The Clock Strikes Six

The time is closing in on five o’clock as I begin writing. I have been up since just before four. My mind has been struggling, without success, to remember a perplexing dream. I recall only that the dream was intense and quite vivid. That monstrously vague recollection—more a feeling than a memory—of my dreamscape is frustrating. Maddening. I almost can feel my blood pressure spike. The muscles in my jaw and neck remain tight, even after deliberately trying to relax them. The dream is responsible for the tension, I think. But I can summon almost nothing about the dream experience, except for its intensity. That, and the anxiety the nocturnal mystery seems to have caused. Perhaps it was spillover from watching the short Belgian crime drama series, entitled The Twelve (original Flemish title De Twaalf), we watched the last couple of nights. The storyline revolves around the jury charged with making  a determination of the innocence or guilt of a woman accused of two murders, including that of her own child. Several characters in The Twelve were played by actors we had seen just a few nights ago, while watching another Belgian series, Under Fire (Onder Vuur). I find it intriguing that Netflix seems to have an algorithm that selects the service’s recommended offerings for me to view. The Netflix AI must have believed in recent weeks that I am either Belgian or French. In the past months and weeks, Netflix apparently decided I was Norwegian or Danish or Finnish or Icelandic. On those rare occasions lately when I have watched programs in which the characters speak English throughout, I have felt oddly out of place and deeply unsophisticated. I blame Netflix for my ennui, but it’s clearly an affliction for which my brain is responsible.

Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

~ Leon Trotsky ~


I tried to see a therapist or counselor several days ago, only to be told by the staff at the Ouachita Behavioral Health check-in desk that I could not be seen because, at present, none of the available counselors can accept Medicare patients. When I offered to pay out of pocket, I was told that is illegal. I was offered the option of being put on a waiting list, which was already sixty names deep, but that list seems never to grow any smaller, the woman told me. She sent me on my way with a list of referrals who might accept Medicare patients. Or who are legally able and willing to accept cash payments. The experience was beyond frustrating. When I have calmed sufficiently (it may take another week or two…), I will explore some of the referred counselors and therapists. And I may write a letter to someone (though I know not who) to complain about the stupidity of the Catch-22 bureaucratic obstacle to providing healthcare services.

The reason for my attempt to visit with a counselor/therapist is that I think I agree with mi novia and others who believe I am, and have been, depressed. Not all the time, mind you, nor especially deep. But, still, somewhat anxious and depressed; or just down. A reaction, possibly, to feelings of guilt and regret.

Lately I have become acutely aware of some of the failings of the healthcare system in this country (some of which I think can be directly linked to the mindless bureaucracy of Medicare). I have waited since the latter part of October for a rheumatologist to give me an appointment, after being referred by my primary care physician’s office. When, finally, I spoke to human by phone, I was told I could see the referred doctor in Hot Springs in late May. Or, I could get an earlier appointment if I were willing to go to Little Rock for the appointment. Another flaw in the system was revealed to me when I tried to fill a new prescription for a glucometer and test strips a week ago today. Medicare apparently requires a mass of paperwork before authorizing the Part B supplier to fill the prescription. Finally, late yesterday afternoon, I received a call telling me I could pick up the prescribed device and accompanying materials. There is more, but I must keep my blood pressure in check.


It was an oversight. I had removed my shampoo from the shower the day before and forgot to return it to its normal spot. I was already in the shower when I discovered my blunder. But it was no big deal; I would simply use mi novia‘s shampoo. My ability to see close-up without glasses, though, is abysmal. So I had to strain to read the text on the container, but I was satisfied it read “shampoo.” I pushed on the top of the plastic bottle, releasing what appeared to be a beige gelatinous substance. I smeared the gel on my hair and rubbed my scalp furiously. After I rinsed my hair, my scalp felt rather oily. Not liking the way my hair felt, I decided to wash my hair again, this time using the suds from a bar of Dove soap to accomplish the task. The conversation that followed my shower, when I mentioned to her that I had used her shampoo, led mi novia to the realization that I had used her shaving gel. No wonder my hair felt strangely oily after applying it to my scalp.

That gaffe brought to mind a mistake my mother made when I was  living at home, perhaps when I was still in high school. Somehow, she managed to absent-mindedly pour from a bottle of lemon oil (the stuff used to polish wood furniture) rather than the bottle of vegetable oil when making an oil and vinegar salad dressing. Fortunately, the mistake was discovered before anyone ate the salad. My recollection of that misstep makes me wonder: was there a genetic component to my screw-up with the shampoo?


What great idea might I be in a position to pursue at this point in my life? I suspect that pursuit would require my fatigue and mental exhaustion to be replaced by vigor and intellectual energy. The idea of exerting myself to conquer the emotional equivalents to surrender is almost too much to confront. Too much work. A struggle that requires too much effort. The thing is, I am relatively young compared to, say, a nonagenarian. I might have twenty more years to overcome the struggle, with a positive, attractive, appealing outcome. But that train may have left the station, thanks to our society’s worship of youth. When faced with a choice between wisdom and youth, wisdom usually is discarded without fanfare. The fanfare is reserved for youth. That is true in the world of work and the world of entertainment. And most other aspects of life. I read a report this morning that says aging can be reversed. The report, featuring the work of Professor David Sinclair (professor of genetics at Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and codirector of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research) and others, is intriguing. According to the article, Our bodies hold a backup copy of our youth that can be triggered to regenerate. If I could physically reboot and install that backup copy, I am relatively certain I would change a number of bad or unhealthy habits from my youth. And my middle age. And my golden years.


The clocks soon will proclaim we have reached the six o’clock hour. Time for more coffee. And time to burn one of two remaining cones of patchouli incense as I reflect on matters meaningful and mundane. I entered an order yesterday to replenish my supply of patchouli cones. I should have done it sooner.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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