I observe far more than I participate. In virtually every facet of life. Television and film were created for people like me; voyeurs who obtain satisfaction from watching and listening to strangers who intentionally behave in ways that are contrary to their “real” personas. Actors are exhibitionists who derive pleasure from being watched while they pretend to be people with whom they may share almost no common characteristics. Actors and watchers require one another to achieve their desired states of intellectual and emotional pleasure. “Intellectual pleasure.” That seems an impossibility or, at least, contrary to the idea that is so well integrated into the emotional relationship between actors and watchers; the “emotional pleasure” of which I write. Why, I wonder, do we find pleasure in dispensing with our attention to the real world around us in favor of allowing ourselves to be misled into shared fantasies? That philosophical question warrants long, meandering conversations between people whose inhibitions are suppressed by the consumption of mind-altering substances—marijuana, alcohol, etc. I am more than a little reticent to try anything stronger, yet I have a strong interest in knowing, first-hand, the effects of cocaine and its dangerous and addictive cousins. LSD, for one, seems—from what I have heard and read—like it could deliver either ecstasy or unparalleled terror. Perhaps before my expiration date arrives I will summon the courage to experiment with stuff that both terrifies and fills me with sensual craving.


What value do I have? That question can be answered with a long list to readily sweep away a sense of worthlessness. But most of the items on that list carry artificial meaning that, on close inspection, do not convey real value. An honest assessment of the question leads one to a discovery: value and necessity do not necessarily live in the same philosophical realm. Value often is subjective and intensely personal; necessity is objective and universal. Now, would I rather be valuable or should I strive, instead, to be necessary? Necessity holds no magic, whereas value hones necessity and makes it shine. They are related, but they are not one and the same. Another philosophical nugget worthy of conversation and contemplation.


I do not remember with certainty who expressed disdain on hearing about my past efforts to test and improve my discipline. Whoever it was, she said my endeavors were pointless wastes of energy and time. She suggested there were dozens of better ways to test myself, though I do not recall that she made any specific recommendations. This morning, as I think about my experiences of doing without, I believe those experiments caused me to examine aspects of myself that I might otherwise have ignored. Those aspects of my personality do not necessarily define me to any significant degree, but they contribute to who I am. I remain convinced my pursuit of doing without prompted me to ask myself important questions; and to answer them honestly, even when the answers were uncomfortable or troubling.

Here is how I described, four years ago, the concept of doing without, that took place roughly eleven years earlier, after the several-months-long  process took place:

My original plan was to begin with doing without coffee for the first month, alcohol the second month, meat the third month, and so on. I had in mind that I would practice this for one full year. For each deprivation, I would reward myself with a replacement. It was, essentially, controlled asceticism with a reward for sacrifice.

So, about fifteen years ago I engaged in doing without for several months. For one month at a time, I gave up something I enjoyed. Alcohol one month, coffee another, meat another, and so on, substituting something else in their place. So, in some sense, I did not really give anything up; I simply traded one thing for another. Though I remain convinced the experiment had value, it did little to truly test my discipline.

Subsequent to my initial experiences, I made a few half-hearted efforts at reprising the doing without experiment. But those exercises did not last long. I lost interest, I suppose. Or I discovered that my discipline was in tatters. Or something like that.

In late July this year, an episode of extreme abdominal pain sent me to the hospital, where the staff determined I was suffering from acute pancreatitis. Before I was released from the hospital, I was told to make some radical changes to my diet: dramatically reduce my intake of fatty foods including meats, cut down considerably on the consumption of cheese, and eliminate alcohol, among other things. For tangentially related reasons, I also was advised to refrain from consuming foods with a lot of sugar. In the four months since my release from the hospital, I have followed those recommendations reasonably closely, except for sugar. I, who have never been overly-enamored of sweets, have found sugar-laden foods more appealing. Almost irresistible, in many cases. But cutting out alcohol has been no problem, though I do especially miss the occasional glass of wine or gin & tonic. And eliminating bacon and most other fatty meats has not presented a challenge. Cheeses, though, sometimes call too loudly to me to ignore them. That prescription requires more attention; more discipline than I have heretofore exhibited.

I find it interesting that one aspect of my dietary restrictions that seems to capture the attention of people around me is the elimination of alcohol. I have been asked by several people whether I will be able to gradually reintroduce alcohol consumption to my life. And I have been asked whether I find doing without that product is difficult. Perhaps I was over-indulging in alcohol; otherwise, I wonder why people would hone in on that dietary restriction over the others? It’s something for me to consider. And I will. But more than that, I will give my mental energies over to doing without or cutting back on other things, especially sweets. But I may give myself a distant target—the new calendar year—to begin the process. In the interim, I will continue to practice what has become second nature. That is, I will avoid overconsumption of fatty meats, I will refrain from consuming alcohol, and I will be more discerning in eating cheese products.

The degree of success in exercising personal discipline divulges quite a lot about a person, I think.  My past (and recent and ongoing) failures in that facet of my life reveals that I have work to do. I will challenge myself in many ways, with the objective of determining whether I have sufficient self-control to permit myself to take pride in who I am and what I do.  Time will tell whether that is reality or simply another fantasy.


I did not set foot out of the house yesterday. Black Friday hibernation. Staying inside and away from my car requires some self-control. I enjoy getting in the car and driving; just seeing what there is to see along the roadside. That has no value to the world in which we live, except that it might contribute to staying (or getting) sane. Both practices—vegetating indoors and filling the air with automotive pollutants—keep me from being productive in ways that matter. I get antsy when I force myself to stay inside. I want to be productive in some way, but I cannot seem to be capable of determining what kind of productivity will both satisfy me and make some sort of meaningful contribution to the world in which I live. That, too, merits my attention. And my action.


Tin Star, the series we have been watching of late, combines the best and the worst of televised entertainment. The plot is absurdly complex, convoluted, and utterly unbelievable. The production mistakes are numerous, their sloppy obviousness almost impossible to miss. The “protagonist” is so thoroughly unlikeable as to trigger a desire in me to seek him out and kill him, which would be a gift to humankind. The eyes of one of the characters look artificial, their whites visible all the way around the iris as if open as wide as possible; the appearance of her eyes makes her look perpetually in a state of abject terror. There’s more. Much more. But something about the show draws me in; I cannot overlook the program’s innumerable flaws, but despite their magnitude I feel compelled to sit through every episode. On one hand, I want to watch something else…something better conceived and executed than Tin Star. On the other, I am drawn to it, like a moth to a flame or an observer to a grotesque and bloody traffic accident. I look forward to the program’s end so I can comfortably watch something else. Something like a foreign police procedural or an intense action flick supported by superb acting and intellectually stimulating story line.


If I had more interest in a large audience for my posts, I would dramatically reduce the volume of words I deploy in writing them. And I would identify and stick with a theme. My posts would be brief and would incite readers to think deeply about matters they find interesting and important. But, obviously, I write for other reasons. Compelling reasons. Reasons over which I have little or no control. But that’s not true, is it? I do have control over when, what, and how much I write. Knowing my writing is too long and dull for most people, I still continue to produce long, unhinged, mind-numbingly unnecessary stuff. If the right psychologist were to take the time to read every post I have made to this blog, 4171 and counting, he or she might be able to produce an assessment of who and why I am. Maybe. I have been unable to make any such assessment; at least any assessment that contains even a shred of believability.


It is after 9. I cannot believe I am so late in finishing this overly-long post. Perhaps whatever it is that compels me to write is especially strong today. Perhaps something I do not understand is filling me with enough emotional fuel to force me to stay at the keyboard, letting words drip from my fingers and make their way to Ether-World. Which is what I call everything outside my understanding.

Good day to you who has read this far. I would embrace you in appreciation, if only I knew who you were.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Stimulation

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    Checking in. I read all.

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