Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Tis the Season, or is it?

The beautiful story about the opposing sides in World War I laying down their weapons for one day to celebrate Christmas with each other always comes to my mind this time of year. I envision men in the trenches, tired, cold, missing their loved ones.  How the coming together started, who made the first overture, doesn't matter.  What matters is that it was done, and was accepted, and for a brief period they were not enemies.  For a brief moment they were just human beings in need of a little happiness.

When I finished conducting business at my local bank this afternoon I said, "Merry Christmas" as I turned to leave.  The young lady hesitated a beat then said the same thing to me, followed by, "I'm not supposed to say that unless my customer does."  Have we become so impossibly politically correct that we are offended by a wish for happiness relating to a season we do not celebrate?  Have we taken a sentiment denoting peace and love and turned it into some sort of affront?  It saddens me to think that's the case.

I think of this season as a quest for light, an attempt to chase away the darkness that obtains in the northern hemisphere at the winter solstice.  Unlike many other animals we do not see well in the dark.  We therefore reach for light whenever darkness confronts us.  I believe that the good wish of the season, the "Merry Christmas" that we hear, is an invitation to share someone's light.  I've noticed it's always said with a smile.

Enough rambling.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lost Identity.

I have five wonderful grandkids, ranging in age from 7 to 22.  I don't know who started it but they all call me "Pops" a moniker I accept with great fondness.  It's simple - one syllable even if one of them draws it out through a long breath - and it was unique in the family circle.  Everyone knew who Pops was. Even our twenty-two year old's friends and acquaintances call me Pops.  I like that.

Then came Suri, our bright, cheerful, funny two-year-old great granddaughter.  Our Son became a grandfather and was given the name Pops.  I had lost my identity!  Well to be completely honest, in spite of my whining, everyone who used to call me Pops still does, except in Suri's presence.  But when I'm in that lovely child's company I'm ... nameless.  Oh we've tried to come up with a name for me:  Papa (that confused her), Grand Pops (possibilities but ...) Pappy (shades of Dogpatch), Great Pops (Visualize finger down throat), but nothing seems to have stuck.

I have a good friend with enough children and grandchildren to start his own zip code.  They all call him Chief.  That's such a cool name that I tried that on the little elf ... nothing.  So I'm still looking for something as easy as Pops and as cool as Chief - I'm not being too restrictive, am I?   While thinking of Chief (the person behind the name) I began to wonder what he would be called by his great grandchildren? Great Chief? Big Chief? Super Chief? Or would he also lose his identity?

We'll discuss it over breakfast soon, Chief.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Conservation of a Sort

My lovely wife believes in conservation.  She waits until she has several errands in town before climbing into her Prius, thereby minimizing fuel use in the already miserly machine. She makes similar suggestions of me, making me aware of the waste of fuel and time involved in making multiple trips to our True Value Hardware store in order to complete a project.  My explanation that I'm not sure what I else I might need until I reach the next phase of said project, holds little sway in her efficiency quest.  All this is admirable, as are our composting, recycling, re-purposing, and reusing efforts.  But, there are conservation methods that I'm not exactly ... sure I buy into.  Let me explain,

She appears to be firmly entrenched in the belief that conservation includes things in daily use, e.g. hinges and switches.  She will switch on a light when entering a room then leave without switching it off - her rationale "I'm going back in there, soon."  Soon, may be a minute,  an hour, or more.  Similarly, she will open a cabinet to extract something and leave it open with the thought that she might need something else from there, soon. Finally there's the stove - maybe this one's a bit different conservation-wise, you be the judge.  Often she will turn the burner on (electric stove i.e. heats up very fast) and then search for the pot or pan she needs.

Do these miscellaneous foibles negate our conservation efforts in other areas?  I have no answer to that.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Limited Personal Awareness is Like Limited Access Highways

Limited access highways are generally a boon to travelers who want to drive from point A to point B without any interest in the points between.  It makes the destination the sole reason for the trip.  Well isn't that the purpose of traveling, to reach a destination?  Of course, but there's often so much worth seeing between A and B, so much we miss by isolating ourselves on these strips of concrete and asphalt that take us through an area rather than into and out of it.

On my twice yearly trips to the Outer Banks, I eagerly anticipate the point in Delaware where I leave the sameness of these tracks and can enjoy the traverse south through the Delmarva Peninsula to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Another short stretch around Norfolk and I'm free of limited access for the remainder of the trip. I get to see places, not highway signs advertising them.

Our personal electronics yield a similar experience in the sense that they provide us a way through our day rather than into and out of it.  Living in a college town, I get to observe the way young folks operate, and what I see is ear buds, headphones, thumbs flying on cellphone keypads, and eyes glued to tiny screens.  I see joggers exercising on our quiet town road with wires from their ears to devices strapped to their arms, people walking in the village talking on cell phones, and a couple of nights ago a young woman with headphones on riding a bike down the middle of our busy Main Street.

It seems like people are so busy going through places that they miss being in them.  I wonder if they will look back on their lives and think about what they missed?


Monday, September 15, 2014

Living with Fear

As I mentioned before, my creative juices seem to have dried up, my muse has taken a holiday.  I look at a blank page or at a story that needs finishing, and I can't seem to dredge up the motivation to take the necessary steps to make it happen.

Here's what I have come up with.

I've been trying to write about being unable to generate any worthwhile words since my heart attack. Up till now I've been unable to complete a satisfactory essay on the subject.  Even as I write this, I can feel my mind trying to move me away from it. Am I depressed? I've certainly experienced depression over the past few months, times when I can’t generate the energy to do anything productive.  Rather I surf the net, browse Facebook, read books, anything that will push the ultimate mortality facing me out of my mind, as if doing so would make the possibility go away.

For years I have been intellectually resigned to the fact that my life is way closer to ending than I would like.  I've written about it several times, in poems and prose, but when my heart failed, it became real, up close and personal, no more intellectualizing.   It is in the room with me, riding my shoulder wherever I go.  The thing that scares me about it most is the suddenness with which my life could have ended were circumstances just a tiny bit different.  There was no time to prepare, no time to say good bye to everyone, no time to do what needed to be done to help my world go on without me.

That’s the thing about it, the binary nature – on/off – living/dead – no time for anything, whatever the hell that means.  There are many illnesses that are terminal, but they give one time, however short, to accept the inevitability, to … I don’t know … make peace with oneself.  A heart attack is not one of them.


Do I feel better having written this?  Yeah, I think I do.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Greed, Women, and Lists on Facebook

My life as a generalist has left me knowing a little bit about many things and not too much about any thing. As an opinionated non-expert I feel justified in musing about whatever bothers, thrills, puzzles, or amuses me. Anyway, the three parts of the title have excited one or more of those categories so it's time to muse.

Greed - We're born greedy. As babies we demand food and attention without regard to the needs, opinions, or activities of those around us. At this stage of life greed is our survival mechanism and is thus 'good'. But if that infant greed is allowed to grow unchecked along with the body and mind, if it is always accepted, then does the fully formed adult have no moral compass that points to the wrongness of it?  Is that the case with people who value their own wealth to the exclusion of all else?

Women - If we look back through history - not so much what we read in books but more what we know of our own history and our friends' - we can see that gender roles generally fall out this way: The male works to provide food and shelter while the female runs the family organizationally, managing food, finances, and care of its members. Why then, with those essential skills in the purview of women, are men running governments and businesses? It seems strange to me that the very people that make day-to-day life run smoothly are not being asked to run countries, are in fact discouraged, in many cases violently, from those roles. Men have pretty much fucked up the planet, socially, financially, and politically. Women need to take over to see if they can salvage it. What can I do to help?

Lists on Facebook - It seems like every facet of our existence can be put in a numbered list. Some of the lists are ordered, that is there is a first place, second place, ... while others are simply numbered to let us know when we've exhausted the list - e.g. 50 ways to leave you lover. Facebook has taken the idea of lists to a level of annoyance and, in my opinion, absurdity - 8 Reasons Children of the 1970's Should All Be Dead - is just one example. I suspect that soon someone will come up with a list of 25 things that should never be listed.

Time to feed the cats. Until we meet again folks.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Horse Latitudes and Other Musings

For many years I pictured the Horse Latitudes in Canada as marking the place where rivers flowed north toward the arctic vs south toward the many many lakes occupying its border with the US.

I have no idea where that notion came from.

Once I finally looked it up, all-knowing Wikipedia informed me that they range from 30-35 degrees latitude, both north and south, characterized by large arid areas - deserts, in other words. That information burst whatever creative bubble that was forming as I thought about stories I'd write based on the HL's.

Feel free to query the oracle about details if you wish, I'll not bore you with them, I'll bore you with other musings instead.

Having just returned from a restful week of camping (read RVing) in Vermont, I'm pretty mellow. There is an aura of wilderness about the state, not the wide open endless vistas of the Great Basin in Utah, or most of Montana, rather a woody connectedness across the expanse, kind of a feeling of completeness - nothing needs to be added. To borrow one of Carol's most used phrases "It's hard to explain." The towns we passed through, though small and rural, seem healthy and thriving, like they have some secret to survival denied towns in other states. It's a comfortable place to be.

As for my life-changing event in May, I'm feeling terrific physically and mentally: exercising regularly, both monitored and on my own; no longer grumping about the number of pills I take every day; and sleeping soundly through most nights.

My one issue, a big one, is finding my creative self again. I've started several stories and left them hanging because they were going nowhere. I haven't visited the partially complete edit of my second novel for no reason I can discern. It's a frustrating time in my writing, but I continue to plug away hoping that the creative dam will burst, that I'll find my muse again, and produce more stories worth reading.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Sleeping Porch

Those of us old enough to remember summers without air conditioning will likely have some familiarity with the ides of a sleeping porch.   Several of the houses my family rented during our gypsy years had them.  Some were screened in living areas with a sofa that opened to a bed, others simply a sheltered attachment to the house where one could catch the evening breeze while lying on an old sofa.  My folks never liked sleeping on them, nor did my siblings, I on the other hand loved them.

When we had a screened porch added to our home several years ago it was initially intended as a place to sit and enjoy the evening or morning, but in the planning stage it became so much more.  The finished product contains a table with seating for six, a swing hanging from sturdy ropes in a cypress stand, and a futon sofa that converts to a queen-size bed.

It is our sleeping porch.

I woke this morning to the sound of a light rain, a gentle alarm clock just before dawn.  The first sound as the rain starts is that of drops tapping the leaves of the maples and rhododendrons in our front yard, not yet raining hard enough to penetrate the green cover.  The intensity grows until it soaks and passes the canopy, a true rain, not hard, not demanding, but relentless in its pursuit of the earth.  As the morning grows gray and the trees become visible, I can see the movement of individual leaves when a raindrop hits them.  The randomness of the movement is mesmerizing.

I can't think of a better way to start a new day.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Changes, the Heart of the Matter

May 12th Carol and I began one of our trips south to visit friends and family.  The special part of this one was our grandson Nick's graduation from LSU on the 16th.  Our first stop was Charlotte, NC where we had a delightful dinner with a high school friend of Carol's.  We settled into our motel room shortly before midnight thinking to get a leisurely start the next morning for our overnight stop in Tuscaloosa.  About one am, our plans changed.

I got up to use the bathroom and promptly crashed face-first onto the carpeted floor, in pain and unable to rise.  Carol called 911, and within minutes I was whisked to Carolinas Medical Center with a heart attack.  I woke in Dixon Heart ICU with a stent in one artery that had been 100% blocked.  After a trip out of ICU, then back because of some arrhythmia problems, I was moved to the cardiac care unit - next level down from ICU - and stayed there until Monday the 19th.  Our elder daughter Laura flew down to share the drive back to the Hudson Valley with Carol.  We arrived home Tuesday the 20th.

Arrived home to a lawn I couldn't mow, a benefit barn sale I couldn't help with,  garden prep that wouldn't get done, and a profound sense of my own mortality.

I'm sure I've talked about aging in earlier posts, as makes sense for one in his seventies, but to experience it for the first time up close and personal puts a whole new wrinkle in it.  I have to stop myself from second-guessing every ache and pain that is part of getting old, in light of my new situation.  That's an unpleasant way to spend a day.  I know this will change over time but for now...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Talking Reading

I often begin speaking to my wife, Carol, before I've actually entered the room she's in, only to see the huge pair of Husqvarna noise reducing headphones clamped over her ears.  Inside the phones she has mounted small earpieces with the wires converging into one a bit below her chin.  Tracing that single wire to her pocket, one finds it attached to an iPod.  She is listening to some podcast, likely from public radio.  I get her attention by clapping my hands or making some other sharp noise; tapping her on the shoulder or grabbing her around the waist can be dangerous, especially if she's holding some heavy or sharp object.  When I have her attention, she signals for me to wait, reaches in her pocket for the iPod, and pauses the machine.  Then she smiles (most of the time) and says, "What?"  I repeat my statement or question, if I can remember it; she responds or just shakes her head and restarts the iPod, depending on the inanity level of what I said, and we go on about our individual activities.

She is also an avid consumer of  books on CD which she listens to in her car.  She has begun calling this Ear Reading to differentiate it from the more familiar paper book activity, which she has dubbed Eye Reading.  I really like the phrase; it's superior to the clunky "I'm listening to an audio book" in its simplicity, yet it describes the activity perfectly.

I propose that you, my vast blog-reading audience, make this phrase your own.  Use it freely, without danger of infringing on copyright or trademark.  Shout it from the rooftops! (Well maybe not - that could get you into trouble.)  Whatever you do, don't let the phrase die.  It's too good.

Sorry I've been away so long.  I kept starting a note, but it always ended up being a rant instead of a muse.  I'll try to do better, promise.  Till next time.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

My Addiction

My name is Tom and I am an addict, a Vegas Solitaire addict.  The mindless game resides on my MacBook Pro, my 'writing' computer, two clicks away from anything I'm working on at the time.  I find my curser drifting toward the Launch Pad at the bottom of my screen when I'm puzzling over a phrase or paragraph.  I tell myself that one game will help clear my mind so that I can proceed.  I click the icon, then the one with the image of a spade ace, and soon I'm playing.  

It is truly a mindless game - one card is turned at a time; a single pass through the deck and it's over. The entire game takes less than a minute to play and yields four to five percent wins.  I have won 120 games.  Feel free to do the math.  

I will engage, saying to myself "Only three games, then back to work."  When the third game is over it's "Just one more" until I've wasted an hour, or more.  I tell myself I will not play another game until I've written 500 words, but when the words don't come easily, my mind drifts, like my cursor, to the game.  Even as I write this, I'm telling myself that when I'm finished I'll play a couple of games as a reward.  If I do, it will likely be more than a couple - unless I win, in which case I stop playing and close that session.  

It's incredibly easy to get hooked on a computer game, on a social network site, on anything that involves a video/computer screen.  I remember, many years ago, when I taught in IBM Education, we were trying to decide whether to use video lectures to reach more people.  A video producer worked with us to set up a pilot program and one of the things he said stuck with me.  He said,  "Put something on a video screen and people will watch it."  Look around you and you'll see what he meant:  TV's in bars, homes where there's always a TV on in the background, smartphone screens, IPads, laptops, etc.  Even on the street, if a store window has an active TV in it, people will stop for a bit to watch.   Make the screen interactive and we're hooked.  

The whole thing reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 in a way.  Scary. 

I will not play solitaire today.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bumper Stickers and Things Left by the Roadside

In my battle against the boredom of the interstate road system, I observe bumper stickers and other accoutrements that adorn the vehicles ahead.  Most dance out of my not-so-nimble brain seconds after I've seen them, but some stay with me, like a declaration on the tailgate of a battered black pickup I'm out of estrogen and I have a gun, and the cryptic note on a dark green Jaguar Don't tell my wife.   The more mundane ones such as, My other car is a [Porsche, Broom, Harley, Bike, ...], My [son, daughter] is an honor student, and so many, many others like them, I ignore in my quest for unique sentiments.

Over the last decade or so, bumper strips have given way to smaller oval stickers with abbreviations identifying places where the vehicle has been or wishes to be.  OBX is so prolific on bumpers and rear windows that it seems every person east of the Mississippi must have visited the Outer Banks.  Even more recently, rear windows have been arrayed with a series of stick-like figures representing a family: dad, mom, then one or more kid figures in descending size order, often followed by family pets. Once, on I-75 in Tennessee, I saw a rear window display where the family was arrayed as a series of weapons: dad as an assault rifle, mom a shotgun, and the kids as ever smaller sidearms.  It made me sad.

One can't drive the roads of this country without noticing the detritus and dead animals on the roadside.

Whenever I see garbage on the shoulders, I'm reminded of a speaker I heard many years ago, his name long since forgotten.  I don't even remember the theme of the talk, but I do remember him stating something about people who claimed to honor the flag, yet continued to litter the country it represented.

I noticed on my last trip that the sight of dead deer caused no reaction other than an awareness of their numbers, but the sight of a dead cat or dog saddened me.  I pondered that for a time before I realized that it was because I knew them.  Not each individual animal of course, but I knew cats and dogs: their personalities, the sensation of stroking their coat and feeling the textural differences, the honesty of their relationship with their chosen humans.  Somehow I felt connected to them, a sense of what they were like when they were alive.

Enough of this.  It's been too long since my last post, so I will try to relay my musings more often from now on.  Oh oh - could that be a new years resolution that snuck into my addled mind?  We'll see.