Somewhere in the Middle

I’ll probably write this post in two pieces: one, Wednesday night before bed, when I am contemplating sleep but knowing it will require effort to achieve; and, two, Thursday morning after I awake, either early or late but not likely somewhere in the middle.

Time slipped by quickly this evening. After an excellent early dinner with neighbors, I came home and changed into comfortable lounging gear, then watched another couple of episodes of Bosch, before turning to “live” television for the tail end of the PBS Newshour. In the remaining minutes of the program, I listened and watched Judy Woodruff engage Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, and Amna Nawaz in conversation about their experiences during the insurrection of the Capitol. I found their personal perspectives just as intriguing as the news they usually report.

While I was watching the news, I exchanged a series of texts with a couple of (physically) distant friends, ultimately almost confirming a telephone and/or video chat for next week. We had a workable date until I realized I had double-booked; I’ve done that on multiple occasions in the recent past. My memory seems shot, though I’ve received assurances that the aftermath of grief (or the effects of ongoing grief) can play havoc with short term memory. I hope it’s a short term problem. I really hate forgetting whether I’ve had lunch or dinner just hours after finishing meals. So far, the memories have returned, but only after intense coaxing. Somewhere along the spectrum of television-watching, I heard statements that made me question whether I remain relevant. Relevance, like so many other matters, is contextual. Am I relevant in the context of my maleness, my whiteness, or my European ancestry? Am I relevant in the context of the extent to which I am very different from the demographics of people who are becoming a diverse majority? Am I relevant in the context of how divergent I am from the stereotypical standard of American males? So many contextual comparisons, so many opportunities to fall short.


As expected, I could not sustain my writing for long. Just after midnight, I called it a day. But to the best of my knowledge, my concerns that I would have a hard time getting to sleep and/or staying asleep were unfounded. I fell asleep quickly. I awoke at 6:00, somewhere between early and late; “somewhere in the middle,” after all.


Once again, I have scheduled too many obligations and too little time to “chill” between them. So, I will miss the men’s parking lot gathering at church this morning. As much as I enjoy being outdoors and listening to the conversation (and contributing to it just enough to feel like I am not simply an eavesdropper), the gathering is something I can safely remove from my schedule, giving myself a little breathing room between self-imposed obligations.

Today’s obligations include one that, I hope, will kickstart my efforts to take care of the unpleasantness involved in removing my late wife’s name from accounts, credit cards, and title to the house. Today I will meet with an advisor. Afterward, I expect to prepare letters to send to account custodians, giving them instructions. I just want those things to be behind me, so I will be free to get away for a while. A road trip, whether short or long, might do wonders to clear my head and restore some semblance of normalcy to my thinking.


I took a short break from the computer screen a bit ago. As I walked back to the study, the view out the southeast-facing windows was stunning. A bright orange and coral band stretched across a purple, almost black, horizon. Above that band of distant sunlit clouds, the sky softened into muted salmon and tan and, finally, a pastel mix of pale blue and white and grey. Wisps of violet clouds, brighter above than below, stuttered across the sky. Only a painter or expert photographer could do justice to the scene; even a highly skilled novelist with a penchant for describing landscapes could not possibly capture the glory of that vision.


“All politics is local.” The late Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House, is said to have uttered that phrase and inserted it into popular culture. While I do not necessarily agree with the idea completely, I think it is generally correct.  So, too, are all insurrections local. But “local” has taken on a new meaning with the advent of instant global communication. “Local” means intellectually nearby, not just in close physical proximity. Local ideas about insurrections merge into regional and national and even global miasmas. Facebook and Twitter and their tribe of similarly capable distributors of both rational and irrational thought put dangerous tools in the hands of both twisted monsters and thoughtful protesters. They do it without regard to merit and without any realistic constraints on dangerous, twisted lies. Local lies become widespread “facts.” Perceived injustice becomes irrefutable evidence of the trampling of rights.

Many, and perhaps most, people would argue that tools of mass instantaneous communications cannot legitimately be withheld from the masses. The same people argue that free speech cannot and should not be subject to interference for political gains. And I cannot argue with them. Except that I can. And I do. Collectively, we seem incapable of determining that point on the spectrum of “free speech” at which speech becomes incitement. We seem incapable of reaching even tentative agreement that code-speak can be just as dangerous as outright instruction. And so we simplify our dilemma by saying all speech should be free. Except yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. But screaming “stop the steal” to an agitated crowd, many members of which are carrying weapons, is okay. Somewhere along the line, we need to come to agreement on the points at which “speech” transforms into “incitement.”

We haven’t been able to reach agreement on the point at which “the right to bear arms” is beyond the pale, yet there seems to be almost universal acceptance, if not outright agreement, that the right to bear arms does not include the right to a nuclear arsenal or a collection of pipe bombs in the basement. But it’s okay to have caches of semi-automatic weapons for use in “target practice” or “deer hunting” or “home defense.” And it’s okay in many places to have “silencers” or “suppressors” to minimize the sound of the discharge of rifles and pistols. The better to keep neighbors unaware of the massacre taking place in the house next door.

All politics is local. The sale of liquor is prohibited, except in bars, in Arkansas on Sundays. Because “Jesus,” I suppose. But Jesus carried an AR-15, so no such prohibition exists for weapons. Just as regulation of silencers is stripped away by local politics, regulations can mushroom by the same mechanism. When will the sale of liquor be prohibited on Monday? Because, “barbers,” perhaps.


My mood this morning is not reliable. I can be “up” one minute and “down” the next. If I had sweet rolls, I could be reliably cheerful. But I forgot to buy a tube of cinnamon rolls yesterday; and I think I promised myself I would transform my lifestyle into a healthy, Mediterranean-based mode of living. Perhaps I lied, but it was an accidental lie. I did not mean to do it. After I have a sweet roll, I will rethink my position on Earth in the hope that I will become the paragon of virtue I’ve sometimes wished I were. Sometimes is the operative word. Periodically deviant and sometimes a model of decency.


It is too close to 8:00 for me to be blogging. Time for more coffee and to find my phone.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Somewhere in the Middle

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    I found your definition of local to be very perceptive. Meg

  2. I reread what I wrote and conclude that it was written by a lunatic, the kind of person whose peculiarities cause the concept of strait-jackets to emerge and go public.

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