Monday, February 28, 2022
Sunday, February 27, 2022
Saturday, February 26, 2022
In a comment from yesterday's post, Leigh notes that Francis Schaeffer has commentary about the growing apathy for society.
And something clicked for me: Apathy. What I am feeling is apathy.
Apathy, for those that may not know the history, is derived from Ancient Greek and is really an opposition word to "πᾰ́θος" (pathos), a word which had several meanings but included things such as strong feeling, pain or suffering, or even misery. The "a" makes it in opposition, thus "ἀπάθεια" or "without feeling". We have changed the meaning slightly to meaning "without feeling" or "without caring".
How does one arrive at apathy? Especially when in so many ways, we all seem to come out of youth with a great deal of caring and feeling and enthusiasm (or most of us, anyway; I sure there are some but I am also certain I did not recognize them at the time).
If I sit and think about my own journey in the past two years - and I think that is a fair measure for this current feeling - it seems to be a combination of personal and impersonal factors. For the personal factors, the single biggest seems to be my job change of two years ago this month (otherwise known as A Sort Of Hammerfall). While a good many things came out of that unintentional and unexpected transition, what also came out of it was a vast sense of the fact that 4 years of supreme effort and always trying to meet expectations, of stress and worry and putting off others things to make the work move forward was ultimately reduced to a review telling me I failed and a letter reassigning me. Just to be frank, it is hard to find the follow up effort (beyond the loyalty I have to my current management, who took me in and for whom I need to succeed) to continue to be deeply invested on a personal level. It becomes a matter of earning my salary and hoping to yield financial gain - in other words, a business arrangement.
The Plague was another contributing factor, more of an external one - not that it impacted me very much directly, but it did deeply impact the world around me. I - and heads far wiser than I - could clearly see the impact that closing businesses and enforcing demands would have, on the economy and on people's lives. Those conclusions were either ignored or glossed over as "it will just all work out". It has not all just "worked out" and we are continuing to deal with the backwash today and we will for years to come. In other words, we - all of us - will be expected to recreate that which a few thoughtlessly destroyed with the stroke of a pen.
In my religious life, the combination of halting in person meetings and the lurch of the church away from what has been defined as "traditional Christianity". We became much less a people about holiness and seeking God and became much more about other things. Again, as with The Plague, the expectation is that I would merely go along with it all. My thoughts or my opinions had no place.
The last thing - and the most difficult to write about without engaging in partisan sorts of things - is simply the nature of the society (American, in my case) of the past two years. Sufficient to say that for any number of reasons - politically, socially, intellectually - I find I am effectively an outsider in this society.
The thing that comes across as I write all of this is that my perception (whether that is reality or not) is that I have no voice or ability to influence or change these things that I am involved in. I contrast that to something like my own personal life - say, my mortgage. I have a direct impact on my mortgage and therefore care about seeing it paid, even if I am not always thrilled about doing it. Over time, if I regularly pay for another 20 + years, it will be paid off. As opposed to all of the other things I have listed above, where effectively I can be in them and do them for the rest of my life and have not a whit of impact on any of them.
I suppose the argument could be made that there is a sense that I have a limited investment in any of these things anymore. And that is by combination of circumstance and choice, I guess. The circumstances may (or may not) have caused the disconnect; I have chosen to continue to let the disconnect occur.
But how, the logical question follows, would someone such as myself starting caring about such things again?
At its most basic level, I might feel more engaged if I felt like I actually had a place in any/all of these things. Secondarily, if any/all of these things had a vision and goal that was moving in a way that it impacted my world view for good, not just treated it as "along for the ride" and a fait accompli that of course I had to support and endorse it.
To some extent this all rings of selfishness (and perhaps to some extent that is true), but I would be less than honest to myself and to you if I did not follow the thoughts where they lead. In short, the world about me has done everything in its power to disengage my caring about or interest in it except on a very personal level. Is that selfishness, or simply an understandable reaction to the circumstances?
The way to overcome not caring is to care; how, I wonder, do I truly begin to re-care about things that in some way feel as if the passion and vision have been burned out of my soul?
Friday, February 25, 2022
We have not experienced any kind of significant kinetic disturbance in greater Europe since the fall of Yugoslavia and the resulting civil wars that resulted (ultimately) in the US Involvement in Serbia in the late 90's. This week, apparently, we find ourselves there again.
War in the modern world is an odd, disturbing thing. It is now literally broadcast into our homes and consciousnesses in a real time basis: I sit as I write this in my chair with the heat on and a cup of coffee by my side; the lights are on and Poppy the Brave is sitting in her chair to my left, watching out the window to see if anyone is walking on this cold morning. With the flick of a mouse, I can watch ongoing military action: explosions, vehicles moving, the sounds of shells and shots, aircraft screaming overhead.
In effect, it is like watching a television show or movie or game: moving images, sounds, even perhaps graphic detail. But all with the very real sense of unreality.
The reality, of course, will come later and in ways that are actually impactful: pictures of dead bodies and burned buildings to match the actual dead bodies and burned buildings half a world away; the inevitable crash of markets and the bemoaning of lost retirements and investments and supply chains stretched even further; skyrocketing energy prices which impact the cost of everything; the inevitable yammering of all sides about whose fault this is and what should be done; and the lessons learned from every state about how this situation feeds into future situations.
We are not a serious people.
Violence is our entertainment, our escape. Death and destruction to us has become unreal because it is simply a way that amuse ourselves. We watch movies of violent content and we laugh. The destruction we see on the screen - large or small - desensitizes us as we know, in the back of our brain, that somehow it is not real or lasting. Thus fed on violence and destruction, the images we see - because in the modern world, the wars and destruction are only ever "over there", not here.
I have written that as a martial arts practitioner, one of the great things that one becomes aware of is the outcome of one's actions. Even though we train with wooden weapons (bokuto) or unsharpened swords (iaito) and practice paired drills (kumitachi) with care and cadence, the reality that is always at the back of one's mind is what damage can be caused, even as an accident. Blunted weapons are still weapons and although we rigorously train to avoid contact, it is always a possibility (although no-contact is something that is drilled into our heads from the first day we train). As a practitioner, one is very aware of what the "possibility" looks like. I am sure that for anyone that trains in any martial art or any shooting art, the consciousness is the same: all actions have consequences, be they the cut of the sword or the pulling of the trigger, consequences that will long outlast the moment in which the occurred.
This is my great fear as we roll into a period of turmoil and strife: we have trained generations in the concept that there are no more consequences to such things than the restarting of a game or the rewinding of the movie. We know - as entertainment - that the dead are never truly "dead" and there are never long term impacts on lives as a result. We have spent years creating a fantasy land of violence as a passive form of entertainment and enjoyment with no equivalent training or reality based observations in the cause and effect of situations.
The gladiators of Old Rome cried out "Ave, Caesar. Morituri te salutant" (Hail Caesar. We who are about to die salute you), understanding what was about to happen. We, in our blithe ignorance, merely move to click a button so we can watch more.
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
An acquaintance of mine recently had a career ending decision. It was an innocent enough mistake, but in this particular field it was the sort of mistake that apparently one does not come back from. Beyond just the surprise and shock of this happening and of course the opportunities that will definitely not occur because of this (some things may happen in the future, but not being there means definitely they will not happen), they feel completely foolish about something which, in retrospect, they simply should have never done in the first place.
It impacted my entire thought pattern as I went through the day. Most because it makes me reflect on all the stupid things that I have done.
I use the term "stupid" in my case advisedly: foolish, not think ahead, thinking there were minor consequences when there should have been major ones. The fact that for most of them, I walked away with significant impact made me all the stupider when it really mattered.
My lack of judgement when I was young was profound. I was easily led and so usually went along with what my best friend at the time suggested, which ended me up in activities which - in retrospect - probably would have been arrested for (no, nothing that significant: there are no impacted people or dead bodies. Just minor acts of what would pretty much labeled "disturbing the peace" in those days - but in a small town, that would have been enough). Strangely enough, I skated through them all without incident.
When one gets older, of course, there is less room for error. That failed to deter me though: I managed to avoided get shot at or arrested at least twice in my pursuit of being romantic (again, nothing that significant: hopping fences and showing up late at night was, apparently no more welcomed by fathers in those days than it was by me in mine). There were more consequences this time - my dating life ground to a halt - but again, impervious in my foolishness and my youth, I learned nothing.
Then, of course, you become an adult. And if things did hurt before, they definitely will then.
My biggest and most decisive feat was quitting my then-secure job to strike out on my own in The Firm. Somehow, without a business plan, business model, or even any real experience, I just decided I was going to make it. Newsflash to my younger self: The laws of economics care not at all about what one has "decided". Besides interrupting a career and basically having to start where I left off 16 months later, I also had the pleasure of totaling out my losses - it is fair to say had I stuck with where I was in my "boring" job, I likely would be in a very different financial position now (Full disclosure: the job would have disappeared anyway, but I would have been 1.5 years farther along in the field in a much more career rich environment than having to re-enter it later from a position of "I really, really need a job").
It happened with people as well. In an attempt to make a quip that would make senior management laugh at a former company, I managed to so completely torch a friendship that it took almost 3 years for the individual to speak with me again beyond a simple greeting. And I am reasonably sure it was not the first time that occurred.
When writing about these, I do not feel as if I am writhing in the fire of the decisions over and over again. I have made peace with that part of my past, and accept it for the outcomes that happened and the foolishness that got me there.
Then why did this event with my acquaintance impact me so much?
I think it impacted me because I am fearful that I have continued to learn nothing from them.
Somehow, I still find myself to be that same intensely self-centered young man to whom consequences seem to pass me over and by. I am still far more impetuous than I should be. My ability to plan often feels constrained by my unwillingness to do the dirty work to make for actual successful outcomes. And even until a few years ago, it could be argued that I continued to play chicken with Fate in ways that were neither wise nor prudent.
It is easy enough for me to diagnose my own problem. It is easier still to come up with the solution, which is a lot of quiet, dirty work day after day, following a plan which may seem as foolishness at the present time, but will yield the results I desire, and clearly staying within the well-marked driving lanes of common decency and social mores. My problem is - at is has always been - accepting that this is the way to where I want to be and neither getting sidetracked into foolishness or pretending that somehow, even now, playing chicken with Fate will still always count in the win column for me.
If I truly believed that there was a risk of losing, I think I would be a lot more concerned about not even rolling out on the track to try to the game of Fate chicken in the first place. Because boring but successful beats foolish, risky, and stupid exhilaration almost every time.
Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Driving home last night from dinner, Nighean Dhonn mentioned in passing that she had finally broken down and stopped to get fuel for her car.
Her car - An early 2000's Ford that has rather amazing fuel economy and was the car I brought back in October - is not overly used by her: between school and work and possibly the trips she takes, she may be at a tank of gas every 2-3 weeks. Still, usage is usage.
We have very different views of "when is the right time to fill up" in my household. My version - derived from TB The Elder after multiple incidents of me acting like the teen-age idiot I was and getting the tank down to "E" because I did not want to spend money and having to make a call to my father to come rescue me one too many times - is to err so far on the side of caution as to be ridiculous to most. My family gently chides me for the fact that on road trips, I begin to get uncomfortable at a half tank and downright panicky at a quarter tank. I currently fill my car up weekly, which is about a quarter tank of usage, both to have a full tank and to (at this moment) save money - more on that below.
My family, in contrast, has varying views of when is the right time, running perhaps from a half tank to what I feel like is "coasting on fumes". They know their cars better than I though, and to date we have not had a "I ran out of fuel" call from any of Na Clann - and as long as we do not, it remains their business.
Nighean Dhonn confessed that she had broken down and fueled up because she was holding out that prices were going to drop - but they did not. In New Home, our fuel prices has undergone a steady increase in pricing over the last two months - no big leaps, but in dribs and drabs. Interestingly, The Ravishing Mrs. TB reminded me that we are still below the price of fuel when we arrived here in 2009 - but we are getting darn close to that number, something that has not happened in all the years we have lived here.
Gas prices in an urban area are odd, as you might imagine. The place she usually stops runs about 10 cents more a gallon that the fuel station I fuel at (same parent organization). The stations are equidistant from our house but in different cities. And that is the cheapest price of gas of course - the differential becomes more between a "named" station and where I fuel up. 10 to 20 cents is not necessarily a lot of money, but it end up being half a gallon or more over a fill. And that does not ever cover the differences with geographies in a city (Key point: Never need to buy fuel in the center of a city).
I always value these small interactions, not just for the fact that there is awareness that something needs to be done (e.g., fuel for the car is needed) but the awareness that things are getting more expensive. Questions beget more questions, and more questions beget begin to reveal how the world actually works instead of how we are told the world works. And often speaks with a voice that is difficult to ignore.
Monday, February 21, 2022
There are often moments where I feel disconnected from the world at large, a sort of third party observer to ongoing events and trends.
To some extent I suppose, this derives from the fact that in over 90% of ongoing events, trends, and movements I have no preference or "dog in the fight". The term "yesterday men", coined from somewhere, fits me to (the proverbial) T: my causes are in the past, my future has become limited to a rather frighteningly short scope of time (20 - 40 years max, if genetics are any indication), and even within that future, there is scarcely very much that I aspire to except rather simple objectives and goals, rather than the great movements and grand plans of this time.
It is hard to discuss and maintain a reasonable discussion, as my willingness and patience in discussing things like politics, social movements, etc. has dropped to to zero, as long time readers of this blog have no doubt noted. There is little enough to excite me in what should be my logical political ideology, as the only choices left are either foolishness or a such a weak opposition that seems to spend as much time destroying its own side as fighting back - and the alternative, of course, just considers me inconvenient at best, a sinner at worst, and in all things a mechanism for funding. Almost to my surprise, I have found a home in a thought camp that considers all such things to be both foolishness and the final realization of how desperately men and women desire to have power over their fellows.
As events swirl and cast themselves like waves upon the shore, piling up and then pulling back only to smash more fully again, I continue to find myself almost a cynically bemused observer - like one who watch a sporting event not caring which side wins as one is ambivalent about both teams. I cannot bring myself to care - on a high level - about the ramblings and ravings of which war will come or which economic sector will fall. That bothers me a bit of course, because those events are made up of people, even as I am person. All of the casting and swirling events will impact the lives of people, the guilty and the innocent, the deserving and the undeserving. This, perhaps, is the great challenge to my faith: how do I passionately care about the individual while not caring about the wider situations? I have not bridged this gap effectively.
I would perhaps feel more confident if - on any side - I saw the sort of leadership and vision that at least promised, somewhere out there, that there was a better outcome. I do not. We have reached - in every arena - the apotheosis of modern leadership theory: Mendacity. Appearance is more important than reality, and wishing it to be "so" is more important than what is "so". And to be clear, this applies across every group, across every spectrum. In a quest for purity of idealism, we have effectively surrendered any chance of actual progress.
And, strangely, I have become okay with that.
It is odd, this sudden realization that the course of the world is no longer of concern except in the most basic of circumstances. My circle of concern has narrowed to an extremely limited group of individuals and causes. Show kindness and respect in all measure to as many as you can - that should be and is my standard. But support, endorsement, even involvement - that has fallen to a very small nucleus indeed. As I have written before - and maintain - my connection to the readers and commenters to this blog and the blogs I follow have become far more real to me than any perceived connection I have to a state or a movement.
And so I find myself watching the world with the bemusement of the historian watching what he has known quietly - or not so quietly - as it careens towards a situation where it will find - perhaps to its shock - that the laws of power, and social and economic practices work as they always have.
Gravity, as they say, always wins in the end.
Sunday, February 20, 2022
Saturday, February 19, 2022
Below are some quotes De Re Rustica by Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella.
"For there are to this day schools for rhetoricians and, as I have said, for mathematicians and musicians, or, what is more to be wondered at, training-schools for the most contemptible vices - the seasoning of food to promote gluttony and the more extravagant serving of courses, and dresses of the head and hair - I have not only heard but have even seen with my own eyes; but of agriculture I know neither self-professed teachers nor pupils. For even if the state were destitute of professors of the aforementioned arts, still the commonwealth could prosper just as in the time of the ancients - for without the theatrical profession and case-pleaders cities were once happy enough, and will again be so; let without tillers of the soil it is obvious that mankind can neither subsist nor be fed."
"For one who would profess to be a master of this science (agriculture - TB) must have a shrewd insight into the works of nature."
"Nevertheless, as Marcus Tullis (Cicero - TB) has very properly sad in his Orator, it is right that those who have an earnest desire to investigate subjects of the greatest utility for the human race, and to transmit to posterity their carefully weighed findings, should try everything. And if the force of an outstanding genius or the equipment of celebrated arts is wanting, we should not immediately relapse into idleness and sloth, but rather that which we have wisely hoped for we should steadfastly pursue. For if only we aim at the topmost peak, it will be honour enough for us to be seen even on the second summit."
"For agriculture can be conducted without the greatest mental acuteness, but not on the other hand, "by the fat-witted""
"One who devotes himself to agriculture should understand that he must call to his assistance these most fundamental resources: knowledge of the subject, means for defraying the expenses, and the will to do the work. For in the end, as Tremelius (Gnaues Tremellisu Scrofa - TB) remarks, he will have the best-tilled lands who has the knowledge, the wherewithal, and the will to cultivate them."
Friday, February 18, 2022
You are reminded (yet again) that you have married the right girl when, for Valentine's Day, she gets you what you really want:
These are the first two books in the Loeb Classical Library of the three set volume of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella's works, De Re Rustica (On Agricultural Affairs). Along with Marcus Porcius Cato The Elder's book De Agri Cultura (On Agriculture) and Marcus Terrentius Varro's book Rerum Rusiticum Libri III (Agricultural Topics in three books), it forms the bulk of what we know about Roman agricultural practices in the late Roman Republic and Early Imperial Periods.
Of Columella himself, we know very little and it is all from his writings. We know he was from Baetica Hispania (Modern Spain) and probably born in Gades (modern Cadiz). We have evidence he was a tribune in the Roman army from a monument in Tarentum (modern Taranto, Italy), possibly having served in Syria. We can guess, based on other references, that he was born sometimes in the latter reign of Augustus Caesar (~ 4 B.C.) and probably died sometime in the latter part of Nero's reign or in the Year of Four Emperors (~ 68 to 70 A.D.). He had an uncle, Marcus Columella, whom he praises as a good farmer and who, it is a likely guess, he spent some amount time with. We know he owned farms in Caresoli, Ardea, Albunum, and Caere.
And we know from his works he was a keen student of agriculture.
His work is divided into 12 books: Preface, Selection of land and management of farm staff, Soil enrichment/ploughing/crops, Cultivation/pruning/grafting of vines, Cultivation/pruning/grafting of fruit trees and olives, Animal husbandry and care (cattle/horses/mules), Animal husbandry and care (sheep, goats, swine, dogs), Poultry and fish ponds, Apiculture, Gardening, Duties of the farm overseer, and Duties of the farm overseer's wife (including recipes for pickling, preserving, and making wine) - in other words, everything one should know to run a successful farm in the 1st Century A.D.
The work is one of those sorts of historical miracles: known and quoted by Pliny the Elder, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville, it somehow got lost in history only as fragments until copies were found in monastery libraries in the early 15th Century (proving again, by the by, why the idea of creating small communities to preserve knowledge really matters and things like The Benedict Option really matter in the modern world).
I know what you are thinking: Why such interest? This is written for a system and way of life that disappeared (literally) centuries ago. What could it possibly teach us, other than some obscure Latin phrases and give Latin practice.
The first reason, of course, is I simply love a good book, and from what I have read so far (I have completed Volume 1 and am in Volume 2, Book V), Columella is a careful writer. He knows exactly what he is writing about in great detail and although, for example, I only understand a bit from his chapters of viticulture, I am willing to bet that an actual practitioner would recognize many of the techniques mentioned from his description 2,000 years later.
The second reason is simply that I am interested in low input agriculture. While the Romans had some technology (including concrete we still cannot replicate), they also were working with very basic conditions: they were largely dependent on weather as it occurred; Inputs to the fields were only those they could grow or gather themselves: green manure, animal manure, even human manure and urine. There were some exotic plants, but at the same time no farmer was going to "bet the farm" (literally) on an unproven technology or crop.
The third reason is that to me, it reads like a travel log. Columella writes of grapes that we know nothing of, other than potentially the region they were originally from: Massic, Surrentine, Alban, Caecuban, Bituric, Aminean, Basilic. These names, their descriptions, what they imply - to me, they excite me as much as the name of foreign civilizations long dead, that we only know through their architecture and writing. It becomes an agricultural journey in the Ancient World.
Not all the information is useful, of course. All authors - Columella, Cato, and Verres - presume the use of slaves to complete the work instead of small independent yeoman farmers (which would eventually become the large Latifundia farms of Italy), so there is also a less savory side to the writings - but quite reflective, given the times. And it makes some of their advice not applicable at all in current times, as most people (like myself) that are reading such things and even trying to do such things would not have such a labor force available.
Does that make this work (or these works) less useful? I do not think so. In modern times, we keep trying to find ways to farm more productively and less destructively. It turns out - be in in Rome or China or Japan - people had actually been doing this for thousands of years, where maintaining the fertility of the land was a paramount need as one needed the land to produce.
We need only look back to look ahead.
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
There is nothing more amazing or wonderful when a thread that has not been used in years gets picked back up by the Creator and placed back upon the loom.
The story starts - as all stories do - some years ago with The Valkyrie, an acquaintance of an acquaintance that became a friend. This things are never perfect of course: sometimes one meets someone and that, as they say, is that. Other times, however, the friendship seems to take for reasons that are not always clear to me. In that sense, I suppose, there is something about us that is somewhat more than the words we exchange and the interests we may share, something that simply calls out to us upon occasion that "this one is a friend" where others are not.
(I note in passing that The Valkyrie is, in fact, a she. As is The Shield Maiden. I have always had far more female friends than male friends. It just seems to be the way it is.)
Friendships in the InterWeb age are interesting things. At best for many of them, you see them occasionally or not at all (for example, I think it has been at least 6 years since I have seen the Shield Maiden in physical form). But that does not mean they are any less real or engaged for all of that, technology being what it is these days - and if that were truly true, there would be no long term friendships (Uisdean Ruadh and The Actor) in my life, since those date long before the InterWeb even existed for the masses. Conversations can become disjointed, randomly starting and stopping at any and all times of the day and night, or suddenly they can lurch back mysteriously to something that was discussed five interactions back. But the conversations can be just as meaningful, the laughs just as loud, the thoughts just as profound as if one was in person.
Things happen, of course. People get busy, people have lives. This is the other reality of the InterWeb - essentially it is pulling time from other places and other things. An investment in a InterWeb friendship is different in that aspect, that the friendship is much more writing and typing than in the direct sharing of activities. And so, for various reasons, people drift on as they do with any physical friendship.
Sometimes, though, something random happens and the friendship is renewed.
The renewal of friendship - especially one you valued - is truly a happy moment. Not only for the joy of having that person back in your life. Friendships - real friendships - are precious things, things that it often feels like we have squandered in our modern world of "likes" and "hearts". I can have 200 business relationships that I speak with every day; that will not replace the actual value and worth of a single friendship, even if (as with InterWeb friendships) sometimes unevenly applied.
There is nothing finer than to suddenly discover, amongst the weave, a previous color or pattern you had not seen for a while suddenly reappear.
Tuesday, February 15, 2022
Monday, February 14, 2022
We were able to visit TB The Elder and Mom yesterday.
Fortunately for us, it was an early Spring day here in Old Home, the sort that makes for a good outdoor visit. The staff had brought my parents out to the deck in back, which was in the sun. My mother was in a blue sweat suit (the "zip up" kind we have been discussing); my father was in more regular clothes but was wearing a kind of hat I associate with Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry. As he was generally a "baseball" hat kind of person, it was a different - but good - look.
It is probably more appropriate that I should call this "A Visit With Mom And TB The Elder", as my father was not quite awake when we showed up and rapidly slipped off back to sleep as we visited; apparently he has been waking up at 0300 thinking he needs to be up somewhere doing something. I am sure this is a draining for him as it is for the staff members that have to deal with this. As a result, I think he knew we were there but not for very long (As a note, this makes 3 months since I have really spoken with my father).
My mother, however was quite engaged. We were fortunate as not only was the weather pleasant, but the staff had placed the house cockatiel out on a table in its cage. It chirped and chattered away and made for a pleasant subject for discussion.
The visit, as other visits, is essentially driven by my sister and I. We talked about what the grandchildren were doing, that my mother's nephew is getting married this year, the weather, pets, what traveling various family members are doing this year. My mom always listens and smiles and nods and seems involved, even as I am reasonably sure she is quite fuzzy on the people we are discussing.
At one point when we were talking about birthdays, my mother said "I should write that down". That made me smile, as that was something that she had been saying quite a bit in the period before we moved her. It reminded me of slightly happier times, which is a memory I could use right now.
30 minutes is our limit for various reasons - we run out of subjects, my parents sometimes lose interest or simply seem tired - and so at the end I went over to the door to get someone's attention. As the staff member was coming out and we were trying to convince my mom to wait for someone to help her, she told my sister "TB the Elder is asleep. We should wake him".
The fact that she still remembers my father's name - even if she has forgotten all of ours - still gives me a reason to be happy. Sometimes in these situations, one grasps at the smallest straws to find the joy.
Sunday, February 13, 2022
One of the great things about having a public blog is it functions as a sort of public journal; recall for particular points in time and space are much easier to find than having to dig through endless journal pages to find the desired entry. In that, at least, technology has benefitted us - if we want to find an emotion, it is that much easier to locate.
This day last year, we had already moved my mother and were getting ready to move my father. How time flies, indeed (for those that may be newer, the whole story is here: Moving TB The Elder And Mom).
It is hard for me to believe it has been a year since I was able to talk to TB The Elder in a coherent conversation. Before that, I talked to him and my mom once a week (every Tuesday).
Events like this happen, of course: the sort of thing that is not just a turn in the road, but a direct 90 degree turn followed by a downhill plunge. You think that life is simply going to slow down at these critical junctures but of course it does not; life has a way of continuing to move on and, if anything, feel like it is picking up speed in the process.
I am out again at The Ranch this week; we are fortunate in that the weather is sufficiently nice that outside visits are allowed and we can go and see them (tomorrow as I am writing this, today as you are reading it). The house is silent now as it always is when I am here now: the clocks on the wall tick out a steady beat as the frogs outside chant into the darkness to the stars.
We are, so far as we know, no closer to a better resolution yet infinitely closer to the resolution that will come. My sister let me know that my father needs more care now at night due to his insomnia; at the visit in December, the facility owner let us know my mom requires more prompting in eating and is having episodes of "doing her business" where she happens to be (a sweatpants suit that zips up in back helps prevent this). There are no illusions about how this ends, just a quiet sense of dread in that we do not know how long and what things will look like before we get there.
My fear - I say fear, but it is nothing that I am afraid of, just something that I acknowledge will occur - is that we will reach the point where we will be just faces that they think they recognize, but they do not know who we are. Given long enough, that day will come - the life expectancy for a post-Alzheimer's diagnosis (in case you were wondering) is 10-12 years; we are current 7 years into my mother's diagnosis. But of course that is dependent on a lot factors - it could be shorter, it could be much longer.
It is, I am sure, not an inconvenience for my parents in that I suspect they do not realize that things have never been except as they are now. I cannot know what it is like to experience such things - I can only guess, of course - but my guess is simply that life is in the now. Always in the now. Perhaps like what we associate life with our pets like: there may be some memory, but largely it is a current experiential stream of consciousness, lived moment by moment in the here and now.
The refrigerator cracks on with a hum.
It has been a year since a television sounded in this house, since a phone rang, since my father sat out on the porch or my mother sat here at the couch reading her book - the very place I am typing this missive now. The house looks largely the same as it ever did and to almost anyone that had been here before, they would see little to suggest that things had changed at all. A little more dust, perhaps - I am terrible about dusting at home, let alone here - but other than that, few differences.
The difference to me is that I cannot now speak to my mother and father, not in a way that it used to be. There are sealed away behind a barrier that, having gone through, I cannot scale or pass. I can only look in from the outside and communicate, as much as by shape and shadows as by voice.
Even the walls here say "We knew them once, but they are gone. Where they are now, we cannot fully say".
Saturday, February 12, 2022
As I was mulling over my patching and the (as ever) wonderful commentary that continues to populate this page, I realized that there was an inherent conundrum in the nature of repairing things and modern society. A commenter - our good friend Greg - noted the following:
"As we transitioned into the age of "remove and replace' instead of repairing, it deeply offended me and still does, but do much of our technology is such that replacing it is much cheaper than repairing".
As I mulled over the comment, I counterpoised it with a post that Eaton Rapids Joe had some days ago about hurricane recovery and donations with commentary from someone on scene:
"People have been incredibly generous, but, at the same time, incredibly thoughtless.
It would probably mortify folks to know it, but we've sorted through donated clothes...well over 75% were inappropriate....shorts, t-shirts, prom dresses, dirty used underwear, 1960s clothing that was dry-rotting in someone's grandmother's closet, negligee', old worn out shoes, etc., and have the 'sold' a semi-load (30,000 lb) of used clothing for 25 cents/lb just to get it out of the way and generate some $$ to buy needed supplies to help get folks re-established in their next place of residence. Yes, there have been some nice new articles of clothing and bedding, but not a whole lot."
In my mind, these two comments juxtapose a critical disconnect in our modern consumer/environmentally conscious society: wanting the new, not repairing the old, and not disposing of the useless.
The Western World - the one I know the best and the one that I can write from - has a paradox: it has become incredible concerned about the environment and waste, yet it continues to demand consumer goods of the highest quality and "newness". After all, the economy does not function unless people are buying goods and services, thus the constant underlying thrum one hears is "Buy the newest model".
Think on it: whether it be phones or cars or refrigerators or clothes, the last thing industry suggests is "be satisfied". Or even, to be somewhat environmentally conscious, "let us help you repair that". To Greg's point, repairs are now almost or actually are more expensive that buying a new item. The government, too, is complicit in this, as without the steady stream of tax dollars from both sales tax and a tax on profits, there is less money in government coffers to spend. Waste and destruction are decried while the profits that slide in from it are carefully distributed just beyond the gaze of those doing the decrying. As a sop to the conscience, policies are promoted so companies can say they are concerned (hint: you will never destroy 100% of the resources you never use).
But then, there is a problem: we are stuck with that which we own but are no longer desirable and cannot - because of expense or difficulty - be repaired. To destroy it ourselves is, for most people, beyond their abilities: the burn pile and burn barrel are largely a thing of the past and the amount of "waste" they can dispose of is limited by the size of their trash disposal can. And trip to the dump costs the disposer of the materials additional funds to get rid of things they were already done with in a sense, paying for things twice.
This leaves really only two solutions: just dispose of it on the side of road (not desirable from an environmental point of view, of course: who wants to see chairs and couches slowly breaking down?) or wait for a donation chance to push everything out the door. The giver feels good as they have done something charitable (true) and eliminated items from their house (qualified true). In point of fact, if they have not donated goods of use - to Eaton Joe's contact's comment - they have only pushed the problem downstream, not resolved it.
(A third option exists: Freecycling or other local options where individuals exchange things locally. This is actually a fine alternative, but I suspect it works so well because the local government does not consider it a threat to its income. If it were, it would grind to a halt.)
But can it be resolved? We live in the age where consumption is discouraged yet necessary, where we are not encouraged to repair but to replace and yet our replacements have nowhere to go but in the trash, where we are encouraged to be charitable which (apparently) is as much of justification to "clean house" as it is to actual do something charitable.
In an ideal world - if such a thing were to exist - the used would be the new "new", the ability to repair important and cherished and perhaps more important than the ability to only produce the "new", a methodology to dispose of or destroy old items in such a way that residual value was found and the truly "useless" was destroyed without outcry, and the world (on the whole) perhaps a little better off with not as many resources being poured into new things and people happier with the old things they had and cared for.
Ah well - I can dream, can I not?
Friday, February 11, 2022
Many thanks to all for your prayers and thoughts on The Ravishing Mrs. TB and back/side/leg problems she has been experiencing. Your pleas and remembrances have had an encouraging effect.
The genesis of this whole experience, so far as we know, was a rather innocuous fall some months ago that caused her a rather large amount of pain, an x-ray, and months of physical therapy. The outcome of all of this was that the fall had apparently aggravated or compressed the sciatic nerve (as well as revealing that sometime in her youth, she had fractured a disk and had not known it). Through 4-5 months of physical therapy and the resulting stretching exercises at home, she was able to gain some relief and most of her previous mobility.
She has started stretching again (and it is a 20-30 minute process) and has commented that she feels this has been helping. However, she also recalled that during the original healing process, she received a shot (I really do not recall what it was; maybe a steroid?) to help manage the inflammation. The shot administrator told her it would eventually wear off, so we may reaching the end of its effectiveness.
So we will continue to monitor, and she will continue to do her stretches. Her spirits have certainly been more upbeat in that the stretching seemed to offer some relief.
Again, many thanks for your prayers and your kind thoughts. They are working.
Thursday, February 10, 2022
It happens every year at this same time.
Like clockwork, the news about annual raises and bonuses comes out. And like clockwork, right after that a wave of resignations occurs.
It has been this way as long as I can remember in the industry, and my memory goes back over twenty years or more. The release of the data may be different - December instead of January for reviews, once upon a time - but the results were always the same.
Obviously for most, this is not a "sudden" event. The groundwork has in some cases already been laid (although in this current market, it could be laid a great deal less in advance than before); in others, it is a reaction to what the see. The pre-thought comes out immediately after the letters go out and the bonus money drops in (or not); the stragglers will file out over the next two months or so.
One wonders how HR deals with this. Almost no-one will say "I expected my annual increase to not keep up with inflation and frankly, I was spot on and it was not enough" or "Really, I can go make more money doing exactly the same thing somewhere else". It will be couched in terms like "Trying a new field" or "I have done what I intended to do here" or "It is just time for me to move on".
Yet always, strangely, it happens right after the letters come out.
I am sure that this happens in all industries at whatever time of year this is likely to occur, and especially more now that we have an Employee's market. But it is always sad to me, on two levels. The first is that with every departure, we lose institutional knowledge of what has happened in the past. That can be devastating in any industry, but especially in knowledge based ones.
The other, of course, is that while I am happy for coworkers, I am sad to see them go. Having been there long enough that I am one of the "old hands" at the company, it seems so many that are leaving are those I have worked with - and in many cases, not seen now for two years. Most of the newer hands I know only as voices on the phone or signatures on e-mails.
This is the ebb and flow of industry.
I suppose, of course, I can take some sort of comfort from the regularity of it all: like Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, there is simply the season of the Wild Geese, which comes every February.
Wednesday, February 09, 2022
This past weekend, I patched a pair of pants.
This is the first official "Patch" I think I have ever sewn in my life. It made a great deal of sense to do it: the pants - other than a long tear in the knee -were perfectly fine and given the price of things, there was no need to buy a new set (nor, sadly was I about to wear them as they were: for all of the young people's affection with "distressed jeans", I prefer mine without holes). So I watched a couple of videos online, gathered my patch, needle, and thread, and started patching.
It is not ideal of course: there is more bunching that I suspect should be there - but then again, these are intended to be worn around the house or away at The Ranch, so appearance is not the first consideration. Some of this I will attribute to the fact this is the first patch I have sewn; the rest I will attribute to the fact that being able to "check your work" on a tubular construction that you essentially have to re-unfold to see your progress is not ideal. Still, other than one leg being slightly shorter than another, I think they will work fine (and as an added bonus, if I really do not like it I will just rip out the seams and start over again).
In terms of an investment, it cost precisely nothing: the needle, thread, and patch were all already here on hand and the jeans I obviously owned. Had I gone to purchase a new pair at a lower end "Big Box" store, I would have paid $40 -$60 for a new pair. The requirement for this exercise was a little time and attention.
Although there is a great deal of way to go with the results (no bunching would, of course, be ideal) it does bring me back to the very relevant about managing purchases, costs, and consumerism.
Why is this the first time in my adult life I have done something like this? Yes, jeans are not necessarily "business casual" attire that I have had to wear for many years pre-Plague, but certainly such repaired items done by skilled tailors or seamstresses (not mine obviously; other people's) would appear almost as useful and acceptable as any other. Yet on the whole this is something I can tell you that you will not see in the business or larger world (except as a fashion statement). Unmarred, unrepaired clothes are the standard. Clothing with small imperfections or potential repair are just as often thrown away or shipped off to Goodwill.
Which is of course, pre-early 20th Century, a very rich thing to do. Prior to that time, so far I as I know and understand, clothing was used and reused until it could be used - as clothes - and then turned into something else: quilts, rags, parts for other clothes. It is only we, in our late 20th and early 21st century glory, that have determined that only the unmarred is good enough for making appearances in.
We will see how the patch holds out of course; the first test of these jeans may mean the "first patch" becomes "the first in a long line of patches". Which is also fine - practice, as they say, makes perfect.
Or at least for patches with less bunching.
Tuesday, February 08, 2022
Due to incremental weather this week, we ended up with all of Na Clann at home and not working/attending school. I know that it always makes The Ravishing Mrs. TB happy to have them home. I am happy too, although a bit less so when they absorb all the network bandwidth in an attempt to catch up on "Vampire Diaries" (a show I literally have no idea what it involves except, apparently Vampires).
During the course of the day - when my bandwidth was a bit more available because they were watching "The Fellowship of The Ring", the youngest - Nighean Dhonn - pops into the living room. "What if we built a hobbit house at The Ranch?"
Turns out as she was watching the movie, she found a video of someone that had built a hobbit house in New Zealand that was available for rental. He spent about $3,000 or so on it.
She comes back in after a bit. "Maybe I rethink my college goals - could I just live at the Ranch and farm?"
The following sound of silence was me screaming excitedly inside my head.
"Well..." I started - and then rapidly started explaining at a high level why a hobbit house might or might not work and what it would take possibly to do a farm. My next reaction, of course, was to find a book - or books; in my case I have something like 70 or 80 books on agriculture/farming/homesteading on my shelf (my solution for everything is a book; if I can read it, I can do it). I went to the hall and started pulling some off.
"Here" I said. "I have some overall books on starting a farm with ideas and how finance works. You mentioned gardening - here's a book on that. Oh wait, you might like something on agriculturalist philosophy (she enjoys Thoreau's Walden). Here is a book by Gene Logsdon (The Contrary Farmer). And here is a book by Wendell Berry (The Long Legged House) - wait, here is another one by Berry (The Unsettling of America). It is old, but it is still true....Wait! Here is a book by Leigh Tate: Five Acres and A Dream: The Sequel. I know her - and she is doing what you said you want to do".
By the time we were done, I had given her a stack of ten books to read. She is a reader, so she can read them if she decides she wants to. I have no idea if she will.
But maybe that is not the point.
I have argued - as have many voices who are far more erudite and expressive than I - that if things are going to get better, it is because we start to build small communities of preserving knowledge and ways of life that can make it through whatever is coming. That is built on communication, on a willingness to listen and talk and show.
Maybe she will read the books. Maybe she will not. But a quick seed got planted that day, a seed that I intend to let germinate and sit in the sun and rain for a while.
Gardeners, whether growing plants or philosophies of people, have to be patient.
Monday, February 07, 2022
I have often been willing to share my concerns about the overall stability of my job, as well as some of the issues I have faced with it over the years. Therefore, it only seems right that when something good happens, I should mention that as well.
I received a bonus this year.
This was completely and totally unexpected: as part of A Sort of Hammerfall (my unanticipated job and career transfer in March 2020) I was essentially frozen in place financially. It was certainly not the worse outcome, and there are enough other reasons for me to stay, but the benefit of reward for effort was removed from the table beyond "a rising of tides bringing all ships up" sort of scenario.
But my boss, and the boss of my boss, interpreted last year as different than the year before. Or, at least, they were willing to push the envelope. And pushing the envelope in this case went in my favor.
This was completely unexpected - and, as you can imagine given the course of last year and this, extremely welcome. The fact that I feel like it was based both on results as well as confidence from my management in my abilities is almost as welcome as the money itself (Almost. To quote Moliere, I like the sort of appreciation that jingles in my pocket).
The Ravishing Mrs. TB mentioned to me this weekend that a back and side pain she has been suffering had been troubling her for a great deal longer than she was letting on. If you have a prayer or thought to spare for her healing, it would be appreciated.
Sunday, February 06, 2022
Saturday, February 05, 2022
When I started Iaijutsu a decade and more ago, I had very little idea what I was getting into. I thought I was just learning to draw and cut with a katana, something I had always wanted to learn. I would add in some physical training and a little Japanese of course, and maybe - possibly - a trip to Japan.
I assume that many people start martial arts in the fashion: a whim, a thought for a hobby, something to fill the time. And for many, I am sure that is what it becomes and remains.
For some of us though, it ends up becoming a lot more.
I could not have really defined the changes for you - the real changes - in a way that would have been meaningful. In class, we train the entire corpus of our style again and again. Soke - our headmaster - acts as if our time here is short (as it is) and so we train the entire series over time, from "entry" level to "advanced" techniques (in quotes of course, as even entry level has layers within layers). One learns - first brokenly, then with greater confidence - as the practice and training shifts to another series. One practices at home - first brokenly, then with greater confidence - only to take the practiced techniques back to class.
On and on it goes. Training after training. Year after year.
Over time of course, the nature of the practice and improvement changes. As the years have rolled on, my sensei has directed me to work on different specific areas: the fact that one shoulder is higher than the other when I sheath (noto) -which took me 10 years to correct, the fact my hand is slightly in further out at the initial cut than it should be, the fact that I need (always, always, alwyas) to get lower in stature. In a way smaller and smaller subunits are focused on even as one continues to practice forms and larger series.
The reality - one that I scarcely admit but cannot deny - is that with Iaijutsu, we are practicing techniques that have been passed down for 420 years with one purpose: combative application. Iaijutsu (as opposed to Iaido) retains its original combative effectiveness. This is not a dance that we are performing: there should lie before our mind's eye an opponent who is reaching for their sword with hostile intent or have even drawn it and are coming in.. We must interrupt, defend/block, and attack. And our techniques are only meant, as Soke says, as building blocks. Life never happens the way the kata is practiced - there are no "textbook" attacks - and so we must learn to improvise and connect and string together.
Bearing the thought that I could actually, if I have to, do considerable damage is one I do not take lightly at all - I, who belief myself to be one of the most inoffensive of men. It has been said - and rightly - that martial artists are the least likely individuals to actually get into fights because they understand the damage that can be done.
And one learns other things as well: respect for the dojo, sensei, and others; the practice and trial of any interest of practicing something again and again alone and in silence; of learning to receive criticism and correct mistakes and understanding that this is not the end - there will be a new thing to correct after this one. Soke has referred to our art as a Lifetime practice: We will never arrive at the point that we are perfect.
For all of this though, I still had missed one critical change in myself - something so subtle and profound that I did not grasp it until reading someone's else's words, I received illumination.
It will probably come as a surprise to no-one that among the elements of my somewhat oversized library, I have a reasonable collection of materials on Japanese history and martial arts, a combination of old works and modern works covering almost every aspect of Japan to 1877. Among them, in a more modern book called Flashing Steel by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Leonard J. Pellman, I found the following comment on the nature of training in the martial arts that - once again - took my breath away:
"Society is simply a collection of individuals. Social ills, like crime and drug abuse, are merely reflections of the combined failings of the individuals who comprise society. Laws cannot reform society and cure its ills, they can only punish violators. Society is like our collective shadow. If the shadow is bent and twisted, no amount can straighten it out. Only by straightening ourselves does our shadow also straighten, and then it does so effortlessly and automatically. So it is that reform must start with individuals and spread through society. It is a grassroots process in which part of us is either part of the disease or part of the cure."
What is the critical change that Iaijutsu has wrought in me? It has changed my character.
I have learned to consider my words and actions more carefully. I have learned to be more patient and more humble. I have learned that improvement comes only from endless training and I have learned to accept the fact that while ultimate improvement is possible, immediate improvement usually is not. I have learned personal reserve where I needed it. I have learned to pay attention to the smallest details in action and presentation.
In perhaps small ways, I have gained more awareness of the environment and situation around me. I have learned that anger leads to reaction, and reaction leads to confrontation, and that confrontation seldom has the impact or outcome one believes it will. I have tried to embody in more of my life the symbolic meaning of drawing the sword (nukitsuke)- when you have made a decision, act immediately and without hesitation - and the symbolic meaning of sheathing the sword (noto) - to have no regrets for what you have done and to take complete responsibility for your actions.
In other words, without realizing it I found I was on The Way.
But the words of Shimabukuro and Pellman struck me. In being on The Way, in "straightening my shadow", I am informing and changing my own character and the extent that I change my own character - my own "shadow" - I am adding a beneficial presence to society. And if there are enough beneficial presences in a society - enough "straight shadows" - that has impact.
But I can only change my own shadow. I am the only one that can make my posture more straight. In training, sensei can consistently remind me to pull in my lower back and pull down my shoulders, but I am the only one that can actually do it. I am the only one who can learn to memorize the way my lower back feels when I am in the correct position. Only I can remember that position and do it over and over until it becomes second nature, and then move on to another improvement.
A lifetime challenge of improvement with acknowledgement that while we may always improve, we will never arrive - either in iaijutsu or in character.
This is The Way.
Friday, February 04, 2022
So you, dear readers, are the first beyond Uisdean Rudah to hear the sad and tragic tales of The Death Of A Hopeless Romantic (because if you are going to bring something to light, go big or go home). This is also the first time I have considered the matter is well over a score of years, and the first time ever outside of my journal I have written about it at all.
Your commemorative book marks are in the mail.
Looking at it for the first time "on paper" as it were, and reading it out to myself through the long lens of time, I am struck by two things: One is my complete and total ability to be tone-deaf to what I thought I was actually accomplishing, the other is the belief that I needed to be "something" - in love at that particular time, but other things since then.
The tone deafness has moved over the course of twenty plus years, but only with the speed of a glacier and the visibility of an oak tree growing - it happens, but you never quite know when. I am marginally more conscious of the things I am actually trying to accomplish through my actions and words, and have gained some ability to rein them in or consider them more carefully. I am more willing to "not react" to a situation that I feel as if I need to react to, but know inside that acting will only make things worse. I can avoid commenting if it seems out of place or contrary to what I am trying to accomplish (mostly). That does imply some level of confidence and trust with others that they are both being honest and will interpret my lack of action or silence not as a refusal to act or an act of disgust or non-involvement, but simply as an action - which is a struggle as I remain with a high degree of distrust in the motives and actions of most of my fellow human beings.
A complicating factor of tone deafness is the fact that if is one is approval based - and I am highly approval based - one looks for the slightest sign of anger, disappointment, or loss of interest, and immediately attempts to modulate the perceived loss. The same is true the other way of course - one looks for the slightest sign of approval or promise and immediately tries to double down. This is again something that I have spent long years in overcoming and remain only slightly better than I used to be - why, I can let something happen and not try to immediately fix the situation or make it better 2% of the time (that, of course, is foolishness - it is more like 4%). I have had to learn that people being angry, disappointed, losing interest and drifting away are not signs of failure or always require a reaction, just as I have had to learn that people's engagement or approval is not necessarily a sign they want more.
For the need to "be something" - if improvement in tone deafness was glacial change, improvement in this makes tone deafness look like a speeding cheetah. Even today, I still build up in my mind (as I have always done) great visions of what I could be, what I could do - indeed, what I should be and what I should do. There is almost always some self-imposed vision I have overlaid on myself based on the beliefs of society, religion, or culture (although I assure I far more hard on myself than any of those could be). The need to be "more" than the perceived sum of my actual self seems as strong as it ever was.
This latter part I attribute to my own internal "make up" - even now I still find myself tilting and windmills and looking for dragons to be slain and people to be rescued. In that sense I suppose, the Hopeless Romantic has collapsed, but the Hopeless Idealist continues on unimpaired, eyes on the horizon, sword at the ready, prepared to hurl myself into the next great crusade or need.
Perhaps while one can learn to modulate such things, one never truly gives up on them.
Thursday, February 03, 2022
The Hopeless Romantic that was me collapsed and died a horrible flaming death in the December of 1990.
For once, this is story which I can actually say involved exotic locales, whirlwind travel, lovely women, and and ending so final in its execution there would never be a sequel. Almost a sort of spy thriller, except without the major star leading hero. Just me.
In the summer of 1990 I took a 6 week sort of "study abroad" in Budapest, Hungary. It was - to a political science major - a magical time: Communism had just fallen and so even as we went to see an open country, the remnants of it were everywhere. We sat through lectures with various professors (I heard an actual, unrepentant chain smoking Stalinist explain away the horrors of the Red Terror as a "misunderstanding"), saw the bullet marks in buildings from the 1956 uprising, and ate enough Hungarian Paprika for a lifetime.
I also managed to fall in love with another student.
To pre-Collapse Hopeless Romantic Me, this was no trick. I regularly fell in love about 5 times a week. The reasons for this are something I never really looked at as I should have (and now likely never will), but if there was a poster child for band/drama/role-playing/socially awkward nerd that seldom had a date or a girlfriend although badly wanted both, I was that poster child. Add to that a healthy dose of Chivalric Romance picked up in books and I was a poetry writing, flower giving, swooning fool looking for a person to shower my attention upon.
The relationship survived that program and a visit to her parents in Germany and the trip back and the start of school year - she in Chicago, I in Old Home. I would call late at night, the phone cord wrapped around the edge of the door to the garage to give some privacy, paying out excessive amounts of long distance phone time (if you understand this reference, you are officially old). I wrote letters and cards and poems. Live was nothing but the softly lit pictures of landscapes with only the promise of the future. I was in love. I had a dream. I was making plans to move to Chicago and go to school.
But something was not right in my romantic world. The calls were going unanswered, the letters not responded to. Like a good Hopeless Romantic, my response was to double down on my efforts: more calls, more letters, even flowers. Still nothing. My mother, in a wisdom that was quite right had I chosen to listen, commented that it was a summer romance that was simply ending. My father said nothing, probably picturing the spectacle of me trying to drive in the snow in Chicago in January and shaking his head.
And then magically, all was well again. She wanted - no, needed - me to come out attend a function wit here. She would take care of the ticket and the hotel room. I need only come. Oh, the rapturous depths of delight I felt! This was the apogee of every hopeless romantic, was it not? To be wanted and needed. Romance, I crowed to myself, had won the day. Take that, doubting parents whose experience of the world had tampered with the triumph of true love.
Except, of course, it had not.
My arrival was not as romance should have gone. She met me, dropped me at the hotel, then had class. I was left to wander the day by the Lakeside, waiting to check into my hotel. I wandered the streets of a better suburb of Chicago all day, the winds off the lake cutting through my jacket as if it were lace. For a brief moment I got a vision of what it was like to be homeless with nowhere to go and nothing to do. If this was romance, it tasted a lot more like being put on a shelf and forgotten.
But the night - the night of the event was coming. That would make it right.
But it did not. What was clear, once we dressed up and arrived, was that I was truly just a place holder to avoid the indignity of going alone to a social event. I wandered a bit, but these were not my people and this was not my romantic night out. I talked with a few of her friends, but we were from very different worlds and I - a hopeless Romantic but also in a lot a simple person with not a lot of socialization practice - ended up sitting in a chair off to the corner, a potted plant keeping me company, hoping the evening would end quickly.
The weekend after that was rather droll but not unwelcome, as things slowly seemed to warm up from the nadir of that night. I left feeling as if I was again on the right, romantic track. I need only redouble my commitment and the prize - true romance - would be mine. In my mind, I was already buying snow tires.
And so I redoubled my efforts. I sent more cards. I wrote more letters. I made calls and left them on the machine, and then more calls and left them on the machine. That is what hopeless romantics do, I told myself - demonstrate their commitment.
But nothing. Not a letter, not a call, , not a 3 x 5 post card, nothing. Until that day in November when I called and, when the phone message came on, there was a message specifically directed at me: She had received my calls. She was busy. She would call me when she had the time.
Every person that had called her and left a message - every person that would call her and leave a message - would hear that. And wonder who that message was directed towards, and what fool and a moron that person must be.
At that moment - and I remember it quite clearly - Happy Hopeless Romantic Me collapsed like a skater breaking through thin ice into the freezing water. A skater that never made it out.
It died. The whole thing died. Romance was gone. The books, the songs, the poems - I do not know that I could bring myself to say that they lied, but I could bring myself to say that they had misinformed me. What I went through was not so much a depression as it was a cold hard drop onto the rocks of reality, one that in some ways I never really recovered from.
The postscript for this entire scenario - as if one was really needed - was a card addressed to me from Chicago that Christmas, one that said "Have a Merry Christmas - At Home." Uisdean Ruadh, in one of the kindest, bravest and most heroic acts of our long friendship, made me take that card and everything else I had from the relationship and burn it on the grill. He left me nothing to be maudlin over except for my journals, which I could not bring neither bring myself to review not destroy.
By the time - some years later - that I met The Ravishing Mrs. TB, there were only faint grindings of that Hopeless Romantic present, faint grindings that spiraled up into the wind and blew away as soon as the first sign of potential failure showed up (which may, coincidentally, have saved the relationship). There were cards and flowers and poems, but they never had the wild abandon of those earlier years. It was a more calculated, less engaged Romantic that risked putting things his heart into things or dreaming.
Enough time and space has passed that I can look back on the incident and see that if I wanted to actually have a relationship, I pretty much did everything completely in the wrong. Perhaps that was a function of lack of experience, perhaps that was a function of too much theoretical thinking about love and relationships and not enough practice. Either way, I have in all the years since never had such a complete and total collapse of a personality trait. There is not even rubble. There is only cold ash over a ruined wasteland.
I do wonder, of course, what would have happened - or what would happen - if I could find a small piece of that hopeless Romantic Fellow again. Or perhaps, to be fair, he never left me: he only found other ways to manifest himself in much more secret and mundane ways in what he cares about - animals, plants, acts of kindness, things that themselves never react badly to attention - and perhaps perhaps even practicing such romanticism in small ways and mannerisms of behavior and writing that never risk being called out and thus never risk being smashed.
And, perhaps, in secret dreams held so tightly that not a person suspects such things even exist.
Yet even as I write of it now, I can still feel the shock and horror of my name being effectively thrown out to the world as not a Great Romantic but as a fool and idiot. I can see exactly where I was in the kitchen when I heard it, feel the twist of the phone cord in my fingers, sense without knowing the flair of blush in my checks and the edge of tears peeking out of the corner of my eyes.
And in the back of my mind, I can still hear all that was in that Hopeless Romantic heart crashing to the ground and breaking into a million pieces, only to blow away in the cruel November wind.
Wednesday, February 02, 2022
Although I am not typically a fan of "The Modern Musical", occasionally I am forwarded songs by Na Clann with the suggestion I listen. Once in a while I am pleasantly surprised; most of the time I file them away with "Other Modern Music I Need Never Hear Again".
In this case it was music from "Shrek: The Musical" (available on your local streaming service). Shrek, to those of a certain age that may not know, was a children's book that became a highly successful movie, then highly successful movies, then a musical (because of course Hollywood has to drain every last potential drop of profit from an intellectual property) and follows the adventures of Shrek, an Ogre, as he attempts to and learns to integrate into society. The movies are fun to watch for entertainment value and end up including some reasonably high level performers (for the second movie, as I recall, John Cleese and Julie Andrews are voice actors and the other movies have some pretty high caliber cameos).
The musical of course is not the same as the movie - musicals never are, as they have to fill the void of the visual of CGI with other things. The characters have morphed as well: in this case Shrek is a great deal more introspective than he is in the movies. At one point, when challenged by his companion (Donkey, a talking donkey) about why he hates people so much and challenged what he would do if, he starts to recount his dreams in the song "Who I'd Be".
It was one of those moments when you least expect something significant to happen, and something significant happens.
I have linked both the words and video at the end of this post and they are worth a read or listen, but one set of lines jumped out of me:
It made my heart stop a little, because that was me, once upon a time.
Growing up, I was enmeshed in a world that I could not see but believed should exist even if it did not. I grew up on The Oz Books and Raggedy Ann And Andy and books of talking animals and toys, and later found the world of fantasy and Medieval mores and chivalry - not the gritty sort of fantasy that is written today that is more reality than idealism, but big, larger than life heroes - John Carter, Conan, the heroes of Andre Norton. I believed in chivalry and romantic love and great causes and crusades.
And then, of course, life happened.
But hearing that song made me wonder what happened to that man.
Yes, there were a lot of things that were far from ideal from that period of time and mindset - as there are about every period and mindset (and as there will be about this period as well, to the shock of those living in it and as certain of the rightness of their causes and previous ages have been of theirs). But large living in bright colors, courtly behavior (which is really nothing more than polite behavior), romantic love that treats the beloved in an idealized fashion (instead of what we have made it), seeking right and justice in service of a great cause - why should these have fallen out of style when in fact, if you read between lines, these are exactly the world seems to lament we have lost?
One can never go back into the river of course, and there is no reason that in many ways I should want to bring that younger, more callow man back. At the same time, that younger, more callow man may have seen somethings in a light far clearer than what I see them now, as age and film will dull even the most exacting and clearest of lenses.
Perhaps, in this search on character, I need to consider how to sluice away the years of grime, less that ideal decisions and less than desirable traits, and find the bedrock that is there.
Video (Run time is about 5:00 minutes, song starts at about 1:00 minute):
I guess I'd be a hero, with sword and armor clashing
Looking semi-dashing, a shield within my grip
Or else I'd be a Viking, and live a life of daring
While smelling like a herring, upon a Viking ship
I'd sail away, I'd see the world
I'd reach the farthest reaches
I'd feel the wind, I'd taste the salt and sea
And maybe storm some beaches
That's who I'd be, that's who I'd be
Or I could be a poet and write a different story
One that tells of glory, and wipes away the lies
Into the skies I'd throw it, the stars would do the telling
The moon would help with spelling and night would dot the 'I's
I'd write a verse, recite a joke
With wit and perfect timing
I'd share my heart, confess the things I yearn
And do it all while rhyming
But we all learn, but we all learn
An ogre always hides
An ogre’s fate is known
An ogre always stays in the dark and all along
Life would be enchanted, or so the stories say
Of course, I'd be a hero, and I would scale a tower
To save a hot-house flower, and carry her away
But standing guard would be a beast, I'd somehow overwhelm it
I'd get the girl, I'd take a breath, and I'd remove my helmet
We'd stand and stare
We'd speak of love
We'd feel the stars ascending
We'd share a kiss
I'd find my destiny
I'd have a hero's ending
A perfect happy ending
That's how it would be
A big, bright, beautiful world
But not for me
An ogre always hides
An ogre's fate is known
An ogre always stays in the dark
You're all alone
(All in unison)
So yes, I'd be a hero, and if my wish was granted
Life would be enchanted, or so the stories say
Of course, I'd be a hero, and I would scale a tower
To save a hot-house flower, and carry her away
And I know he'll appear
'Cause there are rules and there are strictures
I believe the storybooks I read
You need a pal, my calendar's open
You need me
A perfect happy ending
That's how it should be!
Tuesday, February 01, 2022
This change in my own explorations of writing - Writing The Exhausting - has derived from two completely unexpected and unlikely sources: a channel of reviews and a book on writing.
The Channel of reviews is a by a fellow who brands himself The Critical Drinker. He is apparently a Scotsman and his reviews are a sort of curse laden, hard hitting, extremely exacting and funny review of movies and streaming shows (in a sub-note, it bothers and interests me that for some reason, a Scotsman cursing I find incredibly amusing. I should also note that while amusing he is NOT in anyway family friendly. Not. At. All. Nothing really beyond the swearing, but there is a lot of it. You are forewarned.). The first few times I listened to his reviews, I chuckled as he eviscerated movies, mostly movies I did not care for.
But then the unexpected happened.
As I listened not only to his movie reviews but to his comments on the current state of the industry, what I found was an insightful critic who cared passionately about the telling of a story. And the telling of a story revolves almost entirely about the characters in the story. He is good - so good, in one ten minute segment I learned more about the importance of having a credible and real antagonist than I learned from four years of High School English and three years of College English.
Characters - well written, well developed characters that have actual motives and feelings and credibility, not that are just "thrown up" to move the plot along - are the fundamental building block to any sort of good entertainment. Or, I began to realize, of life.
The second unexpected source was The 90-day novel by Alan Watt.
I had originally purchased this book as one in a long line of books I have purchased in order to help give some structure to writing an actual book that actually sells instead of writing books that just please myself. The concept is simple: over the course of 90 days, the author presents a series of questions and exercises to explore the characters and world building which will help in the writing of a novel. The assumption that one will write 2-3 hours a day and work in a short series of exercises writing first as the protagonist and then as the antagonist. I liked the concept and tried, but somehow washed out on day 15 or so.
So I gave myself a second task: this year, I would just start by reading the book before I tried it - not that I was going to "cheat" the process as much as wanted to read the book (and if I waited until I wrote my way through it, I might never get there).
Once again, the unexpected happened.
Ward also spends an inordinate amount of time discussing characters and character building - not from the sense of "One needs characters and here are the kinds you need" but from the sense of "One needs characters that real - protagonists and antagonists - that are on a journey in their lives from one point to another." Which is true, when I think about it: the most loved characters in my mind (and the most loved villains as well) are not static characters. By the end of the book or movie or show, they have somehow changed for better or worse. The goal of the story may be achieved - the One Ring destroyed, the invasion of the Macrobes at N.I.C.E pushed back (C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength), but the main characters are changed in such a way that they, too, ultimately have to leave.
All of sudden, I found myself getting pounded by a common theme: Character. Character development. Character on a journey. Which of course raised its own series of questions about my own life: What is my character? What was my character? To be certain this has changed over the years; has it changed meaningfully and in what way? And if I am on a journey from one thing to another, do I even know what journey I am on?
In moments like these, I recall to mind the warning of Bilbo Baggins to his nephew Frodo: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."