Hand or Heart?

I’m back on the trail. The weather is good, I’m coasting downhill at at a 3% slope. Life couldn’t be better, except that I have questions.

I have random questions, like… is it proper for a veteran to hand salute the flag, or use the hand over the heart method. This could have been a very random question, popping in from left field, but not so. A few weeks ago I was preparing to pass an older gentleman walking on the trail. It happened to be exactly where a flagpole had been erected in the backyard of a house next to the trail. The flag was several feet above the rear fence, so everyone on the trail always had a good look.

As I was about to pass, this gentleman performed a very snappy hand salute. I had passed that flag well over a hundred times and I never thought to do a hand salute. I was convicted, and I slowed to thank the man, and tell him that I would salute in the future.

The trouble was that I had some sort of protocol memorized that only active military can use the hand salute. The gentleman was wrong, and he should have placed his hand over his heart. Should I correct him the next time I see him? Who am I? The flag police?

I’m on the trail and the flag is coming up on my right side. What to do? Should I ignore it. Confusion reigned, so I did the most obvious thing I could do. I googled the exact question, “Is it proper for a veteran to hand salute the flag? The answer was immediate… when I became I civilian in 1973 I lost the right to use the hand salute. I should salute the flag by placing my hand over my heart!

However, in Oct, 2008 the federal law was changed that allows veterans and active duty military in civilian clothes to use the hand salute, if desired. The gentleman was not wrong!

So now my head is on the swivel, how many other flags do I pass on my daily ride. You can’t salute what you do not notice. How much is too much?

For now it is just the one flag, peeking over the backyard fence. I’m usually going at a pretty good clip, so it only takes a second, but it feels just right.

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Bob, the leaf

I’ve written about leaves before. There is much to be learned from taking the time to watch leaves. They spend their lives reacting to something unseen, yet powerful.

People revisit ideas and concepts in blogs when they have discovered something new, or perhaps they simply didn’t cover the concept quite completely.

I’m not sure I can ever do that. On my ride this morning I was convicted that I needed to write more. It’s possible that I could write about leaves every day for years.

I want to introduce you to Bob, the leaf. He began, like all of his siblings, as a shoot on this sturdy tree. Unlike the many evergreens all around, this tree was deciduous, meaning leaf bearing and eventually leaf losing. The tree was made to go into a sort of hibernation for the winter, so to save the energy necessary to maintain the foliage, the tree simply lets them go.

Bob, the shoot, doesn’t understand this yet. He is busy drawing nutrition from mother tree. Within a few weeks the shoot has grown, extended, and unfurled.

Bob, the leaf, sudden realized that his true purpose is to give back to his mother. In deep gratitude Bob gathers sunlight to react to his chemistry, and life energy is passed back to mother tree. It is the least he could do.

The process is so automatic that Bob doesn’t have to give it much thought. He can spend his days watching clouds, feeling the sun warm his surface, and growing stronger each day.

Bob begins to notice that strength is important. He has learned that there is an unseen force that sometimes shakes him, and spins him around. He has even seen a few of his siblings get separated from mother tree, they fly off never to be seen again. Bob wonders about mother tree being deprived of their life work.

The storms of spring subside and the leaves are stronger because of this. Now the great times began, the long days of warm sun, the gentle breeze that allows leaves to dance still attached. It seems as if this could go on forever. Bob is very happy, he feels content, he has meaning and purpose. This could go on forever, but it doesn’t.

Bob is vaguely aware that the temperature is changing. Mother tree seems to be cutting back on the life energy that is symbiotic. She doesn’t want his energy, and she stops sending energy to Bob.

This is a stressful time for Bob. He has never been down this road. He feels brittle, and dried up. His color has changed from lush green to a light tan. And he recognizes that it won’t stop there. His siblings all around him are changing as well some have gone to a deep red, and a few others have taken on a deep brown.

Bob can see that change is afoot. He has spent his life with a great vantage point. He can see far, and that tells him that other mother trees are going through the same process. Except for the evergreens

Eventually Bob begins to re-evaluate his purpose. Mother tree has shut down and doesn’t seem to even communicate with him anymore. He is left with his siblings stranded in the world. Each day the sun drys him further and his color changes. One day he notices that his connection to mother tree is weaker, not as strong as it was during the storms of spring

Bob didn’t know about the storms of fall or winter. He hadn’t lived that long, and none of his siblings knew this either. But Bob was observant so he could project that things were going to change.

Bob was midway up mother tree, high enough to have a good view but still protected from that unseen force they called “the wind”. Over time Bob and his siblings began to see “the wind” as the enemy. Everything would be fine if he was just left alone. Suddenly, at anytime of the day or night, this force would build in puffs and gusts. He first noticed that some of his siblings were lost each time. It wasn’t like the spring, these were mature leaves, leaves that have their lives in service. And now they were abandoned and left to this unseen force. It was the worst kind of nightmare. Suddenly snatched from there familiar place and taken far away. No one ever came back.

The weeks flew by, Bob could tell that his connection was weaker each day. He also noticed that he was completely brittle by now. Instead a a soft subtle surface that flexed with the wind, now he was stiff. The wind hit him and he no longer flexed. The wind spun him and twisted him to the left then quickly to the right. It seemed that the purpose was now to dislodge him from mother tree.

Bob has to study this very carefully. No matter what the past was, no matter what his purpose, it was obvious that this was different. Bob looked around to his siblings.

He found that the unseen force would separate his kin from mother tree but that they didn’t just disappear. For months they had learned to dance while still connected to mother tree. The unseen force took them left, right, up and down. But they always stayed connected.

Now the force broke them free, and they sailed away. But not without their skill of the dance they had learned. It’s true, they were falling to earth where their future was unknown… but briefly they were still leaves, showing their skills learned in dance. Only this time they were truly free to scribe they own path, truly free and un constrained.

The unseen force was no longer the enemy, it was the energy behind their freedom of flight. Bob, the leaf suddenly realized this one day, and began to accept his future. And he even planned some of his freedom movements. Bob knew that somehow time was extended the moment that he broke free from mother tree.

It wasn’t going to be a few short minutes of dancing and sailing, it was going to be a lifetime. Indeed, the very moment that Bob was separated from mother tree, he was forever known as Robert the dancer.

The unseen force known as “the wind” is also known as the “Ruach HaKodesh”.

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Dank, dark, something unknown moving over there, a fellow prisoner or just vermin? We don’t think much about dungeons today.

We have trivialized it in video and board games, but it once was a very real place. Of course most of us would never be in a dungeon. Not because we are guiltless, mostly because we aren’t rich enough to be kept alive.

Dungeons were often used as holding places while ransoms were worked out. I suppose there could always be some transients that stayed a few hours before the hangman arrived. Generally, dungeons were simply bleak, uncomfortably, and lonely.

Interesting that the general view of a dungeon is the basement of a castle, yet historically some of the most famous dungeons were castle towers. I am more the castle basement type. I’ve built several thousand dungeons and I never built a tower. Too much of a temptation to enjoy the view.

No, when I create the dungeon, it is a dark place, damp, the smell of rotting earth. A place of hopelessness, and punishment. It doesn’t matter that I’m the builder, I forgot to bring the key. I’m locked in without a timeframe. It could be minutes, it could be hours, it may even be days…

So how do I get free? When you build the mental dungeon it exists as long as the thoughts are fresh, the thoughts that created it. Sometimes it is a change of place, sometimes it’s a kind face. One thing I know, a dungeon is a lonely place, and being alone only extends the stay.

Rarely, but sometimes logic dissolves the walls, brings in the light. I say rarely because building the dungeon is intentional to keep reason out.

So are we doomed to be captured forever? Time heals all wounds is true so, time is an ally. It creates a distance that changes perspective. But it is not a vaccine.

I would wish for a “dungeon vaccine”, something that I could take to inoculate my future dungeon building activities. Or at the very least, let me build towers with a view.

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The Simple Things

Today I feel joy. Joy is within me, it is oozing from my fingertips, it is dripping from my beard… I am full up and overloaded.

Six weeks ago I had two feet of poly tubing in my chest, my sternum had been sawn in half, then wired back together, and my heart had been stopped, sewn on, and then started again.

One day later I was struggling down the hospital hall, gown flapping behind, dragging vials, bottles, and monitors on wheels. All that just seems like yesterday. Not particularly joyous at the moment.

But I should have been thankful for the joy that was coming. I had a loving wife, children, family and friends surrounding me. I had the promise of a future. It just seemed so far away.

Well, the future is here. There is still a long road ahead. I can’t sit in the front seat of a car, I can’t drive, and I probably can’t take a flight anywhere. A couple more weeks.

But I can ride my trike now! Wow, what a great feeling. Simple things like pedaling down the trail, grabbing a dark coffee at Starbucks… Is there anything better than being normal?

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Who is the Oldest?- Pando

I’m revisiting a subject that I wrote about a few months ago.

The Google Search term is “longest living organisms”. I’m not sure why I find this so interesting. Part of it stems from the remarkable possibility that there may be “immortal” organisms. This has massive theological ramifications, perhaps even an exception to basics laws of physics.

The Wikipedia article from the Google research is very interesting. The new piece of information for me is the grove of Aspens in south central Utah, near Fish Lake. It is a clonal organism, meaning that there is one central root system, providing stems, or shoots, that are exactly the same genetically. We are used to seeing this in BlackBerry bushes, or various ivy bushes. In trees we tend to known about trees reproducing individually from fertilized seeds.

The grove of Aspens in Utah appear to be individual trees, but they are not. They are all connected by a massive root system, covering about 106 acres, and weighing 6,600 tons. Clearly much heavier than a family of Blue Whales. The next surprising new piece of information is that it is estimated to be 100,000 years old, its a male, with the name of Pando! What?

So my updated list of the oldest known organisms is

1. 100,000- Pando, a male clonal Aspen grove, Utah

2. 10,000 to 80,000- Posidonia Oceania, a clonal sea grass in the Mediterranean Sea. (Some say it may be 200,000 years old)

3. 43,000- Lornatia tasmanic in Tasmania, a clonal shrub with no fruits or seeds, and has over 600 genetically exact individual plants.

4. 13,000- The Jurupa Oak Colony in Riverside County, California. A clonal grove of oak that only grows after a wildfire, the burned branches sprout new stems.

5. 13,000- a box huckleberry bush in Pennsylvania.

6. 13,000- Eucalptus recurve clones in Australia.

7. 11,700- Larrea tridentata, is a creosote bush named King Clone in the Mojave Desert, California

8. 9,500- Old Tjikko, a clonal Norway spruce in Sweden

9. 2,400 – 8,500 Humongous Fungus,a single specimen of clonal honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae)found in Oregon, covering 3.4 square miles.

10. 5,068- A Great Basin Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) is the oldest non-clonal tree. Secret location in California/Nevada/Utah.

One unique addition is a Judean Date Palm Tree, that came from a preserved 2,000 year old seed. The tree is in Israel and is now producing pollen.

And finally, during the 1990s, Raul Cano, a microbiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, revived yeast trapped in amber for 25 million years. Cano went on to found a brewery and crafted an “amber ale” with a 45-million-year-old variant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His work inspired the movie Jurassic Park.

I don’t know where the immortal creatures fit. If the mortality rate of a species does not increase after maturity, the species does not age and is said to be biologically immortal. Many examples exist of plants and animals for which the mortality rate actually decreases with age, for all or part of the lifecycle.

If the mortality rate remains constant, the rate determines the mean lifespan. The lifespan can be long or short, though the species technically “does not age”.

• Hydra species were observed for four years without any increase in mortality rate.

Other species have been observed to regress to a larval state and regrow into adults multiple times.

• The hydrozoan species Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly Turritopsis nutricula) is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again. This means no natural limit to its lifespan is known. However, no single specimen has been observed for any extended period, and estimating the age of a specimen is not possible by any known means.

• At least one hydrozoan (Laodicea undulata and one scyphozoan (Aurelia sp.1) can also revert from medusa stage into polyp stage.

• The larvae of skin beetles undergo a degree of “reversed development” when starved, and later grow back to the previously attained level of maturity. The cycle can be repeated many times.

The idea of doing a Benjamin Button, going back to baby, was a movie idea. I didn’t know it really existed.

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I’m Listening

I find that I’m listening more. People assume that I’m retired so they often ask what did I do? More than likely I tell them that I professed. It is easier to generalize instead of picking one aspect of my college life. Ha, even when I was the college’s graphic designer or senior electronic technician, I was talking a great deal.

So now, on the other side of Wednesday, after staring into the abyss, I’m finding that I’m listening more. I should have done this earlier.

Today I visited the college. While waiting at a convenient bench to catch my breath, two students came to sit near me, close enough for me to hear the entire conversation. I was intrigued.

The first words spoken by the older student was, “This is a speech class that focuses on critical thinking, so it doesn’t have the space to get into specific speech topics brought up by the class.”

He was sympathizing with the student, providing a critical analysis of the situation. I was very intrigued because my wife probably wrote the textbook that the class was using.

The student was older, probably in his sixties, and he had lived in Washington DC for a few years. He quickly gave his take on the current political scene, and he used good critical thinking skills until the end.

“They are supposed to be elected to serve the people’s need. And we know that is not true.”

Truth? Ha, the old Greek question, “What is truth?” The potential of dropping into a mental coma is great when pondering truth, beauty, quality, etc. so, what is truth?

I first went to some obvious examples, particularly in math. Two plus two equals four. Seems to be true. True is an absolute, what is true is always true. However, forty years of graphic design and visual thinking, tells me that sometimes two plus two is twenty-two. Oh oh.

How about “the sun is shining because it is noon with no clouds.” Well, it takes eight minutes for the light to reach Earth. It was truth, but at this minute?

Truth is a slippery concept. Every time I hear someone tell me that they know the truth I am very interested.

At the end of the conversation the student said, “This White Supremacy is a thing.” I knew what he meant of course, he was using a convenient label to connect to a common understanding with the other student. It was not meant for me, I was eavesdropping. But it was not a great example of critical thinking.

I’m white, but not supreme. The good thing with labels is that it gets to the point quickly. The bad thing with labels is that it gets to the point too quickly.

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Watch Me Sleep

I’ve arranged to participate in a sleep study. This is not for research on sleep, but a scientific analysis of my particular sleep patterns. Apparently I snore, and have apnea.

It is the nature of the affliction that I do not know if I snore. I am simply told by everyone within fifty feet that I create a horribly loud racket. If this was true I believe I would wake myself up. I am a light sleeper. I have my doubts.

The more serious issue is that I apparently forget to breathe for several seconds every now and then. Naturally if you wake up gasping for breathe, that tends to disturb restful sleep. And I’ve been told there are several types of sleep. Restful is the one more important.

I’m not sure that I know when I’m in restful sleep. What I would like is longer “adventure dreams”. I dream in full color and often it is very exciting with lots of action. Not sure that this is actually restful. Restorative sleep may be just a complete shutdown, possibly dreaming of sleeping while sleeping. Ouroborus!

I haven’t really thought it through, but apparently the study entails going somewhere and spending the night while someone watches me. And it’s paid for by insurance!

It sounds a little suspicious. Of course I am hooked up to an EKG, blood pressure, oxygen monitors, and several other machines. This might be a cover to excuse a scam- Watch people sleeping!

Sounds like a job for retired people.

In the end I will get a grade in several areas. If my numbers are too high they will give me a CPAP or BPAP machine and I will spend the rest of my life of sleep wearing a mask. Hmm.

I have been adjusting by sleeping on my side. I believe this works in most circumstances, but not while recovering from open heart surgery. For the last month I’ve been sleeping in a reclining chair. Comfortable but not sustainable.

I don’t know, getting hooked up with tubes and sounding like Darth Vader… is that sustainable?

To misquote Richard Brautigan, “to maintain life, I do so many things that are really not me…”

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Eating the Elephant

Recently, a long time friend experienced a loss of a life partner. Right away the grieving process kicks in, the endless thoughts of what was said, what was unsaid. In this case it wasn’t death, it was much more complicated. It was the legal system and addiction.

For some this adds several factors. How did it get this bad? What could have been done? What about the personal choices that were made?

The reality is that grieving is grieving. It is an emotional disconnect that places you in a different circumstance. Death by disease, old age, accident… different causes but the same emotional stress. We may find some comfort in parts of the cause, as an example, “Well, he was quite old, and lived a long time.” This is a common narrative but really it is bandaid. Grieving someone is real and it doesn’t matter if they were ancient, or long suffering.

The same can be said for people that leave you because of argument, legal issues, moving away, or slothful friend maintenance. Reasons for the grieving are separate from the need to grieve and it would be a mistake to rely on the “reasons” to fix a broken heart.

Often, friends and acquaintances will suggest distractions to help in the immediate circumstance. In many ways this is a good step. Grief can build up by dwelling on the reality. Going over and over any guilt, real or imagined, can cascade into a torrent of emotion. Not necessarily a good or healthy thing.

But throwing yourself into a new hobby of activity is really just stuffing the emotion into convenient mental boxes. It’s a little like too many t-shirts in a bureau drawer. It looks neat and tidy, but it is actually useless and no longer functions as it should. And if you actually try to open it, the drawer contents will explode across the room.

Have I ever used this technique? Of course, I am human. But I also realize that I need a drawer that doesn’t explode, a drawer that still functions as a drawer, something I can easily search through, something that is useful.

It should always be an emergency fix, stuffing things away when you have visitors. Re-adjusting things later for the long haul.

What do I suggest for grieving? Hmm, it’s a little like eating an elephant or a Buick. Take it one bite at a time. You must address it, but you can’t let it break it free like a rollercoaster after the climb up. Unless you like to live emotionally dangerous.

How long does it take to eat an elephant? It depends on your size of bite. If you nibble it will take years, if you stuff your cheeks you may choke. Again, other people’s advice will rarely be better than your own.

Having a clear assessment of the character and reality of the relationship is probably the best place to start. Sometimes individuals fill a role that is expected by tradition, but is far from the reality. Pondering the nature can go both ways. You may find that there was less than expected. You may find that there was way more. Being honest about the reality will give you the best shot of coping with the grief.

Oh yeah, crying is good. Sobbing uncontrollably is less good.

The next best thing is communicating your grief with safe people. Remember that you are vulnerable. Throwing your emotions out to the general public may get you some pity, but pity doesn’t fix the hurt. What if you don’t have safe people? See a professional therapist! This is extremely important.

On a personal note, faith and scripture is my go-to solution. This is true because I have developed a “relationship” long before the actual need. This is not something to take up in a crisis generally speaking, although God is miraculous.

After grieving is addressed, then the causes, reasons, and guilt can be looked at. You may be convicted, you may assess blame. Both of these are to be consumed in the same manner. One bite at a time!

I pray for my friend, and anyone in grief. It is the other side of joy, and not fun to visit. Please don’t stay there!

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The Big Questions

I think it worthwhile to review the “big questions” in life periodically. Partly because time moves on, and wisdom may drop from an apple tree. Mostly though, it’s good to check on the “big questions” right after a significant moment in life, perhaps even a challenge to life.

I have no reason to think that a brush with death would impart answers to life. In fact, I think it is mostly ironic that we remain clueless in the face of certainty. Still, maybe there is a small thing, maybe a slight gap. Something that Leonard Cohen sings about, “a crack, where the light gets in…”

The quick answer is that I haven’t been given the meaning of life, or even the purpose of my life. The Big Questions remain for some future time. But cracks have illuminated some things.

The first thing I think of is the love/care expressed. It is almost hard to receive. So many people have sent heart felt emotions, concerning my badly acting heart. There is a mystery there.

We interact at a given level that is direct/honest, but at some distance. Relationships are seen more healthy if somewhat cool. Otherwise, we seem “too involved”, needy, or downright cloying. And yet, this often isn’t honest. Certain people mean more in your life than you admit or talk openly about. It only comes forth when you are about to lose it.

I have redoubled my efforts to express my care, for those who I care about.

It’s funny, because it works both ways. Facing the abyss is often scary, but you can walk away with a new appreciation of loved ones, family and friends. Not because of what they have done for you, but because of who they are!

So, am I saying that a health crisis gives new vision? New vision is often the same objects, but seen from a different perspective.

This is an important distinction, because a different perspective can be easily lost. In a practical sense a new perspective can be gained by moving two steps to the left. You may gain some important insights, but if you step two steps back to the right they are no longer visible.

It is no wonder that the most common command in Scripture is “Remember!”.

It is just past Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of a new year, with a new heart, new perspectives, it is always the “right” time to start. You may never have the chance again.

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Driven by Fear

We are often driven by fear. We are taught that fear determines flight instead of fight. I think I still fear the fight.

In the course of a lifetime some fears are consistent and ever present. At the same time, old fears may fade away like last summer’s tan. Oh yes, and then there is the category of new fears! What to do with them?

What I have found lately is that the new fears are all about my current health situation. That’s understandable, considering some of the more helpless aspects of the circumstances. I can’t lift more than five pounds per hand. That includes pushing. This means that catching myself in the act of falling has become a major fear. Do I use my arms to break the fall (and rip my stitches so that my heart falls out), or do I just relax, fall and just break?

I don’t ponder this often, only when I stand up, move, or sit down. I had one slow moment standing near the washing machine searching for clothes. It turns out that a pile of laundry is soft and moveable, it does not provide a solid mountain to lay a hand on to rest or stabilize.

Perhaps I will fall, perhaps I won’t. I can’t know how bad it is until it happens.

So far I have identified three basic fears that are directly related to my heart surgery.

1. the fear of coughing. Wow, this was a big one. It was complicated with the necessity of coughing out the intubation tube within hours of the surgery. What? Can’t you pull it while I’m still under? You have got to be kidding me? Hands are on the tubing and pulling. My gag reflex kicks in and I cough. Yikes!

That was bad, really bad. I do not want to cough. I can feel something in my lungs, but it is going to stay there and become pneumonia.

2. The fear of throwing up. I have never been a fan of throwing up. Perhaps I’ve never been drunk often enough, or eaten in sketchy places. I just don’t have a long history of experience. The stomach is pretty far from the heart and lungs, but they’re neighbors! It’s all that involuntary action that is disturbing. I don’t want to do this right now, but my body overrules my control. I have a lot of empathy for women in pregnancy. Not today! Right!

3. the fear of sneezing. Okay, this is more specific to me. Most people are a one sneeze creature in my experience. My wife is a two sneezer. I rarely offer a blessing on the first sneeze. I wait for the second. And I’m very surprised when there is a third. I am not in that category. I go on a jag. I sneeze thirty or forty times. People have left the room by being embarrassed in offering a blessing. So what would that do for my sutures?

The trifecta of fears. I have faced two of them so far. Both are uncomfortable, but survivable, the involuntary action is scary, but it does end pretty quickly. The sneezing is still out there unexperienced. Maybe my body can stop it, maybe it isn’t as bad as I think. I wait in some fear!

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Tribute Wall

I’ve thrown paint at six canvases. I am really happy with about three. I could throw more paint and maybe get more happier! Or, it could be mud. I’m still happy!

For now I’m done. I don’t think I will be feeling like painting next week. In fact, this spurt may be it for awhile. I tend to go in bursts, flat out for awhile and then I’m on to other things. I’m okay with the almost finished pieces, some are more almost than others. I’ve got a lot to learn and recovery is a good place to start.

So the tribute wall is done for now. Thank you Vincent, for reaching out to touch me just a little. I tried to put just a little of you in each Canvas. More importantly is that I thought about you a great deal. Haha, I see you, and it matters to me!

Tomorrow I get a remodeled heart. A little scary, and a lot hopeful. More energy and better stamina. Maybe not so good for the first couple of days.

Anyway, not so much painting for awhile, not so much blogging either. I will be back shortly with new inspirations!

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In Progress…

I’ve got ten canvases, eight with some paint, maybe two that are completed. All in all, not bad output for the week!

Of course, it could take a month to finish. I am so over my head that I can’t put a timetable on it. Maybe throw some paint on the last two canvases. Haha, first thing, learn to paint!

Heading to Friday’s operation, probably I will get one more day to tackle some color, then an entire week of recuperation and maybe done study. If I’m trapped in a hospital bed, perhaps I’ll study. It could happen!

Worst student in the planet!

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Tribute Landscape #2 Final

Is anything final? Well, final for now! I got hypnotize laying in all those strokes. Too many, surely paintings aren’t the composite addition of tedious strokes? Don’t they just pop out after awhile? I’ve been digital too long, there must be some sort of action to program.

Now to move on to more terrifying subjects, self-portraits, portraits of family members. Paintings that are unforgiving. “That doesn’t look like them”. Landscapes are cool, drop your brush? Well that becomes a Bush! Portraits? “Who is that? Is this some sort of age progression?”

No, is it just creative incompetence! It’s a new category under the general Impressionist label. It only has one resident so far, so I can claim to be the originator.

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Tribute Landscape #2

Got the midtones down. When dry I will hit the highlights & shadows. Starting to figure this out just a little. Well, landscapes at least. Portraits, gahhh!

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Tribute Portrait

Hmm, okay, it’s not quite right. A little haunting, a little young. What’s the chances that painting will correct things? Gahaha! None whatsoever!! Hahaha, I haven’t the slightest idea of what I’m doing!!! It’s terrifying, and wonderful!!

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The Week

It’s a quiet morning. Saturday in California, and no fire nearby, and the sky is clear. Labor Day, and I haven’t labored in at least five years, and possibly forty years before that.

When was the last time I worked? By this, I mean hard labor for no reason other than the pay at the end of the week. It certainly has been a long time!

So Labor Day for most of my life has only been a sign post. The end of summer, school starts, football season begins, women can’t wear white… what! Where did that come from?

This is pretty much the year with no summer for me. Life has been so complicated and busy that I didn’t have time for summer. I never really thought about the partnership aspect. Dates on a calendar, even seasons, require the agreement of the people! Huh! That’s a weird sort of power. Of course it goes on for everybody else. It would be horrible if my missing summer impacted everybody in Florida for example. Ha, truly a self-centered concept.

So this week I spend painting, writing, pondering, and generally acting feckless. I’m retired, I can do that! Sorry I missed you Summer, see you next year!

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Save the Date

Sept 7

A new lease on life! Well, okay, maybe it’s just a remodel. My heart has been abused, but I get to replumb at least one artery that has been plugged for years. I thought I was just getting old and tired. I am, but in addition my heart was not getting enough oxygen. The stent fixed the heart attack, this bypass fixes being out of wind so easily. At least that is what they tell me.

Friday morning they crack my chest like a lobster and start swapping things around. I get a week in the hospital, a chest pillow so that I hug to remind myself not to use my arms for a week. I go home recuperating for a couple weeks, do some cardio rehab, and by Thanksgiving I’m back to hiking! Hah! At least that’s the plan!

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Common Phrases

Heavy Rain (around the World)

English- cats and dogs

Iceland- fire and brimstone

Greece- chair legs

Columbia- husbands

Catalonia- barrels and casks

Ireland- cobblers knives

Brazil- lizards and snakes

Czech Republic- wheelbarrows

Norway- witches

Denmark- shoemaker’s apprentices

Slovakia- tractors

France- ropes

Wales- knives and forks

Poland- frogs

Germany- puppies

I find this list terrifying to the extreme. I have lived my life with the fear of dogs and cats raining down from the skies, no doubt swept up by tornadoes in the Midwest. But “husbands” (and not wives), “shoemaker’s apprentices” ( and not shoemakers), Greek chairlegs?

It’s all too much, I have too many fears already, I can’t live in another country. The worst is raining French ropes. Ropes?.

(With thanks to James Chapman, soundimals.com)

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I’ve had a couple of recent conversations that have transcended the average level of communication. Not that I am above average. I have to try very hard to attain anything close to being average. By the very nature of “conversational” one tends to shy away from anything risky. All of us can worry whether what is being said, is what is being heard.

I once knew a person who was certain that everything said was actually a code, that meant something else entirely. Well, sometimes it was close to the real meaning, but lots of times it was even the opposite of what was actually felt. Wait, I think that person was me! No wonder I’ve been so confused.

My point is that too often we do not recognize the friend, the relative, the co-worker- and the value that they have brought to the relationship. Too much is left to the broad category, “it goes without saying”. I am actively on a campaign to eliminate that phrase in my life. It will be said!

Say it, risk it. We don’t need empty flattery, it can be nice on the surface, but we know it’s empty, and more importantly, we know it is untrue. Truth and honesty are best friends and will not be separated.

How much better is it to affirm the truth? Encourage one another by expressing the honest impact of knowing one another! It could change the world!

Okay, okay. Depending upon the day, I’m not ready for everybody to go all touchy feely. I sometimes revel in my solitude. I am a rock, I am an island. It’s a balance. But being a balance requires that periodically both sides are attended.

Not everyone that you communicate with gets the status of “special”. If everything had the same status, nothing would stand out. No contrast, no shape and no edges. My suggestion is simply to share the truth, and let people know their value to you. One of the most powerful things you can say to another is “I see you!” I would suggest that this be modified with an ending, “And it matters to me!”

It can be said that I’m on “the other side of Wednesday”, which causes more thoughtful thoughts. This could be true, but it also doesn’t mean that I’m delusional. It is a good thing to be thankful, an even better thing to be encouraging. Thanks and encouragement are sadly missing in this world. Be the change!

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On Paint

Today I will buy acrylics and attempt a tribute painting. A tribute painting is similar to a tribute band. They play music in the style of their favorite group, listening very hard in order to play their songs with accuracy.

Watching the movie “Loving Vincent” has caused me to go “medieval” and find canvas and paint instead of the usual digital media that I have used the last twenty-five years. Whoa, wait! Good grief, it’s been thirty-three years. Umm, is this doable?

I haven’t decided on a particular Van Gogh. I’m torn between one of the cypress trees, and the portrait of Armand Roulin. Different stokes emphasized. Right now I’m still breaking things apart. What color fields were laid down first? What were the edges like? Where was the light coming from? What would the “topographical map” look like?

I remember working on another “tribute work” when I was in Korea during the winter of 1973. I had a lump of plasticine that had carved into dozens of heads. Each one unique and challenging with various expressions. Each one lived for about a week before being mushed into a ball, ready for another head to come. Sometimes I would carefully shave them of all facial and scalp hair.

Once I removed the skin to reveal the facial muscles, and then I went down to the bone, leaving a plasticine skull. I had a lot of time on my hands. I also created a huge amount of sculpture but only one lump of plasticine to show for it. I still have that mis-shapened lump in my garage, embedded with decades of garage dirt.

One day I found a pretty complete kit of oil pastel sticks. Someone had returned back to the states, and left the somewhat messy oil sticks behind. I thought that I might try to copy something I liked.

I picked “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. I had a pretty decent sized print that I studied with a magnifying glass. I was determined to do my best to create the feel of the painting. It was two different types of media, but I could give a good color treatment, and some of the strokes came across pretty well. The real neat thing was that I began to “know” the painting. It was a very cold winter on the DMZ, but I was warmed by the “old light” of Vincent’s swirling skies.

I finished the work but didn’t bring it home. When I left I was hoping that it was a permanent going, but I couldn’t take the chance by packing up my personal things. I left everything in my part of the quonset hut, as if I would be back in two weeks. “Starry Night” was tacked up, on the curving wall, above my bunk. Defining space and star dust in a flat rectangle, but still gently curving as physics would demand. .

Okay, that was forty-five years ago. It’s about time for another tribute piece. I did do another digital tribute work of Michelangelo’s Adam touching God’s finger. Wow, did I learn about that painting. I never knew that God was bringing the gift of Eve wrapped up in his billowing cloak, tucked in with a few cherubs. Everyone is focused on the two fingers almost touching, missing the action under the cloak.

I thinking about getting some big tubes of yellow, so maybe my choice is made.


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On Marriage

Today, friends become one.

Not only is this miraculous,

But I’m honored to witness it.

Being witness to a miracle has its ramifications.

You must tell about it,

“Two have become One!”

You must support it,

“ I, and my house, are forever there for you!”

You must take it into your heart,

“Search me now, search me in the future, my heart is yours!”

Miracles are joyous, and miracles bring a response!

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The Selfish Self

I’m thinking about words. I’m thinking specifically of my ability to string words together to form a sort of communication. If I wanted to express and transmit an idea or thought, I need to find the right words, the words that can be understood at the other end. If I don’t consider the recipient, then my intention may be valid, but the success is questionable.

I have often recalled a story about Leonard Cohen while he was composing a song. The melody was complete, the lyrics were nearly done, it would seem like the song could be in the next album. It did not happen, Leonard was unhappy with one word, he was one word shy of completing the song. It remained uncompleted for 18 months.

At some point one could wonder if the right word existed in common language. Perhaps something not in English? And then, of course, because it was part of a lyric, the number of syllables in the word were an issue. And perhaps the perfect word can only be assessed by the artist.

I don’t write songs, but sometimes I put words together without regard to the audience. I am at times a selfish purveyor of words.

There is a “common fact” that the Eskimos have a 147 words for snow. It’s not a fact. It was only said that there were “many more” words for snow. And then somehow the amount was 50 words, which was then changed to over 100 words. Actually, in the Sami language of the Laplanders there are over 300 different words for states of snow.

And yet we try to live with “love” and a few adjectives.

And then it comes down to this- how is it that poets, songwriters, authors… how is it that they succeed? Not only do they succeed, but they soar!!

“I heard of a man

Who says words so beautifully

That if he only speaks their name

Women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body

While silence blossoms like tumors on our lips

It’s because I hear a man climb stairs

And clear his throat outside our door.”

Leonard Cohen spoke this between sets at a concert I went to. I was floored and wondered “What song is this?” It wasn’t a song, it was a short poem he had written fifty years earlier. I found it published in his first book.

“Blago bung, blago bung

Basso fataka”

From Hugo Ball and Karawane

I am reduced to quoting bits and pieces, the scraps of what I remember, from works that express the meaning where I have no words of my own. A serial quoter coming from the paucity of connection. (Okay, well, those three words were pretty good.)

Maybe the answer is in my motive. I reference back to the phrase, “I am a selfish purveyor of words” I spew for my own amusement”, I create only for my own pleasure. But I secretly wish that others would peak through the curtain.

Time to end this thread.

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Van Gogh

I’ve just seen something so amazing that I hardly have words to describe how I feel.

I don’t know what was the first painting of Vincent’s that I saw. I suspect it was one of his portraits. Perhaps the blueish one with the piercing eyes. His eyes were always piercing… whatever painting drew me in, it wasn’t long before I was on a mission to see everything. I didn’t know that there was nearly 800 painted within eight years.

So many favorites, so many meaningful works, filled with greatness, strokes of joy and loss. I couldn’t get enough. I could hardly find a way to talk about how a felt, viewing his work, understanding his life. Then Don McLean wrote his song “Vincent”. He understood, he caught the essence and found the lost words to express what I felt. How did he do that?

I had honored Kirk Douglas for his work in the movie about Vincent, but it was still not what the song did for me. I was happy that another medium had captured something of how I felt about the power of Vincent Van Gogh.

And tonight I saw “Loving Vincent”, and I am in shock. Please, if you have ever found that Vincent struck a chord in your life. Please see this movie to experience an orchestral event. It is moving, it is beautiful, it is inspiring… the work jumps off the screen and embeds itself into your soul. I feel much the same way as when I first heard the song “Vincent”, and here is this animated movie, with a version of the song at the end. It is perfect! Please see it soon.

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Okay, I’m having that illusion while sitting in a parked car, you know the one, where you are certain that something is moving, but you are not sure who. I have checked the parked car across the street at least ten times, and I have marked their hubcaps on my window frame as a reference. The invisible driver has somehow gotten the car back to the original position, from where I thought he moved. I don’t know how he does it. Very fast reflexes.

I know there is movement. It is a scientific fact that even if we think we are perfectly still, we are moving at approximately 43,000 miles per hour towards Vega. That’s me, and you, the Earth, the Moon, and the entire solar system. Of course everything is moving as well. Even Vega isn’t stationary.

Come to think of it, probably for half the year we are going a little faster. We are orbiting the Sun at 66,000 thousand miles an hour, so we could at the most, add them together to get almost 100,000 miles per hour towards Vegas (unless we are orbiting sideways). And then half the year we are actually in retrograde and heading away from Vega at 23,000 miles per hour (unless we are orbiting sideways).

I also forgot that we are spinning on our own axis at 1,000 miles per hour. I suppose that is petty compared to the cosmic movements. Still, 1,000 miles per hour should requires a windscreen.

I have read that we are also rotating around the center of our Milky Way galaxy at approximately 483,000 miles per hour, and I don’t know if we are sideways or not, but the possibility is that for at least some time we are traveling at almost 600, 000 miles per hour.

And if everything lines up just right, at some point in the galactic future, we can add that speed to the speed that we are making from the center of the universe, (the Big Bang) so it just possible that you, and I, and that parked car across the street are moving at 1.9 million miles per hour.

This totally makes sense. I knew that invisible driver moved fast, I just didn’t know how fast.

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First Trike Ride

First ride after heart attack. Wow, it’s hot out here. I’m in my granny gear of all grannies. I can’t be any slower, but I’m still moving forward, heart rate hovering at 95. So I’m good.

I’m only a block from home but it might take two hours. Hahaha! Hey, uphill is still uphill and I’m not using the motor. Can’t, the battery died. Hahaha!

And I had a flat tire while resting. BwaHaHa!

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Morris Graves

I have come to Morris Graves too late.

It should have been sooner,

I could have learned so much,

If I had only listened to Ferlinghetti in 1965.

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Public Speaking

I’m not good at public speaking. I’ve never been good. I understand that there are classes in this, and I suppose they have been successful. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never taken one.

I don’t know, I’m sure it is some kind of social restraint that takes place. I do have something to say. I’m voicing ideas in my head, so close to verbalizing, but no, I remain mute.

Who will I disappoint? Who will I embarrass? Why such restraint?

These are good questions and I have the answers. I will only embarrass myself, but I’m okay with that. It’s a process. I’m only going to disappoint myself if I remain mute and isolated. And I restrain myself because I do not wish to offend or make anyone uncomfortable.

I cannot help that I’m a fairly good sized man, and while older, I do have a full beard. I can see that I may appear threatening to some, so I need to be careful in my interactions. Speaking in public may trigger some individuals and I would wish to avoid that. It’s not worth it, no matter how important my ideas might be.

When I write that down it seems so controlling. It’s as if I am predetermined to get some limit in a perfect stranger. Perhaps I should reconsider and not self-edit.

Perhaps I could ease myself into the practice. I could wear dead headphones, or a disconnected. Bluetooth headset. That way no one could be certain that I wasn’t having a conversation with someone at a distance. At the very most I wouldn’t be threatening, just a little rude.

I may tackle this public speaking successfully! Perhaps I’ll be sitting at a table next to you in Starbucks!

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The End of the World

The air is unhealthy. They are a few things that must be right, and when they are not it becomes a problem.

We can’t control anything, that much has been proven. But we have learned to expect some basics. One of the more important expectations is that we should be able to breathe.

I currently live in California during the summer of 2018. It seems that most of the state is burning. It is the end of the world for thousands. If it is not burning then the smoke from fires is bringing visibility down to a few miles. It’s not just red sunsets, it’s grey leaden skies with only a trace of blue directly above.

The news has 17 fires that are being fought by 14,000 fire fighters. One fire is ten times the size of San Francisco, and started when a trailer had a flat tire. The metal rim shot sparks out thirty feet from the freeway.

Over 8,400 homes and structures have been turned to ash. Remarkably, with all this destruction there has only been 6 deaths. But ask anyone and that is 6 too many. There will also be be many who will be suffering from health issues because of the smoke.

It is not just wood smoke, there is toxic materials from many of the man made structures. There are thousands of acres of poison oak that most people have very intense reactions, and the smoke from burning plants is even worse.

There really isn’t a recovery from this, there is only living with the scars.

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Who Am I?

He broke into a huge grin and squeezed my shoulder. “You know what, “ Dick said with good humor, “I don’t have the slightest idea who I am!”

-excerpt from “A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety” by Donald Hall

One can’t really avoid the various groups that we are associated with. Some we join with enthusiasm, some we are delegated to with reluctance. Most don’t demand that we become card carriers, but the cards still exist. I only had to survive to become a card carrying AARP person. I still wonder why I would want to carry the card.

In academia in the 1950s you could become a card carrying member of the American Communist Party. I don’t think you got a discount at the drug store. I think that perhaps you could show it at faculty teas, in order to shock, or to prove that you thought for yourself. A few years later Congress would search high and low for the card carriers. They didn’t care about the intensity or commitment of your beliefs, they cared about what cards you carried, because that is who you are.

I once hired a card carrying Communist to work with me in a tiny 10×10 office with three desks. He wasn’t the politically correct modern Communist, he was proudly a Stalinist. He thought I should be retrained in a Gulag. I suggested it was ironic that I had served in the government that allowed him the freedom to be a Stalinist. He agreed completely, and said that was the flaw in the system, and the reason why he would eventually win. He tried to convert me by logic.

I look through my wallet periodically, to test the theory that I could be identified by what I carry. I tried to use the evidence forensically, as if I was a dead body washed ashore.

I see that there is a CDL, a California drivers license. It has an address, so it’s a good assumption that I live there. Behind the drivers license is a Washington state drivers license, same last name, different first name. It is my fathers driver’s license. We look similar but he looks older. It could be proof that I’m aging backwards.

There is also a red, white and blue identity card issued by the Veterans Administration, this may prove that I was once in the armed services, and qualify for medical coverage under the Veterans Administration. It doesn’t say that I agreed with military policy, or that I was patriotic. It only implies that I served.

I have two different health insurance cards, two different credit cards, a car club card for towing, a card to enter a bulk purchase warehouse, and a lifetime card to enter national parks for free. I also have nine business cards from the college. There are three different job titles.

On the whole, it says a lot, but it does not define. There should be more. I feel a need to add more. I want a fishing license from New Hampshire, a parking ticket from a Tuscaloosa train station, a library card from Sheridan, Wyoming, and a motel receipt from Juneau, Alaska. This would give a far more interesting picture should I ever wash up on a beach.

It reminds me of my days in crypto school, intensive top secret communication training. I went to class each day with a Russian ruble in my pocket. I perversely flipped it between classes. I wonder how close I came to everything changing?

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I Rise

Nordham Castle Sunrise by Turner.

Each morning I rise. My eyes open to reveal dim images of the room, even dimmer images of the backyard on the other side of the window, in the darkling of the morning. I rise at pretty much the same time each morning.

I lay on my side attempting to rotate what I see, in order to make sense. My first few seconds being amazed that I am in the conscious world, where reality is not at my bidding.

I have fallen into a routine. The sun is thinking about cresting the hill. It’s not there yet, but the rays are proceeding the intended path. The light that fills the room is ricocheting from over the horizon, adding to the starlight that filters through the bay leaves. Starlight is just old light, possibly already extinguished for centuries.

I rise to wander into the kitchen to grind beans, fill the pot with water and wait for the hot brown liquid to filter through. It takes time.

I rise to find a bowl to crumble a banana. I’ve rejected a knife and the clean discs that can be made. I crush the naked banana between my finger tips into irregular sized bits. It’s messy but satisfying. The bits are covered with rolled oats, which is then covered by water from the tap. After three minutes in the microwave I am ready to eat.

The rolled oats with bananas has become iconic. I wonder how much value would be added by using bottled water, which I then heat by fire to a roiling boil. Nuking the tap water seems so… quick.

Perhaps in the winter I shall chop wood, strike a fire, swing the kettle over the flames and make the morning a spectacle. Or maybe I will just write about the potential, and nuke things for the ease.

So my routine is mostly set. A solitary morning of oat meal and coffee, with the sun struggling to break into morning. The rest of the day will play itself out with phone calls, texts, family and friends. Anything can happen!

Because I rise!

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How to Paint a Wall

In the spring of 1968 I wanted to go to college. I had spent all of the summer after high school traveling around the western states, hiking and hitchhiking. By the time I returned home I was too late to register for any college, including my local community college.

I spent the fall semester of 1967 going to the library determined to read the entire stack that included philosophy and religion. I struggled with the Upanishad’s and Veda’s, handled Buddhism pretty well, got stuck on Oahspe and comparative Philosophy. So, naturally I decided to major in philosophy when I finally entered college. Great job opportunities in philosophy.

When the spring semester came around I tried to register. Still not being aware of what it was like to enter college I was far too late to register at the state school, so I tried to register at the local community college. I was late there as well, but they would let me register for two classes as a trial. If I succeeded I could continue as a full-time student in the fall, and get my draft exemption.

At least I was a college student with my two classes. I signed up as a philosophy major taking a humanities class, and a philosophy class. I felt well prepared. Both classes were taught by the same professor, Dr. Pasquale Anania. I better like this professor.

I did not like him, I loved him. He was like nothing I had ever experienced, radical in the extreme. He had two phd’s in the hard sciences, not those crappy phd’s in education that you can pay $10,000 from a diploma mill. He had an interesting background and was very well read. He was absolutely despised by his fellow faculty. I thought they were jealous.

Years later I found out the source of their dislike. They thought he was lazy, pompous, and mostly a liar. A really big fat liar. Lying in academia is the worst offense, it’s like plagiarism. They also found his teaching style suspect. He had an official outline, and handouts for every class. If you were brave enough to ask questions about the handouts he would answer directly. But if no student had questions he would lecture on anything that currently was on his mind. And his mind wandered.

That is what I really loved about him. I learned so much that wasn’t about humanities/philosophy. One day he started the class by asking, “How do you paint a wall?” Then he said he had spent the weekend watching professional painters painting his home. It seemed to him that they painted differently than what he had always done. Logic would state that there are five possibilities. 1) left to right 2) right to left 3) top to bottom 4) bottom to top, or finally 5) center outwards.

What Dr. Anania observed was none of these. Instead, he saw the painters apply a blob of thick paint somewhere on the wall, then every subsequent stroke of paint was directed towards it. You paint into the paint, you never drag it out. The wall is completely covered in one coat.

I am aware of Kant, Locke and Aristotle. I do not use their philosophies. I have painted dozens of walls with professional results.

After years of student with Dr. Anania I was aware of all the questionable stories of his personal life. I fully understood why many, or most of his stories were unbelievable. Speech writer for Harry Truman? Shipwrecked on a deserted island during WWII? His mother a famous opera singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera? I mean, come on, one amazing story after another.

In 1971 I found myself drafted, then reenlisted in the US Army. I was there in New Jersey at advanced training in crypto-electronics. I was also allowed to live off-post while going to school. I had a one room apartment, bath down the hall, on the second story of an old Victorian near the ocean beach. Mr. Carlo Ponti was my landlord, he was quite elderly and puttered in the garden on weekend mornings.

I watched him one Saturday and he suddenly burst into song. It wasn’t a meek muttering, it was fully operatic and wonderful!! I was mesmerized and decide to go downstairs to talk with him.

“Mr. Ponti, that was amazing! You could have been a professional!”

“I was a professional, for years I performed regularly at the New York Metropolitan Opera.”

Bells went off in my head, NY Met?

“Mr. Ponti, did you ever run into a singer by the name of Maria Anania?”

“Yes, of course. She was a great artist, and we became very good friends. I used to babysit her little boy, Pasquale!”

Years later Pat Anania and I became good friends. I never doubted any of his stories. I still give him credit of my knowing how to paint a wall.

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Thinking on Poetry

I’ve been victimized by my children. Again! It’s always something. Sometimes it’s family stories where things are discussed in low tones, I’m usually present, but I’m pretending to nap. Well, I am napping, but I’m also awake!

I hear sighs and laughter, then I hear my name, em… title. “Then Daddy went berserk and yelled at us.” Apparently most of their young life was living with a berserker, a seething mound of lava with a thin crust. This is a narrative that is completely new to me. Okay, once I gave two of my daughters knives, and told them to completely end their hate filled bickering, but I did that in a very calm voice and manner.

Not all of the victimization is false narratives. Sometimes they do things “for my own good.” It’s always out of thoughtfulness and love. I appreciate that.

Recently my wife did something similar. She had heard of an audition for movie extras and thought that I might like that. I do not like that, I have never liked that and I have never been interested. I told her absolutely “No way!”, she told me the movie was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. I paused.

Okay, I called the casting director, heard the speal and deadline, then I said no. My wife had called to promise that she would drive me to fitting, then told me the casting director almost cried. I called again to say yes, she did almost cry.

The long and the short of it was that I finally went, dressed up as a drunk beat poet from the 40s, sat in a bar for the last scene, and that was it. My fifteen seconds of fame. Later I was cut on the editing floor, and replaced by a shot of a typewriter. No beat poet for me, drunk or sober.

Even more recently another daughter volunteered me to a producer collecting readers of poetry. She told him that she was an actress, but that her father had God-like qualities to his voice. Well, it was true that I did play an offstage voice from above in a local community college play. I just call it my late night jazz FM voice.

My daughter asked me to follow up if I was interested. I hate it when I know, that they know, when I’m interested. So I called. I had a great conversation with a retired gentleman about my age, whose mission in life was to record English speaking poets. He believes that there is something extra special about the poem being read aloud. I completely agree.

So far he has enlisted the aid of about 50 readers, some of them published poets, all of them lovers of poetry. He suggested that I read Donald Hall. I think he would like me to record some of his. I’ve never heard of him, but I looked him up, and I really liked what I saw. I also told him I liked Richard Brautigan. He was somewhat shocked to remember him and agreed he should be recorded.

Okay, I’m on his contact list, I may show up at his recording studio.

The website is www.voetica.com. Please poke around and let me know your thoughts.

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Vagus Nerve

…Its first stop was my stomach, whose complex work is under the control of what’s sometimes called “the little brain”, a network of neurons that line your stomach and your gut. Surprisingly, there are over 100 million of these cells in your gut, as many as there are in the head of a cat. Jul 11, 2012”

I once heard that some monkeys have a second brain that is dedicated to moving their tail. Flying and leaping through branches is a simple as getting both brains on the same wavelength. Well, maybe not that simple if you have to think about it… which brain is thinking?

This is one of those random things that stick around, generally being unvoiced, but being remembered for years. If you do voice these things you are branded as quirky at best, or incredibly boring or worse. So, why is this type of data so “sticky”. I forget important passwords everyday and I really need to remember them.

It’s possibly because one brain seems so incredibly inadequate. We need all the help possible. There was once a science fiction movie titled, “The Man with Two Brains”. It must be an issue or there would not have been a movie made about it. (I will write more about the sociological theory of movies documenting issues)

Yesterday I’m cruising through my random Google searches and I stumble upon that paragraph concerning brainlike cells outside the brain proper. And it references the size of a cats brain! I love it! I just knew that my gut feelings were smarter than my cat.

And that’s not all, there are deposits of these brainlike cells in the heart, near the lungs, packed next the spinal cord, even a suspicious lump near the tail bone. Lots of brain tissue in addition to the brain. Great, and I still feel I need help.

Now to read more about the Vagus Nerve. It seems that this communication highway may connect everything on a common party line. I’ve even been warned that pushing too hard while in the bathroom can cause a heart attack. What doesn’t cause a heart attack?

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Between the Waiting…

Life is what happens between the waiting. My dog has developed a bad habit. He watches the door. When someone leaves, he waits for them to come back. Most of the time they have gone out for the mail, to the car, or the garbage, and he is rewarded with their immediate return. This has happened often enough that he has been trained, so he waits. Sometimes for hours on end.

Time is such a complicated thing, worthy of a very long, possibly boring book. One of the longest boring chapters is probably the expectation of time. “Something is going to happen in the future, sometimes you are given a date, sometimes you are told to wait…” This is almost poetic!

News flash! Something is always happening. Between the expectations, something always occurs. We encapsulate an idea, make it important, then wait for the future important idea. The problem is that we would like to have blank space between the two ideas. Why is that?

Imagine if we had the ability to self-induce a coma. If we then had a toothache on Monday, and we were told that a root canal was planned on Wednesday, well… coma time! Extend that concept to having cancer, then treatment, then see the results in three months. Coma time?

The expectation of time… reminds me of the old joke, “Do you want to hear God laugh? Tell him your plans!” We are doomed at both ends. Either we make no plans between expected events, or we create elaborately detailed plans for something that may not ever occur. Okay, but what is worse? And by worse I’m thinking, what creates an unhealthy choice in living? Wow, such subjectivity! This is good, this is bad.

A conscious mind makes decisions. Decisions are based upon knowledge, values, and experiences. Sometimes these are connected, sometimes they are not. Having the ability to isolate events in time does not change time, time is a river, time flows. Shutting down between time events effectively removes you from the river. Don’t do that! You are not a dog!

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Heart Tales #3

An update from the heart attack… The word is wait. Not enough information. Apparently there are three things to consider.

1. The heart attack can damage the muscle. It would be nice to know how much is damaged. Better to force the heart to work overtime, and then measure the results. They call it a stress test. Better to stress out the heart after it has recovered. So, wait…

2. My right artery is huge. Most right arteries are larger. Mine is larger than large. The good news is that it will take a lot to close it back up again. They placed a wire stent to force it open but the body wants to cover the stent with tissue. The body will do that, but it can go wacky and keep covering the tissue with more tissue. It takes several months to know what is happening. So, wait…

3. Being in better shape, eating better, establishing a better lifestyle is always good. It took a long time of bad habits to get to the event. Controlling blood sugar, losing weight, reducing fat cells floating around, is all good. Developing good habits over time is better. So, wait…

If I had gone to the cardio hospital first, they probably would have done the triple by-pass, and I would have been recovered by now. Missed that by a couple of miles. I have been living a month to month existence for awhile, it looks like nothing is going to change. My focus will be to live a full life in between the waiting. That is a challenge, but doable.

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Follow the Leader

This may be the most basic of all childhood games. The rules are simple. Choose a leader, then do everything they do until a new leader is chosen. Leadership generally gets shared but creative, fun leadership sometimes trumps over boring a leader that brings boring activity.

I saw a Ted Talk recently, given by Lt. General Mark Hertling. It was an amazingly forward thinking talk, and it convinced me of two important things. It reminded me that I have had the privilege to know several military leaders that I would follow anywhere. And the second, is that some military leaders have the amazing ability to see a problem, and start to work on a solution long before anyone else is aware of the gravity.

Gen. Hertling has had a long a interesting career. The definition of a well rounded professional soldier can hardly find a better individual. Highly trained as a combat soldier, Hertling was promoted to a command for basic training.

I remember basic training. Eight weeks of grueling physical and mental training. I’m not sure the mental training was completed in time, but the physical training was well along the way.

I had already done a dozen or so extended hiking expeditions with a heavy pack as a civilian. The military training pushed that further than I have ever been. The spare tire that I was beginning to build disappeared pretty quickly. Morning PT before breakfast created an appetite, but that was burned off easily. We even had a twenty foot section of “monkey bars” to travel just in order to get to the mess hall door.

Imagine my surprise by hearing the general say that a huge majority of the initial new recruits failed to qualify physically, and were rejected. In the 70s we were mostly draftees and we still qualified. What was different?

Most of today’s physical rejection comes from new recruits being obese. Not just a couch potato, but a serious, video gaming, professional couch potato with no high school credits in PE.


Somehow, boards of education all across the country have made PE optional in the last years of high school, so many students have “opted” out. At the same time, “screen activity” has increased to five or six hours a day on the average. Not only has cable options increased by hundreds of channels, but the video industry has captured several generations of youth.

I might add, captured, and placed in concentration camps. Oh, the camps are comfortable, because it is their own bedrooms and living rooms. And they also come with all the sugar drinks and snacks that one can eat.

But, if an enemy wanted to weaken a country, they don’t have to place the population in camps, they just have to invent a new addicting video game. It helps if you also cancel all high school PE.

This was basically the point that the General was making. He worried that he could not fill his slots for future soldiers. Less than one percent of the population is in the military currently and he didn’t think that this was sustainable.

There is a real crisis facing us. Can we still follow the leader? Or are we too winded for even the one percent of us that is needed? Watch the TedTalk.

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I used to love backpacking. No, that’s not right, I still love backpacking, it’s just that I haven’t done it in awhile. Not only did I love backpacking, but in many ways it can be seen as my life parable.

A good friend of mine is parable driven, using the words of our Savior to open up new thoughts about God. We share that perspective.

As a parable we can break backpacking down to some basic components. 1) there is a destination. 2) there is a need to go there as a self-contained entity. 3) time is an important consideration.

Backpacking takes planning. One of the first books that I read about backpacking was “The Complete Walker” by Colin Fletcher. This was a marvelous book by an English author that should still be read today. Colin broke the subject down in a slightly different way. He said the first concern was the “foundation” of successful backpacking, and that was the shoe. One cannot expect to travel hundreds of miles over different terrain without considering the types of shoes on your feet..

I took his advice seriously because I had spent two years hitchhiking the Western states in beat-up sandals. I may have gotten excessive when I purchased three pairs of expensive but ugly Pivetta Eigers. I was struck by the authors insistence of only having holes for the laces. Many of the hiking boots sported the metal clips that used a speed lacing technique. Colin said, “when you are fifty miles from the closest civilization, holes in your boots do not break.”

Back to backpacking as a parable.

1). There is a destination. If you plan to disappear into the wilderness the first obligation is to tell people where you plan to go. The reason is obviously based upon the possibility of accidents. Posting a hiking plan is a smart move, in some cases a necessary action. The forest rangers need to know where, when, and how long people are wandering in the mountains.

More importantly, backpacking without a destination doesn’t exist. You will arrive someplace after miles of hiking, if you don’t… then it is because you never left. There is a common phrase, “If you have no destination, then any path will lead you there!” This is a well-meaning phrase, but not accurate. If you have no destination, you are not traveling. Better to say, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any path will get you there.” This is an important difference.

Choosing a destination is often based upon the expectation of seeing or experiencing something specific when you arrive. It can often be a set trail for (XX) amount of days which may give dozens of difference experiences.

2 The choice in travel is to attempt self-sufficiency. This is not perfectly planned, there all always extenuating circumstances. Basically, this is not a day-hike where snacks are at the next store, and a place to sleep is prepared by using a plastic card to rent a motel room. You carry all the snacks you plan to eat, you carry your shelter and sleeping gear, and you carry all the water and food that you might consume.

One of the more interesting decisions is exactly how much food and water can you carry? Obviously you would eventually need to be resupplied. Unless there is a local grocery store in the mountains, you are restricted by how much food you have, the possibility of hunting and gathering is based upon skill and locale. A few wild mushrooms and herbs are a great find. And fresh stream bred fish can make a great breakfast. While I carry some line and hooks, I have used them three times in my 12,000 hours of backpacking.

Studies have shown the people may live as long as forty days without food, so long as there is still water. This could lead the backpacker to shift the balance by carrying more water. As important as water is, the general plan is to make use of local water sources. With proper filtration, even the muddy ditch can provide all the water needed for several meals, so I never carried much more than a quart. Of course all that changed when hiking terrain that was low on water.

Water was mostly foraged from running streams encountered while hiking. This is not true for the solid food of the meal. Aside from the rare fish, all food is carried in. In order to carry more, with increased nutritional value, some foods can be “freeze dried”, reducing the weight. Some companies have spent millions in order to have tasty, light weight prepared meals for hikers. I have made use of all of them, including raw brown rice and oatmeal. A tasty meal at ten thousand feet is a treat.

After boots, food/water there is a concern for shelter. A good, warm sleeping bag is the difference between joy and misery. I have spent much time and research in this area, and I have designed and sewn at least four artic-level sleeping bags. The most used project that I’ve ever created.

Several pounds of supplies fill out the remaining self-sufficiency needs. Maps, compass, first aid, optics, cords, safety rope, belt knife, etc are just some of the extras needed.

The lie, of course, is that I was now self-sufficient. What is true is that I might be able to delay my need to go shopping for a few days.

What strikes me now is, what made me gravitate to this activity? It’s possible it was extending into my adult-life the wonderful experiences of camping with my parents.

Perhaps it meshed with my ability to be alone with some satisfaction. Certainly I felt tested by the challenge of preparation. Maybe, I was also attracted to the visual delights of the wilderness.

Another truth is that many aphorisms created by hiking became important in a lifetime of choices.

“If you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else will step in to give you one, and you will be walking a path different from your own.”

“Spend a certain amount of time turning around on the trail and looking back. You may need to know what it looks like in order to get home.”

“Conserve your fuel until you need it. Drink your water often. Better to carry water on the inside, than in your pack.”

“Do not become ‘trail hypnotized’, look up and around, not only for enjoyment, but also to see where you are.”

“Make adjustment to the trail you are walking. Errors and poor choices can occur, correcting them early saves time and energy.”

“Walk lightly, don’t leave your garbage behind.”

I have made a quick estimate of my time commitment to backpacking. I have over 500 days and 12,000 hours clocked so far. I am ready for more.

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Heart Tales, No. 2

What do we know of the heart? We know it is achy/breaky at times. Sometimes it trembles. It is also strong and brave. The very word courage comes from the French root “cour”, meaning heart.

Apparently the heart thinks about things, or at least forms opinions. Like the stomach or intestines, we tend to rely upon the feedback. Although the heart appears to specialize in matters of emotions.

Proof of this comes around every February with millions of representations of hearts (sometimes with Cupid’s arrow) in cards, posters, and advertising. We seem to be good with this. I’m trying to visualize the same advertising with images of a brain pierced by a arrow, because we have used logic to choose a significant other. Not a pretty image.

The heart is a muscle, although in regards to being human it is rarely consumed. In general, the organs are classified as sweetbreads when consumed. It is a mystery concerning the root source of words. There has been several depictions of taking a bite of a human heart, and it is all wrapped up in the myth of the transference of power, bravery, and courage. Apparently in these cases it must be fresh and uncooked.

There are several dozen recipes on the net for beef heart. Much attention is applied to trimming anything “chewy”, even more to adding spices and different marinades. Apparently, to some folks, there is a slight metallic aftertaste, perhaps iron.

In general the whole area of consuming “sweetbreads” can be summed up by using the other categorical word “offal”. Yep, eating offal is awful.

Back to the heart as a muscle. We need to exercise this “muscle pump”, just like any other muscle. We need to push just a little past comfort if we are to gain strength.

My job for the next few weeks is to push, pause, reflect and listen to what my heart is telling me. The information I want is that my heart is healing. It wants to tell me, “Love is a many splendored thing…”

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Heart Tales, No. 1

It’s been a day since I spoke with the doctor who placed the stent in my right artery. I wasn’t allowed to see him, but I could talk with him.

It turns out that I went to the closest medical facility, instead of going to a hospital that was in my network according to my HMO plan. I am not an expert in medical insurance, and it is clear to me now that I will never be an expert. It’s obvious that people will be mostly ignorant until one uses the system by choice, or by emergency.

My medical plan is excellent, if it is an emergency then you are covered anywhere in the world. If it is not an emergency then you had better go to services in your network. Additionally, I got old and I’m covered by Medicare, that adds another huge level of complexity.

I used to think I was competent, well read, well educated… that may be, but it does not give you any understanding of how to weave through medical issues in today’s culture.

I am finished with the emergency, so now my coverage is different. The follow up appointment with the doctor who attended me is not in my network, so I can’t see him. I went to the appointment anyway, but I was denied at the reception desk.

I explained that I was also under Medicare, they don’t take Medicare. I asked if I could pay out of pocket. They said Medicare won’t allow it.

Just a little bit of Catch 22. The doctor recognized this and stepped out into the lobby to speak to me, he ended up saying exactly what he would have said in his office.

The long and the short of it is that I need to go back to the hospital at the end of the month for open heart surgery. They will cut and crack my chest, pluck out an artery from my leg, then stitch in a replacement for at least the arteries that are clogged.

I knew this from the beginning, but I had somehow convinced myself that I was better, and nothing more was necessary. Hah!

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Living life effectively is all about balance. Similar to a bicycle on a narrow path, you want to steer away from the edges, you can’t just arbitrarily jerk the handlebars away from the danger, you have to have balance, in addition to control. Transitions need to be smooth, slow and sure.

Balance is the artful way to live. Balance feels comfortable and secure. Balance is having the ability to see the path ahead and to make only slight adjustments in order to stay on track. Balance is the ability to stop, and not immediately tip over.

Balance is delicate, once obtained you can hold it forever, but the slightest shift can bring disaster. Balance is fair, ideas and actions are weighed and treated equally.

Balance is something learned, sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it takes years.

My thoughts after this heart attack have mostly been about excess, balance, and the opposite of excess. It can be said that an excess of fats in my diet has led to the heart attack. Probably true, possibly if I had a better balanced diet, I could have kept my arteries healthier. Let’s say that every other meal has taste, then followed by a meal with ruffage for your heart. That would be balanced!

Instead, I am faced with trying to balance after I’ve already fallen off. Okay. I can do this. I’ve eaten well for 69 years, time to chew cud for awhile.

The same goes for exercise, sleep/rest. The formula is to careful build habits that does not fall victim to excess. The old “too much of a good thing is not a good thing”. The interesting thing about balance is that neither the good, nor the bad habits are to be prominent.

Is it true? Is it a good thing to completely remove bad habits? If we have the Ying and the Yang, does removing one of them create the sound of one hand clapping?

For the sake of effective applause, we should eat fatty cheese cake with our kale.

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