I Had a Sister

I had a sister once. Well, actually I never knew her, she had died five years before I was born. She was born on June 10, I was born on June 11. She died on June 7, she was three days shy of her eighth birthday.

The death of a child from any cause is a family tragedy. Often, when looking at genealogical records one can see the various moves of the family were marked by a recent death, often of a child. Child mortality was considerably higher back then. Nearly every family shared in this story. Whether it was bad water, the flu, or accidents, the family often reacted by selling everything and moving someplace different. Someplace that offered hope, and safety. My family moved from North Dakota to California.

It doesn’t mean that they were free from the memories. My mother carried some guilt for nearly fifty years. Scarlet Fever was often a killer back then. It began as a sore throat and progressed to hemorrhaging ulcers. There wasn’t much that could be done. Caught early enough, with a good doctor, there might be a chance. Mostly not. My mother didn’t see a doctor until the end, and too late.

The sad thing was that there was a cure. Civilian doctors did not have access, but penicillin was available to the military, and it would have stopped the infection cold. This was explained to my mother, but it made no difference. She was not able to protect her little girl.

It was years before I knew that I had a sister. I wondered a little why my birthday seemed to make my mother sad. Later, my mother told me that she was terrified that I would be born on the anniversary of Gayle’s death.

As time went on I grew to accept my unknown sister. I did wonder what type of impact she would have had. I wondered about her possible future, the family she would have had. All I had were a few photos, less than a dozen. She appeared happy, bright, thoughtful. I know I would have liked her.

I tried a color pencil sketch, I think her hair was golden, but I can’t tell from the photos. In my mind’s eye it was golden.

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Vagus Nerve

Saw a film where the bad guy wanted children to stay young and play with him. A twisted sort of Peter Pan. His plan utilized a lobotomy with a Black & Decker. Gross film, don’t watch it. But it got me thinking about thinking.

I’d like to think that I’m cruising around using the higher parts of my cortex. I know that we generally use very little of our potential, but I take some pride in that I have kept my “lizard brain” in check.

Now I’m not so sure. Wait, I think the scaly thinker is still buried, but I may have descended even deeper.

The possibility exists that I have been cruising around accessing clumps of neurons around my heart, lungs, stomach, and even my throat. Expand the concept of thinking “with my gut”.

Supposedly the Vagus nerve takes these signals back up to that brain, where stuff is sorted out, and decisions are made before actions.

So, lately I find that I “wake” up looking in the refrigerator, trying to find the kale and Greek yogurt dip. I didn’t start out looking for that. I don’t even remember getting out of my chair.

There is a lot of thinking (and actions) going on, and I’m mostly clueless. Do a quick google search of Vagus Nerve and I bet you will have questions.

I only recently became aware of another aspect. While in the hospital they don’t want to let you leave until all your functions are normal. Constipation is not acceptable. However, they warn you to not “push” with vigor. Apparently the Vagus Nerve can give you a heart attack or stroke. Or maybe the brain just shuts down.

In conclusion, I think I thinking outside the box, I’m actually thinking outside the brain, and it’s a little scary.

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One Hit Wonders

I lived in Point Richmond, California on and off for about five years. Some apartments were converted hallways, some were the leftover spaces of a remodel. One apartment was actually an apartment on the top of a hill, at the end of a cul de sac. I didn’t have a view, but if I walked outside and crossed the street, there was a vacant lot, and I had the whole bay spread before me. I would often take my morning coffee there, sitting in the grass and slight breeze.

I had noticed another guy, a neighbor, that periodically walked around the area. He had a bar across his shoulder with two super 8mm film cameras mounted side by side. It looked odd and warranted a question.

Finally, after a few weeks I asked him two questions. 1) what are you doing, and 2) what do you do that allows you to be free most mornings. I had assumed that he had a swing job similar to mine.

His response was that he was trying to master 3D movie making, and he didn’t have a job, he just got a monthly royalty check.

Completely disinterested in his passion, I pressed on to ask “a check? For what reason?” Very rude of me, but I was young.

He said that he wrote a song.

I pondered this quickly. Could I write a song to allow for more free time? He said song, singular. That couldn’t be hard. So I asked the name of his song and did he make a record.

He said he didn’t sing it, he just wrote it. Then he said he really didn’t even write the tune, he just wrote the lyrics. Damn, I could do that!

Apparently he made enough money to live comfortably, buy a car, rent a nice apartment, and walk around with movie cameras. Okay, what wonderful song was this?

He replied, “Puff, the Magic Dragon”!

He became a multi-millionaire, not because of Puff, but Puff allowed him to become the world’s foremost expert on 3D, and his technology is currently in 25,000 theaters world wide.

I focused on the songwriting, the easy one hit wonder. I was young and… stupid.

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A friend used this word recently and I realized that I haven’t poked at the concept. I have used the word, and I believe I have been intimate, but I haven’t really defined the edges.

The secret ingredient to any successful relationship. By definition it is obviously mutual. Wait, a minute… only if it is mutual is it successful. What if intimacy is not mutual, what does it look like to both parties?

On the one side it is constantly being vulnerable, exposed the most tender parts of your soul. There is almost the suggestion of sharing secrets when you are intimate. When successful, both parties hold shared knowledge very carefully. When only one party is intimate then their inner most thoughts and feelings are not secure. They may or may not be disclosed because there is no expectation of any kind of special relationship. It looks very much like an abusive relationship.

On the other side, someone who expresses intimacy is stepping on boundaries. It is like you have discovered a stalker. Your suspicions are immediately in place. What do they want? Why do they want it? How come I’m being dragged into this unwanted relationship? This relationship seems wildly inappropriate and smothering.

How do you move from a good relationship to an intimate relationship? Hmm, slowly. Very slowly!

It starts with transparency, which suggests of sharing secrets or generally unknown factors. We all have a public persona, and relationships can be based upon that persona. You seem to be like able, attractive, and kind. Let’s get to know each other! Then the public persona evaporates like a mist and you are left standing in disheveled clothes, scratching your armpits, and passing gas.

I am not suggesting that openly gross behavior is the path to intimacy. But I am suggesting that the protective walls that we build up must be slowly torn down. It’s a scary process and it must be a joint affair. There are plenty of examples when both people are removing barriers, but one or the other doesn’t see that the removed barriers are equal in weight. This is probably the most significant way that intimacy fails. Both parties are trying, but not in the same mutual fashion.

My wife is very much a fan of “love languages”. It’s the concept that each of us have very specific important ways to communicate. You don’t need to share the same love language, although that is very convenient, but you must be able to translate on the fly. You must know the words and concepts that break through to the inner person. When this happens there is intimacy.

To recap…

1. Establish transparency, be honest and open, pay articulations attention to your goals and aspirations.

2. Learn each other’s love languages. Note areas that are commanded, but pay special attention to those areas that are not common. Become good at using words and actions that are meaningful to the other person.

3. Go slowly. Go very slowly, but show progress. No one likes a stagnant relationship. But nothing terrifies as much as a runaway train, particularly when you are the primary passenger.

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We live by the numbers. We magically are able to drive when we get a certain age, we can imbibe alcohol at another age, and we can vote in our elections. There is no proof that we are truly qualified for any of this, we simply have reached a number that tells us that we can do them.

Of course these numbers are actually measuring time. Numbers can also be used in other ways. I am a size 12 for my shoes, a size 44 in a suit jacket. My pants have gone from a 46 down to a 40 (yay!)

People around the world are divided and categorized by numbers tied to mental acuity. Mensa requires that you have scored 132 or 148, depending. Mensa is a club for smartys. I’m probably sarcastic because I don’t belong. Wait a minute, I’m sarcastic because it’s my gift!

I’m focusing on numbers because of the implications towards life or death. Some numbers are life, some numbers are death. Eventually.

Every three months my blood is tested. When numbers rise it is a bad thing. There is not much to do about the rising numbers, there is no procedure, no cure. It just a measure of things getting worse.

I’ve been living with this process for about two years. For nine months the number was “zero”, that is called a win or remission. Then after the next three months it rose to .015. Not much difference, but enough to throw remission in the toilet.

So for about a year and a half the three month wait has been a fixture. In my better moments I have focused upon concept that life occurs during the waiting. It is a worthy thought, and it has helped for several months, until the next measurement when the numbers doubled.

It’s concept is still true but the numbers have a way of taking charge.

So, I just finished another three month wait and the numbers went down, went down a lot. What does this mean? No one is certain about the reason. Bad things sometimes takes a vacation? They weren’t bad things in the first place? The blood technician is drunk most of the time and unreliable?

In the end, I will live or die by the numbers. For the next three months I will live.

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Trespass the Eyes?

I’ve been watching a few too many YouTube videos. I’ve been struck by how often a narrative is used to justify behaviors. It’s also as if their has been a secret script passed around. Everyone has read the script, and most have memorized the script, so in actor’s terms they are “off book”.

It doesn’t mean that they have analyzed the words and their meaning, it just means they get to say it with conviction. For example I’ve watched a few “first amendment audits”. This is where people take their video cameras out in the public, and film what they can see. It stems from a Supreme Court ruling that the police cannot trespass the eyes. You can keep people off private property but you can’t forbid them from looking at private property. The point being that if you can see it, then you can take a video or a photograph of it. If you don’t like it, build a fence.

This was a huge decision because many people have strong opinions about privacy. Personal privacy and corporate privacy. The Supreme Court decision was based on a simple premise, if you were standing on public property, or in an area open to the public, then everything that you see is available to be photographed. There is no expectation of privacy in public, with a few minor exceptions.

There can be areas that are restricted, but they must be clearly marked. Some rooms in public buildings have restricted access. Some outside areas of public facilities are also restricted, but they must also have clear signage.

All private businesses that are open to the public have the right to ask you to leave or be trespassed. To be trespassed you must be warned to leave, if you don’t leave, or return, then the police can be called. When the police come they must warn you to leave as well, then if you don’t leave you can be trespassed and arrested. All this interaction can be filmed.

There is one rarely understood expectation of privacy in public. Speaking on a cell phone is not protected. Speaking on a pay phone, or a land line phone is fully protected. In the old days it was obvious, because you made the call from your house or business. Out in the public you called from a “phone booth”. Not only did you have the expectation of privacy, but you could change into a super hero costume. Later, pay phones would have these little “sound wings” on either side. Yes, they did cut down on external noise, but they also showed that what you were saying is private. If you take photos or video of people speaking on pay phones, then you are breaking the law.

Interestingly, I haven’t seen a pay phone in public for years. Everyone is talking on cell phones, and there is no expectation of privacy for them. You are using public bandwidth for transmission.

Back to the topic of “first amendment audits.”

There are literally hundreds of individuals that want to “re-educate the public, and public officials of this new ruling. Some of these photographers are pleasant people. Some of these are really obnoxious. All of them are legally in the right.

On the one side the secret script is peppered with the same phrases, “Am I being detained?”, “Is being suspicious a felony or a misdemeanor?”, “If I am free to go, then I am free to stay!” “I am not responsible for you feeling uncomfortable!”, “Your uncomfort does not trump my Constitutional rights!”

Perhaps the script is not so secret, because if you are going to perform these audits, then you will try to prepare yourself. You will watch YouTube videos, and say the same things in the same way. Nerves come into play so it may come across differently.

The curious narrative comes from the other side. It comes from the security guard, the official, the police, and sometimes the public. “You have to understand, in this day and age…”. Wow, this was a real shock because it is clear that while it is a script, it comes out so naturally. Somebody put those words together for the first time, and it spread like a virus.

It gives the opinion that the user has done the research, analyzed the facts, and has logically come to a rational conclusion. No wonder it is used so much. “In this day and age…”. Sometimes the phrase is punctuated with the additional phrase “… after 9-11”.

The problem is that it doesn’t take in the legal right. It may reference a policy, but policy is not law. It also may point to a moral issue, but you can’t legislate morality.

This is a built in conflict. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case one side is armed with a gun, and the other side is armed with a camera.

So words are very important, the script that we use can determine how we act out the drama.

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Prophecy and Prophets

I am not an expert here, but these are my thoughts.

Almost every believer in God would agree that being in the center of God’s will is what they desire. This simple concept has played out in scripture and secular literature.

The problem comes when we aren’t sure of the plan that God has for us. Without trumpets in the sky, a burning pillar of fire, or a distinct audible voice, we are often confused and often paralyzed.

There are several ways to approach discerning God’s will. First and foremost, is to practice the art of discernment. I know that this sounds like a circular argument, but it isn’t. Discernment is not something that you just turn on, and then use. It does take practice, as you won’t “get it right” immediately.

My experience is the same for most things in life. Practice with 10,000 events and you might get good at the event. Work fulltime at something for ten years and you might be considered professional.

Discernment for God’s will adds another factor, you must have a deep personal relationship with God. Obviously this requires that you believe in Him, but it also means that you communicate with Him. It may seem like a one way process for a time, but over time you can “discern” God’s response to your communication.

A huge part of understanding your “God Plan”, is to realize that God has a linear long view. By this I mean that with infinite knowledge comes infinite patience. The plan for your life is likely made up of slow development of a combination of natural gifts. Some of these gifts require a lot of practice before they can be used. Also, bear in mind, that God can suddenly make you a blacksmith with no warning. Generally though, if you carefully catalog the natural gifts that you are born with, then the plan for your life can almost be seen.

Lastly, I have been writing about an individua’ls quest for God’s plan. This has not always been the example we read about. Prophets and prophecies are God’s plans that are known through a separate individual. A human individual!

This has huge problems that are inherent. The Israelites had a custom of stoning to death individuals who said they were prophets, but ended up being wrong. Nearly all of the scriptural prophets started out with small accurate prophecies and then built up to larger prophecies.

So why do we have prophets? It could be that the culture had become so blind that they could not see God in their lives. But if this is so,then why would they even listen to God’s prophet? The answer is that they mostly didn’t, until it was too late. Having prophets is almost admitting that the general public is out of touch with God. Responding to prophets may call into question your personal relationship with God.

We mostly do not have individuals who call themselves prophets. This might be a good thing on several levels. It might mean that we rely are our own relationship and discernment. But just because they don’t call themselves prophets it doesn’t mean that they don’t consider themselves prophetic.

How often have you heard someone give their idea of the future, mostly in negative terms? I believe they do this for their own benefit. It is the old “I told you so” syndrome. They attempt to gain power and prestige by predicting the future.

What about those prophecies that are full of good will and encouragement? They are meant for the individual’s benefit! The motivations are completely.

These are confusing times, where answers are needed, but hard to understand. I fear that we are headed to a time of prophets and prophecies. Not so sure that is a good thing.

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Died peacefully…

Blogs are often filled with common and uncommon rants. Perhaps how we end up in the wrong lanes at the toll booth. Or maybe the wrong line at the market. We got behind the gentleman with 19 items in the 15 or less lane. He has coupons and he wants to pay with a combination of debit card and change.

I enjoy a good rant.

The blog doesn’t often raise life or death issues… unless you are older. If you are older nearly everything becomes life or death. It’s just a fact of life, or death.

I’ve been pondering the phrase “died peacefully in their sleep”. How do we actually know that? Sure, there appears to be a lack of trauma. No visible claw marks or bites, no amputated limbs. All we really know is that a person went to sleep and then didn’t wake up in the morning.

It is the classic “death”, desired by nearly everyone. I propose that what we are really asking for is a painless death. After a lifetime of reacting to a hot oven, we want to avoid any future pain, including death.

Well, there are many examples that meet that standard. Anything that comes at you faster than the nerve signals that go to your brain. An asteroid hitting your head, a nuclear blast, a plane crash (mostly), there are hundreds of examples.

Another less widely known fact is that some trauma to the body causes the body to shut down in the area, cutting off nerves and blood flow. Being eaten by a lion might not be a painful as you think.

Most of us are certain that dying in your sleep is the least painful way to go. I think we have gotten to used to the light switch analogy. You go to sleep and a switch is turned off, and then you don’t wake up.

I don’t know. I just had an apnea sleep study. Most apnea is just a blockage of the airway while sleeping. Easily fixed in a variety of ways. Some apnea can be a central switch in the brain that forgets to turn on the breathing process.

In my mind that might not be so painless. Suffocating is not a happy time, my experience is that it is filled with panic and unease. Perhaps it’s different if you are sleeping, but no one knows for certain.

I think it is better to simply say, “he died in his sleep last night”. “Peacefully” is dying before you know what’s hit you.

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It’s All Relative

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reflection, and a time for plans. Let us first address whether this whole deal is simply a human construct.

Certainly the ball dropping in NYC is a man made thing. Even the calendar is a man made attempt to organize what is seen in nature. The earth does indeed spin around the sun, we didn’t create that. I don’t believe that there is a naturally fixed point that is the beginning, then we travel for a year until we get back. So that is a problem.

For us to suggest that we have a new year is a little bit like saying we have discovered the beginning of a circle. We can conceptualize this, but it is a construct. The solar system has eight or nine objects that spin in orbits, each full turn could be called a year. We could calculate how many complete rotations of the planet it would take to complete one full rotation around the sun. But of course in actual time it would be different for each object.

So far I have no problem with these facts. The issue is that how do we know when it starts? How do we know it’s the New Year? This is a matter of perspective and relativity. Sitting in my comfortable home I can say the day starts when the sun peaks over the horizon. Yet I know that that sun never sets, that daylight is ever constant, just as night is simply the dark side, moving, but constant. I know this yet I ignore it so I can use the construct to measure something. It’s a little like, an inch isn’t an inch, it’s only the King’s knuckle bone.

This is a fact but it is not helpful. In my experience the sun rises and sets, and I mark this as a day. Using that measure I can project the knowledge that it takes 365 (plus a fraction) to completely orbit the sun, and this becomes a year. Arbitrarily, we set the beginning of the circle on Jan 1st. It’s all a fib, but it helps me place the ground for my fulcrum.

Technically, every day is the new year as far as the orbit goes. Perhaps at some point we can fix a reference point, like a brass ring on the carousel, and we can truly know where the circle starts and where it ends.

Until that time we live with our construct. 365 days that don’t exist, creating a new year that could be every day.

My head hurts…

For the sake of knowing, there is too much fact that isn’t fact at all.

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Hmm, practice makes perfect? Gosh, if only that were true. Practice all you want but if there is markedly no improvement then perfection is still a long way off. Besides, my goal isn’t perfection. Ha! Not even possible!

It should be “practice makes it better, providing there is some evidence of improvement.” Wow, that sure rolls off the tongue.

Practice is how you get to Carnegie Hall! Well, that works. Except that I don’t play an instrument, nor do I sing much. The concept is valid though. If you want others to enjoy your craft, you need to put the time in to make sure your product is successful.

Practice should not be avoided but it doesn’t mean it is not painful. The physical practice of getting in shape only works when the practice tears down muscle tissue in order to build up new tissue. That hurts.

I once heard a statement on “professionalism”. You are professional when you have done something for ten years or 10,000 hours. Oddly enough, I often told my students that after 10,000 (serious and thoughtful) photographs, then perhaps your images become significantly better.

The practice in image making is thought to be painless. I can assure you that it is not. I would be lying if I told you that I’ve saved all of my practice work. Some are so ugly and hideous that they were destroyed within minutes. Others were given to friends. I had to get them out of the house at all cost.

It only has been just now that I realize that some of my worst work is hanging on someone’s wall. Well, love my faults, and you will never be disappointed!

I’ve purchased a sketchbook. Let’s see how long I make use of it. How long does it take to practice 10,000 hours? Wait… oh yeah.

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Want to hear God laugh?

Tell him your plans.

i’ve been thinking about planning, which is our attempt to make sense of the world, and possibly change the future.

In the most common usage, planning is really quite easy. We plan to get up in the morning, and remarkably, we actually do that. But is this really planning? Plan not to wake up and see how successful you are! A lot of “our planning” isn’t really ours at all.

Even the concept of the approaching morning is beyond our ability to plan. Clearly we have parameters that we must work within.

Some things are the result of someone else’s plan. If you are married you may have experienced this. One evening you suddenly realize that you are in the car, dressed in some of your finer clothes, and you are heading to someone’s house (who you barely know) for a “get together”. You obviously remember talking about the “get together”. You don’t remember deciding to go to the “get together”. It is only now that you are in the car that you realize that plans were made and the future is just up ahead, and around the corner. You are in some else’s plan.

In my attempt to be a good and wise parent, I have offered to my children several phrases for them to ponder in their future life. One that comes to mind… “if you don’t have a plan for your life, because nature abhors a vacuum, some one else will provide one for you. And you will end up living some one else’s life.”

This sounds very wise. I hope they remember it.

We are constantly being bombarded with folks who are perfectly willing to plan for us. Isn’t all advertising an eventual plan for us to open our wallets to purchase an item? A television preview is a thinly veiled plan for you to put yourself in front of the television at a certain time, a certain day, and a certain channel. All that is required is for us to agree. Technically agreement makes the plan ours. But is this true?

I recall an old card trick where the magician offers choices. We keep choosing, he keeps offering. Eventually he produces the right card and we are amazed. Was it our plan? Or did the magician only offer the choices of his plan?

Going back to my adage, how much of my life is the result of my plans? On an average day, how much of the occurrences are truly my plans. This has altered a great deal since I retired. Going to work was sorta my plan, but ultimately it is the plan of my employer. I don’t go to work anymore so there is a vacuum to plan for.

That’s a lot of time to consider. 40 hours per week is a lot of vacuum. So far I haven’t replaced even 50% of the time with my plans. The good thing is that no else has stepped in to offer their plans. There is the potential, “Hey, since you’re retired, do you think you could…?” But I mostly avoid this by not answering the phone.

My wife will sometimes ask, “Do you want to go to the store to pick up some milk?” I respond that “it had never occurred to me, so, I guess no I don’t want to.” Obviously I will go, once I make a plan.

My final thought about planning is that I haven’t been very good about stepping up to “my plans.” It’s too exhausting, too challenging, and simply too difficult. I slide quite comfortably into the plans of others.

I tell myself that because I choose to do this then the plans are mine. It’s a lie. I’m just slothful.

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I found an amusing book that deals with some of the oddities of the English language. Here is a sample…

1. Every cloud has a——— lining.

2. ——- tape

3. He looks at the world through ——— colored glasses.

4. The star loves always being in the ——- light

5. People who hallucinate are said to see ——- elephants.

6. The committee gave her proposal the ——- light.

7. ——en oldies

8. the——— sheep of the family

9. a ——- letter day

10. a——- thumb

11. a—— neck

12. a —— guard

13. paint the town ——

14. talking a —— streak

15. Silence is ——-en.

16. to ——— wash the truth

17. to ——- bag it

18. Once in a —— moon.

19. A ——— bellied coward,.

20. Now try this, think about ten things that are both a color and a thing. Example: an orange.

From “The Play of Words”, by Richard Lederer.

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No Poetry Between

‘‘Twas the night before Christmas…”. Well, actually this is the morning after Christmas, but I was thinking about the poem. For many homes around the world it is a family tradition to read the poem to their children on Christmas Eve. The poem gets a lot of play on that one special day.

The day after Christmas? Not so much! The poem was written by Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863) sometime in 1823. Moore was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning, at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York City. This was a pretty good gig, made possible due to the fact that the land was donated by the college. It’s still there on 9th Ave. between 20th and 21st streets.

Moore was finally interred in the Trinity Churchyard in lower Manhattan. His poem lives on and helps to maintain a Christmas tradition. While the poem had many editions that were illustrated, their image of Santa Claus did not stick.

It wasn’t until the advertising campaign of Coca Cola in the 1930s that we seem to have codified the chubby, red suited elf. Up until then, Santa was often tiny, gaunt, or tall and rather spooky looking. In England his coat is green and he is known as Father Christmas, although this might be an entirely different character. It might make a decent movie for the two to meet.

No poems are currently popular for the day after Christmas. It is still the Season to be sure. The time between Christmas and New Years is unique. It is the end of the year, a time for reflection, gatherings and parties. Just not particularly good for poetry.

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Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years Ago this week I was Santa Claus at our local Macy’s. I did not volunteer. I was happy to find seasonal work on the college job board. I was hired to sell womens shoes. It was a lot of running back and forth from the stock room, and very little sales, but I really enjoyed it.

One day the store manager came by, “Diestler, stand up! What’r you, six feet?” “Uh, six two.” “Fine! Fine! Come to my office.”

I had to ask where the office was. When I got there I saw a box on his desk. It smelled of moth balls. I had never smelled that before, but this must have been moth balls. Or a dead mouse.

“Here’s the suit, see ya on Monday, 11:00 sharp,”

It was a red velvet frock, with a white fur trim Santa Suit. Pillow not included! Apparently I had been drafted.

That weekend I watched “Miracle on 34th Street”, it was the seasonal marathon, and either “Miracle was on, or “It’s a Wonderful Life” 24 hours a day. So I dressed in my Santa suit, and watch both movies several times. I learned to love “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I grew a bond with “Miracle on 34th St. “. After all, I was going to be Santa at Macy’s, the very same company that had hired the real Santa Claus!.

That Monday morning was one of the most terrifying moments in my young life. I was up on the balcony where the dressing room was located. I could see Santa’s Throne down below. There was a line of children extending through the room, and out the doors into the street. I was two stories above, with a single strait staircase leading to the room. Each step took all the effort I could muster. The fear had produced a paralysis in my knee joints.

From below it must have looked like I was making a dramatic entrance. In addition to the fear, I couldn’t see the steps because of my “pillow stuffing”. It was all a blur for the next eight hours. Thousands of kids, hundreds of thousands of “Ho, ho, ho’s”, then it was over, until the next day. It was a three week gig, and I learned to love it. I still remember each Christmas! And to those who read this Merry, merry Christmas, from Santa

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Gut Life

I just watched a YouTube video, and I find myself again cursing the net, and adoring it at the same time.

This video made the bold headline statement of “35,000 Different Bacteria Species Living in Your Gut!”. This is disturbing on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. I’m almost wishing for a mini-stroke to wipe out my memory for the last half-hour. Would electro-shock work?

35,000 indentified bacteria. Who knows how many unidentified? I have written before on the problem of bacteria altering human behavior. The “Toxoplasma gondii” parasite that may help to create “cat lady syndrome”, and risky behavior in men, bothered me for weeks.

Knowing of the possibility that other “life forms” that may take over the host should be of great concern to us all. Getting mad at someone for a poor decision may be incorrect. The “gutbrain” May have stepped in to take control. We all have the possibility of becoming “gutbrain zombies” at anytime.

Now, the video I watched did spend a great deal of time explaining the wonderful benefits of hosting various bacteria, but that doesn’t mean that we are immune to the various toxins that are also created.

Some researchers are calling the general group of “gut bacteria” as another organ, vital to a healthy life. If so, this is a rogue organ that gives, and takes away, in a capricious way.


This link is to the video. The same organization has suggested that early removal of the appendix may prevent Parkinson’s Disease. Apparently toxins created there are directed to the brain, causing neural damage. More information to absorb.

The question I’ve had has always been the quality and accuracy of internet knowledge. Now I am considering the benefit of the shear amount. Is there too much for reasonable living? Can we stand the stress? Am I required to have a “first-name” relationship with 35,000 strangers living in my gut? How do I know that I’m in control and not some random toxin?

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I’ve been pondering the word “help”. At first it seemed so simple, then it got way too complicated.

Helping is assisting. The perfect image definition is a man pushing a car to the gas station. You see this, you jump out of your car to help. He is using his hands, back, and legs to move the car down the block. You assist him with your hands, back, and legs. It’s double the effort, and the result is that it is easier to get the car to the gas station.

The difficulty shows up at the moment you decide to help. Let’s say you are old, with back problems. Maybe your “help” is standing in the road acting as traffic control. The pushing isn’t any easier, but perhaps it is safer. Worse yet, you decide that you can sit behind the wheel to steer. Now you have added weight to the push so actually it’s a little harder. Still it might be of some help.

Some of this occurs because the “help” offered is run through your personal filter. You decide what help you can manage, and it might not be the help that is desired. How much effort is used to determine the help that is desired by the individual? Some of us skip that step, due to some physical limitations. Too many of us assess the situation and provide the “help” that is more appropriate. We make an independent judgement.

I can imagine that in some cases that this might be the better “help”. Assisting a child in choosing healthy food to eat, or appropriate clothes to wear. We use our knowledge and experience to counter the child’s questionable decisions. Our “helping” takes a radical turn to a condition of “controlling”.

With adults it is much more complex. We know that helping by taking over is not very respectful, but we then offer help that is very conditional. We should probably use another word at that point, because “conditional help” is rarely help.

Probably the most confusing is using expertise in the process of helping. The person wants your strong back and legs, but you have a degree in engineering, and you offer a series of rope and pulleys. Your help isn’t appreciated because it isn’t understood, and they can’t help with your helping. Whoops, this is where it gets complicated.

How often does asking for help means someone else must take control? I have a heart attack, I need help. What I really need is for someone else to knock me out, open my chest and rearrange some arteries. Again, this probably needs another word than “help”.

Lastly, we often see a “Help Desk” in education or technology. What type of help is that? It is assisting? Or is it, “I am lost, I don’t know what I’m doing, please please make sense of my life!”

My pondering has left me with the conclusion that I rarely need the “come along beside me assistance.” Mostly I need, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Help!”

Next time someone asks for help, find out which help is desired.

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A Goal

Spontaneity, besides being difficult to spell, might be defined as action without a plan or purpose.

That’s a rough concept. It includes an image of a room of mouse traps and ping pong balls. Or if I was a Beatles fan, perhaps “Helter Skelter”.

The word is definitely action based. Something is happening, decisions are being made- decisions to make no decisions? Spontaneous eruptions are surprising, and unforeseen.

There’s another similar word, peripatetic. Go for a walk, bump into walls, wander trails. Never get to where you are going because you never had a destination in the first place. Hmm!

Can I truly be spontaneous? I think a goal to be more spontaneous is a worthy idea for most people. We are often too shaped by plans. The fun part of life is often the surprise. Planning is controlling, but not necessarily fun!

Yes, that is doable! Just move the needle of my life slightly more to the spontaneous. I can do that, my stomach doesn’t churn with the complete randomness that is possible.

We used to call it “avoid the ‘button down’ life”. Ha! I first rebelled by making sure my collars were unbuttoned, even that little one in the back.

Maybe the issue is to live a less linear life. I like the idea of a general plan, I just question the quality of predictability. And it is not the issue of a complete turnover. I don’t want to be fire, I just want to be a little warmer, and a little more spontaneous.

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77 years ago a foreign nation dropped bombs and strafed our Continue reading

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What do you know?

What do you know, and when did you know it?

This was the major question during the Watergate investigation. The question was asked of President Richard Nixon. If he didn’t know anything about the Watergate conspiracy until much later, then he was just like us! If he knew something before everyone else, then he was culpable, and probably guilty.

We never quite got to the answer of what he knew or when he knew it. Possibly it was erased during the famous 18 minute gap on the White House audio tapes, even now this same question is asked of powerful people in times of crisis.

Often I hear of a defending response…What is “knowing”? “I can’t be guilty if I’m not sure if I know anything!” It is a viable response, sorta.

“Knowing” something seems at first glance to be in the realm of certainty. Once known, always known. The trouble is, that science has told us that things once known, can be known differently with further study.

What about the structure that is built on basic knowledge? If basic knowledge changes, then the entire structure shifts. Very disconcerting!

It is a real possibility that future statements of “knowing” should be modified with, “on the basis of the current information, I believe this about that! In my humble opinion.”

This seems way too “politically correct” and squishy. Why can’t we just state the obvious and be done with it. Rocks are not alive, they don’t think, and they certainly don’t speak.

I’m not certain that all geologists would agree completely. More knowledge chips away at basic certainties.

On a personal level I try to operate in both worlds. I generally agree with the basic truths, but I also entertain radically different realities. It is a practice partly of humility and also a potential hedge for new change.

I’m trying to envision the possibility of “knowing for certain”. We can put the words together, but does that mean it actually exists. We can say that this morning we saw “clouds made of rock”. Descriptive, words that are correct, but a concept that is impossible.

Unless you happen to live next to an active volcano, where pumice is being ejected into the atmosphere. Pumice is lava that is filled with air pockets. While they are not lighter than air, they are so light that they can form “clouds” that travel for miles before falling to earth.

Rock clouds do exist! Does this mean that every bizarre statement can be proven to be real? That’s a lot of phrases to think about.

I believe that it is useful to know that certainty is often subjective. That tears at the foundation of the word, and shakes the standard of “knowing”.

The end result is that existence is much more miraculous and surprising. That’s a good thing!

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Dancing Alone

Particles react to being watched. If no one is looking they go one way, if someone is watching they go in an entirely different way.

The observer effect is sometimes explained by Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter) detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat.

The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

All this because someone figured out that particles behaved differently when scientists attempted to measure their activity.

This would be like a bathroom scale intentional adding a few pounds while pondering it in the morning. I can attest to this. Or several inches added to your height, just because you are measuring.

The ramifications to this are astounding and should add to the wonder of the world. Several questions arise. What constitutes “observing”.? Schrödinger’s cat is in a box, an object that is inert, the cat may be both alive or dead. If the box is opened when no one is in the room the situation remains the same. Opened or not doesn’t matter. If someone is there watching the situation collapses because of the observation.

What if the box is opened in the presence of a cadaver, whose sightless eyes are pointed in the car’s direction? Do the particles intuit active intelligence and the potentials that may be discerned? This must mean that particles have decision making thoughts. Scary!

This leads to other ideas…Do I act the fool in the presence of others, or do I dance as if no one is watching?

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Off the Grid

I willingly took part in “risky behavior”. Well, that might be a little strong. I took a path that was “risky”, but I did nothing to change it. In the first few minutes I thought, “I’m an independent guy, I can do this! In fact, I can make this a statement of freedom. I’m not a drone of the hive.” This worked for about five minutes, then doubt crept in. The “what if’s” began to overwhelmed me.

When I was younger I sometimes disappeared for three months at a time. I was living at home with my parents, going to college for most of the year, hiking around the Rockies during the summer. The “risky behavior” was how I got to the Rockies. Hitchhiking was never safe, but it seemed safe at the time. Everything worked, except that one year my Mother had heard a report about a “cannibalistic hitchhiker” that was caught with three fingers in his back pocket.

She was fairly certain that I was not the cannibal, but the fingers in the back pocket were definitely mine. She suffered for a long time. Risky behavior has its downsize. It was weeks before I made a call home to check in. Of course, until then I lived the life of a free, independent spirit, willing to walk the “risky behavior” path because I could. I was independent of the demands of others. I was carving my own future.

Forty-five years later I had briefly attempted to recreate that freedom. I had unintentionally left my cellphone behind. Because I was on a mission to pick someone up at the train station I realized that I couldn’t turn around without being very late. I rationalized that it was okay, that I wasn’t a worker drone, I had lived a very productive “cellphone free” existence for years. I had hiked the Rockies for months with a cannibal nearby.

This statement of freedom lasted less than a minute, approximately two blocks of residential homes. What if the train derailed or just broke down? What if the rest of my family knew something but couldn’t tell me? What if I suddenly had a heart attack? Nope, I didn’t go there, I had already had a heart attack.

How could I possibly pick someone up at the train station if all I had was the expectation that trains run regularly? I must have faith! That’s the real difference of the last few years. We no longer trust, not because the system has failed us. We no longer trust because we have to ability to verify. This is a scary thought.

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Relaxing in the New Age

Sitting in front of the fireplace, reading a few pages, and checking the internet.

Apparently the air quality index says that unhealthy air starts at about 60-70. At 3:50 pm it was 350.

I have been known to prep for a lot of things. This, I did not plan for. The fire up northeast is about 160 miles away. It’s horrible, the worst in our history. But the impact here in the Bay Area is a little like the frog in boiling water.

Is it too late to jump?

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My Friend…

I had heard that the best writers did their best work in coffee houses, in hip neighborhoods of New York, or Paris. It was 1966, I was not in Paris, nor was I in New York. This might have been the reason that my writing was filled with angst. Also, I was sixteen, and could not drive to San Francisco, where there were coffee houses.

I did the best I could. Within walking distance there was a shopping center, and on the out lying edge there was a pizza parlor that sold coffee. On most Friday and Saturday nights I made my way to this family casual restaurant, I bought a single cup of dark black coffee, which I nursed for a least three hours, while I scribbled in wire bound notebooks with a leaky Bic pen.

I rarely bought a pizza. Correction, I never bought a pizza. I had no money. There were times when I ordered a medium dough, no sauce, no cheese, no toppings. It was just a large cracker, with free catsup.

Months had gone by and I observed, quietly. Too shy to engage with the returning locals that I had come to recognize. I sat huddled in my pea coat, black turtleneck, stolen Levi’s, and Thom McCann sandals (with socks).

I had noticed a young man, possibly near my age, who came in periodically, he scanned the room, and then left. I guess he was looking for somebody. I noticed him because he was well dressed, suit and tie, and an English bowler on his head. Brave soul!

A few weeks later I noticed that he came in and did his usual scan. I got distracted by a thought that I needed to write down. When I looked up, the young man with a bowler, and an umbrella, was standing in front of me. He politely asked if he could sit down. I nodded in astonishment, surprised that I was visible.

He asked if I knew whether there was something going on at the college. The college was only two blocks away. Little did I know that I would end up working there for forty years, at this point I had been on the campus twice, walking through it to visit a friend on the other side.

“No, I don’t know of anything going on. Do you mean like a dance or concert?”

“Well, yes. Or perhaps a lecture?”

A lecture! Well, that was a thought. Why didn’t I think of that? Why I’m I sitting in a pizza parlor looking for cosmic answers? He looked at my inky hands and spiral notebook, and asked if I was a writer. How perceptive? And well dressed.

He was obviously a college student, and he thought that I must have been a college student as well. We had just never met in the Student Union.

It didn’t take long before I confessed that I was a bored high school student, trying to get out of the house. He laughed and said that he too, was a junior in my class. It was a big class, 900+ strong. We hadn’t shared a class or a lunch period. And he never brought his bowler to school.

This was my start with my friend Michael. Michael died this morning.

53 years of friendship. Unfortunately we grew apart over the last twenty years. We had different interests, and lived at some distance. For years he ran a custom hot dog stand, I would go to check in with him, and get a dog. We talked about getting together. We never did. But I loved him still.

I have so many great memories of him. Once, he showed up at my house, dressed in slacks and dress shoes. I introduced him to my athletic neighbor friend, and the conversation moved to sports. I was not contributing, but suddenly Michael suggested that he was pretty good at the 50 yard dash. My jock friend doubted this. Michael was well built, not a wire thin dasher. To settle things, he took off his jacket and toed the line with my friend in the middle of my street. Dress shoes and all.

I gave the signal and off they went. Within three paces Michael was a full body length ahead. At the end has was several yards ahead. Michael was wicked fast in dress shoes. I can still hear his leather steps on the asphalt.

Not every weekend, but several times a month Michael would join me for a cup of coffee. Sometimes he would borrow his sister’s car, and we would drive the neighborhood. Once we stopped at a church on the hillside. Michael had a key, and he ushered me in to the sanctuary without comment. I sat in the pew while he went to the podium on the altar.

He then opened the Bible at a random verse and began reading in a deep sonorous voice. I was mesmerized, it was nearly midnight and I was being churched.

Our vehicle excursions continued for years. Later, in college, his girlfriend was still in high school, and she had a car, and her father paid for her gas. Michael drove her to school, and then kept the car in order to pick her up after. He also arranged to pick me up for lunch at least once a week.

The thing was, we didn’t just go to a local restaurant. We drove at least an hour away to eat at the Nut Tree. We went so often that the waitresses knew our order. I don’t know what the father thought about the gas mileage. We didn’t ask.

I got married, Michael got married, we drifted apart. Michael got divorced with a child, I got divorced with a child. I named my son after Michael. We still drifted further apart.

I had introduced my oldest friend to Michael, and we three got along well. Some years passed, and my friend rented an apartment in Michael’s mother’s backyard. Eventually my friend married Michael’s sister. It was a fantastic occurrence, totally surprising.

And yet Michael and I still drifted apart, even as our connections grew more complex. It still didn’t lessen my deep appreciation for who he was way back then. I loved him then, and love him now. I will always carry my memories, the best of times. Michael, you will always be my friend.

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Tic Tac Toe

X’s and O’s

I used to have very cool racing slicks on my front tires. They were custom tires made for trikes, and I liked them very much. I was sad to see the threads in the center of the tire, because it meant that they were worn out. And the company no longer made those tires.

I’m not saying that I’m banned from bicycle shops, but I would say that I had to develop a relationship with my local shop. Being a trike owner puts me in a different category. They do not sell or service trikes, so I’m never going to upgrade. But I can buy accessories!

I went to my local shop and asked about my tire replacement problems. They had a solution. My front tires were the same size as a kid’s first mountain bike. So I could use tires from an eight year old’s bike. Hmm, fine. Tread is tread, I purchased two and put them on, they worked great.

One slight hiccup. The tread pattern was X’s and O’s in a tic tac toe pattern. The shop owner said it was easier for the kids to know that the tires were wearing out. If they couldn’t see tic tac toe, then the tire was gone. Plus it made a cool track in the dirt, endless tic tac toe marks.

Okay, it didn’t matter much to me, I couldn’t have my custom racing slicks, so I settled for tic tac toe. The tires performed well, I ran them for over a year and then I noticed I couldn’t see tic tac toe anymore, so I went back to the bike shop for another pair of the same tires and I put them on.

I’m now resting at a water stop and I’m looking at the current tic tac toe pattern and I notice that there isn’t much wear. I haven’t ridden nearly as much this year. The tires look almost new. This is where my thoughts went a little off track.

I had already worn a set of tic tac toe tires completely bald. There was no tic tac toe visible. I’m on the trail most every day, I haven’t seen any X’s and O’s laying beside the trail. Where did they go?

It was a fair question, when a tire wears down, where does the rubber go. There should be mounds of black rubber like sand every quarter of a mile. There is a lot of bikes on the trial, there should be rubber residue.

And of course, what about cars, and the freeway? Much more rubber, the mounds should be higher and more frequent. It’s true that I have seen chunks of retreads from truck tires laying on the freeway, but not the usual wear and tear of tires. Where does the rubber go?

Google to the rescue again. It turns out that a lot of the rubber is so fine that it is airborne, so we might actually have some in our lungs. Of course there are so many other breathable pollutants, that we don’t really notice the rubber. If the rubber particles are not fine enough to be airborne, they lay on the road, only washed off during the rainy season, and they end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

So now I know where the rubber goes. It isn’t worn away, it isn’t rubbed off into a vacuum. Nothing can be destroyed, it is only changed. We are in a closed system. All atoms are already here, nothing new is created, nothing old is destroyed. Everything is in the process of being rearranged. Physics was explained while pondering tic tac toe.

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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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