Here in Aus, the word “chips” generally refers to what Americans call fries. However, when talking about “crisps” (potato chips for example), the older generations still call them crisps sometimes, but most people just call those “chips”, too. It can get confusing.
My wife: “I could really go some chips right now.”
My wife: “As in hot chips.”
But then the whole conversation could happen the other way, her meaning “potato crisps” by “chips”, such as Kettle or Cape Cod or whatever chips. Same exact wording:
“I could really go some chips right now.”
My wife: “As in crisps.”
I never know what’s going on, to be completely honest.
To make matters even more confrusing, in the fifteen+ years since I moved to Australia, things have changed. Australian English is changing (and no, I don’t just mean among the people who know me and might possibly have been influenced by my MercanSpeak). I blame television, honestly. Hugely popular American shows, such as “The Simpsons”. There’s a long list of them. And entire generations of kids growing up watching more American television and movies than Australian.
I suppose it’s a natural phenomenon, and one that has occurred over and over throughout history: Whenever a nation becomes a dominant power in the world, its culture and language inevitably influence societies with which it has significant contact. (I am biting my lip, trying hard not to express an opinion here… but please forgive me if I can’t help it; I never went to journalism school, after all.) In the past, French entered (see? I didn’t say “infiltrated”) various societies and became an official language in those places, just as written Chinese did centuries ago in Southeast and East Asia or as Spanish and English
stained affected countries around the world during the height of those respective empires. It follows that given American television’s enormous pull on Australian viewers, it shouldn’t be any wonder that they, especially the children among them, are beginning to pick up various terms and expressions. NottomentionholidaytraditionslikeHalloween. Justsayin.
This has not just been going on for the past decade and a half, to be sure; it’s a process that began generations ago. I have, however, noticed an acceleration in recent years.
When I first moved here, in 2007, my mother-in-law and other family members were always quick to correct me whenever I’d say something like “napkin” instead of “serviette”. Now, I notice that just about everyone says the former. And it’s not just a generational thing; in recent years, I’ve been hearing lots of people even in their 60s and 70s saying “napkin” in reference to the paper or cloth you use to wipe your mouth and hands during a meal (as opposed to the article that gets wrapped around a baby’s bum). It’s on TV, too, in television ads. In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I heard anyone in Australia say the word “serviette”. I’m sure it’s been said in the past year, but I can’t recall exactly when.
I was told the other day that another thing that is changing is spelling. Australian spelling is traditionally quite similar to British spelling conventions, which makes sense of course given the history of this country. Okay, fine. Now, enter Microsoft Word, Google, Facebook, and other massive US-based mega-apps and systems: The default spelling and proofing language is American English. Can you set it to your own country’s language? Yes, of course you can. I can change the default English in this document (as I am typing in Word right now) to Australian English; that is how I normally have it set, in fact, since I no longer need to write in American English for work the way I did most of the time when I was translating. Okay, fine; I’ve set it to Australian English. Boom, if I type color, it automatically underlines that word with a red squiggly, prompting me to correct it to “colour”. Okay, done, and done. But am I really done? Is it really “set and forget”? No. Why not? Because every time there is a major update to Microsoft Office, it resets the default proofing language back to the… well, that American company’s default: American English. So I have to change it every time. Occasionally I forget to.
Now, imagine a primary school kid who doesn’t care about the nuances of proofing language defaults. When he or she is doing an assignment, if there is no red squiggly under the word “color”, will the child care? Likely not. Probably won’t even notice. In fact, seeing it spelled that way will further reinforce the subliminal message that “c o l o r” is how that word is supposed to be spelled. Thus, this is one way in which Australian English is changing. It’s the ultimate grassroots transformation, starting right from the tiniest shoots of grass—our children themselves. In a couple of decades, that word really will be spelled c o l o r here. Perhaps I’m wrong. But seeing how fast it’s happening, it appears likely to occur.
A lot of you might be reading this and thinking, Oh goodness me, how effing boring. Who the eff cares? There are far more important things in the world to be thinking about. Okay, fair enough. There are indeed. Am I whinging? (Heh, I didn’t say whining… see?!? Despite being an immigrant, I am trying my darnedest to keep Aussie English alive! Okay fine, the word “darnedest” ain’t from ‘round here….) Maybe a little. But the truth is, I’ve always been a language nerd; I’ve always tended to dork completely out when it comes to words, etymology, usage, dialect, etc etc etc.
While cultural homogenisation (homogenization) may well be inevitable as time goes by, especially given how interconnected the world is becoming through the internet, apps, games, television shows and movies, and so on, I like to think countries and cultural groups will be able to keep at least some of their identity unique. Some groups are struggling for their very survival, and not all of them are as tiny as one would think. But the tiny ones are most at risk of extinction. It makes me sad to think about. So, I have great admiration and respect for people who put time and effort into keeping their language, culture, etc alive in the face of the multimedia onslaught of The Dominant Way of Spelling and Saying Things (DWSST) du jour. I don’t mean to make light; am just being a smartass. It really is tragic that people have to fight so hard to keep their very identity and heritage from going the way of the great auk.
But now I’m going off on another tangent. It probably means I’m tired. I need some brain food. I think I’ll go get some chips.
How has your local language and/or mother tongue changed in your lifetime? Can you think of some examples?
Two nights ago, something went bump. Actually, it was more like a repeating grunt. An even more accurate description would be that some creature was making this really low, grindy farting sound just outside the bedroom window. The cats were going berserk, trying to phase through the window to get at it. Thankfully, phasing is not a spell we have taught them (yet).
We put on the back light, and I could vaguely make out a whiteish shape in a small tree in the back yard. It didn’t move, but the sound, which had stopped, had been coming from that direction. And the next morning, the shape was no longer there, so my assumption is that it, perhaps a bird of some sort (even though my first thought had been “mammal!”), was the source of the farting. Er, the uh elegant noble nighttime chirping. Calling?
Anyway. All such mature ruminations aside, this was not the first strange sound we’d heard outside our window at night. There are definitely a lot of critters out there, communicating in their various ways, and moving around, or simply going “bump”.
Just a couple weeks ago I heard a thump-thump-crash that sounded a lot like a wallaby hopping across the grass and into the thicker weeds. Which is great if it was, because we haven’t been seeing them quite as much, ever since some work was done (and a fence built I think?) up on top of the ridge, potentially blocking one of their routes down from the de facto nature preserve over on the other side there.
Now and then, also at night, we hear loud, shrill screaming noises. This is one I actually identified after an extensive dig through google; I was thrilled to learn that we have some spot-tail quolls, AKA tiger quolls, in the area. They are the largest native predator in this part of Australia; most of their diet consists of roosting birds the quolls have managed to sneak up on, high in the gum tree canopies, but they will go any small animal, including cats or small dogs or even a young wallaby. This is one reason we keep our cats inside. Usually we hear a pair of tiger quolls screaming back and forth, communicating to each other through the bush, setting all the dogs in the neighbourhood. It happens at seeming random times; sometimes it feels like it’s once every couple or few months, and then other times I wonder if it’s more season-based. Like, mating season… but they definitely scream around at multiple times a year. I think they wander from place to place, semi-nomadic. Talking to each other. Like, “Hey Mom, where are you.” “I’m here. Come help me eat this bird.” “But I wanted to eat dog tonight.” “Stop being a teenager and climb this tree. Hop to it.” “Okay. Fine. Whatever.”
I wonder if my mother and I ever had any conversations like that. I dunno. I was lost in a haze of hormones and insecurity for so many years.
Another strange sound we’ve heard at night is this distant, BOOP-boop… BOOP-boop… usually from way on top of the ridge. It’s soft, not shrill, and I suppose it’s more like “boo-book”, because that’s what it actually is; it’s a boobook owl. Cute little buggers.
In the day time, not since autumn I don’t think, but perhaps more recent than that, we occasionally are treated with the sounds of corks being turned in the ends of wine bottles. Rotating around tightly… “squeeeek, squeeeek… squeeeeek, squeeeek”. These are gang-gang cockatoos. Beautiful, gentle things, and they are listed as “vulnerable” (last step before endangered). It’s wonderful to get to see them, though usually it’s only in fleeting glimpses; they tend to like to hang out way, way up in the treetops, behind the gum leaves, where it’s hard to spot them.
Then there are all the other funny-sounding birds, of course: The raucous cockatoos, the hilarious multi-instrumental-sounding currawongs, the pretty crimson rosellas, the bizarre, otherworldly calls of the bower birds, the very very loud shut-the-fuck-up birds (they are actually called butcherbirds, but one was outside our hotel window in Hobart when we were there one time, and the thing wouldn’t… well, you get the picture), the pippity pips of the various tiny birds such as fairy wrens and so on… the list goes on. The birds around here tend to be quite… talkative, to say the least. Not to mention all the bugs and frogs. There’s this one frog that sounds like someone dropping a rock in a ditch, over and over….
All those beings. All communicating. All singing. All living.
We’ve been here nearly three years, and are still occasionally surprised by a new sound, often at night but not just. A new form of communication, to our ears. It’s a magical place to live, with the bush right out back like this.
Perhaps if I listen closely enough, I’ll learn some new words, some new creature’s language even. Perhaps I’ll be able to make up for not having known how to communicate, way back when; for not knowing what to say, not knowing how to say it. For not knowing so many things. For stubbornly refusing to climb that tree and eat that damn bird.
Or maybe I’ll just listen quietly, and have another chuckle as Oreo and Arya try to hurl their feline selves through time, space, and window screen to go get that mysterious nightime farting creature.
Sound is a whole ‘nother world.
Have you heard any strange sounds lately, either at night or otherwise? What do you think they were?
Edit: I started writing this entry two weeks ago, and then got sidetracked; hence the inconsistent time references. I could fix them, but am just going to leave this as a sort of a run-on journal entry instead. ‘Hope you don’t mind :-)
Going from autumn into spring is always a trip. This time last week I was a world away, in the driveway of my parents’ house, breathing in the scent of an entire forest full of decaying foliage and staring into the towering canopies of childhood. Now, as if I’ve stepped through a magical door into some alternate universe, I catch glimpses of flowering jacarandas and vibrant green trees everywhere I look, and of white parrots, and of people walking around in short sleeves, all zooming past the train windows.
It’s hard to reconcile. Time is a mindfuck, and so is space. You step into a little flying box one afternoon, and then zoom, when you step out, you are twenty plus hours later into what is day after tomorrow and the other side of the planet, and all those faces and voices and smells that were so fresh and present in your conscious mind over the weeks of your visit have abruptly become dream-like, vague; like unsure footing on wobbly soft clumps of moss-covered peat.
It’s downright disconcerting.
Nevertheless, I feel alive; travelling beyond the horizon is part of who I am. And of who I always will be; if not in body, then at least in imagination.
[A couple hours later] Okay, I’m home now. That makes thirty-seven trips across the Pacific, fifty-seven plane rides overseas. And it took thirty hours eleven minutes this time, door to door. Pretty sure that’s a record for me. I’m looking forward to a shower. And a coffee. And her eyes and arms.
I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since I wrote the above, the day I came back to Australia. It feels like yesterday. It also feels longer. Being in Tennessee was strange, too; the last time I’d been there was January of 2020. That feels like a lifetime ago. And yet, seeing all the objects in my parents’ house brought it all right back to me; straight into my mind. It felt like I was still there, and had never left. As if those events had just happened. The stress and trauma and grief felt immediate, like they were now, not before. My first night there was pretty rough, and not just because of jet lag; it was also a huge slap in the face of contrasting realities, of remembered realities, of memory of death, of memory of rushed packing and sorting and goodbyes, of the worrisome news that a new virus had been discovered and had made its way to Seattle, of not knowing where exactly we would live once we got back to Australia…. Of so many things.
Jet lag wasn’t so bad this time; it hit me pretty hard for a couple of days, then went away, and then hit me again mid-week the following week, but only briefly. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how to predict it or prevent it, or claim that it’s usually worse one direction over the other. The truth is, though, it’s impossible to predict. It is absolutely not worse when going east or when going west; in my experience, it can hit just as hard in either direction. Seems to me the more common factors have to do with stuff like how much sleep you’ve had before your trip, how much sleep you get on the plane(s), whether or not your travel time lines up with bedtime at your destination (and if not, then how well you are able to coffee-force yourself to stay awake until bedtime), how well you are hydrated, etc etc etc. But again, the onset of jetlag really feels quite random and unpredictable at times, so experience has taught me to take all such notions & perceived patterns with a big fat grain of salt.
Time and space are indeed baffling. I can’t believe we’ve lived here in the mountains for nearly three years already. It does not feel that long. And yet, it does. It really does. And longer, sometimes.
I don’t think our brains are equipped with the tools necessary to fathom time and space. Especially when it comes to processing traumatic events; grief, echoes, wrenching goodbyes, that sort of thing. We get stuck in a time, in a place. The memories hit us in waves. We get these glimpses of intensely clear recollection, of what it actually felt like when we were right there, right then; when it was all happening, when we were a part of it, when we were in it. And the abrupt juxtaposition of those memories with our current time and place throws us for a complete loop. It can be quite an emotional experience. Devastating, even. And it hits you when you’re least expecting it, hey.
Okay, I’m going to stop writing about all this super cheerful happy stuff, and say something really sad and depressing now.
Anyway. Tomorrow is another day. Tonight, actually, we’re heading up to Mt. Victoria to listen to a friend play some music, and have dinner at the venue. The menu looks pretty delish, and the music is going to be beautiful.
When was the last time you felt acutely the effects of time and space?
The first full-length novel I ever read of my own volition was A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony. I was twelve at the time, and a friend had gotten me into fantasy. Prior to that, I had only really read children’s books or required reading selections for school. I do have fond memories of my parents reading to us from books such as Treasure Island, but the Xanth novels were my introduction to “adult” books. (No, not those sort of adult books… although, to be fair, the later books in the series did turn rather… hmm, how to put this… um, creepy?… which is why I lost interest after book nine or so. The first several were great though! And I highly recommend them.)
I’ve been reading ever since, apart from a weird break of about a year and a half (more on that below). Until just recently, that is. For most of my life, I generally read to escape, so fiction—especially science fiction and sci-fi, though occasionally I’d take brief wanderings into other genres—was always my go-to. I was always reading some novel or other, and usually in bed before sleep. Even if I was so tired I could only get through a page or two, or even just a paragraph or a couple of sentences before my eyes slid shut, I still would always take the time to put on my bedside light, pick up my book, find my place (I never used to use bookmarks; I’d just flip through the pages until I found where I’d left off—you get sort of a spidy sense for where it was, and you get better at feeling the worn-ness of the pages and finding it), and read for a bit before turning my light off and going to sleep. Some nights I’d read for hours, and then suffer the next day, especially when I was younger. But it was always worth it.
A few years ago something weird happened. I stopped reading. I still am not completely sure why. It wasn’t due to playing games, as I’d read in the past while playing games; nor was it to do with a new work schedule or anything like that. I’d been slowing down in my reading pace. I’d never been what you’d call a fast reader anyway, but I had begun to read fewer pages each night on average, and my attention would wander so it became harder to retain what I was reading. Then, all of a sudden, I stopped altogether. I finished a book and didn’t pick up the next one. This dry period lasted for a good year and a half. I mean, it’s not like I read absolutely nothing in that time, but I wasn’t reading novels anymore; I’d lost the habit of reading in bed at night.
Then, just as inexplicably, I started again, and have been reading ever since… sort of. I haven’t been as religious about it; some nights I skip it, or just read a little bit. I’m still slow, like I’d become before my dry spell. It takes me forever to get through a novel (and right now I am reading the Wheel of Time series, so forever is not all that big of an exaggeration!). It’s weird.
In retrospect, I wonder if my dry spell had to do with stress and grief. Stress over various life occurrences, and grief over the loss of my father and my mother-in-law. The timing of it all would make sense. But why the inability to concentrate on reading the way I used to? Why does it continue to be so hard for me to focus on what I’m reading? I've noticed focus problems with other things, too, so perhaps it's not specifically reading.
I’m tempted to suspect Alzheimer’s, but I don’t think that’s it. I notice most people around me these days, from all walks, are not reading books anymore; I frequently hear them say things like, “Yeah, I used to read a lot, but not so much these days; I just don’t have time…” etc etc. Perhaps I’ve been experiencing the same thing, or perhaps it’s coincidence. I do know that reading among adults worldwide has declined over the past decade (or more), though I couldn’t quote the statistics to you.
I wonder if I stopped reading due to grief and stress, but that my decline in attention span leading up to that dry spell, as well as the difficulty I’ve experienced since, have more to do with an overall anxiety over life and the state of the world. It’s easy to blame TV and games and other hobbies, but when you get down to it, there is a reason we desire to lose ourselves in such things. We get glued to the tube because we are mentally & emotionally exhausted, or in need of distraction from reality, or both. Same thing is true of reading fiction, to be sure, but reading words takes more brainpower, at least until you get hooked on the story and lose yourself in it.
It’s nice to be reading again. It is part of who I am, and I don’t feel quite right when I am not reading. Why did my dry spell end? Not sure. Maybe it was part of my realisation that life is short and I need to get on with the things I want to accomplish in life. But reading to me is not just about “completing” all the books I want to read before I die; it’s also simply an enjoyable, peaceful, relaxing pastime--regardless of how long it might take my slow ass to get through a novel. There are other benefits, too; reading helps me learn to speak and write better, and I hear it sharpens and strengthens the brain in other ways, too. I also know it educates me and broadens my perspective (yes, even fiction does this). Incidentally, I am firmly of the belief that if more people read books regularly, we’d be less ignorant as a species overall and therefore have less misunderstanding and conflict (not to mention bigotry, etc).
I have decided that I need to make reading more of a priority in my life. It’s difficult while I’m out of my normal environment to predict or control stuff like bedtimes etc, of course, but when I get back home, I am going to force myself to get back to a daily reading routine and try to regain some of the focus I used to have. The more focused I am on a book, the more I get out of the story, and the more I can lose myself in the world of pure imagination and flow. I remember that feeling, and I long for it. Perhaps I need to carve out more time for myself to read; turn off the tv sooner, put down that ipad, go to bed earlier, so that I can get through more pages each night before sleep draws the curtains.
There are so many stories I want to read. I’ll never read them all, but I’d like to read as many as I can while I’m still alive. Stories read from books seem to stick in my mind so much longer, and leave such a deeper impression, than stories viewed on TV or on a youtube or tiktok video or even heard in a podcast or audiobook (though if you brought me evidence that I'm wrong about audiobooks, I wouldn't be surprised, as I also believe the oral tradition of storytelling is hardwired into our very bones). I even suspect that words printed on physical paper stick better than words in ebooks, but that might just be another crackpot theory. Who knows. I have read some ebooks (novels) and can remember them fairly well, so it probably is.Regardless, I think I will be much happier in my life in general if I can get back to reading regularly. Like fibre for the brain. Lol... ew. Never mind.
As a friend once said to me, "Take a deep breath and read. It’ll calm you."
Thanks for hanging in there by the way, and my sincere apologies for missing a couple of weeks of blog posts. Next week I fly back to Australia, and after that I’ll be back to my normal weekly blog routine. Enjoy your autumn or spring, whichever the case may be! :-)
This time next week, I will be on the other side of the planet. It’s hard to believe how fast this year has gone. One minute it’s March, and the next it’s already five days into October.
The last time I was in the States was January of 2020. I had a plane ticket to return for my father’s funeral the following March, but that of course got cancelled. Thankfully, the airline gave me a flight “credit”, and then kept extending its use-by date. However, they then did something rather sneaky: They changed the rule so that the “credit” could only be used up to the value of the original ticket. After that, in order to recoup covid losses, their next step was to start jacking their prices up; soon after, they began to make vague mentions about reserving the right to cancel and/or devalue flight credits as the airline’s needs might or might not arise. It was starting to feel like a use-it-or-lose-it scenario, so I booked a flight not long after it became clear that travel restrictions (of both the US and Australia) were definitely being lifted.
I get very bored reading rants about airlines and their customer service, etc, so I’ll only say one thing further on the subject: Before covid, Qantas always allowed two checked bags on international flights, included with the price of an economy ticket. In addition to wanting to support the Australia-based company (and by extension Australia’s economy), that was always one of our main reasons for sticking with Qantas. Now, though, I dunno. I’m starting to struggle to find reasons not to switch to United or some other carrier. Qantas is getting pretty pricey. But anywho.
It’s going to be nice, being in Tennessee in the early autumn. We spent a year there in 2019, and got to see the seasons change. I hadn’t seen a Tennessee spring in, oh, at least twelve years. But Fall will always be my favourite. I have fond memories of volunteering at Radnor Lake on rainy Saturdays & Sundays, walking the trails with a walkie talkie, smelling that wet rotting leaf smell, gazing out at the ducks and geese all huddled into their feathers while afloat in the cold rainy lake. There are deciduous trees in Australia, none of them native, mainly in populated areas. And you do get a bit of an autumn-y feel, especially up here in the Blue Mountains, where the climate is cooler. But it just isn’t the same as walking through an entire forest of oaks and maples and elms and sassafras and beech, with all their leaves turned to oranges, yellows, reds, browns, and dropping with the rain and wind. The scent is intense, primordial, rejuvenating. Sure, there are such forests elsewhere in the world, too, in terms of changing colours and falling leaves, but there just isn’t anything quite like the Tennessee woods in October & November. Nothing like it in the world.
The summer heat should be over by the time I get there; in fact, I think I’ve heard some cooler weather has already moved in. It used to move in a couple or few weeks sooner, but oh well. That’s the story of every place in the world now, sadly. I look forward to walks through the neighbourhood or Percy Warner or Montgomery Bell (“Monky Bell”) or Radnor etc etc etc, wearing short sleeves in the middle of the day and popping on a jumper (er, can’t remember what that’s called in America, sorry) as the sun goes down and the air gets chilly.
I’m also looking forward to eating a lot of the various types of food that I can’t get here. We had a great time (TOO great a time, truth be told) exploring Nashville’s restaurants and bars in 2019. The place has really boomed in that regard. (Prices have, too, though, and eating out there is starting to get almost as expensive as it is in Australia! I never thought I’d see the day….)
Speaking of bars, it wasn’t all that long ago when you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than the big commercial beers on tap at the vast majority of bars around middle Tennessee, such as Bud and Michelob and PBR and Coors and Sam Adams and Shiner Bock and whatnot… but over the past decade or so, Nashville has metamorphosized into a real beer city: tons of local “craft” (loaded commercial buzz word which somewhere along the line replaced the word “microbrew” in order to thrill us with novelty and get us to spend more) beers, as well as a huge variety of beers brought in from around the country and the world. For a beer-lover, it’s become a friendly place indeed. There are other changes that have happened in Nashvegas that aren’t so positive, but the new beer culture there is certainly one of its up sides.
This has become a bit of a ramble. Sorry. But hey, at least I’m not talking about brown recluses ;-) hehe
There’s a lot I want to do while I’m visiting Nashville, and a lot of people I want to see. One thing I definitely am doing is heading downtown to see some friends play a show. But mainly, I look forward to hanging out with family and catching up with folks. When you live overseas, the place you grew up always feels a bit distant, for obvious reasons. But these past few years have made it seem even farther away, both in time and in space. It’s going to be good to reconnect.
Reconnecting is important. Even if you can’t go be with the people you miss in person, and can only connect virtually or over the phone, the effort is well worth it. It’s easy to forget to reach out; life gets so busy, and what’s happening right in front of us takes our attention like a strong current takes a leaf. But reaching out really isn’t all that hard these days; even internationally, a messenger or skype call costs nothing, for example. I must keep reminding myself to pick up the phone and do it. That’s a project of mine. A work in progress.
Next post will be written from the far side of the world. I’ve never called that side the far side before, but it is.
It must have been the earthquake. Something was not right; nothing would stay the way Rumba liked it anymore.
It must have been the earthquake. Something was not right; nothing would stay the way Rumba liked it anymore.
This was true even of little details, such as Anita’s hair. Last night he had yet again made it long and straight and black—but then this morning, when he had opened his eyes, it was back to being short, blonde, and permed. As if the hair had a mind of its own!
And then there was the incessant banging. No; something was not right. Rumba pursed his lips, but the banging continued. Unable to put his finger on it, he decided to drag the whole mess into the “too hard” file in his mind and resolved to get on with his morning routine.
Outside the big kitchen windows, it was a sunny spring morning. The perfectly cut lawn was crisp and green, and still glistened with moisture from the overnight sprinklers. Ruffles had already started in at the drowsy neighbors as they shuffled out one by one in their various styles of pajamas and dressing gowns to get their morning papers. Rumba grimaced and shook his head, a pinched lumpy lump of pocked skin beneath a brush-black mop of hair that slumped off a skull so large it made his broad shoulders appear not half as broad. How many times over the past few days had he had to told that dog to get it to stop barking? Again, it must be the earthquake.
He placed his glass of orange juice—which should normally be apple juice; again, the earthquake, he decided—on the counter next to the sink, walked briskly to open the sliding glass door, and stuck his pocked inquisitive face out through it to glare at the canine. Simply being told was apparently not enough these days.
Rumba looked at Ruffles, and the cute bunch of slobber and wrinkles wriggled and yipped cheerfully at him. Widening his eyes slightly, he focused on the dog, pursed his lips, and promptly shut her up.
There. Much better! Immensely satisfied that at least one damned thing had finally worked against the veritable litany of stubbornly chaotic events and seemingly uncontrollable disruptions that had been occurring of late, the thirty-something suburbanite dusted imaginary dust off his hands, returned to the kitchen table to plonk himself down, smiling, into his favorite finely factory-crafted wicker chair—with a perfect view of the perfect back yard, of course—and opened the paper back up to continue where he had left off, sipping his juice contentedly while ignoring the whole confounded apple-ness of it. Breakfast was prepped, there was not a cloud in the sky, and Anita would soon be down to join him.
“Earthquake Toll Reaches ₹18.17 Billion"
A series of loud noises practically shook the house. Rumba looked up. There was that banging again! Sighing, he put his paper down without bothering to fold it this time, strode past the banister to the front door, and jammed his thick but uncalloused thumb against the talk button on the doorbell intercom panel.
“Look, I told you yesterday—” He began to growl.
“Rumba! You have to—” A muffled voice was shouting.
Startled, Rumba removed his thumb from the panel and took a step backward. “This is my house; I don’t have to do anything,” he muttered as he tilted his head to get a better view of the bulky figure that was yet again standing right on his front porch and uncomfortably close to the door. Whoever it was appeared to be quite agitated and was waving both arms at him. And like all the other times, the intruder was wearing that ridiculous body suit with that silly-looking mask. As if this were some city in America and it were Halloween! Sure, the tradition had been picked up by a lot of big commercial players in recent years, and was beginning to catch on (Metastasize, more like, he thought) in many countries around the world, but that was no excuse. There were rules. There were cultural lines to be respected. Change was not something that should happen all willy-nilly without any sort of public consultation. What would come next? Trick-or-treating? Wait, Rumba wondered, all of a sudden. Was that what this was?!
Regardless, the person had no business being on his property, let alone shouting at him through his front door. Rumba widened his eyes at the intruder and pursed his lips as hard as he could. But again, nothing happened.
Furious that his morning had once again been sullied by this confounding and repetitive nuisance, and determined not to be interrupted further, he punched his thumb against the talk button and yelled at the top of his lungs, neck veins bulging, “Look, you, whoever you are, I told you yesterday that we do not have an ant problem in this house, nor do we have moths, nor rats, nor termites, nor whatever it is that you do! And this is not America, nor is it even October!!! Now go away and do not bother us again! Or I shall have to issue a complaint! Good day to you, sir!”
And with that, Rumba withdrew his thumb with a click, turned on the heel of his left slipper, and forced himself to stride even strides back to the kitchen to rejoin his newspaper and his juice. There, he took a moment to regain his composure before sitting down as calmly as he could, though this still caused the chair to creak under the weight of his only slightly mitigated annoyance.
Don’t be rambunctious!”
We say that to him, repeatedly at various times of day and night, but Oreo’s empty tummy just won’t let him hear us. I mean, I’m sure he does hear the sounds made by our vocal chords, in the same way that the characters in Peanuts hear their parental figures’ voices: “Wah wah wah-WAH-wah.” A string of sounds that are, in his mind, suggestions at best. But he promptly ignores them and continues with his mucking around. Feed me, Seymour; feed me!
Rambunctiousness in bloom.
At the coffee shop yesterday, a few of us were talking about rambunctiousness. And tip jars. It made me think of a night out with my brother and two friends, years ago. Hell, decades ago, now. And a million miles away.
We were in Nashville, hanging out at a place called HQs. I don’t think it exists anymore (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Anyway, THE reason we were there as opposed to the various other options was that it had a foosball table. A Tornado, no less (imo the best brand & style of table, hands down). It also was not very crowded in the late afternoon / early evening compared to the other foosball option that wasn’t clear across town. And not as smoky, either. Plus, they sold beer in pitchers, and it was pretty cheap. What more would you want?
Anywho, my brother and I were there with our close friends X and N. One thing you should know about X is that he can get pretty loud when he is excited. Such as during a high-stakes (the stakes were not monetary; they were simply joyous competitiveness between friends) foosball match. We were playing teams. It was me and X against my brother and N. My brother and I were both pretty good, so you usually had to separate us to balance things out. X was playing offense, and I was on defense, which meant I was controlling the back two poles of little plastic table soccer humanoid figure thingies. I used to play foosball quite a bit (way too much, if I’m honest), and I enjoyed playing both front and back, but I suppose I was probably at my best when I was goalie like that. I liked taking people by surprise with some bullet-fast bank shots from the back. But my brother knew that, so it didn’t often work on him. We had to get creative. X was my wild card. He was pretty unpredictable. He also spun his polls, which is a huge No-No and for which we were constantly admonishing him. “Oh, …Oh! Yeah yeah yeah, sorry. Sorry!” he would not so much say as shout. And indeed, through most of the afternoon and into the early evening, he was shouting. I did mention his volume. Rambunctiousness in bloom!
So after a couple of games, it’s my brother’s turn to go up to the bar and order another pitcher of beer. The woman working there that day is already pretty annoyed with us at this point, I’m sure (it’s written all over her face in the form of a “chill the fuck out or get the fuck out you assholes”-type scowl), but she doesn’t say anything. Yet. My brother orders the beer, and while she’s got her back turned to fetch an empty pitcher, he pulls out his wallet and plops a bill into the plastic beer pitcher on the bar that’s being used as a tip jar. Only as soon as he does this, he notices he’s put in a twenty by accident. So he reaches into the jar to pull it back out and replace it with a fiver. And you can guess when the exact moment is that she turns around. All she sees is him taking the twenty out; she hasn’t seen him put it in.
“What are you doing, man?!” The bar tender has raised her voice a notch, but not even a fraction as high as X’s, so that’s all we can hear of the ensuing conversation from where we are over at the foosball table. Which, incidentally, is about four feet away from this big wall of floor-to-ceiling glass panels. It’s gotten dark outside by now, so other than the lights from traffic-jammed cars and the Mapco (gas station) across 21st Avenue, all we can see are reflections; the greens and blacks and yellows of the table, the lights hanging from the ceiling, vaguer shapes of pool tables, etc etc. We have to wait until my brother has returned with the beer to learn what happened.
He tells us that she turned around just in time to see him take money out of her tip jar—a twenty, no less—and never mind that he put in a five-dollar bill right afterward, and explained to her what he’d done; she is skeptical, and from that moment on, she is increasingly skeptical. And increasingly pissed. But I guess she must have given him the benefit of the doubt, because she served him the pitcher of beer, after all, and didn’t decide to kick us out right then and there.
It was a good time. It felt really good to hang out, the four of us. Let off some steam, have a good belly laugh, catch up. It had been way too long, and we were chatting and chuckling and being totally silly. There was some seriousness, too, though; the good-natured competitiveness was real, and our attention was mainly on the foosball games (well, the attention of N and my brother and myself was, anyway).
The sides were fairly evenly matched; N’s skills were quite a bit higher than X’s, but as I mentioned, X brought the advantage of surprise and… well, spinning. For which we (even I) repeatedly admonished him. But he did get some goals that way. I felt bad, but not all that bad. After a while it was N’s turn to get a pitcher. I think I’d gotten the first. We were starting to think about pizza, and it was entering our conversation, but we figured we might play another few games first. I think we were up to best five out of nine, something like that.
At some point, X has the ball, and he’s paused with it motionless next to one of his guy’s feet to tell one of his numerous anecdotes about growing up in southwest China, or about undergrad philosophy, or world politics, or I can’t remember what. N, impatient, is like, “Dude hit the ball, let’s finish this, I’m getting hungry.” X apologizes loudly and refocuses. And then all of a sudden, he does this super-powerful strike at the goal from his front line of guys—and it isn’t even a spin this time. It is a truly excellent shot; in that split-second, time has slowed. I have enough sharp-eyed focus to get a clear view of the ball’s trajectory, and am feeling both hopeful and impressed. It’s going to slam hard into the goal. In my head, I can already hear that satisfying WHACK!!! of a foosball slamming into the back of the goalbox.
Only right then, my brother whings his goalie poll over, foot forward at the perfect angle, and stops the fucker cold. And the ball must have had some weird-ass spin on it, because it ricochets airborne. And the force of X’s shot sends it flying up nearly to shoulder-height and all the way over to the glass wall, which it hits with a VERY audible DINK!!!. And this is immediately followed by N’s loud guffaw and X’s super-loud “OHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I guess that’s what happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object.
There were only a couple other customers in the place at the time—two guys playing pool, who honestly didn’t seem to give a shit—but after that commotion, we were, needless to say, asked—nay, told—nay, shouted at by the bar tender, whose patience had finally boiled over—to stop disturbing the customers and leave the premises. I believe the exact words were something like, “Okay, NO. UH-uh. That’s IT. Get out. All of you. NOW.”
I don’t blame her. I hate assholes like those, who are all rambunctious as hell and completely inconsiderate of people around them who just want to have an afternoon and evening of peace and quiet and chill-ness around a relaxing game of pool and a pitcher or two of beer. Well that day, we were those rambunctious assholes. (Sorry, bar tender, whatever your name was! We did eventually grow up and learn some manners, I promise! Well, somewhat, anyway!)
But anyway. No regrets. We had an absolute blast. I think it was a while before we were able to get back together, the four of us, and continue our match; or perhaps we never did and just chalked it up to an interrupted competition to redo some other time. I can’t remember. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Because after we left the bar, we had some delicious pizza and continued to have a great time hanging out together. I haven’t really done this story justice, and I’m sure my brother or N or X would remember some details I’ve forgotten. But what I do remember, I remember fondly.
Rambunctiousness: It happens sometimes. Enjoy it when it does :-)
Breath flows through me
From someplace unseen, sometimes rushing, sometimes smooth and slow
A channel; a current, taking me with it, often with eyes closed.
Eyes closed is best, usually; it helps me get inside the sound,
See the colours: Greens, blues, blacks, purples, mostly.
I am the vessel. I am the medium. I am the echo,
Coming back again and again, whether a split-second later
Or after a span of over a decade. Time is irrelevant, in this space.
There are distractions, of course;
Slow tongue, weak lips, cold fingers,
The cramping of leg muscles through a long-tapped tempo,
The inevitable missed note, flubbed rhythm, off pitch.
But those are the shallow moments;
When I go deep, none of that matters
Or even enters my awareness.
Deep is where the feel is.
Deep is where the good stuff is.
Deep is where I am inside the notes,
Flowing along with them;
Not so much hearing
Like plunging into a cool stream,
Greens, blues, purples, blacks,
Seaweed waving and clouds scooting and water flowing
Warm blood pumping.
Not eyes, but hearts;
Not ears, but souls;
Not melody, but song;
Not rhythm, but primordial patterns,
Swirling, climbing, ebbing, descending, pausing, continuing,
Ever continuing, never stopping.
Each visit is but a dipping of toes into an eternal river,
A simple rejoining of the conversation; and,
Sadly, only temporary.
For though the breath occasionally deigns to flow through me,
To use me,
To make me its basin to fill,
And no matter how hard I try to cling to it,
My body, my mind, my entire being are but transitory,
And the breath never holds on for long.
Where does it go after?
To someone else? To some corner of distant space?
Or to the back of my mind, perhaps,
To linger and tease and tantalize and evade
Until some unfathomable moment of its choosing,
Some right time when I am good to be used again…?
I’ll never know. All I can do is wait
And go about my daily and nightly business,
Striving for patience,
Until, when I am least expecting it,
The breath takes me again
And makes me its own.
I used to not be able to walk past a bookstore without going in to at least have a look around. I still get that urge, but reality has checked my habit of purchasing more books; I already possess way more that I have time to read.
Part of the joy of being in a bookstore is the smell of the books. New books have that new paper and ink and glue smell, and secondhand books have that old musty book smell. I love both. Back when I worked in bookstores, I took the scent of books for granted. I was immersed in it without even realizing the luxury of it. I miss it.
To this day, my favourite bookstore ever was the secondhand bookstore in which I worked for a few years, in Hillsboro Village in Nashville, called Bookman / Bookwoman. At first, I worked there between two and five short shifts a week; the woman who had been there full-time Monday through Friday for years was on long leave. Alas, she returned, and Sundays were usually the days one of the owners ran the store, so my shift got cut down to Saturdays only. By then I had learned the ins and outs, though, so I was able to run the place all by myself; it really was just a one-person job anyway.
I learned a heap doing that job, and not just about books. The owners, Larry and Saralee Woods, were very experienced and knowledgeable. The bookstore was their labour of love; they didn’t do much better than break even with it, as rent there was so high (and now it’s even higher, but that’s another story). One of them had been an attorney and the other had worked in government and staffing, but both were avid readers and collectors of books. In addition, they ran an online business, which is where they sold most of the rare first editions they came across. Some Saturdays they would both show up around mid-morning, and Saralee would take over desk duties while I went with Larry—he driving their car—a Buick I think?—usually, and myself either in the passenger seat or driving their daughter’s Toyota van—following Larry to some estate sale or yard sale in search of deals on used books. Almost always we would come back with literally boxes and boxes of them.
That was when the real work began. First we had to clean them, which was usually handled with a spray or two of Windex on the front and back covers and a good wipe, including a sweep of the top, bottom, and front of the text blocks to remove excess dust. When it came to the ones that had been sitting in a dank basement way too long, Larry taught me a neat trick for killing mold: Simply stick the book in the microwave for ten seconds (after making sure to remove any staples or paperclips in it first, of course). That would kill it dead. We had a microwave right behind the desk and register, near one of the windows. Another method is to set the moldy book out in direct sunlight for a while, but on a busy Saturday, we didn’t usually have much sidewalk space to use for that, so microwave was the way to go. For paperbacks and many hardcovers, that was all there was too the cleaning process, but for some of the latter, we’d go a step further and milar the cover, which basically meant giving it a plastic-like sleeve to protect the jacket. Then we’d price the books, on the inside page, in pencil.
I still remember the prices. They would vary, of course, depending on the title and condition and so on, but in general, mass market paperbacks were $2.95, trade paperbacks were $6.95-$7.95, and hardbacks were $9.95-$12.95. There were some collectibles in the store that cost more, and one time while going through a box of books we’d picked up at a yard sale I came across an autobiography of Harry S. Truman that seemed to be signed. I showed Larry and asked, “Think this is real?” He raised an eyebrow. “Well, there’s one way to find out.” He took it home and did some research, and sure enough, it was the former president’s signature. The book was worth $800. So, I guess I made them some money. I’m happy about that.
I lived about a fifteen-minute walk away, and most days I’d walk to work. I’d open the store by 10:00 a.m., if I’m remembering correctly, and lock the doors at 6:00 so I could close up shop without more customers coming in. Then I usually would go to the bar two doors down and drink way too much beer and play way too much foosball and darts. Okay, no such thing as way too much foosball. Just sayin.
It was a semi-urban setting, and occasionally homeless people, most of whom were mentally ill, would wander in. That was a learning curve for me. There was this one guy who had no volume control, and he would walk in and just start yelling at the top of his lungs. It took me a while to realize he wasn’t actually angry or menacing. I learned to have a calm conversation with him, ask him how his day was going—to which he was never able to reply in any sensical way—and guide him gently out the door so that he wouldn’t scare all the other customers away. I feel a bit guilty about that, but then it was my job to run the bookstore and sell books. A cop I met told me that when it came to most of the mentally ill homeless who got picked up for some reason or other, all the cops could do was take them over to Vanderbilt, where they would spend a mandatory twelve days in the psych ward before being dumped back out on the street. Oh well, I guess at least they got food and a bed for those twelve days. A crap system though. Reminds me of that book by Foucault, about how sanitariums had served as society’s trash can to toss away the unwanted. First the unwanted had been lepers, and then suddenly leprosy had been declared (by some pope, I think? I can’t recall) “no longer existent”, so sanitariums became the place to put people who were now newly discovered and defined as “insane”. Madness in civilization, indeed.
One Saturday, at about twenty minutes before six o’clock closing time, this guy walks in and plonks himself down right in the main mystery aisle. He proceeds to pull dozens and dozens of books off the shelves, making little piles around him, completely blocking the path so that other customers have to take the long way around. While I’m shelving books and tidying up in preparation to close shop, I keep glancing at him. He’s mumbling to himself in waves of quiet-loud, quiet-loud, and is constantly scribbling in blue pen on a yellow notepad, filling every conceivable space with what looks like chicken scratch. At one point I tell him, “Excuse me, sir, but we’re closing in about ten minutes.” He pretty much ignores me. A while later, “Excuse me, sir; we’re closing in about five minutes, so if you want to buy anything, now’s the time. I’ll be locking the doors at six o’clock.” He raises a hand, as if to stop me from interrupting his concentration. I sigh inwardly, dreading having to kick the guy out. He’s a rather large man, and I am not. I return to the desk, fretting a bit. As I’m about to go back to the mystery section and tell him to get the hell out (please sir), I notice that the driver of the taxi that’s been waiting outside the front door for a while is craning his neck toward the window of the bookstore. Hmm. I wonder. When I walk over to tell the chicken scratch man that I am locking the door and he needs to get out, I see that he is struggling to his feet. In a rather mumbly voice, he asks, very politely, if I wouldn’t mind helping him put some books in boxes and telling the taxi driver to come help him load them into the trunk. Long story short, he buys over six hundred bucks worth of mystery novels. So, I guess it just goes to show: You really can’t judge a book by its cover.
For lunch, I often would wait until there was a lull in customers and the bookstore was empty, and then dart down the sidewalk to Provence, a lovely café that paid tribute to the south of France with their food and coffee. I became addicted to their soups and bread. Sometimes I’d get their cold pesto & red bell pepper pasta, which was yum. And a can of coke usually. I’d be standing on the sidewalk while they prepared my food, one eye on the bookstore to watch for customers. Then I’d race back and sit my butt behind the register and munch my munchables in-between customers.
Both Saralee and Larry are big mystery fans, so as mentioned above, the mystery section was quite extensive. Larry was a huge sci-fi reader, too, so that section was one of the best I’ve ever seen in any bookstore, which was alright by me, because I love me some spaceships. In fact, Larry has (had?) a HUGE collection of novels, mostly sci-fi, which he kept in a warehouse he rented downtown. I guess the price of rent went up, because he decided to move the collection to a smaller place. He asked me one day whether I’d like to make some extra cash, and I said sure, so he told me to come over to their house the following Monday. (Incidentally, their house was always fascinating to walk through; books were piled high everywhere they could fit them, in every nook and cranny… but I digress.) When I arrived, he gave me the keys to the warehouse and the basement in a new place over on… 18th I think?... as well as the Toyota van key. Then he drove their car over with me just to make sure I knew where to go.
In the warehouse there were—I kid you not—over five thousand boxes of books. And most of them sci-fi!!! Talk about a collector! :-) After scraping my jaw off the floor, I thanked Larry, he left, and I got to work.
I could only fit between fifteen and nineteen boxes per load in the van. Even after I developed a system and got to where I could make one complete round trip in about forty-five minutes, loading and unloading included, it still took me all summer to complete. At one point I recruited the help of a friend’s younger brother. He had some mental health issues, and was unemployed at the time, so it was nice to give him some work. We had some laughs together. Good times. I built up some muscles that summer. Having worked at the computer for years now, I sometimes miss more physical jobs like lifting and carrying boxes upon boxes of books. The physical activity is somehow reassuring. Comforting.
I loved working at Bookman / Bookwoman. Sadly, after the extra work from moving the book collection was over, all they could give me was Saturdays. I had made ends meet before that by teaching private flute and Chinese lessons to people who’d gotten my number from the flyers I’d placed around, but that was hard to rely on, and I needed more regular work hours. I asked (very nearly begged, lol) for more, but they could not give them to me. So, I reluctantly looked for employment elsewhere.
I got a full-time job at the local Borders bookstore. Some might look at it as a case of “working for the enemy,” but really it was just a look at a very different side of the industry. I learned heaps there, too. And made a lot of friends, a few of whom I’m still in touch with to this day. It was there that I learned what new books smell like. And what it’s like to have a team of managers who really know what they’re doing and have your back. It was an experience, to say the least.
I’m surrounded by books in my study. Many of them I’ve read, many I haven’t. A few I’ve even Windexed or microwaved. When I walk past a bookstore nowadays, rare though they are becoming, I am flooded with nostalgia. Sure, there’s the urge to go inside and get more sci-fi or fantasy novels. I am more able to resist that now. But there’s also a desire to return to the days when I worked in bookstores. It was a wonderful time, and I am grateful to Larry and Saralee and everyone else I met while doing those jobs.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years to the day since my better half and I were chased out of our apartment by pibers. Er, spiders, that is.
Back in 2019, a time that seems like a thousand years ago (right?!), in July to be exact, we were about halfway through a year-long stay in America, visiting family and working and exploring around. We had rented a duplex about ten or fifteen minutes away from my parents’ place, and were enjoying the wonderfully amazingly awesomely wonderful heat and humidity of high summer in Nashville, Tennessee. We were proud of ourselves at having found a place in a nice area (well, a gentrified one, like so many in Nashville these days… a fact that is threatening to send me off on a tangent and a rant about money and greed and low-income families being kicked to the curb and… but where was I), just a hop skip & a jump away from our neighbours Keith and Nicole (okay, fine, it was more like a ten-minute drive from their house, and to be fair, they never invited us over the entire time we were in Nashville; hell, I don’t think they even texted or called once… it was like they were ignoring us… like they didn’t even know we existed… sheesh). Within walking distance of our apartment was a beautiful greenway, a pub, Hattie B’s, and some other yummy places to eat. We’d set up a home-away-from-home with second-hand furniture and so on that we’d acquired at various estate and garage sales, and were settling in, enjoying time with my brother and parents and a few friends, and exploring a new phase of life. Despite the challenges of being empty-nesters and the distance from family back in Australia, and all the difficulty that entails, life was pretty good.
Then, one night while we were watching TV, something crawled across the floor and stopped under our glass-top coffee table ($40 from a local thrift store, hehe). “What is that?” my wife asked. “Um,” I said.
It looked like a brown recluse. “Um, it looks likes a brown recluse.”
“A brown recluse?! Aren’t those bad???”
“Indeed, Daniel Jackson.” (Okay, I didn’t really say “Indeed, Daniel Jackson,” but that’s how I heard my voice in my head just now while I was recalling events.)
We took a few photos of the spider (because it had been kind enough to stop moving long enough for us to do so), and began Dr. Googling. Sure enough, it was a brown recluse. Shit. Sudden freaked-out-ness. Shit.
But then I calmed down and reassured my wife that recluses were pretty common in Tennessee, and that while they were rare to see just crawling around out in the open like this, as opposed to hiding in a corner or behind some boxes in the attic, they were around, after all, so it wasn’t a big deal (as if saying something like, “Deadly poisonous snake? Meh, those are around, so it’s not a big deal” makes such a thing not a big deal).
Before I continue, I’d like to pause to point out (and appreciate) the irony that we had come from Australia, land of poisonous and venomous googly things that will kill you.
Anyway. Over the next few weeks, we saw several more brown recluses. I googled harder, made a bunch of phone calls. Called the landlord, and she reassured me in a rather condescending tone that brown recluses are common in middle Tennessee, so it’s not a big deal. Right, okay. But after a few more emails and phone calls to her in the following week or two, I was eventually able to convince her that there were WAY more recluses in our apartment than there normally should be; so, after several rather annoyed-sounding sighs and what I imagined were some very exaggerated eye-rolls to her husband or anyone else who might have been in the room with her, she finally agreed to send a pest-control guy out to have a look.
The person who came out was not only a spider specialist, but an actual brown recluse expert. He was a tall, thin elderly gentleman with a white mustache who’d been doing his job for many years, so was very knowledgeable; what’s more, I could tell immediately that he was a total straight-shooter. One of those old-school Tennesseeans who prided himself on being honest, and who would in no way, shape, or form ever try to up-sell you or exaggerate costs etc. After you get ripped off enough times, you get to where you can discern straight-shooters from bullshit artists.
He had a look around, placed sixteen sticky-traps in various corners and other likely places, and said he’d be back after a month to check. Meanwhile, he reminded me that having grown up in Nashville, I was probably aware that brown recluses were common in middle Tennessee so it was no big deal, and he went on to reassure us that 1) they are not aggressive, and only roam around because that’s how they hunt for food; and 2) that the handful we’d seen over the previous few weeks were more than likely the only ones in the house, and that it had probably just been a weird fluke that they’d been out in the open where we could see them. In short, he seemed more than slightly skeptical that his services were going to be needed.
A month later he came back. After friendly handshakes and some polite small-talk, he set to work.
He picked up the first sticky-trap, and his brow furrowed.
He went into the kitchen to pick up one he had placed down near the back of the fridge, took one look, and said, “Oh dear.”
He checked two more, and was shaking his head as he told us he’d seen enough, and didn’t even need to look at the other traps to know that we had an infestation.
More than fifty adult brown recluses had been caught in the sticky traps. These in addition to the fifteen that I had killed in the bathtub, bathroom, living room, kitchen, on the walls, etc. We’d bought a big can of special spider-killing Raid, and I had damn near emptied half the can right onto one that had slipped into the bathtub and couldn’t get out. I told the spider guy about this, and he just smiled and said (almost proudly, come to think of it), “And let me guess. He jus’ reared ‘is head back an’ laughed atchya.” Which is exactly what the spider had done. See, apparently, brown recluses are immune to most bug sprays, including spider sprays.
He said our infestation was one of the worst he had ever seen in his long career. Recluses are called “recluses” for a reason: Normally, they are reclusive; you almost never see them unless you go looking for them. The vast majority of houses, especially old ones, in Tennessee have a few brown recluses in them, but they are almost always hidden from view; you find them in attics, basements, among piles of cardboard boxes or dry piles of wood, and so on. Anywhere they can hide. They only come out to hunt at night, when most humans are asleep, and even then, they tend to slink around where we can’t see them. Well, with an infestation, basically it’s a run-away population, and these ordinarily rather solitary spiders are suddenly pushed to find new places to dwell and hunt. This brings them into human areas; hence our arachnidan friends who so cheerfully came to say hi to us, such as the one who was hanging out on the wall right next to my towel as I was reaching for it to dry off after stepping out of the shower one evening….
Anyway. Where was I. Oh, right. The spider guy told us our infestation was only going to get worse, because July is when recluses mate and have babies (sure enough, over the next couple of weeks, we began to see bunches of little baby spiders caught in the sticky-traps). So, he said he’d contact the landlord and tell her what the options were.
To get rid of a big infestation, there really is only one option that works. Remember how I mentioned that ordinary spider spray doesn’t kill brown recluses? For that reason, step one is to drill holes in the baseboards at one-yard intervals throughout the house, then pump in this powder stuff that is deadly to the spiders. Step two is to fumigate the attic and crawl spaces under the house with some sort of poisonous stuff that kills pretty much everything else—bugs, other spiders, and so on—but which merely irritates the brown recluses (I guess it’s similarly laughable to them as Raid spider spray). The now irritated spiders flee the fumigated areas, and scramble down into the walls, where the pumped powder stuff is. But even THAT doesn’t kill them right away. But it does get on them, and then later, as the brown recluses are grooming themselves (think cute fuzzy kittens, only with eight legs and dark brown violin-shapes on their cephalothoraxes), they ingest some of the powder stuff and then, finally, they become deaded. Getötet.
Needless to say, we were not sleeping at this point; we were constantly having to check our shoes, shake out our clothing, the bedding, etc etc etc. Life had become an insidious nightmare. It was a creepy sort of paranoia that had gradually begun to seep into our conscious and subconscious minds. It was becoming absolutely oppressive.... Oh, and did I mention the squirrels??? The pesky things were constantly running through the ceiling and the wall right over the head of our bed at all hours of the night! There was even a racoon that got into the walls. And I learned that racoons will actually eat squirrels. But that’s another story.
We asked Mr. Spider Guy (I wish I could remember his name, or at least his outfit’s name, because I’d recommend him highly) how long it would take, and he said that using the aforementioned method, about 90-95% of the population would die in the first two months, and most of the rest in the third month, but that he would keep checking in monthly for six months. He also warned that in the first month we would see increased spider activity.
That was all we needed to hear. We emailed an apology to the landlord for having to terminate our lease early. Given the spiders and the squirrels, it’s no wonder that she refunded our deposit promptly and without the slightest complaint. Okay, maybe just an eyeroll or two. But I didn’t actually hear those.
There’s one more part to the story. That weekend, my brother helped us move into my old bedroom in our parents’ place, and a week or so later, a good friend and his wife took us out to east Tennessee to see a football game. We had a blast. On the way there, we took blue highways, and stopped at one of my friend’s favourite breweries for some cold beer and a bite to eat.
And. I. Kid. You. Not. !!! Have a look-see at what was on the menu:
It was only very reluctantly that I admitted that that particular beer was absolutely DELICIOUS (and so were all the others I tried, incidentally). Still though!!!
But then I guess I shouldn’t whinge too much. We are now back in the land of funnel webs, after all....
It snowed last night. Enough to cover the ground and treebranches with a good solid layer of white. It looked beautiful, mesmerizing in the sunlight this morning. Normally Oreo, the cat, at least glances over his shoulder when you walk into the bedroom see what you are doing, but today his eyes were absolutely glued to the window.An hour or so later, while walking from the car to the coffee shop to play my weekly Wednesday gig, I caught a scent on the breeze that took me straight back in time. I am not sure what it was; perhaps a mixture of woodsmoke and coal and snow. Whatever it was, it transported me immediately to another world. The memories were intensely vivid. They flooded my head, and all morning as I played guitar and flute, I kept remembering snatches of things I saw and experienced back when I was nineteen.
As soon as I got home and had fed the cats and gotten some lunch, I dug out the old journals I filled while hitchhiking around southwestern China and eastern Tibet (Kham) in 1992-93, and began poring through the pages. The following is an entry from one of them:
It’s late. Outside in the courtyard is a pile of lumber and four grown trees. The wind roars in their branches, carrying with it the rising and falling voices of those singing at the home of someone who has died. Many people went to the funeral. I’m in the bed of one of them; he’s the first man I met when I came down out of the woods and promptly became “un-lost”. He is Yi zu, as is his village, though the other two villages in this high mountain valley and most of their residents are Naxi zu.
Less than an hour ago, I was reeling drunkenly amidst the loud singing of about twenty-five Naxi girls, playing flute at their bidding in the center of the circle as they danced around me clockwise, arms linked, laughing beneath the stars. It was late already then, and now time feels like it’s stopped. I couldn’t make out their faces, as only the stars were out; no moon tonight. But those stars! Crystal clear. Mountain stars. They got me to dance with them, and despite my awkwardness and lack of ability, my feet moved, and with it my heart. We danced on the grass and Little Hé guffawed and teased and flirted with them, drink sloshing out of the jar, alive in his moment.
They dispersed as suddenly as they had gathered, still singing, the white and navy blue T-shaped costumes luminescent as they headed in twos and threes and fours, hand-in-hand, toward the funeral. Hé and the other teacher, Li, lay in the grass with their heads nearly touching and talked of the stars and other stuff. I lay there and listened, unable to take part in the conversation given my poor Chinese, but able to understand most of what was said; they were slowing it down for my benefit. One constellation, “Fangniu”, has the following story:
There long ago was a herder. He loved to dance. One day, one of the gods saw him dancing on the grass. The herder went to the middle of the field and turned into a water buffalo, who then went to the sky, where he remains to this day....
They both praised Deng Xiaoping and Liu Xiaoqi, and said that the worst thing about the Cultural Revolution had been that so many wonderful things were destroyed. Teachers had had a bad lot, because their students were empowered, as Red Guards, to do as they pleased, and had gotten caught up in the zeal and no small bit of brainwashing. There is still a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment, they said, but it’s more relaxed now.
(第二天早上 - The next morning)
This morning the pine trees in the sun were beautiful.... I had a dream that two cultural revolutions in a row happened at home; there was strife between Mom and Dad, a lot of bureaucratic shit, uniforms, announcements through megaphones by young policemen marching along the streets. We were in some random urban neighborhood or something. It was winter, and there were icicles everywhere, glistening. Mom screamed at me when I stopped in the street to pick up some veggies I’d dropped. She was with Nina, and they were marching along, fear all over both their faces. I scooped up the mush as well as I could, and then ran after them. In the end, and this part is blurry in my memory, we had to escape. There was a ditch of water to swim down. I didn’t know where my brother was.
The sun has come into this little four-tree courtyard now, and I can see patches of snow among the trees on the mountain above. The sounds of seventy or so kids’ voices sing out in a strange rhythm from the school to which this place is attached. It was really nice of Teachers Hé and Li to let me crash here. I guess I’d better get up now.
Akinyi Ayange had always had light feet and gentle hands. Closing doors, opening windows, placing her mug or gun on the bench; she had maneuvered about the craft in what seemed to Ray a graceful dance of self-control, a constant yet subconscious respect for gravity, and a quietness that had bordered on devout.
Ray Javid saw himself as outright rough and clumsy by comparison. Familiar to his ears and all of those that had ever been around him was a constant trickle of bangs, clanks, and crashes as he made room for himself in life’s surroundings. Some people made way, skirted around obstacles, or melded themselves to their environments; Ray, on the other hand, was more like a bulldozer. His was an utterly entropic spirit, as though host to some incarnation or demigod of inertia and velocity without any regard for rules or restraint. He had always hurtled straight through life like a juggernaut, whereas Akinyi had floated and wended along the tides of life like a feather.
Big-muscled and tall as Ray was, though, he was not callous by any means, nor was he at all dull-witted. He had occasionally noticed this stark contrast between him and his would-be lover, but it had never really bothered him until now: For even on such a small boat as this one, the absence of Akinyi’s gentle sounds was quite noticeable. Heartbreakingly noticeable.
She had been “missing” for two days now. A tiny voice in the back of his head was still trying in vain to convince him that there was hope. It was a lie, though; he knew there wasn’t. She was gone. Gone while he slept. It made sense. The path of least resistance, least confrontation. The path of soft quiet and subtle wending.
Ever since, the sudden absence of her had made the thuds of his thick boots sound heavier somehow, as if they needed to fill the silence. Ironic, considering she had been the quietest person Ray had ever known. He found himself slamming drawers into place and windows shut even more gruffly than usual. On some level he was aware that he was doing this, but like so many things on which he preferred not to dwell these days, he had quickly pounded such thoughts into a tight corner of his mind where they could remain securely out of his way—because he needed everything to just get the fuck out of his way. Especially now. It was the whole reason he didn’t work well with others. Most others, anyway.
He was crossing into Talon Reef. The skiff was going fast enough to buck against the long viscous swells, and a fine spray salted his mustache as he squinted into the light of the smaller sun. It was relatively miniscule in size, but shined so much more fiercely than its partner. Soon it would set, and the larger sun would rise, blue and cumbersome; two stars that would never cross the same sky at the same time. Not in Ray’s lifetime, at least.
Hullos :-) I hope you all are having a lovely week. Since last week’s blog post, I’ve been working on a new tune and a couple of new songs, and one of the songs (with lyrics, that is—“sangin-songs”, I call them) is pretty much finished (if not very well-practiced yet!). I thought I’d share it here to serve as this week’s blog post, as it captures a lot of how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m also putting up a youtube video of me attempting to play it.
It’s (heh) rather different from the other songs I’ve written so far. I guess I felt a need to vent some frustrations, after all this “wonderful” news that’s been reported throughout the world lately. Anyway, here is “It’s, It’s, It’s.” I’ll share the lyrics first and the video afterward. Assuming I get up the courage to record my ugly mug on camera for you all, that is!
I hope you enjoy :-)
It’s, It’s, It’s.
by Gaines Post (2022)
[capo 5; med. tempo bluegrass/folk picking]
[instrumental intro: verse x 2 + chorus x 1, then sing]
Middleman, middleman, all hail the middleman G G G G
Little bit o’ effort, lotta return; G G G C
He’s a gonna get what’s his… and WAY MORE. D D G x 4
CEO, CEO, all hail the CEO G G G G
Money makes money, don’t you know? G G G C
Here’s to the bottom line. And lots of shares!
[chorus: hearts] D D G x 4It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
Lobbyist, lobbyist, all hail the lobbyist G G G G
You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours; G G G C
The rest can all eat cake. Or whatever! D D G x 4
Poli-ticker, poli-ticker, all hail the poli-ticker G G G G
Promises production, delivers corruption; [PAUSE on C…] G G G C
That two-faced sonofabitch! You dick!
[chorus: souls] D D G x 4It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
[instrumental break; whole form x 1]
Pharma lab, pharma lab, all hail the pharma lab G G G G
Disease and pain are its best friends; G G G C
Those profits are gonna soar. And keep soarin. (roll eyes) D D G x 4
Gunmaker, gunmaker, all hail the gunmaker… the more G G G G
Bullets get shot the more bullets get sold; G G G C
Let’s sell ‘em right in-the schools. But not where my kids go! Duh!!!
It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
Mmm mmm mmmmm. C/Bm G G
It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
That stain on our conscience, it’s greed. Am D Em x 4
Oligarch, oligarch, all hail the oligarch G G G G
Got a rink in the cellar and a yacht in Hong Kong; G G G C
He’s a gonna start ano-ther war. Because he has ego like bear! D D G x 4
You and me, you and me, all ha-il you and me G G G G
A pe-nny here …and a do-llar there, G G G C
We’re a gonna get what’s ours. And keep it from all those other folks! (wink) D D G x 4
It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
Mmm mmm mmmmm. C/Bm G G
It’s greed, it’s greed, it’s greed; C/Bm Am Am
That stain on our hearts, it’s greed.
(repeat chorus)Am D Em x 2
[instrumental out verse x 1, ritard from D at end]
A friend and fellow discussion & storytelling group member from Goodreads recently had us all write about “independence”. Well, originally, I was going to take the example he gave and think of some anecdote to do with first becoming independent from my parents, what life choices I made in the months or years that followed, etc. After thinking it over awhile, however, I decided instead to write about another form of independence. Here is an expansion of what I wrote:
When I was ten years old, I got a flute. At school, when we’d sat on the floor of the auditorium and signed up for our “art classes” (I’d picked band), and subsequently been made to choose which instrument we were planning to play (I’d picked flute), I had been under the impression that flutes were those vertical, black plastic things (recorders) we’d dabbled with in class and seen in various school skits and so on. Later, at the music store, I was mortified to learn that I would actually be playing the silver transverse flute (a “girl’s” instrument!!! …or so society had led me to believe up to that point). I wanted to back out, but it was a done deal; there were no do-overs. So we brought the flute home. My parents rented it for me, on a rent-to-own scheme.
I played in school band until sophomore year in high school, after which I very happily quit, having finished my required art credits. I had been getting into guitar by then, and was taking some lessons. I only played it casually, but I did it with my peers, and in my mind, it was cool. But then one day, during study hall at school (and we were literally sitting in the hall that day), another friend (a guitar "god" in my mind at the time) told me I should get my flute out and try playing some blues on it. Blues? Huh? On the flute?!? But that's a stupid band instrument! Does not compute!!! Well, despite my incredulity, I gave it a go, and the rest is history.
Only not quite. See, over the next sixteen or so years, I did continue to play flute (guitar was only ever just a casual thing, to do at home to help relax for a few minutes after work for example; just messing around, that sort of thing). I even played flute professionally for a few years. I was on my way to getting pretty good at it, and had I not stopped playing music for fifteen+ years, I could have.
But the thing was, back when I used to play music, I was always doing it not only with other people, but for other people. Not totally; I did play music for my own enjoyment, certainly. But in my immature mind back then, I was always... I dunno. Trying to prove something maybe? Self-conscious. Aware (hyper-aware, really) of how others perceived me, including how I sounded to them, in my imagination. Trying to be something and someone I wasn't. I never performed music solo, other than playing on the street or a baby shower I once played or an art gallery I once played; all the gigs I did were with friends, other musicians, as part of one band / ensemble or another. Sure, I contributed artistically, but most of it was not my music. Not mine enough, anyway. I might not be being fair to myself, but the truth is, the majority of what I did back then, over all those years of performances and jamming with friends, was me being a poser at worst and a follower at best. Toward the end of that time, I started writing more music, and we did play some of it in a certain jazz ensemble, and that was lovely. But still, even then, I was following. I was not leading; not in a real sense, anyway. And by leading, I don't mean leading others so much as leading myself.
I learned so much from all those wonderful musician friends. I was a moth to their flame. I will always cherish those memories. But the vast majority of it was never my music. It was theirs. I was just a member of the band.
Life happened, and for some reason still not totally known to me, I lost all urge to play music, and basically stopped for fifteen years.
A bit more than a year and a half ago, I picked up the flute. It was like re-discovering an appendage I hadn't even known was lost. I found a local open mic, and got up on stage and played some tunes. The first tune I played was one I wrote back in 2005 or so, when I was winding down in my music performances etc. Several months later, I started taking my guitar, and played it on stage for the very first time. Then I learned a couple of songs, and sang on stage for the very first time.
Since then, I have written four songs... songs with actual lyrics! lol... and am working on another. I've met a bunch of new musicians, and have even played with some of them, BUT, importantly, now, for the first time ever, I am doing my own thing. Playing my own music. Making my own decisions. I am the one who books my gigs; no one else. I am the one who decides what I am playing at any given performance; no one else. I am the one and only creative input in terms of tunes and songs I write and arrange. In a very real sense, I have finally achieved independence in music.
It has been a wonderful time of self-discovery. A very late blooming, but a blossoming nonetheless. It's been exhilarating. I'm in love with music in a way I never was before; my experience of it now is very different from my experience of it when I was younger. Part of it is that I'm older, wiser (I hope, lol). Part of it is that I've come to realize that life is so fucking short, so if you're gonna do something, you should fucking do it, right now, or you might never get another chance. Whatever the reasons, I'm glad to now be on my own two feet in my creative endeavours.
There, my ramble about independence. Wheeee. Thank you for reading :-)
Back in the summer of 1990, I went with four other people on a 31-day canoe trip, called a “canuck”, in the lake country of far northern Saskatchewan. I was seventeen at the time. It was quite a journey, on multiple levels. I thought I’d share with you a couple of my journal entries from that month in the wilderness:
This morning I got up extra early. It was cloudy, and pelicans were flying overhead. I told G it was way too early and that he should go back to sleep. G can wake up very easily without an alarm.
Watching the pelicans, it took a full wingbeat for the sound to reach me. Flap-whistle flap-whistle flap-whistle glide, flap-whistle flap-whistle flap-whistle glide…. What a graceful bird! And huge! A loon swam around the rock shore points to check me out. Very curious and wary; he kept cocking his head and turning back and forth. I could see his feet moving. Later on, I heard him call twice near a little grassy island not far from where we were camped.
Heard B’s alarm go off. No one stirred. I watched the birds in the mist & rain some more, and then woke everyone up ten minutes later, after it had stopped sprinkling. The quiet of the grey waking morning made me feel really alive. A bit later, it downpoured, and we ate bulgar & played hearts beneath the blue tarp we had strung up between a couple of small Jack Pines. The thunder said the lightning was less than two miles away, so we stayed put to wait it out. Drank rainwater out of the filled big bucket. It got to raining so hard that we couldn’t see any islands even. Then it slowed, and we packed up.
Last night D (“Oogla”) ooged out & dove into the water after some imaginary butterscotch & cut his wrist on a rock, but he’s okay. After dinner, B, G, and I had a refreshing swim in the buck. Felt like we got just as soaked this morning while packing the gear into the canoes in the rain. But at least there wasn’t any more lightning & thunder.
We paddled under dark skies to Nistowiak Lake and beached near a fish camp. It’s weird seeing signs of civilization after weeks of nothing but ourselves and trees and lakes and rivers and sky and the weather and the sounds of animals and birds and the wilderness. I almost feel like I want us to just turn back, go back where we came from. Head north, northwest, and just keep going. Never come back, you know? Just go. We can catch plenty of fish and we have plenty of water; what else do we need? This place is real. What place is as real as this. Nowhere.
Beached the canoes and then hiked along a rushing, crystal clear stretch of the Rapid River through dense boreal thickets until we got a view of Nistowiak Falls, looking down at it. They fall forty feet of roar & spray & foam. Saw a rainbow in the mist….
This place is truly awesome.
We bushwhacked over to a grassy ledge above the cliff to get a view from the opposite side of the falls. Got wet from the spray; found some great wild mint. The whole place smelled good.
After paddling out from the woods a ways, we suddenly heard what sounded kind of like wolves yipping and whistling behind us. We went back curious, and found three mangy sled dogs chained. Two looked like they must have some wolf in them. The didn’t look happy. I wanted to let them loose, even though I knew we couldn’t. B talked about his dog Kasha for a while, and then we paddled in silence. It wasn’t raining anymore, but the day felt like lead.
We paddled along the river a long ways and portaged into a lake chain that’ll take us to where B says we want to put into the Churchill. It rained off and on all day and we even got some more thunder way too close for comfort and had to dig for shore as hard as we could so we wouldn’t get fried by lightning. But I’m too tired to write about all that so am turning off my flashlight and going to sleep now. Good night.
I woke up early again this morning. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Anyway, I woke up, to the sound of wind in the aspens overhead. Aspens are nice for a change. You can tell we’re significantly farther south than we were in the earlier legs of the trip. I watched haze come across the lake. It was another front, I think. Last night B & I identified white spruce, common juniper, & paper birch. A couple of new ones for our list.
I started out sterning this morning with the trip paddle, and we dug into the wind past a group of pelicans. Saw another eagle up high, but this one didn’t dive for fish. Probably another bald. Walked the canoes up to the portage, dragged ‘em across; wasn’t a long enough distance to warrant unloading / carrying. The Churchill River was all white caps. We waited around in the grey wind for a while, me chewing on a piece of grass, and then power-paddled into the wind to the lee side of an island. Reminded me of Day 2 back on Reindeer Lake when we’d paddled as hard as we could into the wind, only to end up slipping backwards and we had to give up and stay another night on that little island. It was worth it though, because that was the best damned sunset I’ve ever seen. And we made bannock on the canoes that afternoon. I love bannock. I just wish we still had some honey. Fuck I need to stop thinking about food. And then the next day, too, when we rigged the canoes together and made a sail out of one of the rainflies and just cruuuuiiiised for miiiiiles….
But anyway. Back to today. Our hopes of making thirty miles today were tossed because of the wind, so we picked raspberries. We identified serviceberries, and B had an idea: Jam! (Shit, more food thoughts. Oh well. It is what it is.) We collected a bunch of serviceberries and raspberries, got out the stove & T.L., & proceeded to make jam with water, sugar, & a bit of flour. It was the best stuff I’ve ever tasted, I swear. It was almost as thick as pie filling.
We made our way struggling to shelter from the wind behind a point, tied the canoes together, and had a floating game of hearts. Later, while paddling into the wind, the trip paddle snapped in two. We’ll glue it.
We moved into the woods and continued our game, and then B divided up what was left of the candy. Oogla ooged out & attacked B. The wind died enough for us to paddle across the cove, where we found a beautiful, open site with a mongo fireplace. An actual fucking campsite? Holy shit. Serious civilization here. Actual sign of humans. What are those? Craziness. Set up tents in the wind and had our second lentil chili, which kicked butt. Honestly, thanks to B, we haven’t had a single bad meal this whole trip, unless you count the time there were so many mosquitos buzzing around you literally couldn’t take a bite of glop without swallowing at least five or ten of the fuckers. But oh well, extra protein. And the warm fire and the loon song in the mist echoing off the far cliffs had made it all worth it.
My mind is all over the place. Getting nostalgic I guess. Back to today again. The sky cleared up and we wrestled in the moss, and then fixed some apricot & prune strudel for tomorrow morning.
Now the stars are coming out, very faintly; up here, the sun sets just before midnight and comes up around two, so you only really see the brightest ones, because it never gets completely dark. The wind has mellowed out. I can see the Big Dipper and the North Star. There’s still sunglow in the southwest. I’m being mowed on by ‘squites. Good night. I’ll go to the tent now. Everyone else is already asleep.
Okay. Let’s see. What’s been on my mind?
Far too much.
I come from a long line of deep thinkers, on both sides of my family tree. I’m not bragging; it can sometimes be a curse. It can lead to desperate loneliness, confusion, despair even. Or to nights like last night, when I felt so acutely that this world is ending and that so many people seem blind to what’s happening. Like sitting in a rowboat headed straight for a deadly waterfall, but facing upstream, oblivious.
Not much in this universe really ends, though. Transitions, phases, changes, yes—but end altogether? Only in form. Not in essence. That’s how I see it, anyway.
Pictures from the new giant telescope were on the news last night, showing a magnified field of view the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. There were so many galaxies in it. Not stars; galaxies!! And that’s just one grain of sand, held at arm’s length. Think about how many grain-of-sand-at-arm’s-length-sized spots there are in a continuous sphere around you. Side by side, without any gaps. That’s... an unfathomable number of galaxies, yet despite our inability to truly imagine it, it is real. It’s the universe we live in. So, with all that... vastness... Earth can’t possibly be the only place with life. It just can’t.
For me, that means life is going to go on. It will. Even if human life ends in our world, which it seems more on the verge of doing than it ever has before, life will go on, I believe. And even if all life is somehow snuffed out here, it will certainly continue elsewhere. And arise elsewhere. It’s part of what is, after all, so it will live on.
So that’s good, I guess. But still. It saddens me, seeing how much closer we are to self-annihilation than we even were decades ago when nuclear holocaust etc felt so imminent.
Needless to say, it took me a while to fall asleep last night. I was feeling it so acutely, as I mentioned. My mind was racing in circles. I looked at my life, and everything I’d been focusing on just felt so pointless.
But then my person talked me down. Reassured me. Reminded me of some things: Not least of all, that I need to take a step back and not let the news get me so emotionally distraught. Sure, it is good to care; it’s even good—nay, excellent—to feel passionate about all the issues I know are so important. Especially those ones that are so obviously vital for our very survival as a species. But getting so entangled that I stop being able to function normally is not healthy. I told a friend recently that I’d gotten myself to feeling overwhelmed, in large part due to all the ignorance, selfishness, greed, and cruel brutality that’s been so increasingly rampant in the world lately, and that I was trying to learn to take mental health breaks. Not stick my head in the sand, but take time outs to force myself to focus on happier things. Well, last night I had forgotten that, and was reminded. Thank you.
One thing I was having difficulty getting past was the idea that focusing on anything that is not a direct solution to the world’s problems is inherently a waste of time. With everything falling apart, how can we just play our violins, read a novel for escape, stare at a sunset, talk about anything other than the problems we face?! Shouldn’t we be doing something about it? Shouldn’t we be fighting all this chaos, all this bigotry, all this short-sighted greed? Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to stop the world from transitioning to a place without humans in it?
In short, yes. We should. We must.
But the bit I was not realizing, or was too blind to see, was this: An integral part of fighting against the world’s ugliness is enjoying its beauty. Beauty does have value; happiness does have value. And striving for a better world must include the practice of happiness. We do need to fight so that everyone—not just the fortunate or the wealthy—can be happy, but we must not get so lost in fighting for these things that we forget how to love. Love is an active verb; it is something we must do. Appreciating beauty is an act of love, and so is doing beautiful things. For me personally, that means things like playing music or writing. For you it may mean other things.
I need to remember that playing music is not a waste of time, nor is writing fiction; these things actually make the world a better place, as long as they are used as vehicles of love.
There is so much hate in the world. I will never advocate turning a blind eye to it, and I will never stop pointing it out and tying my head in knots in an effort to figure out how to do something about it. It’s part of who I am. But as Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.” As hate begets hate, so does love beget love. I’m not saying it’s a panacea, but it is definitely one very important part of the overall process in which we must engage if we wish to have a better future. (Or one at all.)
So go take a walk outside, and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. Glance at the sky. Smile at a stranger. Give a hand to someone struggling to get into an elevator or down some stairs. Read a book. Watch a show you enjoy. Talk to a friend. Hug someone you love. Listen to some music. Draw something, or make something, or look at something beautiful someone else has made. Take a break from the news; it will be there tomorrow, and all these issues will still need your attention and brainpower. The world won’t get better by itself, after all. But take a moment, first, and breathe. Give those knots in your head a chance to untangle. Be kind; the world needs more kindness in it. Appreciate the beauty around you and show some love. Recognize that all humans are the same; we are all, every last one of us, in this together. Respect your fellow humans. Be love.
Let’s stop the world from ending, together, in all positive ways… including by celebrating all the beautiful reasons it is worth saving.
It comes, it brings, it pummels, it cleans
It is pretty, it is instant, it is mighty, it is constant
It surges, it swirls, it saturates, it whirls
It falls neatly, it falls wetly, it falls sweetly, it falls deadly
It drizzles, it pours, it buckets, it roars
It is cats, it is bogs, it is hats, it is dogs
It cancels, it closes, it hassles, it exposes
It floods calmly, it floods promptly, it floods grimly, it floods thoroughly
It slaps and hits, it clutches and snares, it bashes and splits, it wrenches and tears
It is flowing, it is torrential, it is growing, it’s exponential
It seeps, it weakens, it creeps, it deepens
It kills deftly, it kills massively, it kills swiftly, it kills impassively
It patters, it pounds, it shatters, it hounds
It is fear, it is dread, it is here, we are dead
It swells, it roils, it buckles, it boils
Dark-sky cloudy, downpour heavy, landslide muddy, broken levee
It slaughters, it drenches; it waters, it quenches.
It is cold, it is wet; it is mould, it is regret.
It gives, it makes; it flattens, it takes.
It rains, it rains, it rains, it rains.
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