Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Collapse LXXXIII: Palm Sunday And A Brunch

07 April 20XX + 1

My Dear Lucilius:

Palm Sunday was lovely this year, probably lovelier than it has been for me in many years. Certainly more meaningful.

This was the first time in quite a while that we had all assembled in the former storefront that seems to have become a general meeting center. It was certainly a bit colder than it has been in recent days and a number of people commented as such; post-service scuttlebutt seemed to suggest installing a stove if one could be found would probably be a good idea.

I would guess by looking at the crowd assembled that almost everyone in our little township and even some who are outside our had assembled here. I find it hard to fathom that every one of them is a believer, but perhaps people are just desperate to be together. Or perhaps, for a small time, being assembled in one place around a single Person gave us all a sense of hope.

It certainly did in Jerusalem on the long ago day.

The message was nice, given the circumstances under which it was preached – although to be fair, Palm Sunday usually presents a singular topic the world over. Although to doubly fair, a message of victory and hope after a coming betrayal is what may be needed after the year we have had.

After the service and the goodbyes, we adjourned to Xerxes’ girlfriend’s house (let us give her a name, shall we? It will just be easier on both of use). Stateira (I will leave it to you to look up, my friend – I like the thought of giving you homework even now!) and her mother live in house on the road out of town that runs by the school and over to the reservoir. I have walked by it a thousand times without knowing who lived there. As well in attendance were Xerxes’ parents and his two younger brothers and their girlfriends and their families. All told, there must have been over 20 of us packed in cheek by jowl. They, of course, all know each other.

I smiled, shook many hands, and made genial conversation.

Brunch was lovely concoction of what was available: eggs, steak, pickled vegetables, coffee (where Xerxes procured yet more of that precious material, I have no idea), and an actual sweet potato pie to top it off. My contribution was honey for the tea, which got a great many (undeserved I suppose) kind comments.

The conversation was largely about the events of the last year, the Winter past, and the Spring upcoming. It was fascinating (to me, anyway) to hear the experiences of others in actual detail rather than the bits and pieces I glean from conversations with Xerxes. I would characterize the observations as guarded, grim, and yet potentially infused with hope – so long, everyone seemed to think, as the world can be kept far enough away long enough to allow recovery.

Why yes (anticipating the question I know is coming), I did in fact meet Stateira’s mother. A very lovely woman. Apparently she was responsible for the sweet potato pie. And yes, we had a very lovely conversational exchange (the cynic in me would argue that we were put in a position to have such a conversation, but then again, the cynic in me can be overly cynical as can anyone else).

And no, I think that is all I care to share about that at this time.

I can feel your disapproval glowering at me from a thousand miles away.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Two Fishermen

 I am indebted to Glen for posting this yesterday. It makes me smile every time I look at it.  I am not completely sure why.  Is it the story that is being told?  Is the mischievous look in the eyes of the second fisherman as the first fisherman solemnly tells his tale?  Or is it simply the years of friendship and adventure that are implied?

I cannot fully tell you.  But I do love it.




Tuesday, September 28, 2021

A Bounty Of Hours

 I was sitting at the computer this weekend, plugging away on yet another spreadsheet.  In this case it was trying to make an estimate of available hours.

Although I continue to have Job Nervousness (here and here), none the less at this point in the program it makes absolutely no sense to leave my current position unless 1) I am kicked out; 2) I retire (highly unlikely, but an option); or 3) They so change my job role and (more importantly) my salary that it makes no more sense for me to be there.  That said, I am thinking about methods to supplement my income.  A second job - one that a) involves a little more physical activity; and b) is of the engagement level that I do the work and not have to think excessively would fill the bill.

(Why?  Frankly, I would like more of an allowance to travel to Japan when that gets started again and I do not want money to ever be the reason I cannot go).

As a result, I began to work with my schedule, trying to arrange it such that all my current activities and studies did not fall off into having no time allocated and seeing what chunks of time I might have available.

I was absolutely stunned when I was finished.

By my count, the process of rearranging my schedule and keeping my activities and interests ongoing and working and getting what is effectively my sleep pattern, I can have 18% of my weekly hours (30.75 hours for those, like me, that struggle with math in your head) available.

That includes all my Iaijustu training, my "real" job, volunteering for the rabbits, and Sunday mornings allocated for God. 

Yes, that is enough time for a second job (if I decide that makes sense).  But that is also enough time to do any number of things:  Learn a new skill.  Master a skill I am learning.  Good heavens, go get another degree or certificate.

The placement of the time was interesting as well.  I have large chunks of time - 3 hours at least 4 days a week and a huge chunk - 6 hours - on Saturday afternoon.

Does that mean I have to fill every hour?  Of course not.  One needs to leave some manner of space for the unanticipated or unexpected.  But what it does mean is that I have a lot more available time that I thought I did, if only I will use it wisely.

And time, after all, is the stuff of life.

Monday, September 27, 2021

An Interesting Follow

 One of my favorite finds for 2021 has been VicVerdier.

I first found as a podcast at The Art of Manliness entitled "How to Stay Physically Fit As You Get Older" (in retrospect fitting, given the week I have had).  Which led to me finding and following him on Instagram (@vicverdiercoaching).  Which led, of course, to his website.  His bio is here: suffice to say he has led a very interesting life (Officer in the French Navy, Scuba diver for deep wrecks and cave systems, Martial Arts, Trainer, and gym owner).

He posts interesting thoughts on Instagram, interesting to me (at least) because, as man in his '50's and a non-American, he has a different view than is often what is in our culture and can say it in a way that often Americans can not (in one case, having the audacity to address the fact that men in their later years may still have a sex drive, he got temporarily banned from Instagram.  I read the post:  trust me in saying that it was not in the least controversial).  Here was his thought this weekend, both typical of his posts and highly thought provoking (at least to me):

"It's easy to watch sport on TV and not doing anything with your body.

It's easy to watch porn and not having to build real sexual desire with someone else.

It's easy to watch UFC fights and never learning how to fight and defend yourself.

It's easy to spend time on social media watching the ideal life of others without even trying to better your own life.

It's easy to watch documentaries about faraway lands and cultures and never traveling and dealing with people with different beliefs.

What is difficult is to stop relying on surrogates and start making your life more interesting, meaningful and fulfilling. You’re a man. Get the courage to go out there and live your own life."

I always find him highly engaging, and would recommend him as a follow.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

On The Shrinking Of Social Circles.

 I was sitting down considering my list of acquaintances and people I interact with this weekend and came to the somewhat shocking realization (why, I do not know) of how much my circle has shrunk in the last 18 months.

Some of it is to be expected, I suppose.  With the arrival of The Plague, church, service with the coffee committee, and the associated church group simply fell away in terms of meeting together.  The idea of a virtual meeting together for the associated church group was attempted for a while but (at least for me) it never really had the same sort of impact. The fact that the group was easy enough to let go and not go back gives me some idea of the importance it held in my life.  

The Plague also effectively put a temporary hold on Highland Games as well, although that change had been coming as I found driving more than two hours to do an activity was not really something that was that motivating.  Since the end of 2019 I have thrown once and it seems likely I may throw once (possibly) this year as well - if I happen to be in town.  I used to see the same group of people 8-12 times a year; I have seen none of them since last November.

The Book of Face has been a large change in the socialization network as well - not that I saw those people frequently, but I did interact with them frequently.  One or two of those people I talk to regularly off the platform - The Berserker  is one, The Valkyrie is another.  

I see the same group of folks at the Rabbit Shelter every week of course, and my fellow Iaidoka on a regular basis.  And Uisdean Ruadh every trip back to The Ranch, and The Actor and The Accountant every second or third visit back.  My sister and brother in law every time I am back, of course.  And my family - at least, everyone that is home right now: The Ravishing Mrs. TB, Nighean Gheal, and Nighean Dhonn regularly, Nighean Bhean when she comes up from her apartment (often corresponding with dinner, it seems).  

But truly, outside of the ubiquitous "conference calls" for work, that is it.  Really not more than 25 people, total, on a regular basis. 

(You all, of course.  But that is a separate sort of circle.)

Oddly enough, I find this much less of a hardship than I had anticipated.  Two years ago, I would have thought it unmanageable.

To be fair, I think this falls into a theme that I am realizing - almost unawares - that has come into my life.  The phone post yesterday started the thought, but this accounting of human contact seems to be extending it.  The theme of simplifying and focus my life.

I do not know I have a great deal more to say on it at the moment, as the thought literally just occurred to me as I am writing.  But I will say that I find those interactions I have now are probably more meaningful and important than the larger series of interactions I used to have. 

And I do not know that I can say that is a bad thing.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

Losing My Smartphone Attachment

Working to curtail my Smartphone Attachment has been more of an effort than I anticipated.

The whole thing actually kicked off some months ago when, in a combination fit of anger and disappointment, I scaled back Book of Face involvement (which has essentially been reduced to nil).  As this percolated along, I read Live Not By Lies where someone who was an inhabitant of the former Czechoslovakia under the Communists made the fine point of why would anyone effectively install a government listening device (e.g. one of the voice activated "helpers") in their house  - and the comments were made in 2020, not 5 years after the fall of Communism.

Which got me to thinking about how much I used by Smartphone.

Not for calls - no, except for my veterinarian and Uisdean Ruadh, almost no-one uses the phone for calls anymore - but for everything else.  Tracking all sorts of little personal things - diet, exercise, sleep, even activities.  A little finance.  E-mail, of course.  And lots of texting (somehow, we feel that texting is much less intrusive than phone calls, although the expectation for a response is often the same).

But that got me thinking - why I am giving that information away?

At this point (after having used them), I have a pretty good idea what my caloric intake is, what my sleep patterns are, and how much I walk a day.  No need to share that any more.

So off those programs came from the phone.  And the phone started staying home when I went to walk.

Which led to other things coming off - apps that I still have and do not use anymore or apps that I probably should not use any more.

The other significant change I made to my smartphone is simply where I keep it.

Once upon a time, I kept it right beside me, like pretty much the rest of the world.  But I (as I have come to learn) am easily distracted by what is at hand.  So I have started putting the cell phone in another room. I walk by and check it occasionally, but not constantly.  This has cut down yet again on my overall use and is leading to yet another round of app purging.

The phone is still useful, to be sure.  Texting has its benefits, and there are apps (like my Physical training app) that make it possible for me to work with The Berserker three states away.  Checking mail is more convenient, as it contacting people (in passing, it is odd:  I have people who I talk to on very specific platforms and no other).  And the InterWeb on demand is a great benefit, as is having directions available right when I need them.

But the more I leave it aside and the more I remove things, the more I am finding that I am able to do without it.  I may never get back to a flip phone, but I can surely get away from it being a necessary item to have on person to being something I consult from time to time.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Of A Knee Injury And Sedentary Work

This week, my knee went wonky on me at iai.

This it not the first time it has happened within the last year - it happened about 7 months ago on the other knee.  We spend a fair amount of time in iai training from the position of seiza (think sitting on your knees) or tatehiza (literally "standing knee", or a rather unusual position where the butt is largely placed on the sole of the left foot and the right foot is pulled over to the left leg with the knee up) so I suppose that it is not a surprise - except that prior to this, I have had almost zero issues with my knees.

I am wondering how much the work changes from The Plague are to blame.

Oh, not from any sort of residual lingering issues from either illness or other things.  But a change in how I move during the day.

Before - when I was in the office - while I still had a great many meetings, I also had them in different places.  And so I walked - a great deal, from conference room to conference room and office to office, often talking while standing.  Now, I tend to sit a great deal as I virtually "walk" from meeting to meeting or call to call.

Yes, I do walk every day in the morning with Poppy the Brave and sometimes in the evening (non-iai days) but it is only isolated events at specific times of the day, not the sort of regular movement that was going on before.  It is fair to say that I am a great deal more sedentary than I used to be.

(As I note, I do still go to the gym three days a week and practice iai every day I am not at class - but again, specific events, not the sort of general daily movement I used to have.)

This, on the whole, is not a good development.

The problem is that I am not really sure what do about (to be fair, I think I just realized it is an issue).  The electronic work world model does not allow one to even "walk" between conference rooms every hour.  And sitting in front of a computer as much as I do know does not even offer the benefit of standing or stretching while listening - especially with the continued expansion of the use of cameras during meetings (as if, somehow, that makes things more personal).

True - I am not getting younger and from everything I hear from those who have gone before me, this sort of thing inevitably happens at some point.  Still, there is no reason to accelerate the matter by making it worse.  

Which simply means I need to figure out a more "active" sedentary work environment.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Collapse LXXXII: Bees And Dinner

04 April 20XX + 1

My Dear Lucilius:

Spring has apparently begun to “sprung” here, if you can believe it this early in the year. Temperatures are already pushing into the 50’s F (10 to 14 C), which is definitely an aggressive temperature increase for this time of year – mind you, our nights are above freezing (but not by much), so we are still weeks away from sensibly trying to plant things outside. That said, preparing inside the green house continues apace, including starting seedlings for planting soon.

It has also given the first jolt to the bees to start coming out of the hive en masse.

This is always the most nervous part of the year for me with regards to the bees. Yes, I do what I can to insulate them and yes, they have been designed by God and Nature to manage such things – but it is still nerve wracking to wait. Will I see them begin to trickle out of the entrance reducer as a stream, or will only a few come out, or none at all?

You may remember me telling you this, but I really do not open the hives in the Winter – the bees will form a ball around the queen and “shiver” their way through, coming out for cleansing flights (a polite word for “bathroom breaks”) when the temperature comes up a bit – and thus me opening up the hive not only disturbs the bees, but dissipates any warmth they may have. I do everything I can to help them, of course. There is provided food easily accessible within the hive, and I have a variety of insulation techniques I use to keep the hive as well protected from the cold and wet as possible. As a result of not opening them, one simply never knows.

In this case, I had a happy ending: both hives exuded a steady stream of bees as the sun hit the hives. I will wait a bit longer until I open them up – until I get some sense that Spring is really “here” – but it was a nice reassurance.

Young Xerxes came by while I was watching the bees make their exodus. We talked for a few minutes over this and that – the usual things we cover in a visit – and then he asked me the oddest question I have been asked in over a year: Would I be interested in having Palm Sunday Dinner with him and his girlfriend?

And, he mentioned in passing, his girlfriend’s mother.

I have come to have a certain fondness for Xerxes. He genuinely appears to be a young man who is diligent and innovative. In the past months that I have come to known him, he is exactly the sort of person that one would need in the circumstances that have occurred. He has adapted and continuing to look forward, not back.

That said, I had not imagined him as a potential match maker.

I pushed him – very gently – on the subject. He assured me there was nothing to his request at all, other than a desire to invite me over to spend Palm Sunday in the company of people rather than alone. It just so happened that his girlfriend lived with his mother. His family would be present as well, so there would hardly be the sort of thing where there would be forced conversation with select individuals (My words, not his of course. He was far more circumspect about it.).

I finally acquiesced – after all, I do not have any relevant excuses to bring to bear at this point, like having to stay home to wait for a call or catch something online or do some work around The Cabin. If nothing else is true now, we all have time. His reaction was happy but somewhat non-committal, as if he was attempting to not be more excited about cornering an animal lest it suddenly bolt.

I am old enough, Lucilius, to know when I am being maneuvered into position. It is touching, amusing, and concerning all at the same time.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Job Nervous II

Last week I had written about the fact that I was getting this sort of unspoken sixth sense about my job situation undergoing a change.  I would argue that I am not particularly prescient in such matters, but a change in how things functioned has already manifested itself twice in the last week.

In the first case, a project which I am on in which the project manager role has had for the responsibility for being the main point of contact, I was very politely informed that in the future, this responsibility would be transferring to an operational role.  My place in this structure would be transforming into a more of a role of communication of information and finisher of the sorts of paperwork that make things happen (and, of course, no-one else really wants to ever do).

In the second case, a year long project which in theory was supposed to be close to a decision has suddenly been put back into play as, in the last week, new individuals are introduced into the process and new considerations need to be made - all for the good, I am sure, but quite upsetting the process that has been built up to this point based on those earlier assumptions.

Neither of things indicate any sort of "End Of The World" scenario of course: in both cases there is still a role to be played for my position, I still have work to do, and the prospect of any sort of personnel disruption has not been mentioned.  At the same time, it is a noticeable change.

What it portends, I realized, is that we are undergoing yet another change of corporate culture.

Corporate culture change, if you have never lived through one in your past life, is the process by which a corporation not only changes what it believes but how it functions.  Corporate cultures of larger companies can often be stronger simply because they have the weight of size (and often years of existence) on their side; corporate cultures of smaller companies can be fluid as they are still in the process of deciding what they want to be.

Over time, if a corporate culture is not firmly defined, it will begin to take on the shape and form of key leaders as they come into the company.  If the key leaders share particular experiences, such as all working at larger companies or multiple leaders all having worked at a single large company, the new corporate culture can come to reflect those experiences.  Which is not surprising, I suppose - after all, they are large because they are successful, and they were hired to drive success.

Still, it makes it awkward to live through it.

One of the biggest changes at my level as these processes continue - I have been through more than one  - always seems to be the continual shrinking of responsibility and scope of action.

Again, it makes a sort of logical sense:  as companies get larger, job roles become more specialized as more people are able to focus more intensely on particular areas.  And as that focus comes, so comes the change in job responsibility and authority.  The power to make decisions as changes as well and - no matter how much companies try to devolve it lower - it almost always seems to settle back up at the upper levels.

As a result, a position like mine continues to see its span lessen in terms of decision making and authority and increase in the areas of minute documentation execution and information transactions, often the sorts of things that need to be done but not by those setting policy and course.

In the end, of course, I suppose it makes little difference:  I am still paid for my work and there seems to be corporate stability.  At the same time, the fact that we never talk about these changes - they just happen - always leave one with a slightly concerned taste in one's mouth.  There is nothing worse than be dependent on black boxes that sometimes seem to change expectations and proposed outcomes in midstream. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

On Decisions About And Dispersal Of Things

 The sorting of my parents' items has begun.

This task has hung over the head of my sister and myself since February of this year, when it became blatantly apparent that neither of my parents would be returning back to The Ranch to live.  We were now in the situation of having a house full of items to  examine, catalog, and disposition.

My parents had gone through one large purge almost 20 years ago, when they had relocated from my hometown to The Ranch so some things of my childhood, like fifty 4-record albums of "Reader's Digest presents"  were no longer our problem.  But that was 20 years ago, and other things have accumulated in that time.

Fortunately my parents did not have a problem with hoarding things; that said, they did have a great many collections.

My mother collected books, hundreds of them, with paperbacks going back to when I was growing up to books recent purchased.  She had various sewing and photo album supplies.  My father, on the other hand, collected antiques.  We have a rather extensive collection of a great many different old things, bottles and old kitchen items and furniture from the late 1800's and old fans (two, to be precise).

The problem, of course, is knowing where to begin.

It is perhaps doubly compounded by the fact that I impart emotion to items.  Things have memories and value to me beyond their simple functionality - and not just memories for me, it seems, but memories of my children with them to, or memories of the generation beyond my parents with them.  In some cases, I am likely now the last person that possesses those old memories, of knowing why we have a violin when no-one in our family ever played one (it belonged to my Great-Uncle, who used to live at The Ranch. I can remember him playing it when I was a child).

So how does one go about make a start of sorting two lives?

We are fortunate in that 1) There are very few items which are perishable (and thus had to be immediately handled) and 2) We are not on a "We have to clean the house so we can sell it" clock.  This can be done at our pace.

I have managed to move through my mother's entire books collection, two bathrooms, and a sewing/craft closet - with some ground rules to make it easier on myself.

1)  Anything that I or a member of the family might want, I keep.

2) Anything that has emotional value or I am unsure about, I keep for another round.

3)  Anything that has some reason to be preserved, I keep for another round.

4)  Everything else gets put into the give away pile or the throw away pile.

I have to confess that giving myself the freedom to not have to make a decision on the first round of consideration has been freeing.  Instead of agonizing over what to do, I simply put it to the side and move on.  This allowed me to sort all of the books (which have not yet moved from the house, and I keep pulling volumes out and putting them in the "To Keep" pile) and most of the sewing and craft items.  The bathrooms were much easier of course; only a minimum need to be kept in each, sufficient to support me on my regular visits or a larger group for shorter visits.

Of course, as I go through things, I am constantly surprised by the amount of stuff in closets and cabinets and drawers (which is why I hate all of them; it just makes it easier to hide things).  My mother had at least 20 handbags which appear to never have been used.  I know my father literally has hundreds of baseball caps.  And the number of small tissue packages and handkerchiefs is staggering.

But the progress, if slow, is now constant.  Each time I leave, something else becomes a "organized" area, one less area on my mind.

For one brief moment I opened the drawer at my father's nightstand, which was filled with birthday and Father's day cards - then closed it.  I find myself far less up to such things than I imagined.

But one thing at a time.  Today the bathroom drawers and non-personal items items easily decided on, tomorrow the personal items that hold far more in memories and emotion than they do in substance.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Finding A Voice

 It bothers me that I do not have a writing voice - or at least a consistent one that I can discern.

The good authors always seem to.  One does not read a well known author - or even one that one enjoys - without getting a sense for their voice, for how they write and how they speak.  Once they have it, of course, one can always recognize them no matter what genre or subject they write about.  They write as themselves.

This is, I think, the apotheosis of the writer - as it is the same to for any master of any art or way of life - to be completely and total one's true self. Once one is truly one's true self, the nature of the activity does not matter:  one does everything and acts in every way as the person one always is.

Some people seem to be born with this.  They are simply fully themselves from their formative years on.  They seem to be rare though; the remainder of us seem to stumble through life, slowly chipping away - to paraphrase Michelangelo - at everything that is not ourselves until we are revealed from the block of stone.

Part of this, I suspect, is my own fault.  Even now, in my mid-fifties, I am still not quite sure what I want to do or be when I grow up.  As a result, my life seems to have become a series of experiments in widely diverse different directions.  Some of these things stick with me and change me; others are done for a time and then seem to fall away like the trees shedding their leaves in Autumn.  It thus becomes difficult to discern "myself" amidst all of the noise of the taking in and putting off.  

Nor is it particularly helpful, I suspect, that I simply cannot decide what the actual focus of my writing - and therefore my voice - will be.  To some extent this seems to be a work in progress and will always be so; if I look at my writings over the year, they have slowly transitioned in tone and subject as my life has gone in its different directions.  Perhaps, in this sense, it is then to be expected.

Like any budding anything, of course I will fall into the practice of imitation as well as anyone else.  I will read writers who I find inspire me - Gene Logsdon or Wendell Berry or Rod Dreher or Demosthenes or Sir Walter Scott or Isocrates - and unconsciously end up imitating them (as I am sure it is self-evident to long time readers).  Ultimately of course, those have to fade: no-one wants to read an imitation of the original, not even me.

But for those who find their voice, their true selves - one will recognize these people when you find them.  Miyamoto Musashi was completely himself, whether in his writing, his sword school, his painting, his wood carving, his blacksmithing.  To see his works in all of their varied forms is to see the man through them.  Vaclav Havel was another one of these men.  His writings before and his political career after - the same man shows up for both, the same man writes plays, publishes samizdat articles against the regime, and then becomes President (although not nearly successfully as as being a playwright and voice of conscience; being one's true self is not always a guarantee to success in all things).  Demosthenes always speaks as Demosthenes, even though he improves his style and flourishes over time.  And even in Logsdon's early-how to articles and books, you find hints of the philosopher-farmer with the sharp pen for fools and idiots and the wise advice on agrarianism.  

Does it truly matter?  On one hand I suppose, not at all - after all, this is essentially an ongoing project of my own making and (excluding the lifespan of the InterWeb, I suppose) has a finite date of completion one way or the other that will eventually turn up in some obscure web archive of "Blogs of the 21st Century".  On the other hand, I feel like it matters tremendously - not that I would count my voice on subjects as particularly noteworthy or useful or course bending (there are others far more qualified to do that), but at least I feel my voice should ring true.

It should be my true self.

M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled and People Of The Lie, states that every person has some unique trait created in them by God for which it is His intent that they should reflect back to Him for eternity, a million million facets of the Godhead giving their glow back to Him who created Him.  It matters - at least to me - that when that Day comes, I can say to God "This, to the best of my ability, was the true self You gave me.  I have attempted to be it the best that I was able".

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Seasons Of Change And How Now Shall We Live

 OldAFSarge over at Chant du Depart has written a very thoughtful piece about the changing seasons in Where Did The Summer Go, which he very cleverly (and subtly) transfers over from the actual seasons to the seasons of life without letting the reader know until they are already engaged (well done, Sarge).  In it, he transitions from the changing seasons ("It hit me Friday morning, well, it was close to morning, when I awakened from an exhausted, dreamless sleep.  It's mid-September, past mid-September really.") to the changes in his life from the passing of his beloved companion cat to upcoming changes in his career that he may be considering (Yes, I know - I just summarized it in one sentence.  You should go read it anyway.)

It is an odd thing, to wake up - as he did, and I did recently - and realize that the year is already effectively 75% over.  And then to start doing the math and realize - like every year - that it only picks up speed as one gets closer to the end of the year:  At work, everything that needs to get done for the year suddenly is compressed into the fourth quarter; at home and in life, the competing realities of a change in season (here in the Northern Hemisphere, from Summer to Winter) means that many outdoor projects and activities will wind down even as time for those activities competes with the upcoming rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Life in these last three months picks up speed, and that rather precipitously.  

Add to that the math (for me) of travel, both to The Ranch and (hopefully) vacation, and the year is closing down very quickly indeed.

Last night at dinner with Uisdean Ruadh and The Accountant - both friends from High School - I made the comment that, statistically, if we had 30 more years of relative active and health, we would all be beating the curve.  There was an awkward silence and then a reluctant acknowledgement that yes, this was likely true.

And that is given current history.  What I know of my own family, at least, is that it is probably shorter than that.

In light of all that, as Francis Schaeffer might ask, "How Then Shall We Live?"

It is not just in the realm of what we do, but how we are.

For most of us - myself included - something like an "early retirement" is not possible in the way that we imagine.  That said, neither is the concept of continuing to work in a career field or job field which, at some point, bears no evidence of ultimately getting us to where we would like to be.  If you do not enjoy work your work at some fundamental level, continuing to climb the career ladder in your 50's, 60's, and 70's offers little to no incentive.  That is not to say that most would -or should - just "drop out"; research is pretty clear that some level of involvement is necessary and beneficial.  But at some point, one would like the option to choose or to work in a job which keeps the hands busy and the mind active, but does not necessarily require meeting quarterly and year end deadlines.

But such a change should not be limited to only what we do.

A tendency - I can see it in myself - of getting older is locking one's self into patterns of thought and patterns of behavior and belief.  We do what works of course, and when one enters the Autumn of a life, the fact that one is still above ground and functioning in society gives us a sense of "Yes, that worked - because here I still am."

I am not suggesting merely jettisoning all our accumulated thoughts, behaviors, and belief because it will make us more "hip" or more able to communicate with the young - if anything, I would argue that those patterns are in many ways more necessary than ever.  But what I am suggesting is that we need to get into the habit of examining ourselves - our thoughts, emotions, practices - and see what needs to change.

I have more than a fair list of issues.  I am too often proud, too often fearful, too often motivated by things that are base rather than noble.  I too often focus on myself and my plans for my life and my world.  As a result I struggle with apologizing when I should and confronting when I should.  I will avoid conversations that may be difficult but necessary or present a plan and proposal as if it is a done deal.  I worry a great deal about making things convenient for my life; I worry not so much about making things convenient for others.

This is hard work - harder when one is in one's mid 50's and uprooting what amounts to decades of behavior in some cases.  But we cannot simply be satisfied with ourselves as we are, anymore than we can or should be satisfied with our outer lives as we are.

My example is old acquaintances.

When one is with old acquaintances - from high school or college or previous work experiences - one sees a pattern of behavior that is not present in the friendships that are current and living.  In those friendships there is indeed the joy of old memories and old jokes - and nothing is funnier than 30 year running joke! - but there is also the discussion and interaction of things that are happening recently. 

In old acquaintance encounters, this hardly seems the case.  Yes, there is the initial catch up - friends, children, relationships, careers - but after this it seems very often (at least in my experience) that the interactions seems to devolve to what they were in the past. We act out those roles of high school or college or previous jobs because that is the only touchpoint we have to deal with the encounter.  Too much water has passed to quickly build up points of reference in the recent past and, frankly, we at least subliminally recognize that it may not be worth the effort as how likely are we to see his person again?

Not everyone can make this transition - not everyone I know has.  For those that have not, they become locked into a way of looking at the world that by default keeps many others out - the old cranky man shouting "Get Off My Lawn" is funny because there is truth to it.  And it is hard to accept and realize that one needs to work on one's self, perhaps even harder now as things start to wind down.

But I would argue it is important work none the less because - based on the increasing speed of the years and change of the seasons - things are winding down more quickly than we know.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Deer Sightings

 When I was looking out the back door a few nights ago, the deer were out grazing:



These may have been the same group I had seen earlier in the morning.

Then, when I headed down along the edge of the Lower Meadow, I saw more:




That was a group of five, which made eight in about 15 minutes.  That is a great many more than I have seen in quite a while.

It is nice to see them out and about.


Friday, September 17, 2021

Renewal



I had an epiphany this week.

I am not quite sure when I turned the corner on this issue.  It has been within the last two weeks.  And I cannot tell you precisely what contributed to it, but I can tell what seemed to contribute to it.  

But I can tell you the moment it happened.

The "what" seems to have been a series of thoughts and readings over the last two weeks, apparently just overlaying each other:  The Benedict OptionLive Not By LiesTaking time away to train with my coach, The Berserker.  Coming to The Ranch, as I have for over a year now.  Visiting with My Dead.  And lastly - just this week, Claire Wolfe's latest post, Our job, should we choose to accept it...  It is, apparently, dangerous to read things and think about them at length.

The When?  6:30 PM, more or less, on the Wednesday past.

The Why?  Because the writing of the past two weeks reached a crescendo that manifested itself in Claire's post.

Quoting from the post:

"Last week, I wrote that freedomistas had just two jobs to do in our new totalitarian society: live with the ugly reality and plan to outlive it.

The catch, of course, is that neither of the two jobs is simple or easy.

Part of those jobs involves developing parallel systems, or even parallel societies as described in “How to Escape a Sick Society.” We need, as human beings and as a culture, to “route around” the damage of totalitarianism. By routing around, we accomplish multiple good things, from weakening the power of the oligarchy to giving dissidents a way to live and thrive to (potentially) replacing the oligarchy without bloodshed when the day comes.

Really we won’t end up with one, or even two or three, parallel societies, but thousands of them."

All of a sudden I realized what I had been missing, what has been a drag on my thoughts and emotions for months now, maybe even years:  I have been fighting a rearguard action.

It is not, I think, a secret that on the whole I despair of society in its current form and where it seems to be headed - and I am not the only one, not by far.  But what hit me as a bolt of lightning is that both sides of that argument - what society seems to be becoming and those that oppose it - are looking back both back into a past that no longer exists and will not come again and a future that has nothing under it except hopes and wishes and checks that cannot be cashed.

What they are both missing - what I have been missing - in the concept and idea of building something new.

The underlying thoughts that motivated all those posts above as I wrote them were one of two things:  either acknowledging that what is being done is not working and building something - whether societal or in my own life - that will be a way to manage, cope, and thrive under such conditions as well as hopefully endure.

The past?  It matters.  Roots matter.  The great thoughts of the past matter.  History matters.  But trying to build on past systems that have effectively failed of their vision leads nowhere, even if it seems like an point of view or ideology is "winning".  The forward motion that is present is the declining power of inertia; given enough time, "winning" will itself turn into a rearguard action.

Ah, but to build!  To create!  To manufacture systems and ways of connecting and conducting life - preserving all that is good of the past but not hemming our lives in solely by it - this is forward looking, this is taking action.

This is hope.  This is life.

By mostly dumb luck (and their graciousness), I have learned to follow some amazing bloggers.  Go follow Leigh and Dan, or Dawn McHugh, or Rain, or Patrice Lewis, or my friend (and official optimist of The FortyFive), Ed.  They are all in the process of building things (they might not define themselves as totally doing that in the way I am thinking of, but I will go ahead and just define it for them as that is what they are doing...).  They experiment.  They build networks around their experiments.  They share information.  

In some small fashion, they provide hope.

This is not meant to say that there is some sort of naïve optimism at work here - indeed, in some ways things seem  darker than ever.  But rather than curse the darkness, in their own way all of them (as well as Claire) have chosen to light a candle.

Can you remember a time when you became really excited about doing something?  Do you remember the energy and optimism you felt, how you were awake at night thinking about it and up early anticipating it?  Yes, that feeling.  That is what suddenly hit me at 6:30 in the evening on Wednesday night.

There is a life to build.  There is a society or series of societies to build.  In a way, it is like actually getting to play the Old "Now Available for the Macintosh" version of Sid Meier's Civilization or any of the "Build Your Own" cities/zoos/rollercoaster games.  Except this time, it is for real.  What could be more exciting than that?

I took an evening walk after all of this hit me.  The evening was cooler, cooler than it had been all week, cooler than it has been since April.  And yet, the world seemed on fire like it had not been in years.

Go light a candle.  Go be a raging fire.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Collapse LXXXI: The Day Of Fools

01 April 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

And here it is, the Day of Fools.

There was a time, of course, when the Day of Fools was patiently waited for – probably around the middle of grammar school to high school, I should imagine. The years that Easter fell late, it was a long haul until the next holiday, so The Day of Fools made a welcome break.

And it was such an anticipated holiday. In the beginning, of course, pranks were spur of the moment things thought up in the morning, mere verbal sleights of word or wildly outrageous lies. As time went on, they because more and more elaborate, sometimes involving a month of planning. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not – and sometimes we were so caught up in the cleverness of the fool that our targets in turn fooled us (teachers, who seemed so much older and non-hip, were actually pretty clever).

Over time, of course, this sort of thing fell by the wayside. High school gave way to college and college to work, and at each step the Day of Fools had less and less relevance to our annual lives - and instead became more and more concerning: there came to be rules of conduct and engagement as one moved farther up the educational and career ladder, so many and in such unwritten abundance that at some point the risk of creating an issue outweighed the potential laugh.

Humor, and the Fools of April that was one embodiment of it, seemed to have disappeared.

Old humor, of course, was completely out. Humor had to conform to modern mores – and by modern, it came to mean within the last five years of whatever the year was. Yesterday’s humor became today’s faux pas. Wildly popular shows that twenty years previous were the peak of humor and clever repartee were now things to be set aside in the Modern modern world.

In terms of relationships – work, social, church – humor could be an instant conversation killer. One never knew precisely what others thought might be funny, so one simply stopped making any sorts of jokes at all, unless one knew the audience well – and not just well, but extremely well. Self-deprecating humor became a way to break the ice among the strangers and the uncommitted, I suppose – after all, most everyone is happy to have someone to laugh at, at long as it is not them.

Starting one of these social events – a work meeting, a church gathering, a social gathering – turned into a bit of an uncomfortable and high risk event every time. People would meet, exchange greetings – and then some brave soul would make a quip or comment. The gathering seemed to pause for a moment, as people stopped and waited to see what would happen next. Either someone - apparently someone of sufficient standing or rank – would laugh, at which point everyone felt they could laugh, or there would be silence and coughing and then the inevitable “Well, it looks like we are all here, so we should start.”

But as these written and unwritten rules and mores went into effect, the outcome was quite different that what was intended.

Instead of laughing more because humor was now in theory correctly distributed and focused, everyone laughed less. And humor was coarsened as well: sex, mockery of others, and just a general “grossness” in humor may have generated laughter, but it also made everyone less civilized over all. In the desire to find things that were acceptable to laugh about, the lowest common denominator became the standard, at which point it seemed everyone tried to find a way to go below the standard.

For a while to find something I could laugh at, I tried to just watch shows that we had watched with my children – the “Disney sitcoms or cartoons” and their like. And they were funny in a sort of rollicking innocent way – although by the time my children had stopped watching (and thus, my direct acquaintance with them) even they had started to go the way of the larger world.

Old comedies were by the wayside – looking back, the rot had set in there even earlier; I had been to foolish to not see it. One would have to go way back – perhaps pre-1965? - to find some of what we used to call “wholesome” humor. At that point it became too much of an effort, and frankly I did not want spend my days and off time in front of a computer, watching a small screen, desperate for a laugh that felt honest and clean.

I have a few of the genuinely great comic collections that either my wife or I had collected over the years: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts (of course), and even a New Zealand Comic strip called Footrot Flats that I refer to now and again when I feel the need. Simple humor well done, without a trace of controversy because in point of fact, life is simply amusing on its own.

On the whole, I laugh more now, even in our current situation, than I have for many years. This truly is the greatest comedy of them all.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Traveling Lighter

 


Last week it struck me that it was about time to start booking the Spring round of flights to come to The Ranch (if you are not aware, most airlines release them in tranches; I believe Southwest issues theirs through April this week).  I have got more of my rhythm now in terms of travel (one would think, after 14 months, this would be true), so booking early will give me my best chance at getting the flights I want (Not leaving too early, not arriving too late.  There is no reason to be at the airport at 0 dark thirty.).

As I sat down and reviewed the upcoming year, I suddenly realized that - between planning flights once a month and vacation which will have to be used - I will be traveling 33% of the year.

I simply had no idea.

What it did mean, as I sat and pondered it, was that I was going to need to change how I do things for travel and my expectations at home.

For travel, the biggest change I needed to make was simply what I brought - for over a year, I have traveled with a suitcase and a computer bag. I, on average, probably spend an hour trying to recover my luggage between two arrivals (luggage systems at modern airports seem to be much slower than they used to be).  Why, I thought to myself, was I wasting an hour?

After all, at this point I know precisely what I need to bring when I come to the Ranch.  There is never any variation, except by season.  And what if, I wondered, I started simply pre-positioning things?  It is not as if I need to travel with toiletries (well, except of course moustache wax.  That is a bit hard to come by -  the good stuff, anyway).  And clothes?  Yes, there are things I can bring with me, but things like underwear and socks and undershirts do not need travel with me every time.  I certainly have enough of them.

And so, the travel bags you see above:  a backpack and a computer case.  Surprisingly so far, the world has not ended with not having brought other things.  I will wash what I brought and leave the bulk of them here when I go.  Within two trips, I can effectively have a compact second wardrobe here.

(Would that I could only travel with one computer instead of two.  That said, there is no way I am crossing the work/personal streams.  I will just have to lug both.)

But having resolved this, I realized that it impacted my life on a larger scale as well.

In point of fact, if I am gone 33% of the time, that means my involvement in activities is 33% less:  33% less Iai class, 33% less Rabbit Shelter, 33% less gym time (but not necessarily working out, of course), 33% less time on things like gardening and cheese.  It does have an impact.

What it means, of course, is that I have to be somewhat smarter and more innovative about how I do these things.  Find time when I am there to effectively "double down" on those activities; find time when I am away to continue to do or support them even if I am not physically there (for example, I have had to effectively rig a sprinkler system for the garden while I am away).

It also means that going forward, thoughts about involvement in other things and purchases need to be evaluated as well.  I will not be the best card carrying member of any organization at the moment, nor does necessarily buying more things that will sit somewhere being make a lot of sense.

It is odd - without thinking I had entered a transition, I have entered a transition of indeterminate length and unknown extent.  I had hoped, perhaps, to do this in a more thoughtful and organized way.  However, as wiser heads than I have pointed out, Life is as much what happens to you as it is what you try to make happen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Time Passes Dropping Slow


 Time has a rhythm when I come back here that it lacks anywhere else.

To be fair, part of that is simply due to the fact that my life here is very streamlined;  all of my ordinary activities are curtailed as I am here alone.  There is no dog to walk (although I walk myself), no rabbits to clean, no cat to move about.  The gym is the floor of the living room and Iai class is practiced outside my door.  Meals, when eaten here, are Spartan, utilitarian, and almost inevitably the same: I am done with 10 minutes.

But even beyond those things - which are uses of time (though appropriate ones) - there is the overall sense of simply being away. 

I have written of it before, but there is no traffic here, no neighbors walking themselves or their dogs, no delivery trucks making their passes through the neighborhood.  My aunt or uncle may drive down from the Big House on an errand, The Cowboy will come by twice a day to water his garden and feed his cattle, neighbors may come occasional come by on walks or slow ATVs.  But that is for spots of time only.  

In the morning one hears the chirp of birds nearby and barking of dogs and sounding of roosters farther off.  The squirrels argue with each other over things I cannot comprehend:  the taste of acorns or whose trees is whose, I suppose.  Occasionally the cattle will start off on a sound off or the horses in the Lower Meadow will comment.  But all of this will die down in the late morning as the sun heats up and everyone sensibly retreats to the shade, to pick up their discussions in the evening.

Time just flows differently.

Even my work flows differently.  Why, I cannot be sure.  Is it the distance from the office, or just the realization that it some form or fashion, all of what I do is transient and this represents a reality that will be here when the job has moved on?  Perhaps it is the simple feeling that somehow, I am beyond their immediate reach, although not having been into the office more than a few times in the last 18 months.  I cannot imagine why I should feel that way;  old habits dying hard, I suppose.

The outside world is literally what I want of it:  the satellite dish was cancelled months ago and it is up to the InterWeb to provide me with as much or as little ongoing events as I desire.  Did I not have both the interest and need to keep up on current events and some very fine blog writing, I could literally go weeks without having the slightest idea what was going on in the world.

The older I get, the more it surprises me that people rush to the cities and urban areas - as I did - in the hope of finding a better or more rewarding life.  Perhaps we had to because or a job or a relationship, but over time this habit of being surrounded by life - not necessarily true Life, as in trees and birds and squirrels and deer and the changing of the seasons but life as defined by busyness - becomes so ingrained that it becomes habit.  Most people can imagine a day or three away from the world; I wonder if most can imagine years of doing it.

I somehow think we are poorer for the change.

Bonus Round:  I took a walk over the weekend on the Outer Loop, which goes around the property which my parents and my aunt and uncle own.  While I was on my walk, I found this:


Yup.  Appears to be a mountain lion.  We have had rain in last four days, so it is recent.  I know we have had a mountain lion up here; The Cowboy's son saw one years ago cutting through the Upper Meadow.  Just a good reminder that Nature is - literally - all around us.



Also a coyote- He is the brown blur just under the brush there, about 30 feet away.  He looked at me, moved into the brush, came back and looked again, and then carried on.  We have not seen them in several years.

Monday, September 13, 2021

My Dead

 These are my Dead.

Growing up, I thought that everyone had their own Dead.  It was only later I learned that in fact no, most people did not their own Dead - or at least their Dead all in one place, that they were scattered out hither and yon, a continually growing root system as people and families moved.


There are not all my Dead, of course.  They are maternal grandmother's Dead.  Gathered here are the patriarch of the family, who traveled halfway across the country chasing a dream, and his second wife (his first one went back as it was too far away) who was his business partner's daughter.  Most of their children are buried here too:  two that died from Scarlet Fever (a third died from Scarlet Fever visiting his grandparents back East, and was buried there), and the three sons and one daughter that survived (the daughter being my great grandmother).

In turn, my great grandmother had two husbands and eight children, all daughters.  She and both her husbands are buried here as well, as was her second daughter, who passed at three years old.  Finally, my grandmother - who in many ways held the closest connections here - was buried, as well as my grandfather.  The graveyard has been undisturbed since then, for almost 30 years.


The town that my great-grandfather came to thrived, and then withered away when the industry that created it could no longer be practiced.  The family lingered, continuing to chase down the dream as people left and the world moved on until the last great-uncle that lived in the family house built by hand on 10 acres died in the 1950's and the house then burned down in 1960.  Everything was lost, except for pictures and one oil chandelier than hangs at my parents' house.

But the Dead remained.


Growing up, we would come up every Memorial Day with my grandmother and grandfather and one or more of my great-aunts (the Aunties, we called them - I only ever knew direct relatives like aunts and uncles; the distinctions of familial relations escaped me until I was older).  We would rake the graves of their interlaced pine needles and oak leaves, wash down the headstones and markers, put in flowers and water, and have a picnic (an odd memory: it was the first place I ever ate Pringles potato chips).  Every year, we would go - until my grandparents and the Aunties' passed away and even my parents' generation grew too old to negotiate the hillside and not slide on the pine needles and I, who in some ways became the last one of my generation to go along, moved away.

I drove my mother up here a year ago.  We walked out to the top of the graveyard.  She did not remember ever coming here.


I went up this weekend and raked off the pine needles and oak leaves, pushing them down the hillside in anticipation of coming up later this month to inter my Aunt J on the grave of her mother (my grandmother) as my grandfather is now interred.  My uncle said he will come dig the hole for my cousin, who is 3 hours away, but it seemed meet that he not be tasked with preparing the overall site. 


Down the hill from my Dead, there were two grave markers I originally found 40 years ago.  I never found others this far down, although they must be there.  They have no one to care for them now, so that falls to me as well. One of the name plates has fallen out (I did a quite search but found nothing; I may need to return with a metal detector), but the other one still remains.

I have no idea who Sua Long Bing was, or how they came to be here.  I can see from the name plate that they passed on 04 August 1957 and their age was listed as 113; I believe memory serves that their spouse was the other nameplate.  If true, that means they died very far home and undoubtedly without anyone left to remember them.

They, too, are now my Dead.

With burial of my Aunt J, the graveyard will begin to reach the end of its lifespan.  My mother will undoubtedly be placed there someday, as will their older brother, my uncle.  But of their generation, no-one goes there now or has gone there for many years - as mentioned above, as families have spread out, the dead lay where they lived and no-one left of my mother's generation may remember it is here.  I am sure beyond my sister and my cousins, no-one in my generation remembers it is there either.  And with those two burials, it is likely that none of them will have reason to return.

It will fall to me.

I will become the Rememberer, the Old Mortality of Sir Walter's Scott's book of the same name, wandering among the gravestones, the last caretaker of four generations to do so.  It is not so much as a task given as a task unconsciously appointed. Someone has to do this, in some way to keep the dead in memory and honor.  Not that such a loss of memory will matter to them of course, or to the world at large.

It will, however, matter to me.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Mighty Hunter


The Mighty Hunter,
prepares to strike in silence,
yet cannot reach high.


 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years On

 


I was driving to work.  It was a morning like any other morning. I had just crossed one of the two bridges I had to cross in the pre-dawn darkness. The talk show I always listened to was chattering away.

Then the host came on - somewhat confused, he announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  

From there, the drive to work became a series of worsening news:  a second plane hitting the World Trade Center, a plane hitting the Pentagon, the collapse of the Two Towers, and a final plane crash in Shanksville PA, destination unknown (we knew later, of course).

I called my future business partner, Himself. "Look at the TV" I told him.  "Really, what is up?" was the response.  "Look", I said back.

The silence on the other end of the line was deafening.

I arrive at work at my usual time, 0530.  By 0900 we were all sent home - who knew where the next plane was likely to hit?  We sat for the rest of the day, eyes glued to the screen and ears to the radio, as the description of the World Trade Center continued to roll in:  Plane parts falling, people falling, firefighters and police charging into the buildings as people fled them - and the buildings falling themselves.  And then, the endless digging, looking for survivors with occasional wins, until the wins stopped altogether.

Twenty years.

As I look back over the last twenty years, I have to ask the question "Who won?"

Certainly we have not had such an attack since that date, so in that sense "we won" - but at the cost of thousands of dead, thousands more wounded, and literally trillions of dollars.  All to find out, as it seems, that twenty years of fighting was not destined to destroy the ideology that enabled this or the people that believed in it.

But twenty years has drastically changed us.

We now shuffle through airports like cattle, benignly taking off our shoes and putting our items on the X-Ray track.  We lock our pilots behind doors and only use the front lavatory one at a time.  Almost no-one meets anyone at the airport anymore:  you cannot go greet someone at the gate so we just call at the luggage carousel and wait to get picked up out front by the letter "J".  Travel, once a gateway to parts unknown, has become a series of holding pens and lines.

Our e-mails, phone calls, and other communication modes (texting was not really a thing in 2001) can now be captured and stored by the government, theoretically only with permission but that feels to be observed as much in the breech as in practice.  Our financial transactions are more and more limited: too much money might make you "of question".  

We are less free personally and economically and far prone to government oversight and actions "for our protection", yet somehow feel no safer.

In the end, who really won?

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Teaman And The Ronin

 The following story appears in Daisetz Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture.  It is a bit of a long read (grab a cup of beverage as needed), but to me it demonstrates the power of an individual dedicated to doing their best, even in a world where they simply do not fit in, when faced with death.  It also, to my mind, demonstrates the power of fearlessness in the face of bullies.

(The text is drawn from Internet Archive.  Due to the time printed, certain anachronisms are present:  Yedo for Edo (Tokyo), Yama-no-uchi for Yamaouchi, Toku-gawa for Tokugawa.)

The Teaman and the Ruffian

What follows is the story of a teaman who had to assume the role of a swordsman and fight with a ruffian. The teaman generally does not know anything about swordplay and cannot be a match in any sense of the word for anybody who carries a sword. His is a peaceful profession. The story gives us an idea of what a man can do with a sword even when he has never had any technical training, if only his mind is made up to go through the business at the risk of his life. Here is another illustration demonstrating the value of resolute-mindedness leading up to the transcendence of life and death.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Lord Yama-no-uchi, of the province of Tosa,
wanted to take his teamaster along with him on
his official trip to Yedo, the seat of the Toku-gawa Shogunate. The teamaster was not
where he was well known and had many good friends. In Yedo he would most
likely get into trouble with ruffians, resulting not only in his own disgrace but in his lord’s.
The trip would be a most risky adventure, and he had no desire to undertake it.
inclined to accompany him, for in the first place he was not of the samurai rank
and knew that Yedo was not a quiet and congenial place like Tosa,

The lord, however, was insistent and would not listen to the remonstrance of the teamaster; for this man was really great in his profession, and it was probable that the lord harbored the secret desire to show him off among his friends and colleagues. Not able to resist further the lord’s earnest request, which was in fact a command, the master put off his teaman’s garment and dressed himself as one of the samurai, carrying two swords.

While staying in Yedo, the teamaster was mostly confined in his lord’s house. One day the lord gave him permission to go out and do some sight-seeing. Attired as a samurai, he visited Uyeno by the Shinohazu pond, where he espied an evil-looking samurai resting on a stone. He did not like the looks of this man. But finding no way to avoid him, the teaman went on. The man politely addressed him: “As I observe, you are a samurai of Tosa, and I should consider it a great honor if you permit me to try my skill in swordplay with you.”

The teaman of Tosa from the beginning of his trip had been apprehensive of such an encounter. Now, standing face to face with a ronin of the worst kind, he did not know what to do. But he answered honestly: “I am not a regular samurai, though so dressed; I am a teamaster, and as to the art of swordplay I am not at all prepared to be your opponent.” But as the real motive of the ronin was to extort money from the victim, of whose weakness he was now fully convinced, he pressed the idea even more strongly on the teaman of Tosa.

Finding it impossible to escape the evil-designing ronin, the teaman made up his mind to fall under the enemy’s sword. But he did not wish to die an ignominious death that would surely reflect on the honor of his lord of Tosa. Suddenly he remembered that a few minutes before he had passed by a swordsman’s training school near Uyeno park, and he thought he would go and ask the master about the proper use of the sword on such occasions and also as to how he should honorably meet an inevitable death. He said to the ronin, “If you insist so much we will try our skill in swordsmanship. But as I am now on my master’s errand, I must make my report first. It will take some time before I come back to meet you here. You must give me that much time.”

The ronin agreed. So the teaman hastened to the training school referred to before and made a most urgent request to see the master. The gatekeeper was somewhat reluctant to acquiesce because the visitor carried no introductory letter. But when he noticed the seriousness of the man’s desire, which was betrayed in his every word and in his every movement, he decided to take him to the master.

The master quietly listened to the teaman, who told him the whole story and most earnestly expressed his wish to die as befitted a samurai. The swordsman said, ‘'The pupils who come to me invariably want to know how to use the sword, and not how to die. You are really a unique example. But before I teach you the art of dying, kindly serve me a cup of tea, as you say you are a teaman.”

The teaman of Tosa was only too glad to make tea for him, because this was in all
likelihood the last chance for him to practice his art of tea to his
heart’s content. The swordsman closely watched the teaman as the
latter was engaged in the performance of the art. Forgetting all
about his approaching tragedy, the teaman serenely proceeded to
prepare tea. He went through all the stages of the art as if this
were the only business that concerned him most seriously under the
sun at that very moment.

The swordsman was deeply impressed with the teaman's concentrated state of mind, from which all the superficial stirrings of ordinary consciousness were swept away. He struck his own knee, a sign of hearty approval, and exclaimed, “There you are! No need for you to learn the art of death! The state of mind in which you are now is enough for you to cope with any swordsman. When you see your ronin outcast, go on this way: First, think you are going to serve tea for a guest. Courteously salute him, apologizing for the delay, and tell him that you are now ready for the contest. Take off your haori [outer coat], fold it up carefully, and then put your fan on it just as you do when you are at work. Now bind your head with the tenugui [corresponding to a towel], tie your sleeves up with the string, and gather up your hakama [skirt]. You are now prepared for the business that is to start immediately. Draw your sword, lift it high up over your head, in full readiness to strike down the opponent, and, closing your eyes, collect your thoughts for a combat. When you hear him give a yell, strike him with your sword. It will probably end in a mutual slaying.” The teaman thanked the master for his instructions and went back to the place where he had promised to meet the combatant.

He scrupulously followed the advice given by the sword-master with the same attitude of mind as when he was serving tea for his friends. When, boldly standing before the ronin, he raised his sword, the ronin saw an altogether different personality before him. He had no chance to give a yell, for he did not know where and how to attack the teaman, who now appeared to him as an embodiment of fearlessness, that is, of the Unconscious. Instead of advancing toward the opponent, the ronin retreated step by step, finally crying, “I’m done, I’m done!” And, throwing up his sword, he prostrated himself on the ground and pitifully asked the teaman’s pardon for his rude request, and then he hurriedly left the field.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Collapse LXXX: Firearms

29 March 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Today was the monthly cleaning of firearms.

 My “firearm battery” (a very fancy word for a very plain thing) consists of a pistol, two rifles, and a shotgun. They all have a varied history, of course: the . pistol I acquired because one day my father decided I needed one; one rifle (a single shot loader from the 1940’s) came from my grandfather: and the other rifle and shotgun just “appeared”, as these things do.

Yes, I know. Why did I not acquire a more robust firearm collection, given the time and circumstances? Frankly, not a great deal of interest. Firearms were always for me at best a tool to be used: I seldom hunted, and the likelihood that I would have to defend myself seemed relatively a far away proposition, especially once I relocated here as people are pretty far enough apart in general terms and a stranger trying to burst their way in – at least in these parts – would be picked out long before they reached the point of doing harm.

And so I got a moderate proficiency – enough to hit targets with some degree of accuracy and kill something if I absolutely needed to. But it was mostly practice or a way to have something to discuss with others at gatherings.

I polish them and clean them, checking for rust and collections of dust – there are none, of course as I have always tried to take the best care of them, assuming I could not or would not be able to buy replacements. After each cleaning, they will get placed back to where they came, and an ammunition count done (as I have done every month since I moved here) – more important now than ever since, of course, there will be little new ammunition to be bought, only traded for or reloaded if possible.

Could I use them if pushed to it? Ah, Lucilius, there is the rub. Many an armchair gunfighter has declared themselves as “ready and able”; few know how they would react under actual circumstances. One can only imagine the adrenaline, some level of fear and uncertainty, even concern about being hit themselves. This may be different for those that have served in such conflicts, but I am a relatively sheltered man with the biggest “attack” I have ever faced being a fellow iaidoka bearing down on me with a wooden weapon.

Still, I clean, account, and mentally prepare. Because while there is no sure knowing, intent should count for something.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca