Volcanic Compression

When I awoke, just a few minutes before 5, the word volcano came to mind. It was not just the word, of course. The rumbling of the ground beneath my feet, as I stood at the edge of the caldera left from its last eruption, coursed through my body. Vibrations that seemed to send messages to me; alerting me to prepare for an explosive announcement of the power of the Earth. I smelled the sulfur in the air. I felt sweat drip from my brow as the warm—almost hot—humid air wrap around me. A new eruption was imminent. There was no question: when it occurred, I would be incinerated, my ashes buried beneath millions of tons of molten rock. No one would know what happened to me because no one knew I had gone to the rim surrounding the volcano’s basin. I should have let someone know, so they could at least guess what happened to me.

Obviously, I was not entirely awake. Even though I arose from bed and went through my morning routine of peeing and dressing and going into the kitchen to make coffee, my consciousness drifted slowly between wakefulness and a dream state. My imagination held me in its grip, even while the coffee sputtered from the machine, slowly filling my cup. The scenes surrounding my presence on the edge of the volcano were not vivid. They were almost transparent. Holograms overlaid atop my morning routine, not dense and sharp enough to hide reality, but sufficiently intense to make me question whether I was really awake.

By the time I got to my study, the vapor of the dream state had disappeared, leaving me fully awake and slightly confused about my half-asleep experience. As I write these words, a book I read many, many years ago comes to mind: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. I remember almost nothing of the book, but I remember hearing my creative writing professor (who recommended the book) talk about how Lowry revised various drafts of his work. A character who, in one draft, might be the protagonist’s daughter would become his wife or lover or sister (or all three) in later drafts. That revelation has stuck with me all these years later, perhaps because I tend to do that, as well. Women in the life of one of my characters, James Kneeblood, take on very different roles in different iterations of my stories. His daughters, in an early draft, are his lovers in later versions, for example. Unlike Malcolm Lowry, though, I have not been disciplined in keeping various drafts of my writing; in many cases, I simply delete files, simply to clear out rubbish that could confuse me.

Dreams that doggedly remain active even after waking may be signs of mental decay. I may be “in decline,” to use a euphemism for an irrevocable mental meltdown. But, then again, maybe not. Perhaps I am simply suffering the symptoms of intellectual exhaustion; nothing that three weeks on a nearly deserted desert island in the South Pacific could not cure.


Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.

~ William Shakespeare ~


Liberals and progressives (who may be one and the same) seem to cling to the belief that, if only we could provide safety and comfort and adequate food and water to everyone on the planet, wars and other forms of inexcusable violence would cease. Greed and the lust for power negate that gullible position. Perhaps violence of all kinds would diminish slightly, but it would not disappear. The belief that it would evaporate is based on the mistaken impression that humans are “just another animal.” If we were like dogs or tigers or sharks or eagles, meeting our needs for food and shelter might eliminate violent behaviors. But we are different from other creatures. We belong to a species that thrives on violence, gluttony, and control.

Conservatives, on the other hand, live in fear that violence, gluttony, and the hunger for power will overpower humanity. Decency and altruism, in the conservative mindset, do not exist; they are artificial attributes that conceal deceit and treachery.

Realists are universally hated by everyone.


The appeal of a long, strong embrace is powerful. Hunger for that embrace is what drives us. We want to be protected by the love spoken through the language of embrace. “Free hugs” are teases. They give just an artificial taste of what a real embrace can do. An embrace can carry us through the reeds of anxiety and depression and loss and grief and guilt.


We can forget people who hurt us. That is a good thing. But we also can forget people who are good to us; kind people who deserve to be remembered, but who get lost in the chaos of life’s evolution. I want to go back and say kind things to good people I have forgotten, but I do not know who or where they are. Most of them probably are dead. But some of them are alive and probably would be receptive to expressions of appreciation and thanks. if only I knew how to remember them and, then, how to find them and how to put into words a set of emotions I do not fully understand.


The volcano has settled down a bit. Eventually, it will erupt. But not today.

About John Swinburn

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