Pleasure, with Pain for Leaven

Yesterday began far too early and lasted far too long. I privately had hoped to cap off the day with a celebration of the house-closing, coupled with a much-delayed birthday steak dinner, at a nice restaurant in town. But the real estate deal did not close, thanks to complex issues surrounding easements running through the middle of the house, which was built on top of the property line of two adjoining lots. So, instead of a steak dinner celebration, my IC ordered pizza for delivery. And I drowned my disappointment with three fiercely-powerful mixed drinks: gin & tonic in which the tonic barely flavored the gin. The third drink sat untouched in a glass next to me as I nodded repeatedly. After a failed attempt to stay awake long enough to watch a movie, Frozen Ground, I discarded my perfectly good drink in the sink. We gave up before 9 and went to bed.  I do not remember the specifics of my dreams; only that they somehow exacerbated the torture of the previous day.

The tension I feel this morning, without a doubt, cannot compare with the stress the disappointed house sellers must feel. I had no pressure of any true consequence to complete the house purchase yesterday. The sellers, on the sellers, on the other hand, were and are under enormous pressure to get the deal behind them in their frenzied rush to complete their move toward North Carolina and their next home—which they have yet to purchase. Though my stress cannot compare to theirs, their stress is adding more to mine. I want this experience to be over for them almost as much as I want it to be over for us.


This morning, I will go in for a scheduled pedicure. I scheduled it for one month after my last one. Based on the appearance of my toes this morning, I have decided once-a-month is far too frequent for a pedicure; I can barely tell any difference between freshly-pampered toenails and nails with a month’s worth of life experience behind them. Today, after the foot-pampering, I may schedule the next follow-up for two or three months hence. Or I may opt to defer scheduling until I better understand how quickly my freshly-treated and wonderfully-comfortable toenails morph into troublesome stumps of deformed alpha-keratin. According to a blog about nail care (Christopher Stephens: The Hair Salon), “Toenails grow slower than fingernails, at a rate of about 1/16 inch per month.” So, if I set a schedule for every other month, my toenails should never grow more than 1/8 of an inch between treatments. Frankly, though, I question the legitimacy of the numbers. In months and years past, I have gone far, far longer than two months between trimming my own nails and rarely have I encountered long, weapon-like knives. Perhaps my nails “self-trim” by virtue of their exposure to the inside of shoes, which may act like emery boards. Interesting stuff, isn’t it? If one allows oneself to question the most mundane aspects of life, even the most mundane becomes deeply fascinating. After writing the preceding sentence, I looked for quotations about the mundane. I found this one especially intriguing:

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.

~ Bill Moyers ~

That, in fact, is what artists of all stripes do. Whether painters, sculptors, photographers, or creators of any other kind, artists delve into prosaic fields of the dull scraps of daily life to find unspeakably beautiful gems.

I intentionally omitted writers from the list of artists. Though extremely talented writers can have a profound effect on the way their readers see the world, writers can never hope to achieve the impact with their words that visual artists can achieve with their art. Words take time to read, to digest, and to analyze and assess; words cannot have the instantaneous impact that visual art can have. Words often owe their impact to their context, which often the mind finds difficult—with only a glance—to fully capture.  It is for those reasons that I am jealous of talented visual artists. I envy their ability to create immediate reactions in the people who view their work and I envy the instant feedback they receive from viewers. Writers have to wait, sometimes forever, to know readers’ reactions to their words. Even after eons, though, feedback may never come.


Several times during the past week, while standing in the shower under a spray of water so hot it is barely tolerable, I have dreamed of having a Jacuzzi/hot tub. Years ago, after my late wife and I bought a house in Arlington, Texas, we contracted to have a large, two-level Pavestone patio built. We bought a Jacuzzi and had it installed on the patio. I spent untold hours in that tub, letting jets of luxuriously hot water eliminate the stresses that accrue after eight or ten hours behind a desk. But we sold that house, and the tub went with it. Later, my wife’s medical conditions prompted doctors to tell her to avoid hot tubs, so we never got another one. But lately I recall how good it felt to have the jets of super-heated water eliminate so many of the aches and pains of daily life. I realize, of course, my fantasy involves a luxury no one really needs; but I shamelessly desire that luxury, pretending that it might actually save me from just giving up and giving in to the incessant hardships of life on Earth. I think in theatrical episodes. Life, for me, is not a simple process; it is a melodramatic series of acts and scenes that, taken together, explain the inexplicable and make the pain of living almost tolerable.


I try to take time to devote attention to everyone in my life who matters to me. But the demands of life sometimes draw more of my attention than I think is reasonable, yet those demands sometimes are out of my control. And, then, when I might have more control, I opt to rest and recover, rather than reach out to the people in my life who I might need, or who might need me, more than I realize. Guilt starts to seep into my pores. It fills me so completely that it can topple me if I let it. But the heavy burden of guilt makes the simple things much more difficult.

I need to revise my will. It is no longer valid, as written, because of my wife’s death. I need to decide how I want my assets divided when I die. That’s an odd way of putting it, I think. When I die, nothing will matter anymore. I won’t be conscious of my assets. Or myself. Only for those who outlive me will my assets matter. And, depending on how I rewrite my will, my assets may or may not matter to them, after all. Between now and then, though, I need to watch over my assets so that I do not carelessly discard them so quickly that I have nothing left to ensure that I do not become destitute. It could happen faster than anyone might think, unless I remain vigilant.

Isn’t it a pity that money and assets matter so much? We rely on them for almost everything. Too often, money and assets dictate how we live, how we think, what is important to us, and who matters to us.

I think I just felt a very slight earthquake, a tremor so slight it might go unnoticed, but it lasted for almost half a minute. I need to to see, whether any earthquakes were detected by the sophisticated equipment that monitors and measures the earth’s tendency to stretch and moan, as it tries to shake off the troublesome beasts that cling to it.


It’s nearing 7 a.m. I must shower and shave and prepare for my foot-pampering. A phrase from one of my favorite poems is: “pleasure, with pain for leaven.” That is what life is all about.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Pleasure, with Pain for Leaven

  1. John Swinburn says:

    It’s on my list, David!

  2. Legan says:

    Get the hot tub. Mine eases my aching shoulder as I wake, and slows me down to prepare to sleep. It STAYS at 104, just in case.

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