this trip a little so we can embark on another fairly lengthy journey in the relative near-term. Perhaps we will pick just one or two destinations and go to it/them, with the idea that we will put down roots for several days so we can behave more like tourists than vagabond travelers. Time will tell.

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The massive bulk of the earth does indeed shrink to insignificance in comparison with the size of the heavens.

~ Nicolaus Copernicus ~

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Brad Pitt’s Got Nothing on Me

I read this morning that pieces of sculpture created by Brad Pitt are on display in Tampere, Finland until mid-January next year. Though I do not doubt that Pitt’s considerable artistic talent played a significant role in the decision by (someone…I know not who) to show his work, the skeptic in me attributes quite a bit of the decision to factors involving Pitt’s fame and wealth. No matter how much talent and artistic skill and creative vision I might develop, my artwork will never find a place in Tampere, Finland. Nor, for that matter, in any recognized gallery anywhere in the world. I’m too poor and too old for my art to merit public display anywhere of consequence. Of course, considerable time has passed since I attempted to create physical art. I abandoned those efforts when it became apparent to me that am lacking the requisite capacity. I do not have and probably never will have the abilities nor the considerable materials necessary to transform my mental visions of sculpture I would like to create into actual, physical forms. I have ideas for sculpture and large-scale pieces of art. Lacking, though, are the materials necessary for creating them and the technical skills required for translating creative visions into physical representations of those visions. I could offer the same excuses for my failure to be a wealthy and highly sought-after actor; I possess neither the talent management resources nor the training and innate acting skills necessary to be a wealthy actor. Much the same could be said about why I am not a neurosurgeon, an architect, nor a captain of industry. I do not regret my inability to do brain surgery or to be an actor or to guide the direction of important industries. But if I could rebuild my life from the ground up, I might devote much more attention to creative arts, including sculpture and architecture. That being an impossibility, I have no choice but to just move on; wading through retirement from service as a meaningless pawn in a useless series of unnecessary endeavors.

I once got as close as 112 miles from Tampere, Finland, though at the time I did not know that Tampere existed. In fact, I did not know about Tampere until this morning. But one day many years ago, I spent an entire day wandering the streets of Helsinki with my late wife. We both were quite happy to have had the opportunity to visit that city, in spite of the fact that neither of us were world-renowned sculptors and despite our ignorance of the existence of Tampere. The lesson, as I contemplate my life this morning, is that regret for unreached dreams is pointless; gratitude, instead, for actual experiences is far better. Even modest accomplishments serve as a better foundation for happiness than does the recollection of shattered dreams.

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I also read this morning that friends are enjoying a week of camping at Lake Ouachita. Though I have little experience camping, I know that sitting quietly in a wooded setting at water’s edge has the effect of melting stress and replacing it with happy serenity. There are at least two distinct types of “get-aways.” One is like the one I think my friends are enjoying; simple relaxation in a pleasant setting, with no pressure to “do” anything. The other is more like the one I am experiencing now: getting away from the normal day-to-day grind and replacing it with opportunities to see and experience new settings. The latter kind involves almost constant motion and a drive to move on to the next experience. Though the latter experience is quite enjoyable, it does not erase stress the way the former does. I think I want some of the kind of experience in which I am under no obligation to go anyplace or do anything. Just “be.” Just let the environment melt the stress away. Perhaps another “vacation” will involve renting a water-side cabin for a week, far away from any “attractions,” and simply soaking in the calm, comforting experience. I used to scoff at such experiences; no longer. I long for them. Even in the relative serenity of retirement, getting away from the daily demands that accompany living in the presence of masses of humanity (no matter how small and semi-rural) is deeply appealing.

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Our “home base” for the moment (for four days in total) is a very nice, modern suite in a nice, modern hotel property. I described it in an earlier post: it has a small kitchenette (stove, refrigerator, sink, microwave, coffee maker), a separate living area with a large screen TV, a separate bedroom (also with a TV), a separate room with toilet and shower, and plenty of closet space. When we leave here, it’s likely our “on the road” accommodations will not be quite as fancy, but they will be adequate. We have consciously decided to spend more than the bare minimum so we have far more than the bare minimum of accommodations. In fact, we try to find accommodations that might be considered luxurious by some standards, while limiting the financial damage to the extent we can. Motel 6 or Red Roof Inn or similar places are fine, but not for us. We want considerably thicker walls and somewhat more upscale accouterments. So we go for Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites, etc. I keep toying with the idea of buying a self-powered RV (i.e., a motorized vehicle with its own accommodations), but the cost of ownership and the cost of site rental quickly compares unfavorably to motel rooms. On the other hand, the experience is quite different. Renting an RV is obscenely expensive; otherwise, I might try it. I suppose I’ll keep bouncing back and forth, mentally, until either I make a firm decision or until I acknowledge that I won’t. We shall see.

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Sunday, we attended services at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady. I fell in love with the building. So, I’m hoping to post two photos I took. One is a shot of the front of the building and the other is the circular sanctuary (empty, after the service). Just for the record.

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Living Forward

It was not quite a whim, but neither was it a plan long in the making. Yesterday, we attended the Sunday service of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady. Coincidentally, yesterday was the UUSS in-gathering, also known to the members and friends of the church as the “water communion.” Their water ceremony was similar to, but somewhat different from, the same type of event the Unitarian Universalist Village Church held just two weeks before. Neither the differences nor the similarities are especially important; conceptually, they are essentially the same: events intended to acknowledge a “new year” of gathering together after a summer during which many members of the congregation have been apart. A striking difference between the UUVC service and the UUSS service was evident in the fact that, at the UUSS service, everyone wore masks during the service. And the UUSS service was led by two co-ministers, women who also are married to one another. Near the end of the service, the ministers led the congregation in an installation ceremony for the new board of trustees of the church.

UUSS services are held in a beautiful mid-century modern building, designed and constructed for the church in 1961. The sanctuary is a domed structure with seating at the perimeter beginning at street level; each successive circle of seating is lower than the one before it. In the center is an open, flat circle. The building is beautiful, but it is showing its age. It needs work, but because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (listed in 2014), the work will be expensive and closely monitored to conform to rigid standards. After the service, we we invited to join the congregants for a pot-luck lunch. We sat with two board members, including the new president. Unlike UUVC, the congregation was of mixed ages, ranging from very young children to elderly, long-time members. And one of the board members was a Black woman. That diversity is possible due to the fact that Schenectady is a very diverse community in terms of age, race, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status. I am glad we decided to attend. However, I was highly disappointed that—because we attended the UUSS service—I was unable to view by Zoom yesterday’s UUVC service, “Religion for Atheists,” delivered by Reverend Mark Walz.

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Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

~ Soren Kierkegaard ~

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The topography and vegetation surrounding Saratoga Lake, New York is stunningly beautiful. Living on or near the lake today must require significant riches; far more than I could ever hope to have. But just seeing it and soaking in the splendor of the landscape is adequate; just keeping property in pristine condition would require more money than I would ever have; and more than I would be willing to spend.  That’s true of so many places, though. Such is life.

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After waking late (after 8:00 a.m.) this morning, I was a bit rattled, so did not write my usual early morning blog. Instead, we left the hotel in search of a country apple orchard store/cafe mi novia remembered from her childhood and subsequent visits to her home town. We found the country store, but discovered that it no longer served breakfast. And the “new” owners sold the apple orchard years earlier. So, after buying some apple donuts to go, we searched out another place; similar, but bigger and more exciting and inviting. We ate breakfast there and perused the extensive selection of beautiful vegetables. Then, we headed to the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery where her father is buried. After finding the place and getting some pictures, we wandered around Saratoga Lake, where we found the old house her grandparents had once owned. Too bad they sold it years ago; even in a state of disrepair, the tiny house directly on the lakeshore must be worth a small fortune today.

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The time is past 4:00 p.m. We are back at the hotel, resting after spending the morning seeing the sights. Mi novia is downstairs, washing clothes in the hotel’s guest laundry. I have no idea what we might do tomorrow. I know only that we will leave Schenectady on Wednesday morning; probably beginning the direction of our trek back home. We are in no hurry, though. We have a lot of available time yet blocked on our calendar, so we may creep along the eastern seaboard for a while, inching our way back to Arkansas a little at a time. Who knows? I don’t.

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New Places

Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.

~ Billy Collins ~

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It’s odd, isn’t it, when troublesome and argumentative—but educational—philosophical quandaries invade one’s dreams? Just such a set of circumstances took place in my subconscious early this morning, just before I woke. Another vivid dream, for the second night in a row. The people involved in this dream included one of my brothers, members of my church, one of my nephews and his wife, my late wife’s sister, a friend who just celebrated his birthday, a friend from Hot Springs Village who is involved in her own long road trip at the moment, and various others. The situation revolved around the availability and/or release of telephone numbers.

My memory of the details of exactly how and why the phone numbers were released and the reasons for releasing them are sketchy. But I remember insisting that the phone numbers should have been readily available.  And I recall that a woman who is a “friend” of the church was upset because she believed the availability of phone numbers was being made as a tool to strong arm friends into becoming members. She claimed she and her husband were not members because they could not afford to make financial commitments (which is, by the way, not a requirement of membership), but the availability of their phone numbers was helping pressure them to join. She asked me whether a specific person was responsible for revealing their numbers.

My nephew was irate about making his wife’s phone number available to other members of the family (this, incidentally, never occurred in the real world, as far as I know). And my sister-in-law, not physically present in my dream but mentioned by me friend who just had a birthday, was a pawn in a disagreement in which an argument was made that the release of phone numbers could contribute to behaviors tantamount to sexual harassment. There was much more in this convoluted dream, but I do not quite understand or remember just how it all fit together. I do recall, though, that I finally insisted that the availability of phone numbers was a matter of easing emotional trauma and that, if a person felt strongly about the matter, he or she could block the numbers of certain people. And I recall, during the midst of the arguments, attempting to resolve the tensions surrounding the disagreements by washing an enormous sink-full of dishes. In the final bit of the dream I recall, I asked my camping friend something about her phone, but I do not recall just what. And, then, I woke up.

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Yesterday morning, we left Ashtabula, Ohio early after filling the tank with gas. After filling the tank with gas, I reset both trip odometers, including the one that recorded the mileage since departing on this road trip. Fortunately, mi novia recorded the starting mileage in writing, so we will have a record of the distance driven when we finally return home. We decided to forego a visit to Niagara Falls for the day, opting instead to drive directly to Schenectady, New York.

Along the way, we stopped at a remarkably attractive and well-appointed rest stop overlooking Chautauqua Lake, where we mused about the beauty of the area and how nice it would be to live in this area, nestled amid the natural beauty of this part of New York. Later, we attempted to find a place for lunch in Corning, New York, but the town seemed to eschew restaurants in favor of the Corning Museum of Glass.  As much as we would have liked to have visited the museum, street construction and blockage (coupled with hunger) argued against it. So, instead, we moved on to a gas station in Big Flats, New York, for a lunch of pizza. Then, we hit the road again, bound for Schenectady. We checked in to a very nice hotel, where we have a “room” that’s more like a nicely-appointed one-bedroom apartment, complete with kitchen (with a stove, full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, living room (with big-screen TV), bedroom (with another big-screen TV), and bathroom. We’ll be here for a few days, using it as a base of operations while we visit the area where mi novia spent the first ten years of her life.

When we left Hot Springs Village, we thought we might visit Door County, Wisconsin and/or Traverse City, Michigan and various other places that we have, so far, missed. We did not really think we’d get to Schenectady, New York. Yet here we are, roughly 2500 miles (after taking an admittedly round-about route to get here) from where we started. Today, we will attend a service at the Unitarian Universalist church, just to see how our church compares. Then, we’ll see what we can see in and around Schenectady.

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Here, roughly (in two parts), is the route we have taken so far. Quite the trip.

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Knuckles on Old Boards on a Creek Embankment

Here I sit, in a motel in Ashtabula, Ohio, roughly sixty miles east of Cleveland. This motel room is tiny, in comparison to the apartment-sized place in South Bend. That apartment had separate living area, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen; full-sized refrigerator, stove-top, microwave, etc. It was a little tired, but it was as roomy a motel room as I’ve ever had. I was almost sad to leave it, but I had to go in search for a place to buy a toll-tag. And I found a toll-tag. But, as I was initiating it online, I learned that it might not be recognized by the toll-tag readers in Indiana for several hours. And it might not be recognized by toll-tag readers in other states for up to 48 hours. So, instead of risking it, I stayed off toll roads yesterday, opting instead to take “back roads” through Indiana and Ohio. The back roads yielded experiences I probably would not have had on a toll-road: lots of road-side  veggie stands (and pumpkin sales yards), plus several Amish horses and wagons driven alongside the “back roads.” And there was more, of course. Except for the horrors of dealing with rush-hour Cleveland traffic and misdirection from the car’s GPS and from the smart-phone GPS (both of which lost their ways and, consequently, my way), the drive was not at all bad. Lunch in downtown Perrysburg, Ohio revealed a downtown area that suggested a very nice place to live for people who like both “small-town” atmospheres and the amenities of city life. Perrysburg is just outside Toledo, Ohio, where I had my first long-term hospital stay for unplanned out-of-town surgery; that was in 1990. I don’t recall what hospital I was in back then; it may be gone now, for all I know. It matters not that I do not recall the place.

Today, the target may be Niagara Falls, New York. And/or Schenectady, New York. We shall see.

Last night’s dreams included one in which I was involved in some sort of association in which a volunteer leader of the organization, a woman, stabbed at least one other volunteer, also a woman. The woman who was stabbed recognized the severity of her injuries, but she was in no pain. And she could walk. I walked with both of them along a steep creek embankment that was decked in old 2×6 boards. My arms were long enough that I could keep my balance by propping myself up with my hands pressing against the boards. I think we were headed to a house where others had been stabbed. And I think the purpose of our trek to that house was to inform the residents of the house that the violent leader who was so handy with a knife had done some very bad things. Odd, that dream.

Time to get ready for departure. Off we go.

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Luddite

I used to listen to a program on National Public Radio called “This I Believe.”  If it were still being produced, I might offer to write and read something for the program. It might go something like this.

Stress can change one’s personality. It can transform a reasonably decent person into a monster. For that reason, alone, I believe low-dose marijuana should be legal and its use encouraged before embarking on travel in areas in which heavy traffic and the resulting stress is likely. I believe marijuana—or Xanax, Librium, Valium, Ativan, or a similar alternative—might save lives and/or mental health if used judiciously before engaging in high-stress driving experiences. This I believe.

And there you are. That, among other things, is what is on my mind this morning.

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If yesterday’s traffic and toll-roads are indicative of modern technology, I want to spend the remainder of my days as a Luddite. I left Madison, Wisconsin behind yesterday morning, bypassing opportunities for the excitement and enjoyment of the very attractive city in favor of pursuing the objective seeking new adventures by heading south, then east. I tried to avoid the misery of Chicago traffic by swooping around west and south of Chicago to Kankakee, then sneaking back up I-57 to I-80, where I could zip eastward. Kankakee, as you might recall, was prominently featured in the lyrics of a song (City of New Orleans) written by Steve Goodman and made famous when sung by Arlo Guthrie (and others).  Before we got to Kankakee, a café in a small town, Streator, looked sufficiently “homey” to merit a stop for lunch; my assessment: meh. The back roads to Kankakee were fine. But I-57 was crowded, under the perpetual construction I remember from my time living in Chicago in the mid to late 1980s, and thoroughly unpleasant. And I-80 was beyond horrible—overwhelmingly bad to the twelfth power—from the moment I approached that evil toll road until maybe 15 miles after I merged onto it. The traffic crept along at 2-3 MPH (when it was moving at all), except when bastards darted in and out of traffic, and frequently slowed to a standstill.

I am of the opinion that the beasts who drive without consideration of the people around them deserve to be be euthanized—by drowning in gasoline heated to a point just shy of combustion. And then, unlike the Illinois turnpike (I-90 & I-39) which apparently will bill me for tolls, the Indiana turnpike (I-80 & I-94) requires travelers to stop and manually punch a button to get a ticket, then feed the ticket to a machine and pay with either cash or credit card…except the tickets and the payment machines are badly outdated and exceedingly difficult to use. After battling with the horrors of incredibly user-unfriendly road design, dealing with technology that was outdated by 2001 was almost too much for me. Yesterday, if I had been given access to a mid-level nuclear device, I might have reduced southern Illinois and most of Indiana to nuclear ash. Instead, I blew a few gaskets inside my brain and promised myself I would never travel by car in or around southern Illinois and any of Indiana ever again once I leave this part of the country.

After checking in to a motel and getting an early dinner, my mind went into overdrive, seeking routes for today and the days ahead that might keep me distant from interactions with humans and their technological mistakes. I doubt I was successful. But I vow never again, after this trip, to drive I-80 and I-94 and, if I can avoid it, I-90.

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This morning, I explored the process and cost of obtaining an E-Z Pass toll-tag. Not that I plan to travel on toll-roads in each of these states, but if I were to get an E-Z Pass I could use it in Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia. I may find a CVS pharmacy where I can buy one this morning before I get back on the toll-road; it could measurably improve my state of mind and my life. It’s early yet. CVS pharmacies probably do not open until 9 or later. I have time. I can wait, if it will help me retrieve my sanity. Alternatively, I could opt to add time to my drive and avoid toll-roads entirely. That might be an intelligent option. We shall see.

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When the mechanics of a journey become sufficiently troublesome as to cause angst to bubble up and spew like red-hot magma, perhaps it’s a signal to stop and smell the roses. Except South Bend, Indiana, where I am this morning, may not be suited to growing roses. Instead, I think kudzu and poison ivy probably thrive here. But that thought  may be based entirely on the level of stress I felt yesterday as I left the tollway in search of a place to stay for the night. So, taking a break, here, from the journey may not be only inappropriate, it might cause welts, blisters, and a nasty rash that could last anywhere from hours to weeks. A more suitable respite might be found in a cabin on the shores of a quiet little lake, where egrets and herons wade near the shore. A place where fishing would yield a fresh-water catch that would be the star of many lovely meals. Alas, I do not know of such a quiet, private lake where I would be permitted, much less encouraged, to stay to allow my anxieties to settle into serenity. But here I am  in South Bend, home to the University of Notre Dame. Perhaps I’ll just sit and contemplate the vagaries of life on the road and hope for a well-spring of gentle tranquility. There. That should do it.

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I will be slow to leap into this day. I will take my time and make the experience my friend.

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Someday

Yesterday was a surprise. Decorah, Iowa struck me as the “Mayberry” I’ve been looking for. A beautiful small town with a vibrant, appealing downtown. The town boasts a Unitarian Universalist congregation and a Democratic party headquarters (that share space). A Korean/sushi restaurant. Multiple coffee shops. And, to my knowledge, a downtown that has not a single “brand” retail outlet; everything is unique and owner-operated, it seems. Just a lovely place. Residential areas just blocks from downtown are filled with attractive, well-maintained houses. Many, many of those well-maintained houses have “yards” with little to no grass; instead, they are filled with lush, colorful gardens. The only downside, as far as I can tell, is the town’s paucity of available real estate. Ach! I could live there, easily, if only I could find the right house. We spoke to several people, including a gentleman (75-years-old) who was extremely friendly and obviously progressive in his world-view. He suggested that the town was split 60-40, progressive-conservative; people get along, though, regardless of their political perspectives, he said. Mostly. There are a few die-hard hyper-conservatives who trumpet their loathing of all things and people who adhere to a liberal attitude, but they are few and far between. Oh, what I would give to pick up and move there tomorrow!

But we picked up and left, after a delightful several hours there, heading in the direction of Madison, Wisconsin. Last night, we stayed on the western fringes of Madison. Today, I will steer the car south and east, intentionally bypassing the greater Chicago area. No need to fight the traffic when there’s nothing drawing me to the city and region where I once lived and that I once loved.

After breakfast and packing up the car, I’ll direct it generally eastward. I expect a motel somewhere in Indiana will be home tonight; or, if I push it hard, a motel in Ohio, near the shore of Lake Erie. The car’s odometer surpassed 100,000 miles during the drive yesterday (or was it the day before?), without notice; I saw that I had left that milestone in the dust only fifteen miles after it occurred. It’s well beyond that, now. And it will rack up quite a few more before this long, aimless trip is done. As I watch the miles drift by, I think to myself that it seems I am running away from something. Perhaps it is a clutch of memories I am trying to ease or a longing I am attempting to erase. Or, maybe, I am running toward something; something new and exciting and energizing. One of these days, I’ll look back and determine just what it was that prompted that sense of running away from or toward something.

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Road trips tend to require the consumption of junk food; pretzels, crackers, chips, etc. I have to slow down on that stuff if I hope to maintain the direction my weight is taking. That is, down. We shall see. We always do.

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I could spend the day writing, but I have roads to follow and distances to leave behind. Off we go. I will long remember and treasure this trip. But I know it is only one of many more to come. I enjoy the highway and all it offers. I’ve learned a lot about the beauty of corn fields and the designs they make in the earth. I’ve seen many things I want to explore more deeply. And I will. Perhaps not today. But someday.

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Another Day

Another day. Another precious day.

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We thought yesterday we might head to Door County, Wisconsin. Or Madison, Wisconsin or the Milwaukee area or Spring Green. Instead, we wandered along the border between Iowa and Illinois, taking the Great River Road through Muscatine, Davenport, Camanche, Bellevue (where we stopped for lunch), and finally Dubuque, where we veered westward about ninety miles. We spent the night last night in Waterloo, Iowa.

As we meandered along the Mississippi River, I became enamored with the look and feel of several towns along the river. First, Muscatine captured my imagination; I could imagine living in a house (or in a mid-rise condo) with a view of the Mississippi. Then, I fell in love with Davenport—small enough to retain the charm of a semi-rural setting, but large enough to offer the amenities of a city. We roamed streets near the riverfront, driving by many beautiful old houses that seem to have been meticulously cared for. Based on listings we found on Zillow.com, I decided I could pay cash for a house in Davenport, which could serve as a lovely non-winter getaway. I am not serious about such an idea, though. Yet.

Davenport has a population of roughly 100,000, but I saw no signs of the ugliness of city traffic or urban blight (though, admittedly, we did not take a comprehensive tour of the town). But the little city holds enough appeal to warrant serving as a port-of-call for Viking River Cruises. As we drove through town, we were surprised to see a docked Viking River Cruise vessel. A Viking motor coach arrived dockside just as we entered a parking area reserved for buses (no cars allowed when a ship is docked…but we drove in anyway, after which I got gun-shy and insisted we get out of the way of the bus). Though the ship seemed enormous to me, it is a tiny fraction of the size of an ocean-going vessel. On every level (three?) of the side of the ship visible to us were balconies; people were sitting on some of them. I can imagine feeling quite at ease on a river cruise. Mi novia and I mused about the passengers, assuming that many of them must be Europeans or other foreign visitors, for whom a cruise up the Mississippi would be just as exotic as a cruise on the Rhine or Danube would be to us. In fact, we decided a cruise on the Mississippi would be an exotic adventure to us. One day, perhaps…

Today, we are thinking about driving northeast to Decorah, Iowa (just because…), then perhaps further north to Rochester, Minnesota. Then, we might head back southeast toward Madison, Wisconsin. Of course, that could change. And probably will.

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We are only an hour (or less) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where a former employee (from many, many years ago…like 37 years) lives with her husband. I have toyed with the idea of trying to connect with her, but have decided trying to set up another reunion with her might derail our meandering journey. I last saw her about twenty-two years ago, when I visited Cedar Rapids on business. We stay in touch, every year, by way of my annual birthday email greeting to her and her email response. That’s enough. A face-to-face meeting probably would be a bit awkward, in that we probably have very little in common after all these years and there would be little to talk about. So, we’ll use the time and energy that a visit might require for other experiences.

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I got good news last night, via an email from my nephew, that my brother has been released from the hospital. He may yet be able to make his move to Ohio without any delays, but he’ll need to see a GI doctor first to see about  what treatments, if any, he’ll need for his diverticulitis. Sudden illnesses are scary (a fact to which I can attest, from personal experience). When they resolve satisfactorily, one feels even more grateful for one’s health than beforehand.

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Tripping

We spent last night in Burlington, Iowa. Had we known, we might have hurried to get here several days earlier to experience the Wake ‘n Bake Delicious Dolls’ Drag Brunch. But, no, we got here two days late. The next major event advertised on the Greater Burlington Partnership website, the Jefferson Street Farmers Market, occurs two days hence. We will be long gone by then. Had we been in the mood for gambling, we could have stepped out the front door of our motel and walked next door to the Catfish Bend Casino. But we were in the mood to rest our tired bones, instead, so we stayed in our room, treating it like a cocoon. That was after a trip to Walmart, though, where we bought a cell-phone charger to supplement the one we brought with us. I left another one at the hospital during my last trip to the ER, several weeks ago.  I think I could learn to like Burlington, Iowa if I were to stick around for awhile. The greater Burlington metropolitan area is home to roughly 48,000 people, though Burlington itself has a population of roughly 24,000 in 2020, a decline of about 3,000 from the official figures released in the 2000 census. I have learned this about myself in recent years: I seem to prefer the “vibe” of places that are losing population, rather than places that are growing. I think my affinity for such places relates to my belief that I see potential in those areas; “if I were in charge, I could and would make the changes necessary that would result in the ‘right kind’ of slow growth—expansion that would excise the ugliness and fertilize the beauty, as it were.” Apparently, I hold my fantasies about my capabilities in high regard.

This morning, we will decide where to go today. Perhaps we’ll go to Madison. Or maybe to the Milwaukee area. Or, perhaps, to Spring Green. Or any number of other places in Wisconsin. We’ll know once we’re in the car and well on our way to wherever we’re heading.

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Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

~ Confucious ~

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