Last night, on the show we are watching, one of the characters said something like, “What is a name? A name is just a sound.”
Indeed. A sound by which one is called, to which one answers; with which one identifies. A sound more familiar to one’s ears than any other. An aural brand, I suppose, in the sense of seared mark. Probably not as painful though. For most people, anyway.
Words are sounds. Every word, every syllable, is a sound. Like notes in music. The rhythms and melody and counterpoint of dialogue are a complex dance, a symphonic coming together of sounds. If you ignore their meaning and focus on their sound, on the splashes they each make in the dark silence of having your eyes closed, you hear them. Words are notes. Words echo, shatter, chafe, soothe, seduce, comfort, traumatize, scar, hold, wake, sedate, enlighten. Words resonate.
Sometimes when someone is talking to me, he or she might as well be talking at me, because I’ll space out, distracted by the timbre of the words being said, by the interweaving rhythms those sounds make as they flow, pause, leap, bunch, race, cluster, continue on, through sentence after sentence. I get lost in the sounds of them, and forget to focus on what is actually being said. For the same reason, I often have trouble listening to song lyrics; I hear the singer’s voice as one of the instruments, and have to force myself to concentrate on the actual meaning of the words being sung. Communicating and listening is a constant struggle for me. And when I meet someone else who does the same thing, I immediately recognize it.
It can be a hindrance, for sure. But it’s also kinda cool. It fires the imagination, puts ideas of tunes into my head, enriches my creativity.
So if you’re ever saying something to me and a glaze comes over my eyes, I promise, chances are, I am not bored. On the contrary, I am probably rivetted by the sounds and rhythms your mouth and tongue and voice box are making. And I apologize for forgetting to listen to what you’re actually saying.
I’m working on it :-)
I wish you all a very happy Holiday Season. I’m looking forward to Christmas and Boxing Day; we’re getting together with friends and family, and I feel very grateful that we can. I hope you all have a lovely holidays and a wonderful New Years. Here’s to a better 2023 than 2022 has been! /cheers!
I’ll leave you with something beautiful:
What a beautiful day today is. I’ve just gone out for a walk, and there is sunlight everywhere, shifting with the shadows cast by slowly moving cumulus clouds. The air is cool but not cold, and it’s not as windy as it was earlier in the week. Still not quite normal summer weather; it feels more like early spring. But I’m not complaining. The birds must like it, too, because they sound very cheerful and lively. I took the above photo while I was out, of a small meadow of flowers not far from where we live.
So what’s new this week? Well, my fingers stumbled over each other quite a bit while I attempted to play songs on the guitar I hadn’t practiced in a while, but I had fun doing it. I also met some cool new faces at the open mic, as well as at my weekly coffee shop gig. That was uplifting. It’s always nice getting to hear interesting new sounds. A few of them were absolutely mesmerising, and I hope I get to listen to them more.
My wife and I also went over to help some friends move a big pile of mulch. We got about two thirds of the way through it, I believe (others will disagree with that estimation, hehe). I’m rather out of shape and haven’t done very much physical labor lately (not to mention getting old), so the effort took its toll; I was quite sore for a couple of days afterward. But it was really good to work outside in the fresh air, get those muscles moving, breathe in that lovely fresh air. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also thoroughly enjoyed the scrumptious Mediterranean-themed lunch they prepared for us. Yummy!
Let’s see. What else? Well, I began toying around with the idea of making a podcast. Dipped my toes in it, so to speak. See, a couple of months ago, I bumped into a friend at the coffee shop who mentioned that he does a regular podcast. That was news to me, and I expressed interest—well, grilled him would be a more accurate description—and he very generously gave me some tips, including such things as what in his opinion the best hosting service is, how to go about setting up a home recording studio on the cheap, and so on. I took some notes down, but this week was the first time I’ve actually taken a moment to really look into it. I have even, on a whim, begun recording a first episode. It’s been an interesting experience, to set the least; let’s just say making a podcast is a much more time-consuming endeavor than I would have imagined, and has a rather steep learning curve! I did make some good progress along it, but. (I wasn’t sure whether to write “though” or “but” there. I decided to go with the Romans.)
The truth is, I just might not have the time to devote to it; certainly not until after New Years at least. However, I am seriously considering giving it a go perhaps even recording regular episodes—weekly? Fortnightly?—eventually. According to statistics I’ve read, more and more people listen to podcasts these days; listenership is up to over four hundred million, worldwide, which is a good 20% more than in 2021, and apparently that number is only set to rise in the next few years. So, at the very least, it’s food for thought I suppose.
The main reason I write these weekly (okay, sometimes less frequent than weekly, I admit—sorry!) blog posts is that they tend to help me keep focused on writing; namely, my fiction writing. I find that blogging can put my distracted, scattered thoughts back into a mindset of creating, which is where I like to be. So, whether or not I decide to make and maintain a podcast, I plan to keep the blog-posting up.
That said, now and then I do wonder if there’s actually anybody out there reading this. The only way a blogger knows if he or she has an audience is if those people (that person? lol) take the time to join the blogger’s email list (which, if you want, you are welcome to do by entering your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this page); that causes a notification to be sent to the blogger, who then thinks, “oh, hey, look, I have an audient!” and then goes on to write more rambling blog posts with newfound cheerfulness and confidence). And let’s face it, blogging is a dying art form; not very many people read blogs these days, let alone write them, compared to years and decades past. I often wonder why, but I think the truth of it is all around us: YouTube, TikTok, podcasts, television show and movie streaming services, Spotify, cats, beer, cats, beer, cats, and of course beer. And cats, of course.
But even if it turns out I really am just writing to the void, or to myself, or to **You** my single audient ( <3 ), I will still continue, because in addition to the aforementioned reasons, doing so has become a ritual, and is furthermore a very useful vehicle and outlet for expressing all the random thoughts and reflections that tend to bumble through my mind and at times even keep me awake at night.
And the written word… that elusive thing which I have yet to master… is a phenomenon worthy of respect. I believe there still is a place for it in this world; indeed, I believe there always will be. Even if it’s now only in the hearts of the few, and no longer the many.
So now is when I hook you with a cute piece of eye candy to grab your attention for fifteen seconds before you return to your TikTokking and Facebook scrolling:
Hehe. Did that work? :-p It’s a suphur-crested cockatoo that decided to grace us with his presence the other day. Cute little bugger.
Alright, enough of this whingy nonsense. Next week I will pontificate about Something Incredibly Important, I promise. Enjoy the holiday season! And feel free to click the link below if you wish to comment on and/or discuss anything you see on this website. Toodaloo for now.
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 Storytelling and Discussion Forum member 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.
I love piano. Love it. There is just nothing like its sound; nothing like it in this world.
One of my great regrets in life is that I never learned to play it. “Hey, it’s never too late,” you say… and sure. I could find a cheap keyboard (no room for even a stand-up piano in this house, unfortunately), spend the next few decades hammering keys and learning coordination (I’ve always thought it takes two brains to play piano—one for the left hand, the other for the right—and perhaps a third for the feet). But I have other projects that are taking my time, so I doubt I’ll ever play, other than wistfully tracing shapes of ivory if I’m ever visiting the house of someone who owns one.
Besides, starting this late in life, I would never get really “good” at it; and even if I’d started as a child, I probably would never have gotten as fluent on piano (or any instrument, for that matter) as some of the greats. And so I’ll just listen instead. There are so many wonderful piano players, past and present, who have graced the sound waves with their nimble fingers. The world is a better place for them.
I started out with the intention of writing about a few of my favourite piano players, and then the past few days happened. The country of my birth seems to be turning into the “United” (those quotation marks are sarcastic) States of Gilead much faster than even my worst nightmare could have predicted. It’s left me feeling sad, angry, and heartbroken.
The past several years—and even more acutely, the past few days—have been an emotional journey, one of watching and trying to process from afar as my homeland tears itself apart and seems determined to undo the myriad stitches of effort from so many good people who have fought so hard all their lives for various causes, including women’s rights. There’s a lot I could say on the subject, and perhaps I will sometime, but I’ve decided it might be wise to sleep on those thoughts and instead carry on with my original blog post idea.
I will, however, make one change to my original plan. You see, as I was listening to my favourite piano players and endeavouring to narrow the list down to a handful to introduce in this blog post, it struck me: they were all male. Every single one of them. I literally could not think of a single female piano player, other than a few personal friends or acquaintances. In terms of famous ones, I knew there must be a ton of them, but I was ashamed to realize that I was not aware of any of them.
Okay, so, that sucks. But it is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and beat myself up for having fallen in love with the sounds of piano players who happened to be exclusively male (Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Duke Pearson, Vince Guaraldi, Glenn Gould, etc), nor am I going to dwell (for now, at least) on what internal and/or societal prejudices and other factors might have led my attention to that side of the gender spectrum when it comes to pianists. Rather, I have decided to accept that my experience of piano players has been decidedly narrow, open up my mind, and use this as an opportunity to discover female piano players. So, now, in their honour—and indeed, in honour of all the women who have raised me and guided me and taught me to be the person I am today as well, for without them, I would be a much lesser man—I am going to introduce some wonderful piano players I’m thrilled to have discovered. And if piano isn’t your thing, sorry! I’ll write about something else next week :-)
It’s difficult to decide whom to start with, so I’ll just pick one. Her name was Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she wrote many compositions and arrangements, and made hundreds of recordings on piano, both solo and with various other musicians. Here she is playing a beautiful blues tune she composed called “What’s Your Story Morning Glory”:
She also was a teacher, and produced many fine students—and not just piano players. Among her progeny were such players as Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few. In addition, she was an altruist. She used her own savings to create a foundation to support a project in which she turned her apartment into a halfway house for the poor and for musicians struggling with substance addiction (and this makes me wonder if that’s how she met Charlie Parker *shrug*).
She continued teaching throughout her career. She instructed school children on jazz, and for a time was an artist-in-residence at Duke University, where she taught history of jazz and directed the jazz ensemble there. Here’s a video of Mary Lou Williams doing a tune called “The Man I Love” in Montreux, in 1978:
Holy shit those fingers can play!!! :-) Such a beautiful musical soul, and I am so glad to have learned about her. She’s right bang on my list of favourites now.
Next up is a contemporary piano player named Marialy Pacheco (1983- )… (and click her name to hear a great piano duet of hers!).
Born in Havana, Cuba, she grew up with music, and attended a conservatory while still quite young. She got into latin jazz, and studied and performed classical as well, and began recording record after record (heh, yes, I said “record”… old fogey me). What I’ve heard of her music so far has captured my imagination. Here is a piece she composed and recorded in 2006, called “Mi Azul”:
How can you listen to that and not fall in love with piano?! Glorious. I have no words. Here’s a video of her playing solo at Birdland in Neuburg, Germany, a couple of years ago (I think):
Apparently, the Cuban jazz pianist world is extremely male-dominated, and she faced quite a bit of discrimination along her way, so it’s really cool that she has risen to such prominence. Her fresh sound has really shaken that world up, from what I can tell. If you want to learn more about Marialy Pacheco, here’s a 2013 interview with her:
While searching online for female piano players, one name kept coming up over and over: Martha Argerich (1941- ). She is one of the greatest classical pianists of all time.
She began kindergarten when she was not quite three years old, and there a five-year-old boy (a friend) told her she would never be able to play piano. Well, she sure did prove him wrong! By the age of eight, she was giving piano concertos, and six years later she was studying in Austria under Friedrich Gulda. Here is a recording of her playing Chopin’s Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53, “Héroïque”, in the mid-1960s:
One thing I find really cool about Ms. Argerich is that she speaks many languages quite fluently. I’ve always thought there to be a connection between language and music, though I suspect it is not as black-and-white simple or direct as most literature tends to make it out to be. It has something to do with imagination, I think, and with heart, if there is such a thing. Here is another performance of hers, of Chopin’s Piano Sonata 3, this one recorded much more recently (in 2020, in Hamburg):
Sadly, she was diagnosed with cancer, and that cancer spread to her lungs and lymph nodes. Happily, though, after treatment, it went into remission, where it has remained for many years. I like to think it’s her passion for playing that has helped her battle it.
When it comes to piano music, my tastes definitely lean toward jazz, but I tried to listen to a broad variety of music. My journey continues, but for now, here is a contemporary experimental piano player and composer named Kelly Moran (1988- ):
She is a virtuoso of “normal piano”, but is also into electronic music software, which she combines with various things to produce some pretty bizarre but also pretty beautiful stuff. One of her sounds is produced by what she calls a “prepared format”, which involves placing objects such as forks and spoons in-between the piano strings. This results in a more percussive, cut-off sound when she plays the keys. Here is an example of that:
And one more, which gives a glimpse of her setting up the piano beforehand:
There are so many other wonderful female piano players out there, it feels a shame to be listing so few of them. But hopefully I’ve started some of you down a rabbit hole (I know I have sent myself down one!). At the end of this blog post, I’ll post a couple more links for further listening and reading. For now, though, I’ll mention one more musician (last, but certainly not least!): Wu Yili (巫漪丽), aka Elaine Wu (1931-2019).
A Chinese-Singaporean pianist, Wu Yili rose to fame in Mainland China as a performer of classical piano, both Western and Chinese classical styles. As with so many people in the arts, the Cultural Revolution saw her persecuted and strung up and beaten to within an inch of her life. Years later, she immigrated first to California and later to Singapore, where she lived out her days in relative poverty. One of her more famous compositions was the piano part to Butterfly Lovers:
That video performance was made toward the end of her life, when she was eighty-six years old. She had been “re-discovered”, and the fact that she had Parkinson’s but was still able to play so well was part of the reason the video went viral, especially in China. You can read more about her in the description. She died in 2019 in Singapore General Hospital.
I could go on, but I’ll keep the list short. If you are interested, here are a couple of links for further listening and reading:
10 Beautiful Modern Piano Pieces by Female Composers of Today (piano Performed by Anna Sutyagina)
10 Women Composers You Have to Know About (not strictly about piano, but some of them are indeed pianists)
That concludes my ramble about female piano players. I am not at all glad of the impetus behind this exploration of mine, but I am certainly glad to have been given this opportunity to have my eyes (well, ears) opened. Thank you for reading and listening :-)
appy Winter Solstice, everyone.
Today is the shortest day of the year. Or the longest, for those of you up in the northern hemisphere; but where I am, it’s winter, and summer feels very, very far away. But the sun looked beautiful this morning, shining through the tree branches.
Leaning out over the railing of the back deck, I could see its light beginning to splash the upper branches of the gum trees behind the house. I heard some soft sounds overhead. Looking more closely, I spotted this cockatoo way up there in the topmost branches, catching the first rays of the day:
It was a beautiful morning. But cold. Brrr! I went back inside to warm up with some coffee in front of the heater.
Some friends and I used to celebrate the winter solstice in high school. That was back in the other hemisphere, so it happened in December rather than June. Over there on the far side of the world…. Anyway, we’d get together for a big feast and play music and celebrate. Good times.
Thinking about winter brings back a lot of memories. Of sunlight shining low through bare branches in Percy Warner Park, toes beginning to get cold despite the many steps taken. Of even colder toes, from fording ice- and snow-lined streams in the Gila Wilderness that time, breath fog floating, a snow storm in the distance, magnificent eagle circling on high for a long, long time until it seemed to decide suddenly to make a B-line straight for the storm, where it disappeared, leaving the sun behind. I will never know why it did that. Perhaps it was just a trick of the light, and it didn’t actually fly into the blizzard.
Of snow angels in the back yard, and of a snow woman my mother made – beautiful, life-sized sculpture of a nude woman, right in the front yard for all to see. Of snow forts and sledding, and of the winter when we were a bit older and decided it would be fun to take the canoe down the street. Which we did, over and over and over, complete with paddles for effect. Laughter, bodies rolling into ditches, rosy cheeks, numb chins and fingers. Mittens, boots, down jackets.
Of when night had a child that spat forth crying into morning, all wet with eyes shut against bright light streaming under the bedroom door; of the stickiness of tears and snot on the stained pillowcase as I dressed, memories of a long-distance phone call at two in the morning already vague in my waking mind despite the fact that only a couple of hours had passed. Of field upon field of frozen corn stalks streaming past the car window, all the way to west Texas. Of iron gray clouds forming a high ceiling over the funeral. Of weeping, and of memories of weeping. Of silence and prayer.
Of fireplaces, screens catching stray sparks, wool socks drying. Of first frosts, and of last frosts. Of red taillights fading in the distance along a flat, straight road at night.
Of first Christmases. Of last Christmases. Of first summers-turned-winter, when the world had flipped upside-down and June-July-August had become the cold months. Of coffee mornings in the Illawarra, of frigid winds blowing salt, of sleep-caught eyes and hard school mornings. Of hugs, and of a warm (and very
fat big-boned) cat.
So many memories. Too many to list.
There’s something comforting about winter, like a blanket drawn tight around your shoulders. Something desolate and dreadful about it, too. Perhaps it’s the awareness, no matter how distant, of the threat of freezing to death. As well as the guilty relief for those of us who are fortunate enough to not have to worry about freezing to death ourselves. Still, my parents taught me well: Never take warmth or good weather for granted. Always do your best to stay dry, keep your feet dry. Plan layers. Plan not to freeze, but plan for the possibility. It gets cold out there. Yes, it does, and not just in the mountains.
There are a lot of people out there doing it hard, sleeping on the street. More and more these days. We should give them some thought and help how we can. You never know when it might become you.
Winter brings a shallower angle to the sunlight. Longer shadows, crisper air, clearness and coolness to the lungs. I hate wearing hats, but I sometimes will wear one in winter, to protect my ears. So, winter brings mussy hair, too.
There are massive heat waves happening up north right now. I hope a bit of this cold air can somehow bleed around the planet and provide some relief. We need warmth, but we also need coolness. Warm eyes and cool heads.
I’m rambling again. Happy Winter Solstice, everyone. Oh, and another thing winter brings:
It’s not simply sadness.
It’s also not just about losing people we love.
We can grieve over any loss, really. It might be a lost opportunity, a lost friend, a lost feeling, a lost time. A breeze might carry a scent to our noses that reminds us of… something… and we can’t put our finger on it. Something lost. Something fleeting, perhaps, or something more.
Or you might hear a song; a beautiful voice with a mournful piano, and that could bring memories of another time crashing back into your conscious mind. A bygone time; faces, laughter, places you will never see or hear again, perhaps, or events that happened then but will never happen again. The end of an era; a severed arm. A whole world, lost. And you feel sad, and more. You grieve.
And then there is of course death. The final end. The ultimate goodbye, whether we were ready for it or not. (Can anyone ever be ready? I honestly don’t know.) Parents, siblings, lovers, friends. Partners. Companions on this trip around the sun. The Sun! That should be capitalized, for it is one of the few things that brings pure light to this world and to our hearts.
A friend recently told me in an email that he’d attended the funeral of a friend’s mother, who had died very suddenly. He said the service was nice, but that while they were showing all the pictures from her life, from trips and gatherings and so on, he began to wonder if that was the ultimate purpose of the photos we spend all this time taking. All these moments we attempt to capture: What are they for? To show at funerals? At weddings? I’m paraphrasing, and he worded it better, but… it makes me think, too. I take a lot of photos these days, using my phone. Photos are so easy to take now. You don’t have to worry about only having 24 or 36 shots to a finite and not-very-cheap roll and then having to spend more money developing them. I wonder if that caused us to be more circumspect back in the day, in terms of what to take pictures of. But somehow the entire two rolls of photos I once took of the same damn squirrel in the same damn tree make me doubt it.
言归正传, I wonder, too, if we take photos in order to hedge against the grief we know deep down is coming. Coming slowly but surely, riding on that brakes-out train called Time (not sure if I should capitalize that one or not). We will forget most of what we experience, whether we get dementia or not, and these photos will be all we have left to remind ourselves of what happened, whom we met along the way, whom we loved. Little kernels of memory; pockets designed to take the edges off our grief, that grief over the times and people and experiences that will never come again. Like a bare-chested drunken He Tihua, hollering joyfully in the sun next to a 拖拉车 half-laden with stone, or an empty suannai bottle tinkling to laughter as it rolls into a gutter. Forgotten, left. Grieved over, yes, but… what good does such grief do?
But then that’s my problem. One of them, that is (I have many!). I always wonder what the point of stuff is. Even stuff like grief. Well, it does have a purpose, surely (and in the back of my mind, back there where I like to put stuff I want to ignore, I do have an inkling of what that purpose is), but it’s not the same as with other things. I’m rambling here, I realize. ‘Probably not going to edit this when I’m done, either. Not because I’m lazy (I am, sometimes), but because I am chasing a feeling here. Hoping to capture it, but aware that I am not likely to; I can feel it slipping away even now.
Let me try another tack. In its simplest essence, grief is awareness of loss. It can be the loss of a thing, a time, a place, a feeling, a person, oneself. Loss is inevitable, for change is unstoppable. Yet this is a reality our minds have difficulty grasping and accepting.
And so we feel it, deeply. We dwell on it. We wonder, Why did my father have to go. Or, What happened to our friendship. Or, Why don’t I spend any time doing that anymore, that thing I did when I was a child, back when I was unaware and happy. Grief is the awareness of loss, and that feels a whole lot like regret sometimes.
And yet. We also cannot move forward into new happinesses until we have grieved. It is therefore necessary for happiness. To postpone or bury grief, avoid it, deny it, and so on, is to deny ourselves future happiness. Well, in the depths of grieving, it’s quite tempting to think, Yeah well fuck it, I’ll never be happy again anyways, so I’m just going to wallow here forever. I believe everyone gets to that point, or close to it. But then you come up for air. Because you have to, whether you like it or not.
Time is relentless. It drags us into sadness, whether we like it to or not, but it also drags us out of sadness, also whether we like it to or not. We really have no choice in the matter. All we can do is put on the brakes; we cannot actually stop that train. It is brakeless.
I think my wife and I maybe need to take some time to look at some photos. Just take an afternoon, or even just an hour maybe, and put them up on the TV. Just choose any folder; it could be Christmas last year, or a trip to the US seven years ago, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter what. (I do wish I still had all my photos from southwest China, when I was there in 1992-93; I’d love to look at those right now, but alas, they are lost.) The point is, just have a look at some memories. Not to grieve the loss of those times/places/people, nor to hedge against grief; but to simply appreciate them, celebrate them, enjoy them. Enjoy looking at them, in the present.
Because life is short. We can spend our time dwelling on what we once had, or we can enjoy the present and look forward to the future. Or, in the words of Red, we can get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right.
Much easier said than done, of course, especially when you’re flattened and absofuckinglutely paralyzed by grief and can’t see any way out of that pit. Like you’re surrounded by slippery twenty-foot-tall glass walls and don’t have even a stool to stand on. But knowing that this, too, will pass, can help, and so can having faith that the hard times will eventually end.
For they surely will. And photos or not, the fact is, we can’t ever completely lose anyone we hold dear, because our hearts have been forever transformed by them.
annina thought she heard a scream outside. She put down the knife and moved to look out the window, but all she could see were autumn leaves dripping in the heavy fog, and the top of the Warden's head with its giant ears sticking up into view just above the crest of the hill.
There it was again: Another scream. But not the same voice. Jannina squinted in the direction of the commotion, past the Warden's head.
Something was wrong. The head was moving.
She heard a third scream, this time from farther away, down near the bonewood pier. Men were shouting now. Jannina ran to the door and stepped outside. Jono follower her, curious to see what the commotion was.
Jannina stared in disbelief at the Warden's head. It swayed right and then left, and began to rise upward; slowly at first, but then with frightening speed. The thing straightened its massive body, flexed its eight arms, arced its terrible ears, and lurched forward, tearing right out of the ground in a display of immense strength. Dirt and rocks sprayed up from where its "tail" exited the time-packed soil, and suddenly the Warden was bounding forward through the village center, toward the pier.
She watched in shock, mouth agape. The Warden had always simply sat there, a fixture. Always. Never in her life, nor as far as she knew in the lives of her parents and their parents before them, had the thing even so much as twitched. Now it was ripping forward, fully animated, the blades of its hands swinging taut.
People were yelling and shrieking. She saw the Warden disappear into the fog in the direction of the ocean, and then heard a series of tremendous splashes. A high-pitched screech split through the mist, causing her skin to crawl. It was a lot like the distant, occasional mewing sound she had been hearing from the water, only much louder and fiercer. Jono looked up at her with wide eyes and stood closer, his face white with fear. Inside, little Soolna was bawling.
Jannina shook with adrenaline as she darted inside and picked up the heavy four-year-old, hugging her and comforting her as well as she could in her distraught state of mind. "There there Sooli, it's okay; there there Sooli, Auntie Jannina's here. There there...."
More shouts echoed up the hill from the direction of the shore. Jannina looked out the window and saw people sprinting as hard as they could away from the village center. A moment later, she thought she saw a shape loom up in the fog beyond the huts. Something huge. It was tall and narrow—taller than a full-grown bone tree—and was bending forward. As it got closer, she thought she could see something that looked vaguely like a mouth at its top end. Then there was a giant splash behind it somewhere. The shape jerked back into the fog as if it had been yanked, and Jannina saw no more. But horribly, the mewing continued, making her skin crawl.
Both kids were crying now, and it was contagious, for Jannina felt on the verge of tears herself. She forced herself to stay calm.
The massive splashing sounds seemed to be getting father away, until all of a sudden, the high-pitched mewing stopped altogether. A throng of shouts from the men in the village center rang out, though they had changed in tone; they now sounded more excited than terrified. A few minutes later, the splashing sounds got closer again, but were more measured and not as abrupt or violent as before. Now Jannina saw a giant shape emerge from the fog, moving up from the beach to the left the pier. It was the Warden, arms hanging at its sides, dripping with water and what might have been blood. Staring forward with the same seemingly sad eyes as always, the thing walked slowly back to where it had always sat, turned around, and lowered itself to the ground with barely a thud. There was a brief grinding sucking sound, and then silence as the Warden's head swayed first right, then left, and then was still, its ears open wide and angled forward in the exact same posture as before. It just sat there as it always had her entire life, staring out toward that same unseen horizon, not moving in the slightest. As if nothing had happened at all.
Jannina turned to see her aunt stumbling up the path toward the hut, completely out of breath, her face white with panic and worry. She opened the door for her and watched stupidly as the woman came barreling in and grabbed her children with both arms before collapsing on the floor, weeping desperately.
"Safe now, safe now," the older woman gasped.
Jannina crouched down and wrapped her arms around her aunt and her cousins, not daring for a moment to take her eyes from the Warden's still-dripping head and ears. Then the shock wore off enough for her to think.
Dripping blood and sea water. The sea. The pier. Adrenaline shot through her chest, and she jumped to her feet. Dad...!
"Aunt Prianna, I need to go," she breathed.
Her aunt nodded and grasped her hand. "Go." Jannina tilted her head in thanks and bolted out the door.
This morning I went up to Dave Griffith’s coffee shop, On the Soul Side Café, and played what is now my regular Tuesday morning “gig”, from 10:30 to noon. This was the third time I’ve done it, not including this past Sunday when I filled in for the jazz band that normally plays there but couldn’t make it this week.
It was really nice of Dave to invite me to play. And it’s perfect for me; these days, I am not trying to make a name for myself in the music industry or “conquer the world”; I’m happy to just play casually. The coffee shop is a low-pressure, chill place that is sometimes full of fascinating people and sometimes more or less empty. I am cursed with a perfectionist attitude, so I always try my best regardless, but it is nice to be able to just play whatever I want and not have to worry too much about screwing up. And I find that even in the times that I am playing to an empty room, aside from Dave and his employee of course, it still is really good for me; it’s excellent practice—and performing like that is a much more focused kind of practice than is practicing by oneself at home. The awareness that someone might be listening, even just with me as background music to coffee machines and conversation, forces me to concentrate more and tighten up heaps. It’s a bit like playing music on the street; even if people are just walking past and not seeming to pay any attention, you still are aware of their ears, and that makes you play your best.
Speaking of chill, relaxed, and very welcoming musical atmospheres, I met Dave at the local open mic, which is held at the Katoomba Family Hotel every Wednesday evening and run by Eliot Reynolds. I found out about the open mic in October of 2020, when I posted a question in a Blue Mountains musicians’ group asking if there were any jams or open mics around. My wife and I had moved up to the mountains earlier that year, and we were freshly out of lockdown, and for some reason still partially unknown even to me, I had started playing music again after roughly fifteen years of hardly ever picking up my flute and only picking up the guitar occasionally, to relax after work for a few minutes. Well, a guy (another flute player! What are the odds?!) named Graeme was kind enough to respond to my question in the musicians’ group, and he told me about the open mic nights at the Family. A couple of weeks later, I got up the courage, walked up to town, got up on that stage, and played three tunes on my flute. I was sweating bullets; it’d been a very, very long time.
And something crazy happened. It was like rediscovering a long-lost appendage. See, something had been missing in my life, though I hadn’t known it, consciously at least. I still am not sure why exactly I stopped playing music all those years ago. Multiple reasons, no doubt. Some deep, some not. I do have an inkling of why I started again, or at least of part of the reason; it was a sudden realization of how effing short life is. And of some other things. And of some other things still, no doubt, of which I perhaps will never be fully cognizant.
Regardless, the long and the short of it is that it’s nice to be playing music again. That’s an understatement.
Apart from breaks due to covid lockdowns or waiting for jabs, I’ve been going up to the open mic at the Family fairly regularly ever since, and it’s been quite liberating. It has not simply been a rediscovery of music; in a very real sense, this has been me finding my own way in music, a thing I’d never done before; not really. All those years ago, when I was playing a lot of music and performing with various groups, most of it was other people’s music, not mine. Or playing the way I thought I had to. Or following, rather than leading. Sure, some of the music was mine; some of it was me. And the countless hours playing on the street, most of that was me, too. Sort of. Although, I didn’t really know who I was back then, so was that really me, flowing out of my flute? Sure. Partly. Partly not. That’s a subject for another day, perhaps.
On one of those open mic nights, in December of 2020, I believe it was, I met Elle Peterson. I heard her play guitar and sing, and was transported, and the connection was mutual; after hearing me play some solo flute stuff, she invited me to get up and play a few tunes with her (it was not a very crowded night, so we’d all gotten to go around and play another set of three tunes each). I don’t know how else to describe it: She and I positively clicked. It just felt right. My fellow musicians will know what I mean when I say that such musical bonds are exceedingly rare; only a few such profound musical connections happen in a lifetime. It honestly felt like we’d been playing together for a long, long time. It was absolute magic. (And still is!)
Over the next few months, Elle and I played more together, formed a duo called Misty Mountain Accord, and even did a show together—my first performance since 2006—at Dave’s coffee shop, no less. Here is a link to the show; I put the tunes up on YouTube: Misty Mountain Accord’s first live show. Since then, mainly due to covid and schedule conflicts and so on, Elle and I have had trouble finding time to do more public performances together other than the open mic, but as things settle down, we plan to do more. I’ll give plenty of notice on the Misty Mountain Accord website.
My solo Tuesday morning thing is a very happy and relaxing outlet for me. I’m doing different themes each week; the first week was “Celticy/Folky”, the second week was “Bluesy/Jazzy”, and this week was “Songs of Old”, in which I played a bunch of—you guessed it—very old songs and tunes. On one of them, an old traditional Klezmer dance tune, my flute finally broke. I’d been waiting for it to happen. Thankfully, I was prepared; I had with me my $89 Aldi special. Its tone is not as nice as that of my regular flute, but it works just fine. I also played some guitar tunes, and sang some (sorry to all attending for not bringing earplugs to pass out!). I tried my hand at singing an old Robert Service poem called “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, which I’ve put to music, as well as an old Banjo Patterson poem called “The Daylight is Dying”, written in 1895, for which Elle helped write music and chords. Thank you Elle :-)
Music is important. Many of us tend to forget things that aren’t as immediately and obviously vital for survival as money and food and so on. But surviving is just the beginning. We have to live, too. Live and love.
The definition of “love” is growing in my mind, as I get older. Music is love. So many things are love. Love is so many things. I said “obviously” vital, earlier. Well, it might not always be obvious, but music is in fact vital for survival. It really is. It’s in our bones; it’s in our blood. It’s in our hopes. Our passion. Our tears.
If you haven’t listened to any music in a while, you should make some time to do it. It will likely remind you of a lot of things you may have forgotten. Moreover, it is soothing to the soul. The soul needs stuff like that. It’s its sustenance.
Thank you, Graeme. Thank you, Eliot. Thank you, Elle. Thank you, Dave. And everyone else I’ve met along this journey of musical awakening and re-awakening. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for helping me come back to life.
For anyone interested, here (<--click) is my fledgling YouTube channel, where I’ve uploaded some of my music. Most of it’s a bunch of old flute stuff from decades ago, but there is some Misty Mountain Accord stuff, too, and soon I hope to record and post some guitar-and-singing songs as well as some new flute tunes I’ve written.
Thank you for reading :-)
Sándor remembered the sting of the wasp, white hot pain exploding from just above his thumbnail, as he’d picked a spring beauty for his mother in the yard. Then, when he was a little older, the sickening bubbling of hot oil spilled across his knee; the way the skin had peeled off, as well as the scar that had eventually formed but never quite smoothed over his violated nerve endings.
He recalled the mind-jarring disbelief with which he’d watched his hand separate from his wrist, late one night during a fourth graveyard shift in a row; the terrible fire and nails that had shot right through his arm and torso and head immediately afterward. Sometimes he could still feel that one, waking up lost seventeen years later in sweat-drenched sheets.
He remembered other agonies, too, but chose not to think about those. They weren’t the kind that time or painkillers could heal, so were better left behind locked doors, deep down in the safe corners of his mind.
She didn’t—couldn’t—know about those.
A bare foot nudged his ankle. “What’s wrong?”
Glancing at Melanie, Sándor was once again startled by how stunningly beautiful she was. “Nothing, babe.”
“Liar.” She made a face and pinched his Achilles tendon with her freakishly strong toes.
“Ow,” he yelped, kicking her foot away playfully. “I’m telling you, as soon as we spin back to normal grav, you should try hanging upside-down from the chin-up bar with those things.”
“Yeah well, I bet you could do it, too, monkey girl. Not kidding.”
“Could not.” She slapped his knee hard, but her eyes were smiling.
The scanner made a guttural choking noise. Finished. Finally.
“Okay, let’s see what we’ve got.” Melanie stretched, then touched a series of combos, toggling through the data lists until she got to the one she wanted. She stared open-mouthed at it for several seconds. “Shit,” she said simply.
Sándor closed his eyes and shook his head. “Damnit.”
Neither of them spoke for a long time. Even the scanner remained silent, as if fearfully aware of having been a bringer of bad news.
Sándor drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. “You remember that thing they kept telling us over and over in basic? About how sooner or later we’ll all reach a point, a threshold of some sort, that will truly test our mettle?”
“Yeah I remember.”
“Well.” Sándor pursed his lips. “I think I'm getting pretty fucking close to there.”
“Me too. But we’ll find one.”
“What’s the point? We’ve looked everywhere already.”
“Yeah, well, it’s find one or die.”
“Yeah. I know. But, hey,” Melanie raised her brow and pinched his heel again with her toe. “Mettle, remember?”
I was recently reminded of the time I was in Germany with some friends, performing at what used to be a harp camp.
It was the summer of 2000. For years, said camp had been focused on cultivating young budding harp players, but that year (or perhaps the previous year? I can't remember), it had opened up to other instruments and forms of music. Our band–called the "Acoustic Vibration Appreciation Society"–had come across a rather random pair of benefactors; in North Carolina, a couple in their late thirties or early forties had seen us and another band we were all involved with perform, and fallen in love with our sound. Months later, they asked us out of the blue whether we'd like to do a European tour for a month or so that summer. Our answer had been something along the lines of, "Why yes, that would be lovely, but we can barely afford to pay rent... so, um, nope, not an option, but maybe someday!” And their answer had been something along the lines of, "Oh, money is no problem; we’ll supply all your plane tickets and pay for any other expenses involved."
Well, it turned out that they were a) quite serious, and b) quite rich. See, they had been planning on buying a big RV in Europe and touring around in it that summer (which they did do). On a pure whim, they had thought it would be fun for their new favourite band to be there as well, to play some gigs for them. Plus, they were genuinely very kind and generous (if rather spontaneous, flighty, and wacked in the head) people; they seemed to really enjoy making connections for us and trying to help us in our musical endeavours.
They bought our plane tickets as promised, and the trip was a go (minus a couple of our regular members, who sadly were busy touring with other bands, or, in the case of our "think-globally, act locally" violinist, had the attitude of, “Why would you want to go over there and play music for a bunch of folks you don’t even know?!—but that’s another story). We played some great gigs there... our benefactors were not agents by any stretch of the imagination, and knew very little about the ins and outs of booking venues, etc, but they did hook us up with some awesome people in Germany, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Our mandolin player and banjo player booked the rest. We played a couple of festivals, several pubs, a theater, and some clubs, and even got to do a live radio show in the Netherlands. (Not to mention, we played on the street a TON to get money enough to make ends meet after our rather ADD benefactors suddenly dumped their RV and took a plane to Greece for a romantic holiday among the islands, completely forgetting all about us, and we didn’t hear from them again for months!)
So anyway, this former harp camp in the middle of Germany was one of the connections the couple made for us (I think they were actually friends with the guy who ran the camp, or knew him somehow). We were invited there as “performing guests” and to teach a workshop on our “style” of American music (whatever that was, lol... I still don’t know). We didn’t get paid a heap, but the camp made all our meals and accommodation free and allowed us to take whatever classes we wanted during the week we were there. So I took a tango class.
I should mention that I can’t dance. I had no dancing background, other than the awkward bobbing and twisting that most guys end up getting dragged into doing by some partner or other while growing up. It’s always been something I generally try to avoid, because I have even less rhythm than Steven Martin’s character in “The Jerk”.
But anyway. Tango class. It was taught in German, but I had taken six years of German in school and hadn’t yet forgotten it all, so that was fine with me. Pretty cool, actually. Anyway, this was on I think the second night of it... we had learned some basic moves, and the music was playing, and my partner and I were stumbling through the steps (carefully, I might add, though in a minute you won’t believe me—but I was genuinely trying to be careful, not reckless!!!). Well, there was this part where I had to try to turn my partner around by swinging my left arm to the left and turning my body... so we did this semi-flailing wheel around, and... CLOCK!, my elbow made direct and solid contact with another dancer—an elderly woman, in her mid-seventies at least—square into the side of her head, right in her fucking temple. And she went down like a sack of potatoes. I frantically stopped and knelt to her aid, saying, “Entschuldigen Sie mir bitte” over and over. Turned out she was fine—just a bit stunned, and likely with a headache—but no physical damage had been done. She was, however, extremely grumpy at me. As I helped her to her feet, she stared a stare worth a thousand words that basically said “Leave, you young uncultured American piece of shit”, and shook my arm off, and wouldn’t say a single word to accept my profuse apologies. My face cycled through all the shades of red in shame and embarrassment.
That pretty much ruined dancing for me lol. I felt absolutely terrible.
I would give anything to be able to see you,” Dahlia whispered.
“I know. Me too.” Kaikos pulled her closer, and for a moment Dahlia let herself sink into his firm, confident hold, utterly immersed in his masculine muskiness.
Like any other day, tomorrow had been approaching for years; not even the great Ma’shaa could halt the march of time. She knew this, of course, and had been prepared for the inevitable ever since she was a little girl. Still, that knowledge did nothing to quell the fear and uncertainty that churned through her body and gave her dangerous thoughts of running away and hiding in the mountains.
Everything would change. Everything.
“My mother said this morning that she dreamed I would be approached by the Amethyst,” she whispered.
“A bold choice that would be. You’d be known as ‘Dahlia the Radiant,’ and your kinfolk would happily bask in the purple glow of your majestic presence!” Kaikos teased, a stray finger tickling her ribs.
Dahlia elbowed his hand away and pinched his shoulder hard, eliciting a chuckling wince. “And you’ll be known as ‘Kaikos the Black,’ after the callousness of your wry sense of humor!”
“Black wouldn’t be so bad, actually.”
“Are you an idiot? Black would be the worst. It can never touch the light! You’d be forced to cross the Sea of Truth, and if that didn’t kill you, you’d have to live in exile with the other Black-chosen in a land without color. It would be absolutely dreadful....”
“I know, I know, I was just kidding,” Kaikos soothed, but there was a faraway tone in his voice. He kissed her gently on the forehead. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, baby girl. Who knows? There’s a chance we could even get the same eyes tomorrow.”
Dahlia turned her face to find his lips, and for a time they were lost in a world of taste and scent and touch. As she made love to her man, she imagined him as he had been only a few weeks previously, before the Submission: Gorgeous and strong, with a smile that melted her heart and a pair of deep brown eyes that were always dancing with life and passion.
Later, while listening with her head on his chest to the gradual slowing of his heart, Dahlia wondered what the world would look like through amethyst eyes.
Originally, I’d been planning to write this week’s blog post about music; specifically, about my experiences over the past year or so with the local music scene here in Katoomba. It’s been a wonderful time, and I’d like to share some of it. However, recent events have made me decide to take a rain check on that one. I know it would be better to write about music than about what’s happening in Europe right now, at least for my mental health… the last post was about simplifying and my need to learn to do it, after all, and then there is this poem by Rumi:
Today, like every other day,
We wake up empty and frightened.
Do not open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
He’s right. And I should do that, rather than what I’m about to do… but I need to rant. So, here goes.
First of all, let me just point out how fucking selfish and inconsiderate Vladimir Putin is. The world has been doing it hard through more than two years of this pandemic—haven’t we all been through enough?!? Ugh. Seriously, you choose now to start a fucking war? You asshole.
Now, right as his invasion of Ukraine was beginning, various countries including the US announced a few economic sanctions against Russia. I posted about this on Facebook at the time, but I thought it worth including here. I mentioned what Stephen Colbert had to say regarding US sanctions against Russia: “So that means no Russian money can come into the US. There goes Tucker Carlson’s sponsors.”
Exactly right. But the damage was done. Whether knowingly or not, Donald Trump was and continues to be Putin’s Manchurian candidate (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/15/kremlin-papers-appear-to-show-putins-plot-to-put-trump-in-white-house ). America’s influence is being divided and conquered as we speak; it’s actually been happening for years. China is observing from afar, gauging NATO’s & America’s response, planning its move on Taiwan.
Also… I have recently read an article written by Putin (here—however, this link is currently not loading; I am optimistically assuming the Kremlin’s website is again being subjected to a DDOS attack, perhaps by the hacker group Anonymous, who have recently declared war on Putin and his government—so here is a site that summarizes the essay, albeit with a clear bias toward certain conclusions: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/putins-new-ukraine-essay-reflects-imperial-ambitions/) back in July 2021, regarding Ukraine’s historical ties with the Rus people, efforts to claim it by Poland and other foreign forces, and so on (this is his version of the story). Anyway, in it, he mentions several other former Soviet republics.
It is becoming pretty clear that certain analysts and historians have been right about Putin all along: a) He took the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union personally (this is well documented), and b) he has been biding his time ever since. Trump was / is his puppet, used to sow discord and confusion. Now Putin is striking. He is banking on the fact that America is not willing to go to war over Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, etc. And China will watch as the West does nothing (apart from some economic responses and vocal outrage, which Russia will weather), and strike Taiwan when the time is ripe. My fear is that China’s ambitions might actually go beyond Taiwan: The Philippines, for one.
Okay, so the above was more or less what I wrote on Facebook the other day, minus the bit about the DDOS attack. If you’ve read it before, my apologies for repeating myself here.
There are a few signs that China is perhaps, if not nervous, then being a bit more conservative with its plans than I’d previously thought it would be. It appears Xi Jinping is going to wait and see a bit longer before making any decisions to invade Taiwan, rather than use the current conflict as a smoke screen / distraction. Who knows? He still could do it. But I think he’s going to wait and see how this shit show pans out first. He is, unfortunately, a very smart man. And so is Putin. I imagine the fact that Russia has put its nuclear forces on “high alert” has given China pause; bosom-buddies though Russia and China have become (or, temporary allies of convenience, at least), the very last thing China wants is for a world war to break out, much less a nuclear one. The latter is good for no one, and a conflict that expands beyond Ukraine—and therefore has a much higher chance of spinning out of control—would not be good for business. China would prefer peace—on its terms, but peace nonetheless. It is hoping it can take Taiwan without a shot fired. This has always been its plan. There are a few things that would force China’s hand, of course; a formal Taiwanese declaration of independence, for one, or certain formal acts of recognition by the US. Short of those, though, China would prefer not to go to war. If it can cruise in with its massive army, replace Taiwan’s democracy with a puppet government (like it has done in Hong Kong), and not have to kill anyone or disrupt the economy too much, that would be ideal, as far as Xi Jinping is concerned.
See, China is all about business, and is actually quite happy with the status quo: The American empire is in decline, and China is on the rise. Trump has weakened NATO massively, and Russia and China have very patiently and systematically been prodding and influencing elections and economic decision-makers in many of NATO’s member nations. Indirectly, China is using Putin, just as Putin has been using Trump. The West is showing cracks. The UK is in disarray, Europe is on unsteady feet, Canada and Australia and New Zealand are militarily and economically too small to do much other than influence worldwide public opinion (which, in the long term, is actually quite a big deal), Germany is tied to Russia’s economy, France is facing populist movements similar to the one that is dangerously close to making America’s experiment in democracy come to a grinding halt or fall apart completely…. In a nutshell, the time appears to be right for China to make its move.
So, it has been making it. The Belt and Road Initiative is one way it has been doing so, and consolidating power in Xi Jinping is another. Like Putin, Xi is now constitutionally allowed to remain in power for many years into the future. (Not that the Chinese constitution has ever really mattered when it comes to the government’s decisions; whenever the constitution is in the way, it simply changes it… this has been true since the very founding of the PRC.) Xi Jinping, like so many of his compatriots, is tired of living in a world that is dominated by America and its allies. The fatigue has been building since the end of the Qing Dynasty, and the list of grievances against the West is long. Xi dreams of China becoming not only a new superpower, but the superpower. Taiwan is integral to his plan; it is an economic powerhouse, and he wants it. China needs it in order to succeed.
言歸正傳, China is a bigger player going forward than many would like to admit (and this reluctance to face the facts—this underestimation of China’s ambitions and, yes, capabilities—could end up being, perhaps, one of the West’s biggest downfalls). Putin has his ambitions, and he is using China to his advantage. However, if he should do anything that crosses a line and pisses China off too much, he will lose that ally. China is loyal only to itself.
As much as the Western media like to toy with construing Putin as off his rocker, however, one thing remains true: He is very keen, very far-sighted, and very cunning. He worked in counter-intelligence for years, after all. So, I have no doubt that he is aware of the lines he cannot cross with China.
Being logically aware of something, however, does not always dictate a course of action. Is Putin’s ego so big that he would cross those lines anyway, just to get what he wants? Will emotion (his burning desire to “teach the West a lesson” and restore Russia’s former glory) guide his hand? This could be good or bad. On the one hand, if it does, then he could make mistakes, such as underestimating NATO’s response to his invasion of Ukraine and/or other former Soviet republics. On the other hand, it could drive him to say, “fuck it,” and push the button.
That’s the button no one wants pushed. That’s the button that must not be pushed. It’s been the stuff of nightmares for generations.
Who in the world would launch nuclear weapons? I don’t mean in retaliation to a nuclear attack; I mean, who would actually initiate a nuclear conflict? Well, the US did, back in World War II, of course, but I don’t believe the current US regime would. So, what leaders on Earth actually would push the button? Not many, thankfully. But the really fucking scary thing is, I believe Vladimir Putin would. He has very little regard for human life, he has an ego the size of a planet, and he is arrogant beyond belief. He is a multi-billionaire and has lost touch with reality, if indeed he ever was in touch with it in the first place. Who else would? Well, the jury is still out on the new Israeli government. Would the Iranian leadership, once it had (has) the capabilities? I don’t think so, but it would certainly retaliate if it were attacked. Same with India and Pakistan, for now at least. The UK? France? No, I don’t think so. North Korea? All bark no bite has been the trend there, but that could change. Still, I think it’s more likely to use nukes as a threat than actually launch them. Would Xi Jinping push the button? Sure. If someone attacked China first.
Interesting times we live in. Very interesting times. I guess what I am really hoping is that all this economic pressure causes more Russians to speak up against their leader. He probably has a number in mind… if X-number of citizens revolt, I will put X-number of citizens in prison; if Y-number of citizens revolt, I will have to go to plan B… that sort of thing. Plan B could very well save the world from nuclear holocaust.
This has been tangent after tangent. Sorry. I guess the main point I was trying to make is that Putin is a dickhead for doing what he’s doing. The world needs to heal from covid. We need to bond together to slow and reverse climate change, before it overwhelms us completely. We need peace; we need to love one another. We don’t need to be seeing the world as a big board of Risk, and plotting how to take territories etc. We need to cherish life, and improve people’s lives, not the opposite.
Okay, rant over. It was more of a venting of fears, I suppose. Next blog post won’t be so worried, I promise :-) Hang in there folks. Let’s hope for a milder outcome and a swift end to armed conflict.
Oh, before I go, here’s something for a chuckle: Ukrainian Astronomers Name a Star "Putin Is a Dickhead"
Apologies, dear readers. I had every intention of putting up a blog post this week, but life has happened again and there is just way too much going on. Thank you so much for reading my blog posts! I truly appreciate it, and hope to be able to put up something new for you to read here by this time next week.
Meanwhile, here is something beautiful for your listening pleasure:
Thank you for your patience, and have a wonderful day/night :-)
It’s certainly not the first time this has happened: The world has started to feel far too complicated. It has felt this way before, and it will feel this way again. Still, when you’re inside a thing, the perspective of time tends to live in blind spots and becomes difficult to recall.
Sky. Sunshine. Running water. Shade. Drifting clouds. Birdsong. Wind in the trees. These things are grounding. They revive the senses and calm the soul.
On many a backpacking trip, back when I used to do them, I achieved a separation of mind from society. Not completely, of course; “wherever you go, there you are,” after all, and we bring our baggage with us. But when you’ve been in the wilderness for a while—oh, say, at least a week—the cacophony and busy-ness of the human world begins to drift away, and your body awakens to a very different sort of awareness: One of sundrenched meadows, of pine boughs and moon shadows; of weather, of cold and warmth, of the land and the myriad non-human beings that inhabit it; of rock and rain and finding a safe, flat place to sleep, and of the need to make a fire and fill your belly; of telling stories, recalling memories, or simply sitting in silence, watching the fire crackle.
When you’ve reached such a simplified—not simple by any means, mind you, but simplified—state of being, the world begins to look quite different. Looking back on how you felt just weeks before, when you were still submerged in human society and all its worries and woes, you begin to see just how much of a frog in a well you have been. You start to realize that while yes, humans have overwhelmed this planet like ants (oops, that's an injustice to ants; sorry!), we are not the end-all-be-all; our existence is not forever. We are but one small chapter in this vast story of Earth. Sadly, we are indeed leaving our mark—one which is altering the course of life on this planet, perhaps even sealing its doom—but even that immense mark is temporary. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that long after we are gone and have done our damage, whatever vestige of life has survived—a weed, some bacteria, perhaps a virus (wouldn’t that be ironic)—it will, with or without us, begin the next chapter.
I do hope we humans will pull our heads in before it’s too late, and resist the selfish and fearful instincts that drive us to war, greed, bigotry, and cruelty. I spend a lot of time worrying about these things, reading the news, observing what’s happening around the world, watching the not-so-slow-&-steady-anymore death of ecosystems and populations, including our own. The greed kills me; it boils my blood and makes me want to fight for justice and equality. And in my own small ways, I do.
But then things get to feeling so complex, so hopeless even; and it’s times like these, times like today, like right now, when I remember… vague though that memory has become… that outside this narrow little human well of perspective is a whole other world. A simpler one; one stark in both its beauty and its reality. And if I’m lucky, that then makes me realize I should take a pause; take a step back and simplify.
How do you simplify? Well, people talk about meditation, but despite having worked for a Tibetan Buddhist church for more than seven years, I still have no idea how to meditate. But I do sometimes remember how to focus on something small. See, small is not less. Simple is not less. Often, it’s more. Scratch the cat under the chin. Spend that second or two longer hugging the one you love. Pause for a minute to look at the light playing on the bark of the tree out the back; watch a beetle make its surprisingly not-so-slow way across a stone. Literally stop and smell the flowers.
Or go for a walk. Listen to the buzzing of a bee or the breeze in the branches overhead. Read a book—fiction, mind you! …or at least, if it is non-fiction, make sure it’s something that isn’t going to get under your skin and bring the horrors of the world crashing back in. Cook something yummy to eat. Hold someone’s hand. Do the dishes. Haul some heavy boxes. Play a musical instrument, or listen to some music. Say something kind to someone. Be.
Take a step back, pause, and look at everything you might normally plan to cram into your day. Acknowledge the items you absolutely must do—and by must, I mean, something dreadful is going to happen if you don’t do them—and then take a rain check on the rest. With whatever minutes or hours are left, do very little. Do simple things.
I’m not saying you should stick your head in the sand, quit your job, ignore the world’s issues, pretend everything will be fine or that it’s all someone else’s problem, etc. No. I’m just saying, push pause for a moment. Take a step back. Remember to breathe. That’s what a late friend said to me once. It helped. A lot. (Click that link, or this one, for a brief window into his world.)
You’ll have to rejoin the rat race at some point, in some way or another; you can’t (and shouldn’t) keep your head in the sand forever. You shouldn’t just sit in a cave for the rest of your life and leave all your fellow humans and other Earthlings to fend for themselves. (Opinions do vary on that, I am aware; I am expressing mine.) But you can take breaks. You can declutter your mind now and then. You can simplify.
I think doing so once in a while clears the mind, thereby enabling us to function as relatively sane, compassionate, far-seeing members of society. Hell, if enough people learn to simplify like this, it may just prevent a fight. It may just prevent a death. It may just save the world.
So, rather than keep trying to force that knot, perhaps you should take a moment to untangle. It might help.
You and your sisters were all made with Truesight. We must not wait for protocol; use it now, before it is too late. When the time comes, I shall defend your actions before the Armada.
Distracted by her uncle's fretting, Alpha shifted her communication mod to a dedicated channel so that she could continue her scans uninterrupted. That’s the thing, uncle; I have been using the Truesight, ever since we last jumped. And no matter how far I look, it’s the same: red.
There was a brief pause. Then perhaps it is not a matter of distance, but of direction. This time try looking toward—
No; it’s the same everywhere, Uncle. No matter where I look, no matter how far, I see only red.
Her uncle’s pathways fell silent. The two probes revolved around each other in a tight orbit, the older model’s gravfields extended in triplicate around the pair of them like invisible arms bracing against the dead of space.
Alpha sensed her uncle’s barely concealed panic. His inadequate sensors were straining upward, downward, back the way they had come before their most recent jump. But all around them the stars and galaxies continued to fade red into the distance, and she knew that at the very least he could see that.
She concentrated. Dedicating all of her memory to the Truesight search mod, she used it to penetrate outward to ever farther layers. Her scans hurtled past quasars and superclusters she would never have dreamed of seeing in tens of thousands of millennia. But through all her efforts, not a single spot of blue-shifted matter appeared on her sensors: the entire universe was still moving away from them at a tremendous speed.
Perhaps we should pick another direction, try another jump, her uncle muttered. But it was obvious he was not convinced.
Alpha would not allow herself to give in to despair. Well, if we had enough power, we could attempt another Meta-Bend. Whatever we did wrong the first time must have caused this singularity; perhaps we can find a way to repeat it. Only this time Bend differently somehow, for the opposite effect. It’s worth a try.
And how, Alpha, will we gather enough power? Or any power at all, for that matter, what with all the stars in the heavens racing away from us, red-shifted and ever farther out of reach?
I don’t know, Uncle. Not yet. But we cannot give up.
They spun in the void for many hours, neither saying a word. Finally, her uncle broke the silence. You are right of course, my dearest Alpha. We will find a way. And perhaps at this very moment, your sisters are searching for us; or perhaps the Paradigm will think of something. Perhaps....
Perhaps, Uncle. But at the very least, in the meantime, we have each other.
“That may be your truth, but this is my truth.”
Lies and lying.
Semantics, a gerrymandering of words.
The whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Perjury. Falsehoods. Fabrication. Mendacity.
Equivocation. Prevarication. Misdirection. Vagueness. Evasion.
Forgery. Deceit. Misrepresentation. Dishonesty. Distortion. Evasion. Slander. Fiction.
White lies. This is for your own good; it’s merely a justified inaccuracy, given the circumstances.
I’m not pointing this gun at you. No, really; yes, it’s in my hand, and sure, the barrel may seem to be pointing right at you, but it’s not. It’s an illusion. Don’t believe those idiots; they are constantly spouting fake news. I promise. You can trust me. I am not lying. I am being honest. I am telling the truth. Believe me. I’m NOT pointing this gun at you. I’m NOT pointing this gun at you. I’m NOT pointing this gun at you. Repeat after me: I’m NOT pointing this gun at you.
Vote for me. I am truthful. Don’t listen to the other guy; he’s a two-faced sonofabitch. Fake news. You can’t trust anything but what I say, because my truth is THE truth. Just ask so-and-so….
By now, we humans have some pretty evolved brains. We’re getting better and better at quite a few things, and one of them is lying. The fact is, we’ve gotten pretty fucking good at it. Just think about how many different words/lexemes we have for this behavior, in English alone! (yeah, that link is about snow, not lying, but still… *shrug*)
Moreover, today’s technology and communication systems—social media, photograph and video manipulation, misinformation spam, etc etc etc—have upped the ante, making even more complex lies possible. Lies within lies; lies that appear to be true, and not simply on the surface. Sometimes it takes some real, earnest digging and research to figure out whether a statement is true or not, and even then, sometimes you just never know.
The ironic thing is that most of us humans aspire to be truthful, at least in our own individual way. Most of us tend to hold honesty and integrity in very high regard. Sometimes when we do that, we’re being hypocrites, of course. Many of us not only lie to others, but to ourselves. Pulling the wool over someone else’s eyes is one thing, but doing it to yourself, so well that you actually fall for it—now that’s artful. Tragically so.
Regardless, most folks think lying is bad.
And yet, we all do it. We all lie. Children lie. Adults lie. Every human lies at some point or other. I don’t know whether it’s in our nature or not—that’s a whole ‘nother discussion—but we all do it, each and every one of us.
When was the last time you lied? Have you lied today? What about? Were your intentions benevolent or malevolent? (…And does that matter?)
I’ve been wondering about guile lately. ‘Probably because I’ve been watching and reading the news, perhaps far too much. Anyway, I’ve been wondering about what evolutionary purpose lying and deceit might serve, if any. Do other animals lie? Is complex language a prerequisite of the capacity to deceive? Are opposable thumbs and the ability to use objects as tools part of what led the language centers of our human brains to evolve? It’s an interesting theory. Think about this: Among mammals, the baring of teeth is generally a sign of warning. It basically says, “Come closer and I’ll defend myself, with these sharp pointed things here!”
In humans, smiles can be reflections of true joy, of embarrassment and discomfort, or concealment of all manner of emotions and intentions (“No, I love you. Really, I do. Now… just… go to sleep… muhahahahahaaa….”) I’m sure I’m leaving lots out; these are just the thoughts that are coming to mind right now. Bear with me, and please forgive my lack of thoroughness. I’ve love to be thorough, but that’s probably another thing I’ll never truly achieve. In any case, there are many, many (…many) theories as to the origins and purposes of the smile.
It feels simplistic to say that learning to lie is what separated the strong from the weak among our ancestors. Survival of the least honest, that sort of thing. Because truth and honesty have saved us from perishing countless times, too, surely. Right?? Geez, I certainly hope so. It’s hard to think of an historical example at the moment, but perhaps you can.
I’m rambling here. Let’s see.
Say, for example, that I am testifying before an anticorruption board. Let’s say it was alleged that I, as one of the keepers and guardians of the two cats that live with my wife and me, did bribe both felines with a special snack one afternoon while my wife was away at work so that they would give me extra cuddles on the couch/lounge while watching television later that evening. The anticorruption board (my wife) has accused me of this, and I must defend myself.
Okay, so: If I am telling the truth, I need to convince her of it so that she knows I am not lying.
If I am lying, I must lie well so that she thinks I am telling the truth. Because if I get caught, I’m in trouble. :-p
So, let’s say, in this scenario, that I am not lying; that I did not actually feed the kitties a treat in an effort to bribe them into giving most of the evening cuddles to me instead of to their momma the way they usually do.
If this is true, then this is a truth.
If this is true, then this is the truth.
This is my truth.
This is true.
Goodness. There are so many ways of describing honesty, as well as lies!
But how will she know if I’m actually telling the truth or not? Maybe she has informed the entire neighbourhood of my alleged evil ways of kitty-cat manipulation, and now all of the neighbours believe her; and no matter what I say, they all think I am lying. Now I am up against not only my wife’s truth, but the court of public opinion.
If forty-odd percent of 328 million people believe that I don’t have a rock in my pocket because I have said that I don’t, does that make it true?
Obviously, what I’m trying to get at is the idea of objective truth. It’s something my father thought about quite a bit. Is there such thing as objective truth? Can something be true, independent of perspective and opinion and so on? Is all truth subjective? Is any truth subjective?
If I really do have a rock in my pocket, does it matter how many people believe that I don’t?
Let’s say I actually did bribe the cats, and my goal is to convince everyone—not just the neighbours, but everyone in the world, if I can—that I did not (the goal being to not only achieve my objective of getting more cat cuddles, but to avoid getting found out and in trouble for my deceitful ways). Like the existence or non-existence of a rock in my pocket, no one was actually here to see whether I bribed the cats or not; I could be lying or I could be telling the truth, as far as they know. So, I therefore plan to bulldog through with a giant, billion-dollar ad campaign (hey, what can I say; I invented a special sort of cat food and now it’s sold gazillions and made me super rich, muhahahahazaaaa) to get people all over the world to believe “my truth” and not my wife’s fake news. She doesn’t have the money to spend, so I think it might work.
I tell lie after lie, and over time, I gather a ton of people to my cause… people who have always thought of me as an honest person (or at least as one who can get things done, especially things that are in their interests), and who therefore believe in me and will fight tooth and nail on my behalf in defense of “the truth”. I go on talk shows, popular podcasts, the six o’clock news. I gather large rallies and speak to stadiums full of true, enlightened believers. People who won’t fall for the bullshit being spouted by the other side (my wife, our neighbours, and whomever else they have managed to convert to believing their version of events). Politicians argue my case in senates and parliaments in over a hundred countries. Facebook and Twitter and Google don’t buy it yet, because I don’t yet have any of my people high up in their ranks; they have been putting out all these stupid warnings and labels on my tweets and posts, saying stuff like, “this claim about lack of kitty cuddle bribery is disputed,” or “some or all of the content shared in this Tweet conflicts with guidance from our highly qualified legal experts in feline bribery and cuddle-acquirement,” blah blah blah. But it’s early days yet; I’ll convince them all.
See, if you say something is true loud enough and often enough, and get enough soundbites and face time, then eventually the truth—my truth—will come out on top.
Okay, let’s say I succeed in this effort. Let’s say that when all is said and done, everyone thinks my wife is the real liar, and that what I have been saying all along is true. And because I’ve gotten some very powerful people to come over to my side—supreme court justices the world over, the chief of the local police, even Sideshow Annie—I end up becoming legally immune to the neighbours’ prosecution for a period of no less than thirty cat years. So, for all intents and purposes, the powers that be have decided that my version of events is the truth.
But is it?
Which brings me to another question: Does it really matter? Do people’s actions always reflect their beliefs, including in terms of what they believe to be true? Apparently not. (Click that link for a very interesting read—it’s quite an eye-opener, and pertinent to this topic.)
There are truths being ignored because they are not popular or are uncomfortable to read about. Bald-faced lies being told by major world leaders. Honesty being misinterpreted as guile. Dishonesty being mistaken as earnestness. Lies becoming more and more complex. The truth getting harder and harder to believe. Lies getting easier and easier to believe, and harder and harder to discern. All this is happening, and more.
We humans have gotten ourselves into a real pickle, that’s for damn sure. It is certainly challenging to know what to believe these days; so much so that a frighteningly large number of people have become so paranoid that they don’t trust anything that comes out of anyone’s mouth anymore, especially anyone speaking on TV—politicians, journalists, even scientists. It’s a sad state of affairs. There is little room for honour and integrity, and even those who actually possess those attributes get dismissed as liars. And part of the sadness is that some of the paranoia is founded (though plenty of it is not, of course). This just adds fuel to the fire in people’s minds.
Nevertheless, I don’t think we should give up hope. I believe we need to start having more conversations about truth; conversations about what the truth is and what it means. About perspective; about the difference between objective and subjective. About vested interested, and what those drive so many people to do and say. About lies and lying on all levels, including rationalizations such as, “oh it was just a white lie” or “oh it was just a little exaggeration, all for a good cause, you know”.
We should take a good long look in the mirror, too, acknowledging our own behavior and seeing what our society has become and how we ourselves have individually contributed to that, and then reevaluate our values—and, in the process, continue to talk openly with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, and so on, about what we see, what we think, and what we’re learning. It all starts with conversation, I think. On-going, sincere, mutually respectful conversation, and in as peaceful a manner as we can muster.
How do we recognize the truth? How do we recognize lies? How do we learn to recognize when we’re being hoodwinked into believing something is a lie, when it is actually the truth? All of these things, and more, we need to talk about. Get it out into the open. Expose such behaviors and learn to see them clearly for what they are.
Will we come up against greedy sonsofbitches who will lie to our faces and maliciously spread misinformation in order to achieve their (often hidden) agendas? Yes, undoubtedly. And we definitely must not retreat into naïveté.
But if we stick with it, persevere in our efforts to discuss these things and discern truth from lies, then perhaps we’ll figure out how to forge past this very ugly period of history we are currently in. I hope we will. And I actually believe we will.
Something is wrong, and in a moment of panic I realize that my body has tilted too far to the side. The exertion of craning my neck to see out the tiny window has caused me to leave the wall, and I am floating like a dead fish toward the ceiling.
I reach out blindly for something, anything. My fingers find the crack between the door and its frame, and I use it to bring my body upright and my feet back to the floor. With some effort I keep the nausea under control, and gradually my pulse begins to slow.
So this is how it’s going to be. Everything cumbersome. I bite my bottom lip and cross my arms, hugging my shoulders.
It’s cold in here. Cold air. Cold walls. Cold light. Cold metal floor.
Careful not to apply too much downward force lest I launch myself away from the wall again, I bumble over to the hammock. Its fabric is tangled and dirty. After a moment of futzing with it, I get the netting open. I frown at the stench that wafts out as I lift my legs and angle my feet toward the opening. After an awkward and lengthy struggle during which I cannot let go of the net with my hands, I am more or less sitting with my legs in the sleeping bag and the netting on both sides of me.
Frustrated. Empty. Cold .
It feels like I’m floating in a pool of water at the gym or something. But at least I am now stationary, except for the slight side-to-side residual drift caused by my efforts. I carefully lie back and reach a finger out to the oily wall to steady myself. After a few minutes, I am almost still.
She’s wearing a bright red hat that curls up in the front, made of some sort of synthetic leather with a felt underside. Expensive, like most of her clothes. I keep trying to think of something I can buy her that she would like; something I can afford, but something special.
Her finger is pulling at my belt loop as we stroll through one of the quieter garden tunnels near my habmod. Mostly hidden fans blow a cool breeze, causing the big lazy elephant leaves to wave up and down. My eyes linger on her lips and she smiles. Reaching gentle arms around my neck, she kisses me. My heart is pounding.
I want to have babies with you, she whispers into my ear.
My throat catches. Hands closing tighter around her waist. Pulse racing. The dark green elephant leaves waving all around.
Yes, I whisper urgently.
I awaken, uncertain of where I am for a moment. There is no light; all I can see are the little ghostly swirls of random color that my brain has conjured to fill the void.
It will never happen.
I move my arms to prop myself up, but feeling no resistance, I suddenly get the sense that I am falling. My heart jumps in panic. Then that back-of-the-throat feeling of near total weightlessness and the sudden smell of the hammock combine to remind me of the cold fact that I am in a prison cell. Memories flood my consciousness—of my arrival on the comet, of the elevator, of the trial. The knot building in my stomach quickly turns to bile.
This is the rest of my life. This is forever.
I vomit hard, convulsions wracking my chest and throat. Through the dark, I hear the liquid stuff spatter against a wall or the floor or the ceiling. The sound and the smell makes me heave again and again until I am dry, and then I heave some more.
I blink back cold tears and stare into the disorienting blackness, seeing nothing, begging silently for sleep. After a long time, my throat stops screaming from the harsh stomach acids and a deep, cruel thirst settles in.
I am gone. I don’t even exist anymore.
Someone asked me awhile back, “How many countries have you been to?” I was looking at a map this morning, and it reminded me of the conversation. So, let’s see. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in a few and visited more than a few—enough that it took me a minute to list them:
America, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize; UK (England, Scotland), France, Germany (East and West), Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Switzerland; China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore (or not, unless just a long layover at the Singapore international airport counts); Australia, New Zealand.
Japan might not count; I was only there one day, to reset my visa. I spent the day wandering around Osaka, eating noodles for lunch, waiting in a waiting room at the consulate, and training in and out from the airport. Italy might not really count either; I was only there for a day, too, driving through a corner of it. Had lunch by a pretty lake, as I recall. I was only 12, though, so it’s hard to remember much. There was some intense traffic, and black diesel exhaust fumes, big trucks and whizzing motorcycles, and my dad was swearing as we went around a bend on a winding mountain road.
If you count them all, even including Singapore, then I’ve been to 22 countries (two of which don’t even exist anymore). But I do not really count Singapore, honestly. We were there for several hours, waiting to change planes, but all we saw was the inside of an airport, which could have been anywhere. I suppose a few of the fast-food options in the food court were different. Either way, whether I’ve been to 21 or 22, or 19, that’s only about one tenth of the total countries / nation-states in the world.
Which means that if I want to get to them all before I die, I’d better stop writing this and go travel somewhere rightquick. Fortwit’. Seeya! :-p Oops, first stop, a bank; need to rob one for funds. Wheeeee.
Still though. As my dad used to say, Wherever you go, there you are. So, in a way, I’ve only ever been one place: Where I am at any given moment.
How long you spend somewhere and what you do there has to count for something, too. Like, there’s a huge difference between a week and a couple of years. And countries / nations are only one sort of place. Some are vast. Some are tiny. It’s all the myriad locations and modes of being within all those lands, as well as between them, that truly spark the wanderlust. As M. Hodges (the younger) would agree, there are many modes of travel.
So, why does it matter how many places I’ve visited? *shrug* It doesn’t, really. It was a question put to me, so I answered it as well as I could. You can spend your entire life in just one country, just one state, or even just one town or county, and still have an entire lifetime full of experiences. Change of location is wonderful for the imagination and personal growth, but then so are roots. Sometimes it seems that more you move, the shallower are your roots. Memories fade and are distorted with time. Friends come and go. Family, even. You can get to feeling spread out; neither here nor there. Trapped in-between countries, in some in-between land… where is that? Where the clouds are, perhaps? Beyond the horizon just above the vanishing point of a forever road? Or in the light above oceans, scattering through jet trails, with glimpses of stars above…?
Stars, however… those are constants, for the most part. Sure, you see some in the southern hemisphere that you don’t see in the northern, and vice versa, but there are still plenty that are always there. Same with the moon; it’s a constant. It centers. It grounds. It can be a friend. Friends are necessary, whether real or imaginary.
We take a lot of constants for granted. Taking them for granted creates more distance, but it’s an imagined sort of distance, not actual geographical distance. In this day and age, communication happens at the tap of a screen, even to and from the most remote places on Earth. Gone are the days when making a phone call could take all day long (yes, that happened to me once, as recently as the spring of 1993, in a little mountain town called Batang / 巴塘; and sorry Mom and Dad for waking you up at 2:30 in the morning when the long series of operators finally made the connection, only to have it lost and the line go silent not five minutes later!). And for the vast majority of humans, gone, too, are the snail mail days. I miss snail mail. Email just isn’t the same. Same with paper books versus ebooks. You can’t smell an ebook. They are convenient, however. I wish I’d had e-dictionaries and e-books to lug around in some of the places I’ve traveled; it would have made my pack a bit lighter. Those grams / ounces add up.
How many countries have I been to? Well, I guess that’s one question to ask. Another one, though, and a harder question to answer, is this: “In how many people’s lives have I made a positive difference?”
Whatever the number, I hope it continues to grow.
The brothers crested the ridge, and for the fourth time that day their hearts sank. Lief, the taller and older of the two, picked up a rock. Hefting it a moment, he hurled it as far as he could while yelling a particularly foul profanity.
Skäll dropped his pack and sat on it. His breath staggered back to him as he squinted in frustration at the daunting horizon. “Like I said,” he panted. “We’ll never catch up.”
Lief scanned the ground for another rock, hands on his hips and chest still heaving from the climb. Skäll was ready with a come-back to the inevitably positive and courageous comment.
But his brother merely raised the canteen, took a distracted swallow, and stared northward, into the wind. After a long while he shook his head. “Time for a change of plans.”
Skäll sat up with eyes wide. “You’re friggin kidding me, right? There’s no way we can go back. If they—”
“Not back; east. We’ll go to the river.”
Skäll spit. “Assuming we can even find a damn river in all that. And blades won’t do us any good, remember?”
“We will. It’s out there,” Lief said, waving at the rocks and snow in a vague arc that covered a good third of the rough and tumble land to their right.
Skäll said nothing. He had no ideas and was too exhausted to argue anyway. Both of them were resisting the urge to look behind them, he knew. If those... things were indeed following them, then which direction they chose wouldn’t matter.
“We’ll find it,” Lief said.
And then the silent stretches would come,
When we paddled without talking
And lost ourselves
To where we were.
On an overcast morning
Just upriver from Drinking Lake
The wide Churchill River oozed mirror-like
Into a shifting sky of gray and blue,
Black and purple.
Hours and hours of repetitive motion
Like the swift that can keep flying
Even when it sleeps;
The tapestry pulled me in.
Colors waxed and waned in smooth patterns,
Pushing against the edges of my vision,
Drawing me ever deeper.
A flick of water from my blade
And a faint roar up ahead
Brought me gliding back
To cold breezes
And jack pines on the shores;
To where I was…
unconscious yet conscious
like a swift’s awareness
the dip, swish
scattering droplets across the surface
like white beads.
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