This Time I’m Serious

We are standing in the middle of a railroad trestle, ninety stories above a canyon flooded with raging water. The water, jammed with massive boulders, carves those monstrous stones into sharp scraps and slivers of rock that scrape deeper and deeper into the bed and banks. The trestle, once strong and fiercely adhered to the river bed and canyon walls, begins to shudder and shake, signaling weakness that soon could cause the trestle to fail. As we stand on the shivering structure, we feel a train approaching. It is coming at us at high speed. We turn and see it, watching it sway from side to side as it gets closer to the bridge. There is no place to run to escape the train, nor to avoid plunging into the canyon below when the wooden beams of the trestle begin to splinter. Suddenly, though, we slip and fall into a crevice, almost a cave, just five feet below, that is protected from the collapse. Huge timbers roar past our heads. Massive pieces of steel railroad tracks twist and bend as they spin by us, the terrifying sounds they make as they contort into rings and figure eights more horrifying than screams of death.

Twenty seconds in, no more, and the remnants of the trestle are silent. The train has disappeared into the current, washed away along with the steel tracks and massive wooden girders. Long strips of thick wooden beams dangle from bigger, stronger pieces. Other beams are lodged against canyon walls, forty or fifty feet above the raging water. The rapids below hiss and churn, but evidence of human intervention is silent. Soon, all evidence of humankind will have dropped to the water and disappeared.

Neither Europeans, nor Africans, nor anyone else who comes this way again will know of the tragedy that befell the canyon. But we  saw it. And we survived it. As if adorned in the robes of a deity.


I wrote the paragraphs above on the morning of June 7, 2021, just a bit more than a month ago. I wrote it as an exercise in transcribing the experiences of my imagination into words on the screen. What precipitated the imagined scene is lost to my memory. Or, perhaps more likely, no specific thought or event prompted me to write that scene; rather, I suspect I saw a fleeting image in my brain and latched onto it, writing experiences around that single image. There is no before, nor an after. The scene is simply an irrational moment with no reasonable explanation. The reader knows only that the writer is one of at least two (“we” is the clue to that certainty) who undergo the irrational experience. No explanation of why the trestle is about to collapse, other than a raging river. No indication as to why people would find themselves on a railroad trestle ninety stories above furious rapids. No explanation as to why they survived and what happened next. Why? Because nothing happened next. The scene, the only one of its kind, is done. Finished. An empty, incomplete experience.


Some people have the courage to write reality; to paint—with words—pictures of personal experiences so intimate and so private that the sentences they write take the reader’s breath away. Such writers, memoirists or autobiographers, are astonishingly brave. They risk everything by exposing themselves as the deeply flawed human beings they are. They reveal themselves in ways the rest of us would never dare because we are afraid our revelations would destroy us or the way people view and value us.

I reveal a great deal about myself in my writing, but like almost everyone else, I keep the most intimate details and secrets to myself. The simile comparing oneself to an iceberg—far more mass beneath the surface than above—is apropos. Yet the only way we can develop and sustain deep personal relationships is by revealing almost everything about ourselves; taking the risk that the revelations will not consume oneself in flames. We have to trust others if we’re going to take that risk. Perhaps the writers I admire so much simply trust their readers to be compassionate. I’m too much of a skeptic to think everyone who comes across my writing will be driven by tenderness and kindness and sympathy.


Today, I have two appointments: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Both are in Hot Springs, separated in time by three hours. I have not yet determined whether I will return home between appointments or stay in town between them. I could have lunch after the first one, carving an hour or so off my wait-time, but that would leave two hours to kill. I’m not good with making use of small snippets of time. This problem is not of sufficient magnitude to merit spending so much energy and artificial “ink” on it, but I’ve already done it, so there you are. Time will tell how it all turns out.


The remainder of this week will be devoted to experiences. Learning and relearning things that matter to the world at large and, I hope, to me. I may blog or I may not. Time, again, will tell.


Will it ever end? I mean the COVID-19 pandemic. Will we ever be sufficiently rid of the beast to feel comfortable in every setting? I am not optimistic. Too many people have abandoned intellectual reliance on science and have allowed themselves to, instead, become cult followers of conspiracy theories and theorists. They have become emotionally entangled with lies and political games, causing their intellects to wither.

But if, by chance, it does end, what can we expect in the future? More of the same, I’m afraid. We have become a nation in which half the population remains committed to and supportive of a man who lies for a living. The same man whose mantra is, effectively, cheating and deceit are more valuable than honor and truth-telling. I gag every time I hear his name. But he is history. His infections have spread to the vast majority of the Republican Party and its adherents.

We will continue to suffer the after-effects of science denial for the remainder of our time on Earth. Until the ultra-rich have drained every pocketbook and shoved every middle-class supporter of the Republican agenda into abject poverty, we will be subject to the whims of the 0.001%. It’s getting smaller and more powerful by the second. I hate it.


All of this hideousness is nearly impossible to stomach. But I am fortunate in that I have a wonderful relationship with a woman who can help me, from time to time, forget the world around me and who can find silver-linings behind some pretty dark clouds.


I am hungry. And thirsty for more coffee. I will stop writing for now. Maybe for an extended break. Whether my break is short or long, I have a request of those who regularly read  my blog: tell me who you are. I can tell a number of IP addresses from the Village open my blog pages with some regularity, but I do not know who most of the readers are. I’m curious to know who you are and, if you are willing to share, why you read this blog. I know, I’ve asked before, but this time I’m serious.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to This Time I’m Serious

  1. Janet Holt says:

    I think you already know that I read your blog daily with my morning coffee because I love your way with words and have discovered we share many things in common. I especially love your Zen quotes. One day I’ll have to get the title of the little black book from whence they come. Keep it up!

  2. Deanna says:

    Hi John. I don’t read the blog every day but I will often read 3-4 at a time, playing catch-up. I admire your writing skills and imagination, but most of all I admire your willingness to write every day. That’s what real writers do. There are many of us who might be decent writers but lack the self discipline to practice that craft every day. Please keep it up! Deanna

  3. Debbie,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I am so glad to learn that you enjoy blog and that you find my writing creative. My posts certainly are random; their randomness echoes the way my mind works, I’m afraid. 😉 I’ve heard a lot about you from Colleen, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet you. Anne Lamott is a favorite of mine, too. I hope one day I get a chance to hear her speak; I understand she is even more riveting in person than on the page.

    Again, Debbie, thank you so very much for your kind and generous comment. It made my day!


  4. Debbie Kirilov says:


    I read your blog, with thorough enjoyment, every morning with my cappuccino. Your IC and I met as fifth graders and our friendship has spanned nearly 60 decades. When I was told about the new man in Colleen’s life, and your blog, I was excited to learn more about you. Once I read your blog, I was instantly hooked with your creative and random style. Colleen turned me on to the writer, Anne Lamott, and I savor her writings and perspective of our complicated world.
    It helps me understand her realizations and values. Her gift of honesty and a powerful artistry with words, has truly enriched my life. Hope and humor draw me in, and you have a talent providing that same joy.

    I hope you find your comfort zone for your writings, and continue to share your incredible gift.


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