Saturday, February 25, 2012

Muscle Memory

Yesterday, while my wife and sister-in-law and I were having lunch at a seafood restaurant just up the road from my sister-in-law's house, I began having muscle pains in my mid-to-upper back. By the time we'd finished lunch, the pain...which felt like pulled muscles I'd experienced before...had spread around to my side and to the left side of my chest, just to the left of the base of my sternum. I was worried that it might be more than just muscle spasms, but didn't want to get unduly alarmed (or unduly alarm them). I was conscious, too, that my worry might have been influenced by the fact that my brother-in-law had died, just six days earlier, from what is assumed to have been a heart attack or other such cardiac "event."

So, I just took aspirin and hoped the pain would disappear. My wife and sister-in-law expressed worry, but I assured them it was just a pulled muscle. I hoped deeply it was a pulled muscle. When we got home, I decided to take a nap so my muscles could rest and recover. More than three hours later, I awoke just a short while before my wife and SIL were ready to prepare dinner. They made a very nice "chicken hash" dinner. We watched an episode of House Hunters. The pain had not improved much, so a almost immediately after dinner I decided to try to sleep some more. That was about 8:30 pm. I woke up about an hour ago, at around 5:00 am. The pain is better, but still very much with me. I took a shower, shaved, went downstairs to make a cup of coffee, and here I sit, wishing the muscles would cooperate. In less than five hours, the services for my brother-in-law will begin. I don't want my muscle pain to divert attention from the remembrance. I won't allow it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Private Grief

The past several days have made me reconsider all the posts I make on Facebook. This week, the grief my sister-in-law is dealing with should be private grief. Facebook is too public, too open, too much like papparazzi poking cameras in one's face. I'll have to think about that when I return home Sunday night. While my wife continues to help her sister deal with her grief, I'll be home alone for a week; perhaps I'll be private for a week. Perhaps not.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Death in the Family

My brother-in-law, John, died today. It was utterly unexpected; a complete shock. At this point, I don't know the cause, at least not with certainty. The conjecture is that it was a heart attack.

After lunch today, my wife and I went out for a drive. We had no objective in mind other than to stop by the bank ATM to get some cash and go shopping for a few groceries. As we wandered about on the rain-slick streets, we approached an environmental educational center that we've been watching as it has been developing over the past many months. It's really just a demonstration garden, coupled with examples of solar collectors, composting bins, rain cachment system, and other odds and ends designed to serve as educational resources, mostly for school children, I assume. Being curious and somewhat "in" to the stuff, I stopped. My wife stayed in the car while I got out and walked around, exploring the demonstration site. When I got back to the car, my wife was finishing a conversation with her sister, who had just called to tell her what happened.

More calls took place later in the day. My wife and I will leave tomorrow for Boston to try to help her sister deal with the trauma and shock of what has just happened. I'm glad we can do it. But it's a hard, cold reason for making the trip.

Such things serve as brutal reminders that no one among us knows how much time we have left and when our lives might abruptly end. That realization can give rise to bitterness or despair, I suppose, but I choose to try, at least, to use it to try to reshape my cynicism into joy and appreciation. I will most certainly try. We are all we have. WE. You and me. All of us. We should serve as one anothers' treasurers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Heartfelt Tribute to Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day post redux. Just read the post from last year. I'm a romantic, really. But that's not what Valentine's Day is all about, is it?

UPDATE: But wait! Now it's über-cool to become a Valentine's Day afficionado! Now, the über-über cool people are writing snarky, sarcastic bits about how those of us who snipe at Valentine's Day are just tragically unhip, uncool, and deeply behind the latest trends. If we were REALLY cool, we'd adopt Valentine's Day as a great opportunity for sex and chocolate and we'd just shut up about how it's an opportunity for certain commercial ventures to make out like bandits. After all, they reason, is it any secret that Valentine's Day is a consumerist's bacchanalian fuck-fest? Let them snark. I haven't changed my mind. I opt not to allow myself to become a tool of Hallmark, spreading the gospel about how perfectly GOOD it is to spend needlessly on crap that ostensibly quantifies my love. Thanks, Hallmark, but I'll pass on the currently über cool Hallmark moment.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Few Chapters

I woke up this morning a few minutes before 4:00 a.m. Most of the time when I awaken so early, I look at the clock and roll over and go back to sleep. Not today. Today I got up, unloaded the dishes from the dishwasher, made a pot of coffee, and went online, looking for something to catch my attention. An acquaintance who had just gotten home from a night of partying noticed that I was online. We chatted briefly on Facebook, then I looked at the "to-read" books on my desk and picked up When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön.

The book has been sitting on my desk since October, along with others that have been there even longer, waiting for that elusive time when I would be in the right mood to read them. Today, the mood was right for When Things Fall Apart. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was not expecting what I got upon reading the first few chapters. I suppose I was expecting to read an instruction book on how to cope with difficult times in one's life. And perhaps that's what was intended. Instead, though, I began reading a book that seemed to me to have been written to enable the reader to have a conversation with himself about the real world. Not the world as it has always been understood to be. The real world.

I suppose I expected the book to be more "spiritual" in its approach, which always has been a bit of an issue with me. On the one hand, I think "spiritual" often is code for "you must believe what I believe with respect to religion," but on the other hand I think "spiritual" is simply a way to classify how one integrates one's personal sense of morality with the way in which he interacts with other people. Come to think of it, maybe the latter meaning may get at my experience in reading the first few chapters. But there's more than that. I just can't quite put my finger on it yet. I suppose the concept of circularity that seems to me to underpin Buddhism became clearer to me. Previously, I had interpreted that concept of circularity as requiring a belief in reincarnation (if one were to accept some fundamental Buddhist principles). But what I understand now is that circularity or rebirth in the Buddhist sense may simply describe the constancy of change.

As I write this, I realize I am not able to express in words what I believe I am beginning to understand intellectually. That is a bit disturbing, because words are my currency, my pathway to knowledge and understanding. But that notwithstanding, I find I feel more about what I am beginning to realize than I can articulate. For inexplicable reasons, though, I am comfortable with that, despite my discomfort. That, is circularity. But it makes sense in a ways it did not before I began reading the book. I'm only four or five chapters in, but I feel that I've learned much more than could be held in just a few chapters.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I learned tonight that a cousin, who is considerably older than I am, has breast cancer. Some time ago she decided that, if she were ever diagnosed with breast cancer, she would not accept treatment. She has since lost her ability to recognize her friends and family, due to Alzheimer's. I gather she is unaware of what is happening.

The prognosis is that she may have six months to live. As the end nears, she will be put in a hospice.

Such abrupt information of such import.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I suppose it's possible that we're all living lives of mass hysteria. Nothing is real. It's all imagined. The daily drudgery, the surprise birthday parties, the unexpected attraction to happily married women who return the favor. It's all fantasy, hiding the reality buried deep under the dry, gritty sand.

I listen tonight to "Take This Waltz" and I wonder why it seems so so and so true? "Take this waltz, take this waltz, it's yours now, it's all that there is."

"With its very own breath of brandy and death, dragging its tail in the sea."

"My mouth on the dew of your thighs."

"I yield to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin and my cross."

The thing, the unexpected yet utterly unsurprising thing is that it's all fantasy. It's all artificial. It's all built from plastic made especially to assuage the bewilderment of the ones among us who question the legitimacy of the corporate elite.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I once had a very close friendship with Mary. We shared a lot of the same ideas, attitudes, beliefs, questions, hopes, and dreams. She was one of my closest friends for a very long time. I would go so far to say as she was my very best friend.

But people grow in different ways. We took different paths, followed different dreams, made decisions that were contrary to maintaining what was a close friendship. Her views on religion were very different from mine, though I have since mellowed a bit and can better understand now what she tried to tell me about what she believed. Our assessments of the human condition were at once quite similar and very different. I was, and remain, deeply skeptical about the fundamental goodness of people. On the one hand, I believe people will be good and kind and helpful if left entirely to their own devices in development, that doesn't happen. She believed humans have an inate core of goodness about them. I want to believe that. Some days I do. Most days I don't...or, at least, that point is deeply in question.

But we both had high hopes for the future. We could imagine good things happening. We both were advocates for equality and justice. We were the liberal poster children.

Something went awry. I think she absorbed some of my skepticism and distrust and I absorbed some of her trust and faith. Those things happened without the opportunity for us to have conversations about what was happening in our mental evolution. A friendship that had seemed as solid as granite just disappeared. I miss that. I miss her. I miss whoever I was back then.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Where did all the plans for long, aimless road trips go? What happened to becoming a couch-surfer? When did the concept of behaving like a gypsy for a year just vaporize?

Maybe it set in when it became apparent that we still have obligations...check the post office boxes for mail and forward it to our expenses...look out after the house and yard. They are excuses, pure and simple. And I may be buying into them now. I don't want to. But maybe I am. Now, it's looking like a year of spending time at home, playing word games and wishing I had the money to do repair work on the house.

Has it been me all along that I've been dissatisfied with? And here I thought it was the work, the clients, the constant obligations, the lack of freedoms. Maybe that's it. The lack of freedoms. What is it, exactly, that prevents me from doing what I want to do?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Someone so young

I read something this morning that made me think. It was a post written by a 26-year-old woman whose blog I've been reading quite a bit recently. This young woman is full of energy and positive thoughts and seems just bursting with life. It's energizing just to read her words, so fresh and unburdened by experience and so undeterred by too many years of reality. But it's not just her youthful exuberance that I find appealing. It's her youthful wisdom. It's the fact that, when she experiences something new and gains new knowledge, she shares it in a way that brings that same new knowledge back to me. Her words resurrect in me the knowledge and thewisdom that lay buried under years and years of years and years. I found these words from her blog this morning particularly meaningful:

We cling to things because we’re terrified of empty space. We surround ourselves with possessions because we feel like we need them to help us express who we are. We hold on to people because we’re afraid of being alone. We carry around our sadness because we would rather feel something than nothing. We try to fill our emptiness with whatever we can.

How can someone so young know so much?

More Movies

After spending a Friday afternoon lazily watching two movies, one right after the other, at the theater during "matinee" discount time ($1 per movie), I decided that's exactly the kind of relaxation I needed. When I left the theater, I had the sensation that the stress I brought with me when I entered the building had been left in the seats.

It's hard to say why I feel any stress these days: I am not working much, I have very few demands on my time, and there are very few expectations placed on me. Yet I've felt stress anyway. I don't know where it's from. But if I can get rid of it simply by going to see a couple of movies, then I shall start seeing more movies.