I want never to lose my sense of awe and surprise. I want never to erase from my psyche a sense of childhood wonder at the natural world. Too many old men and women seem to have abandoned the carefree attitudes of their childhood. They are no longer lighthearted and buoyant. Instead, they seem sour and brittle and perpetually dissatisfied with the cards they were dealt and the deck from which the dealing was done. They sneer and snarl at eclipses. They have no interest in the remarkable tides of the Bay of Fundy. Instead of marveling at the ingenuity and raw creativity of the people awarded the Nobel Prize for physics, they scoff and say their discoveries are utterly impractical—useless.

I do not want to become that chronic complainer, that ball of unhappiness stuffed into a human form. Yet I think I can understand how it happens. Disappointments pile upon disappointments until the environment is a toxic sludge of crushing adversity; there is no room for optimism and awe in that dense forest of disillusionment. Somewhere along the way, those folks have had enough shoulders to cry on or ears to hear their troubles or  helping hands—with no expectation on reciprocity— extended to them. That failure of society to recognize needs and help fill them then extends the blame for the chronically unhappy elderly to the rest of us. “If only” we had stepped in when a need was obvious, things might have been different. Indeed. Recognizing the need and doing something to meet it are two very different things with very different values attached to them.


Keep your silly, unattainable fantasies to yourself, else you will be deeply disappointed to learn they are solely your own. No one else shares your ambition to walk the length of Route 66. No one else wants to join you in a boat far, far from shore on a clear, moonless night, to look skyward and count the stars. No one shares your vision of the “perfect life.” But maybe someone else has learned to keep their fantasies to themselves after being mocked one too many times for having them. Perhaps there is a soul-mate “out there,” or even a bevy of soul-mates who, if situations worked themselves out just so, would reveal themselves or be revealed to you. Maybe you should broadcast your fantasies far and wide, so that you might find that someone else does, indeed, share them. But be prepared to be disappointed, just in case.


Before I write any more this morning, I will take a brief break for a walk up and down our secluded little street, which ends right around our house in the cul-de-sac. I feel a need to go outside and feel unadulterated air against my skin. Air that hasn’t been filtered and chilled and modified to make me feel artificially comfortable….

…and, so, I have completed my walk and cleared some of the tangled fragments of thought from my brain. Walking—even for someone whose stamina is at an all-time low and whose shortness of breath is, at times, frightening—is therapeutic. Walking, I think, must unleash an outpouring of serotonin and dopamine that makes one feel well and think positive thoughts. Those feelings do not always last long after the walk, but during the exercise they flood my head to make the process of slowly trudging up and down a forest road an exquisite experience.  But, then, my mind seems to slam into a solid wall. My head recoils in shock as my neck jerks backward from the surprise. Aha! The real world confronts me, with its jagged claws, razor-sharp teeth, and an appetite for the contentment of people like me.


For quite some time, and especially during the last two or three months, I have invested considerable mental effort to overcoming my propensity for impatience. I regularly ask myself, when I feel myself growing impatient, “Why allow yourself to be frustrated with something you cannot change?” It has not been just the speed, or lack thereof, of actions that have bothered me. It has been the tendency for people to inject a tangled mass of jagged barbed wire into circumstances that would respond far better to soft dust cloths. To date, I have been generally satisfied with my efforts to “chill” in circumstances to which, historically, I might have erupted in angry frustration.  I have been able to dismiss others’ annoying behaviors as aberrations. But my newfound patience quickly is growing a bit thin. Perhaps these recent annoying intrusions into my pacific frame of mind have been lumped together temporally by coincidence. Maybe it has been out of sheer luck (or misfortune) that they have occurred so close to one another.  Or, possibly, my frustration is a signal that I am, indeed, misanthropic at my core. It’s the people, not the circumstances. Absent the people, the circumstances would be what they are; they would sort themselves out, eventually. Or, more likely, the circumstances would not merit a second thought. But, throw people into the mix, and a serene setting becomes a firestorm that greedily consumes all the available oxygen in the room. Rather than permit the growing calm inside me to evaporate in the heat of an arsonist’s fire, I could attempt to douse the fire or I could simply walk away from the flames. I will depend on time to determine my response to the heat.

Writing is frustration – it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.

~ Philip Roth ~

Would that he were correct. Perhaps for someone like Roth, it’s failure two thirds of the time. In my experience, it’s more like ninety-nine one-hundredths.


I can feel, at the same time, giddy and deeply depressed. Am I alone in that capacity to experience diametrically opposed emotions simultaneously? For my entire life, I’ve wished for someone in my life who is both unafraid to explore the full range of their emotions and willing to talk about them. I realize I could share the full range of my emotions with a psychologist or counselor, but that would be only half the equation. I want to know what goes on in someone else’s head, someone whose emotions might not necessarily parallel mine but are sufficiently similar that we might speak the same language. It’s not just the expression of the emotions I want to explore, either; it’s their genesis. Do they emerge from a purely internal process that is unique to every human body, or is their etiology from a common electrochemical reaction that takes place in all similar creatures?

Admittedly, I am more interested, first, in “what” than “how.” I want to know what someone feels and thinks and why they think they react the way they do to whatever triggers their emotions. Only after an understanding of what do I want to explore how; how do these emotions form and how can we better control them. If, indeed, we want to control them.


It’s approaching 8. Though I’ve been up more than two hours, I feel like I’ve frittered away part of the day by allowing myself to sleep until 5:30. I’d better get in gear if I’m going to retrieve some of the time I’ve lost to sleep.

About John Swinburn

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