I Don’t Know


There are many things, that I don’t know. Which candidate will make a good president? I don’t know. When will this Winter end? I don’t know. What will my life be like a year from now? I don’t know. Will there be peace on Earth? Will there be war? Is there life on other planets? Is there a god? What will this summer bring? What will…. well, you get the idea. As a matter of fact, I don’t know most things. Our world is full on knowledge that I don’t know. Throughout my entire life, I have loved learning. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I want to know. Why, you ask? I don’t know. Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it? If I love to learn, shouldn’t I know why? But I honestly can’t answer that question. I’m curious. I want to know how things work. Why things work. But I don’t know why.

I’ve studied philosophy off and on for years. I’m curious about the mind. But is it necessary to know how and why the mind works? Can’t I just be satisfied knowing that it does? Apparently not. Many people go through their entire lives not wondering about these things. For them, it doesn’t matter how the mind works, as long as you can think with it. And they’re just fine with that. But I can’t do it. My insatiable curiosity pushes me to know. And you’d think there would be some kind of reward for my learning new things. Some reason for doing it. If there is, once again, I don’t know what it is. Unless it’s a chemical thing that pumps endorphins into the pleasure centers of my brain. That could be it. But I don’t know.

It seems that there are many people like me. We have to have answers. It’s the main reason why civilization has advanced to this point. People need to know. To discover. Even though discovery is a violent act that destroys as much if not more than it discovers, We as a species still seem pushed to do it. Lately we seem to have a renewed interest in space travel. Private companies are now getting involved with NASA and we will probably know more about space in the near future than we have learned so far. Why? Curiosity. Drive. Ambition. We have a desire to know. There are days however, when I just don’t care to know anything. I can float through my day reading a good novel, watching television, or writing poetry and not have a single care about the world around me. On those days, I don’t leave the house. I spend all day in my sweat pants. I drink tea and I’m lazy all day. And then there are the days that I devour a philosophy text book or spend hours on the computer looking things up, feeding the curiosity monster within.

I have always had a sense of wonder. That childlike quality of bliss upon discovering something new. I remember being young and looking up at the night sky and wondering what was out there, squatting at the rivers edge, turning over rocks to look for crayfish, or seeing how many times I could skip a flat stone across the water. I loved those days as a child, when the world was new and waiting for me to jump in. And jump in, I did. Funny enough, I’ve never lost that quality. I still look up at the night sky and wonder. I still want to go tromping through the woods just to see what’s there. I still want to know.

So I’m glad for that. I’m happy that I still want to know. And I’m happy that some days I don’t. As this Winter winds down to a close I have a renewed sense of wonder. New beginnings. Spring won’t be long now I feel. A time for coming out of my cocoon. Getting outside with my camera and capturing new life brought by warm sunlight and longer days. Walks in the woods without all the heavy gear of Winter. And I think about my wife. She loved Springtime. Curious like me, she loved to learn. Time to learn something new.

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The Tarot Card Mystery part Six


Sam had a hard time letting things go. He didn’t like loose ends, and he didn’t like not solving a case. He had gotten his car out of impound with a promise to John Amos the police captain, that he would explain everything. Then he drove to Madame DuPree’s shop. It was closed. A note at the front door let customers know it would remain closed until further notice. The back door was locked. He drove the streets looking for Christi. Considering that she stole his money, he didn’t expect to find her. So he wound up back at the police station and told the captain everything that happened. He had no explanation of how the Tarot card Madame DuPree had given him changed from Death, to the Hermit. The card had been in his back seat since he rescued Christi from the abandoned ship. He also had no idea how he was poisoned. The only thing he could think of there, was that Madame DuPree could have had poison on her fingernails when she attacked him. After giving his statement, Captain Amos told Sam to go home. They would launch an official investigation and Sam was to consider himself, off the case. Before he went back to his office, Sam found another metaphysical store on the other side of town and bought a deck of Tarot cards and a book explaining them. He didn’t go for this kind of thing, but he thought maybe if he understood it, it might help him figure this out.

So he sat at his desk puffing his pipe, with the cards spread out in front of him and read the book. He read about the Major and Minor Arcana. He read about the meaning of the cards and what people used them for. He was just about to take a break when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. There was a white envelope halfway under his office door. Grabbing his 44 he quietly stood and moved to the door. Throwing it open quickly and dashing into the hall, he found no one there. Checking either end of the hall revealed no one either. Back in his office he cut open the envelope and with a tweezers, removed the only thing there, Another Tarot card. This one was the Moon.

Well, one thing was for sure, Sam thought. This case was getting weirder all the time. He had no idea what this meant but he had a Tarot book now so he looked up the card. The book told him the card meant that it was a time of uncertainty. It could also mean confusion or misunderstanding. Who would leave this? The Tarot had been Madame DuPree’s thing, but would it have been her? He didn’t think she would have climbed the stairs to his office and then he remembered how agile she had been jumping on his back during the attack. Maybe it was her. Or Michael. He had no idea, and no idea how to find out. This was one of the most frustrating cases he’d ever had. Sam knew he should just let it go. Mostly because he knew he would never get paid for his time. The old crone had hired him to find her niece but since that had all blown up, well, there’d be no money. Looking at the Tarot cards and admiring the artwork he thought, maybe I’ll try to read them. Why not? I’ve done a lot of crazier things, he thought. So he shuffled the deck and laid out three cards.

The book told him that a three card reading was common. The cards could represent the past, present and future. They could also mean the present, hindrances and help. The question he would ask was; How can I solve this case? He felt a little foolish doing this, as it was way outside what he believed in. Sam believed in what he could see and touch. This metaphysical mumbo jumbo held no interest for him. Usually. But now, because of the strange things that had happened, he wasn’t so sure. Couldn’t hurt to give it a try, he thought. So keeping the question in mind, as the book told him to do, he flipped over the cards. The first card was the Moon. The same one from the envelope. The second card was the Tower, and the third was the nine of cups. He had already discovered that the Moon card represented confusion, misunderstanding or uncertainty. That one he understood. there was plenty of all of that here. He found it interesting that that card came up in the first position. It fit. The next card, the Tower, stood for chaos, change, disruption, and destruction. Destruction he didn’t like. It could be his destruction. The card could also mean liberation. This was getting more interesting. The last card, the nine of Cups was harder to figure out. The book said it was a good card that meant that all is well. Fulfilled desires, well being and good health. He liked that but it wasn’t helping him figure out what to do. Sam wondered about the cups on the card. He dug through the book and found that the four suits, Swords, Cups, Wands and Coins were akin to the four suits in playing cards. And they had meanings. The four suits were associated with the four ancient elements of Air, Water, Fire and Earth. Cups, were associated with water. But how could that help him, he thought? And then it came to him. This whole thing had started on the water. In an old ship in the harbor. Maybe it would end there too. Dropping the book, Sam stood and grabbed his 44. He filled his coat pocket with bullets and just for luck, he put the Nine of Cups card in his shirt pocket. Couldn’t hurt, he thought.

The Tarot Card Mystery part Five


When he woke, colors and shapes swam before Sam’s eyes with the sickening feeling of being tied to the deck of a wind tossed ship. Someone was in the room with him, wherever he was. A hand touched his face and something touched his lips. A voice said, “Don’t be afraid mon, drink this.” He drank. Sam wouldn’t have been able to resist if he’d wanted to. Dark hair and brown skin filled his blurry vision as he slowly faded back to sleep.

When he next came to, Sam found himself in a hospital room. He felt exhausted but surprisingly good. The horrible feeling was gone. Sitting up on the side of the bed produced a small wave of nausea but it quickly passed. Where are my clothes, he thought, as he looked around the room. Standing, Sam moved uneasily toward the small closet in the corner. Inside, his clothes were hung up but his pistol was not in his coat pocket. Why do I keep losing my guns, he thought. After getting dressed Sam peeked his head out the door. No one there. Slipping out, he headed down the hallway looking for an exit. A nurse yelled from the other end of the hallway. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” “Sorry,” Sam said, and slipped down another hallway. An exit sign at the end caught his attention and he quickly made his way to it, and out the door.

By the position of the sun it looked like it was mid-day. The hospital was downtown so Sam hailed a cab and caught a ride to his office. Someone had been there, swept up the glass and placed a board over hole in the door where the latest window had been. Turning the knob, he found the door unlocked. Sam pushed it open and waited. Nothing. Looking in he found the office empty. Stepping inside he closed and locked the door. That’s when he heard the noise.

The bathroom door pushed open and Christi came into the room. “Awe ya gave me a fright mon!” Christi said, holding her hand to her heart.
“I see you feelin’ better. Dots good mon. I was afraid you weren’t gonna make it. Dat crazy ole witch cook up some powerful potions ya know?”

Sam just stared at her in disbelief. Grabbing the bottle of Jameson off the desk he poured himself a drink into a dirty glass. Knocking it back quickly produced a small jolt to his stomach which passed just as fast. He poured another.

“Hey, slow down mon.” Christi said, taking the glass from his hand. “You gonna do yourself in.”

“Right about now, I don’t give a damn,” said Sam. “You mind telling me what the hell happened?”

“Well I’m not sure,” Christi said, in her heavy Jamaican accent. “Seems de old hag slipped you a mickey, as dey say. I found you in de hospital and gave you somethin’ to help. What’s all deese scratches on your neck?” she asked, reaching toward Sam.

Sam backed up a half step. “That’s from your Auntie attacking me after her and her gorilla kidnapped me. Look, I don’t know what the hell’s going on here but I’m real sorry I took this case. I’ve been kidnapped, and beat up, I lost two good pistols and some skin and blood and what looks to be about a day or so I can’t account for.” I need some goddamn answers from somebody and since you’re the one who’s here, maybe you better start talking!”

“Two days.”

“What?”

“You were in da hospital for two days, mon.”

“Great!”

“Here’s what I can tell you, mon,” said Christi as she sat down on Sam’s cot. “My Auntie is not what she seems. She got people workin’ for her sellin’ drugs. Mostly in the ghetto’s and poor neighborhoods. She a big deal, mon. She got dat Micheal doin’ her dirty work for her, arrangin’ everything. Da guys who kidnapped me, see, you ain’t de only one with troubles mon,” Christ gestured toward Sam. “Dey work for da rival gang. Dey want da ole lady out. But Micheal keeps her safe. So dey kidnap me to try an’ get to her. But den you come along and save me!”

Christi stood and wrapped her arms around herself. Her eyes began to tear up. “An’ I jus’ wanna go home. Home to Jamaica, mon. My Da, he die of the cancer. He say I’d have a better life in America. But he didn’t know dat de ole hag sell drugs. He didn’t know so, I can’t blame him, ya know? I can’t. But I have people in Jamaica. Dey will help me. I know. I jus’ have to get back dere.” She sat back down on the cot.

Sam sighed a long, deep sigh. Moving to his wall safe, he opened it. He pulled out a 44 magnum revolver, two boxes of bullets and a stack of cash. Closing the safe, he turned to Christi. “Alright. If you want to go back to Jamaica, I’ll help you do that. Here,” he said, pushing a note pad and pen across the desk. write down your clothes sizes. I’ll get you some things while you stay here and clean up. Then I’ll take you straight to the airport and put you on a plane. Alright?”

“Oh thank you Sam!” Christi exclaimed, rushing over and throwing her arms around him.

“I’ll be back in a little while. I’m locking the door, said Sam.

Sam caught a cab to a local department store since he didn’t know where his car was, and bought Christi some things he thought she would like. Bright colors to cheer her mood. Later, he’d have to speak to the police captain to clear some of this up and get his car back. Another cab took him back to his office.

The first thing Sam noticed is that his office door wasn’t closed all the way. He set his packages on the floor in the hallway and pulled out his 44. Pushing the door open quickly and stepping inside reveled two thing. His wall safe was open, and the rest of his cash, and Christi were gone.

The Tarot Card Mystery part Four


I started writing this story back in 2016. I wrote three parts and then life was interrupted by my wife’s illness. The story is a mystery involving my favorite detective, Sam Barton. Here are links to episodes one, two, and three. I’m now in the frame of mind to continue with the story. It’s been sitting, patiently waiting to be told. So here’s part four!

“She says you tried to rob her, Sam!” the police captain yelled. He had been doing this for about half an hour. Sam was driving around in his car trying to figure out what to do about this case when a squad car pulled him over. The police had went to Madame DuPree’s shop after Sam’s call and found the old woman tied up on the floor where he had left her. Taking her to the station, she claimed that Sam had come to the shop and tried to rob her. She said that she had never seen him before.

Pounding his hand on the Captain’s desk, Sam shouted back, “You can’t be serious! You know me Captain! You know who I am. You know I’d never do something like that. She hired me to find her niece. When I found more than she’d wanted, she had her gorilla knock me out and lock me in a storeroom. Look! She gave me this card.” Reaching into his pocket, Sam retrieved the Tarot card Madame DuPree gave him. Christi had tossed it into the back seat of his car after he rescued her and for reasons he couldn’t understand, he grabbed it and put it back into his pocket before the cops stopped him. “Why do you think I’d have something like this, Captain? Where do you think I’d get a Tarot card, if not from her?” Sam flipped the card over to show the Captain the face side, which had been the Death card except now it wasn’t. “What the hell…?” Sam said. “This, this isn’t the right card.”

“That doesn’t prove anything,” the captain said. “You’re not that stupid Sam, and neither am I. Having a playing card in your hand doesn’t mean squat! Now I know you didn’t try to rob her but your explanation isn’t all that convincing. So why don’t we…Sam? Sam!

“Sam looked up from the card and said, “This isn’t the right card. She gave me the Death card, but this isn’t it.” The card Sam was holding was the Hermit card. It showed an old man standing alone on a mountain top holding a lantern in his out stretched hand. “There’s something wrong here Captain…”

“You bet yer ass there is,” the Captain interrupted.

“She only gave me one card, Captain. It was the Death card. This isn’t it. How, how could that happen?

Sam’s vision started to blur. He dropped the Hermit card on the desk and rubbed his eyes. He started feeling nauseous and dizzy. Looking at the Capatin and back at the Hermit card he saw the figure of the Hermit turn it’s head toward him. Sam thought he must be going crazy as the figure began to grow larger in his vision. The Hermit lifted his lantern to illuminate Sam’s face and said, “You’re alone. You’re all alone, with no one to help you! Death will come to you in it’s time but for now, You’re all alone.” Sam fell forward out of his chair, and remembered nothing more.

Power


Imagine if you will, that you woke up one day and possessed the power of telekinesis. The power to manipulate matter with your mind. Imagine you could lift a car from a pinned accident victim. You could stop the flow of a river, redirect the wind. Stop someone’s heart, break someone’s arm. Empty a cash machine of all its money. All just by thinking it. I’ve been watching the Netflix series, “Stranger Things” where one of the characters has this power. The truth is, we all desire power. All of us. Presidents and governments desire power. A farmer desires power. Even a Buddhist monk, who has renounced all desire, has the desire to control their own desire. We all seek power and control, of one sort or another. So you wake up one day and discover that you have this power. You couldn’t use it without someone finding out about it. In today’s world, that would be impossible. What do you think would happen to you, once people found out about your power?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you won the lottery? We’ve all seen these multi-million dollar lotteries being won by ordinary people and many of us have daydreamed about what we would do if it was us who won. Pay off all your bills, take trips around the world, give to charities, share it with family and friends. (You notice I said “share it” last!) I’ve thought about it. I’m pretty sure most people have. Why? Because we have desires. So what do you think would happen if you suddenly had telekinesis? People who win huge lottery payouts report that suddenly people from everywhere start requesting money. Thousands of people they don’t know want them to give them money. Winners have had to move. Change their phone numbers, hire security. All because other people desire to have what you have or desire to use what you have to achieve their own desires. The reason I’m focusing on telekinesis is because it represents enormous power. And power and control is the most desirable thing in the world.

You would immediately be courted by your government. And probably other governments as well. And private companies and institutions. All of them of course, would have noble and lofty reasons why you should be their ally. You could end war and famine. Bring rain to drought stricken areas, stop forest fires and hurricanes. Heal broken bones and sickness. While all of these things seem great, the underlying desire would be for power. You would be sought as a weapon. A weapon against cancer? Wonderful, right? But a weapon, non the less. What government doesn’t seek weapons? All countries want security. And most of them see security in weapons of force. I know I’m concentrating on the darker side of human nature but all you have to do is pay attention to world news to see the dark side in action. (Sounds like a Star Wars reference.) Everyone wants power and control. Everyone.

So what would you do, if you had this power? It’s kind of like the question of what you would do if you won millions in the lottery. What would you do? Certainly they would start with appealing to your better nature. Look at all the good you could do, they would say, if you were on our side. We only want to help. We only want to make things better. And if you turned them down, how long would it take before they started to use threats and force? We are human after all. We have desires. Jealousy, envy. Am I being too dark? I don’t think so. I think the desire for power and control by governments is so strong that they would be willing to do anything to secure your power for themselves. Look at what’s happening today. Donald Trump was willing to shut down the government, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work, just to get his wall. To get what he wants, others must suffer. Look at other governments and how they treat people. Millions suffer every day so that governments and others in power can have more power. And if you suddenly had great power? What do you think they would do to you?


Here we are at the end of January and I’ve hardly written anything lately. That’s because I’m keeping busy staying warm. I live in Minnesota and we are experiencing a bit of a cold snap. Even for Minnesota, 28 below zero Fahrenheit is a bit extreme. When you factor in the windchill, which in today’s dumbed down society is called “feels like” temperature, it was 54 below zero this morning. That’s cold. Even in Canada or Alaska, that’s cold. Here’s a link to a little video that shows what happens when you throw boiling water into air that cold. It freezes instantly, turns into frozen mist and floats away on the wind. As the younger people say, WTF?!

For those who have never experienced that kind of cold, you can’t even imagine it. Not even standing inside a walk in freezer is the same. The air actually hurts your face. My dog, who is half Husky, half Malamute, and is born and bred for this kind of weather doesn’t stay out very long. It is warmer at McMurdo Station, Antarctica than it is here. A lot warmer. Right now it’s 19 degrees above zero there. That means it’s 47 degrees warmer in Antarctica than in my front yard! There’s something wrong with that. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but somethings wrong. It’s days like these that I contemplate selling my house, buying a camper and heading South. That could be a fun adventure.

Not only is it physically painful to go to the mailbox but the power company is asking people to turn down their thermostats. The extra power needed to keep up with the cold is putting a strain on the system and causing power outages. So imagine losing power to your house in that kind of weather. As Han Solo says: “C’mon baby, hold together!” Oh yeah, I don’t have to go to the mailbox because the postal service has cancelled mail delivery today because it’s to dangerous to be out working in this kind of weather. Welcome to a Minnesota winter.

We have a minute or two more daylight each day however, so that’s nice. For those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) it can be a rough time. So the extra daylight helps. Being retired is nice because I don’t have to go out if I don’t want to. A lot of cars won’t start. It’s just too cold. So here I am, not going anywhere, but staying warm as long as I don’t lose power. I suppose I could sacrifice a chicken or something to the gods of the power grid. Maybe that will help. Maybe I’ll just have some chicken for lunch. Maybe that will work.

Expectations


I was talking to a friend the other day and she expressed that she was very disappointed that another friend had let her down. This friend had treated her with a fair amount of disrespect. I asked her why she was so disappointed in that and she replied that she expects people to treat others with respect. She treats others with respect and she expects them to do the same. That got me thinking about expectations. Why do we have expectations? Why do we expect certain things to happen, or to be a certain way? It’s an interesting concept that many of us have probably given little thought to. When I started thinking about it, a whole host of things came to light that I think are interesting. Maybe you will too.

The question of expectations brings up the issue of control. We have almost no control over anything that happens. And that’s a problem for a lot of people. People like control. They like their day to go a certain way. They like their children to behave, they like their jobs and their homes and environment to go in the way they expect things to go. They don’t like it when things get “out of control.” One of the big reasons we are disappointed is because things didn’t go the way we wanted them to. And that takes us back to expectations. We are disappointed because our expectations are not met.

If I ask a friend for help and they say no, I find that I’m disappointed. I think my friend should help me. I’ve helped him quite a few times after all, why won’t he help me when I need it? And then I blame my friend for my disappointment, when the truth is, my disappointment is my own fault. It’s my fault because I had an expectation that wasn’t met. There are many reasons why my friend might not help me when I ask. There’s at least a 50% chance at any given time that someone will not meet your expectations. Depending on a lot of variables, like how their day is going, what kind of mood they’re in, etc. So anytime you want something, if you have an expectation that that want will be met, you’re setting yourself up for a pretty fair chance that you’ll be disappointed. And this takes us back to control. We want things under our control, and we don’t like it when they’re not. So what can be done about that?

If we don’t have expectations, we will find that there’s a lot less disappointment in our lives. How can you do that? You have to give up the notion of control. And that can be hard. You have to make yourself understand that the only things you can control are the things you think, do, or say. Without force, you cannot control anything anyone else does. So when you expect something to go a certain way and it doesn’t, you have to realize that you had no way of controlling that situation. And because you couldn’t control it, having an expectation of the results just sets you up for disappointment. So can my friend really blame her other friend for the way she was treated? Or should she realize that she had an unrealistic expectation of how that situation should have went? Keeping in mind that this is not a license for people to be shitty human beings and blame others for expecting them not to be.

Should you be able to expect others to treat you with respect? In a perfect world, yes you should. But we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t want people to treat us well. But if we don’t have the expectation that they will or they won’t, when they don’t, we won’t be disappointed. Controlling our own minds is something we can do. We can control how we think. We can decide not to have expectations about how things should go, giving up the illusion of control. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a situation to go a certain way, but when we expect it to go our way and it doesn’t, that’s when we run into trouble. Controlling our own thoughts, our own desires, is the only way we can control the amount of disappointment we suffer. And that’s a good goal, isn’t it? To be less disappointed makes room for more happiness.

Haibun


A few days ago, a good friend introduced me to Haibun poetry. Haibun has its origins in Japan where haiku also comes from. I confess, even after writing haiku for a few years now, and even publishing a haiku book, I have never heard of Haibun. I must be kind of sheltered, I guess. So I looked into it and I find it fascinating. There are some loose rules to writing haibun, and here is a link to an article about it. Here is another link with guidelines for writing haibun.

After a few attempts, I came up with this:

An Off Spring

On a stone step, in front of the green painted wooden door of an ancient crofters cottage sit a pair of old, worn work boots flecked with brown dirt. Irish brogue voices drifting from an open window framed with shutters of the same color, reflect the somber mood within. An elderly woman speaks of the garden, her voice parched with age, telling a young boy that the planting has gone badly. With the earth as dry as dust she suggests they may not have a good harvest in the autumn. With an “aye” here and there, the boy’s voice, reminiscent of many long forgotten summers agrees, but tells the woman to be patient, a rare quality in one so young. Suddenly, the door creaks open and the old woman appears, gray hair tied in a bun with fly-away wisps at her temples. The smell of a peat fire drifts outward into the air. Deliberately lifting each foot slowly, she places them into the old, cracked leather boots as a car drives by on the road, the occupant tooting its horn. Lifting her hand in greeting she tells the boy over her shoulder, to take money from the jar and walk to the village for some eggs, the last of which they had for breakfast. As she reaches for her hoe, the boy, red haired and blue eyed, now in the doorway, looks across the open fields. Dark clouds with sheets of rain above the mountains to the west, move toward them. The woman’s boots clump on the flagstones of the walk, laid down years ago by her long dead husband, as she moves for a closer look. As the first rain drops fall, they turn their faces to the sky, feeling the warm wetness trickle down their cheeks and praise the gods of wind and rain for their good fortune.

in darkness they wait
placed by old and caring hands
to sprout into life

I showed it to my friend and she liked it. I’m always interested in learning something new so I’m grateful for the opportunity she gave me. Haibun, from what I’ve learned is a combination of prose and poetry. The prose part should be very descriptive; telling a story or presenting an idea in such a way that the reader can really see what the writer is saying. You can see the cottage, and smell the peat fire. (If you’ve never smelled burning peat, you’re in for a real treat.) The haiku portion usually comes after the prose and should have something to do with the story line in the prose section. It can sum up what was said, or add to it, directly or vaguely. Haibun can be a single paragraph with one haiku or two or more paragraphs with a haiku between each. I broke a rule of haiku here by implying that seeds wait. Seeds cannot wait but hey, Western haiku, right? So this is my first attempt at haibun and I had fun with it so I think I’ll try some more.

Ramblings about nothing, or maybe…


Today, is one of those days. There are times when I can go for days, weeks or even months without having any desire to write. I go about my life, doing whatever I choose (a benefit of being retired) and have no need or desire to write about anything. I like to write because it’s expressive. Normally I have myriad thoughts rambling through my head and suddenly one will set off an alarm and it becomes like putting out a fire. I have to write about it. I have to get that thought out and record it and share it. It’s an urgency. But not always. Some times I don’t have that. Thoughts pop in and out, going along their merry way and I don’t give a hoot about writing any of them down. Today however, the bells are clanging like a four alarm fire but they’re not connected to a thought. It’s maddening because I really want to write, really want to express myself in this way but there’s nothing to express. There’s no world shaking theory, no life or death idea screaming at me from inside my head. And yet something is telling me to write. “Write, damn you! Write now,” it screams! So I’m writing. But I have nothing to say.

It’s a strange world inside my head. Loads of ideas all hanging out, expressing themselves to me, to each other, as if they have a life of their own. Sometimes one idea will give a sideways glance at another idea and yell, “Sod off, you!” And that’s it, the second idea will slink off to sulk by itself and lick it’s wounds. And the first idea, now crowned Kind of Ideas, will scream, “Get to your computer fool! Write me down!” And so, impulsively, I rush do just that, before it gets tired of waiting and disappears around a corner. And then other times, all the ideas get together and have a party all by themselves, leaving me completely out of it. Ignoring my pleading for something witty and wise to write about. “Look at that fool,” they say. “Begging us to present ourselves to him so he can have his way, twisting us into his idea of something we are not. Nuts to him! You’re not getting us!” And they shake their tiny fists at me in defiance. Then they set off the alarm. “Write, Write, Write!!! clang the bells, and then the ideas hide and snicker to themselves as I search in vain for what drove me to the keyboard. It’s a wonder I don’t drink. Is this normal, I ask? Do other writers suffer so? And what does one do, when you have a desire to write but nothing presents itself? Make up farcical crap about the inside of my head, I suppose.

I was never a brilliant child. Never had great or lofty ideas about life or love or anything, for that matter. I played with toys and friends when I was young. Got interested in music and girls as a teenager and basically frittered most of my life away, looking for a good time. It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that I have become interested in the world at large. But that having a good time thing, keeps pulling at me like a long lost lover, wanting me back. I guess I’m kind of selfish. I do things I like, I have fun. I do what I enjoy and avoid what I don’t. I stick my nose into the real world long enough to write some crass crap because I like to pretend I know what I’m talking about and then fade back into my cloistered rendition of reality. (Wow, I’m starting to open up here and I’m not sure I like that.) What the hell? Where is this coming from? Guilt, perhaps? My age creeping up on me? Am I thinking I should have done more with my life? Or maybe I should do more now? I don’t like where this is going. So I’ll stop. You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the post office….

I Dare You


I started reading George Carlin’s book, “Last Words” this week. He starts out talking about his childhood, growing up in New York city. It reminded me of my own childhood and the crazy things me and the neighborhood kids did together. Growing up in New York, Carlin had ready made entertainment all around him with no lack of great things to see and do. Growing up in a small mid-western town like I did, we had to come up with our own entertainment. And we had no lack of imagination to do it with. I was born in 1956, so my formative years were the Sixties and early Seventies. I grew up with Rock N Roll and the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Woodstock and the first man on the moon. It was an exciting time to be alive. Of course none of us kids understood the cultural significance of the things happening in our world. We were too young. We just wanted to have fun.

The entire town was our Kingdom. But the park, only a block away from my house, was the center of a lot of our activity. One day I hopped on my bike and rode to the park shelter to see if anyone was around. A couple of friends were there and we were soon in the thick of planning our exploits. One of my buddies had an old lipstick tube he had found and the other had a pocket full of firecrackers. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but we decided to make a bomb. Why, you ask? Well, to blow shit up, that’s why. There was no harm or malice aforethought in what we did. We just wanted to make an explosion. And we, well, you’ll see.

Back in my day, (an expression used when talking to my grandkids) back in my day, lipstick tubes were made of metal. One of my friends pulled out his pocket knife and cleaned the old lipstick out of the tube. Every kid had a pocket knife back then. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a tool. He soon had a nice little glob of sticky, oily red lipstick on the picnic table. And a knife blade and fingers full as well. I set to work with my own knife on the firecrackers. First you pull the fuse out and then slice the firecracker length wise until you reach the center which is filled with gunpowder. I opened up about 15 firecrackers. The lipstick tube now being about half full of gunpowder was then packed with the paper from the cut open firecrackers. The science behind why firecrackers explode is this: The gunpowder is wrapped tightly with several layers of paper. The fuse is lit and when the sparks reach the gunpowder, the gunpowder ignites. The force of the ignition is tightly bound with the layers of paper, and it has to go somewhere. Boom. A few twists with the pointy end of your blade made a nice hole for the fuse, and we were ready.

The picnic tables at the park were made of heavy planks of wood, each two inches thick. We jammed the lipstick tube between two of them and lit the fuse. We ran like hell. That was one of the most exciting days of my entire young life. The explosion was HUGE. The whistle on a freight train was not as loud. The siren on the cop station roof was not as loud. The explosion made my head ring and my hearing was probably permanently damaged that day. Wood splinters from the thick and heavy two inch planks of the picnic table flew in all directions. Some were embedded in the wood posts that held up the shelter roof. The heavy screws that held the planks in place were twisted out of shape. We couldn’t even find any metal from the lipstick tube although we didn’t stick around long because we knew someone would call the cops. On our bikes we flew in three different directions, laughing and cheering all the way down the street.

Needless to say, I had a great childhood. Yes, there was some vandalism involved. And some stealing. There was some fighting and cursing and smoking and there was some alcohol. There was fishing in the river. There were a lot of dares. Like the time we rode our bikes screaming through Carleton College’s underground tunnels scaring the hell out of College students because somebody dared us to do it. You didn’t pass up a dare. I regret none of it. Think of the stories we gave other people to tell. “Remember when those kids…” Your welcome.

Tell The Truth


A friend said the other day, that truth was becoming the most important thing in his life. (A quick note to my friend; sorry, but everything is ammo for the writers gun.) Anyway, it got me thinking. What is truth? You might think it’s obvious, but it’s not. Here’s a quote from an unremembered source: “We all see the world through our own eyes.” Think about that. Have you ever read “eyewitness accounts” from an event that has taken place? A car accident, perhaps? Several people can see the same accident and yet give differing accounts about what happened. Depending on where the observer was, what was on their mind at the time, what they were doing at the time, how much of the accident they were able to see, etc. And yet each person believes they gave a true account of what happened. When you go to court and you’re sworn in. “Do you swear to tell the truth…” what does that mean? You swear to tell your truth. But your truth can be vastly different from someone else’s truth. Does that make everyone else’s truth wrong, because you see yours as right?

Are there things that are true, that everyone can agree on? Like, “The Earth revolves around the Sun.” Does everyone agree? Science, we say, has proved this so there’s no argument, but there may be people who don’t believe it. Flat Earthers believe in a flat Earth even though most people don’t. You might look outside and notice that it’s cloudy and yet on the other side of town, only a few blocks away the sun is out. So when you say, “It’s cloudy today,” is it really cloudy? For you, at that moment, yes. But for someone else, only a few blocks away, it’s sunny. Which is true? Take politics. The Right and the Left see things very differently at times. One side is for immigration reform, the other side is not. Some support Israel while others support Palestine. Each make points supporting their cause that they believe are valid and true, and yet their opponents believe the opposite is true. So which is it? How do we discern what is true? Or can we?

Truth is subjective. Even that statement is subjective. So was that one. Truth can be and almost always is, different for each person. What you believe as truth today is subject to an entire lifetime of experiences, accumulated knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. And since no two people are alike, not even siblings, the truth is different for everyone. We might agree on many things and consider those things to be true but that is just an agreement. Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book, The Four Agreements, shows that we make multiple agreements everyday about what we think is true or false. That doesn’t make those things true or false, we just believe they are. So is there such a thing as truth? A Universal truth that no one can dispute? Some believe that religion, belief in a God is Universal truth. But considering that there have been about 3000 gods that people have believed in throughout human history, each with its own unique perspective, how can that be true? Some consider law to be the truth. The Constitution etc. Many would disagree. So how do we discover truth? How do we finally uncover what real truth is?

We don’t. And we do. What does that mean? As long as there are two people left on Earth who can think and reason, truth will be subjective. Truth will be based on the individual’s experiences, beliefs, opinions, etc. And there will be an argument about what truth is. Remove all people from the Earth and there will be no truth. Truth comes from your mind. I read a conversation on line where one person used a really obscure, strange word. The other person said, “That’s a made up word.” The first person replied, “All words are made up.” And that, was the truth.

I Smell Brains!!!


Before I walked outside this morning, I checked the temperature. It was thirty seven degrees Fahrenheit. Warm, for this cloudy December day. Here in the Northland we expect colder air at this time of year. As I went out, I noticed my mailman down the street, heading toward my house. I haven’t seen him for several months. His name is Matt. Other people have been delivering my mail since July. I’d wondered what happened to Matt. Maybe he retired, although he doesn’t appear old enough, maybe they switched his route. My dog Sophie hates him and will charge to the end of her tie out cable in an attempt to rip him limb from limb. I don’t know why she does that. He’s a nice man and always speaks to her in a pleasant voice. Dogs are funny. I waited for him at the end of my driveway. As it happens, he brought me an offer for a credit card. That was all. It went straight into the recycle bin. So much paper, time, effort, and money go into things that are just thrown away. We should be able to do better than that.

As we talked, Matt told me he had been run over by a car as he delivered mail. That’s why I hadn’t seen him. He’s been in a body cast. And yet here he was, back on the job, as happy and pleasant as ever. Some may have been scared to go back to it. Having been involved in such a horrific accident, many people would not be pleased about jumping right back in. But Matt is different. He’s a lover of life, and he knows his purpose. He took it all in stride, as they say, not letting the accident get him down.

When I was sixteen, I was involved in a serious car accident. I broke my back and received fifty-two stiches in my head. I was out of school for more than two months recuperating. It scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to drive or even ride in a car for a long time after that. It’s interesting how things affect us. And I wonder what things in my life made me scared of cars for so long while Matt, actually being run over, simply picked up where he left off, seemingly unaffected by the accident. What goes on in those little brains of ours that make us so different? And what, if anything, can we learn from each other to help us along our way? I wonder how I have changed over the years. I’ve been involved in car accidents since then and have not been affected nearly as badly as the first time. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I realized that I survived the first one, so as long as I survive others, I’ll be alright. I don’t know.

The mind is an amazing world. We know less about our own brains than we know about the universe. We carry this thing around in our heads every day, and without it, we wouldn’t be able to carry it around. And yet we know very little about it. We can’t explain consciousness. What is it? How does it happen? We have no idea. And yet we live in it every day. We are conscious, and we can’t explain what that is. We know what it means. To be awake and aware. But what IS it? How does it arise? No idea. Science keeps working on it but without much success. Maybe it is our fate to know what’s going on outside of ourselves but not inside out own brains. We can know, but we don’t know how we know. Isn’t that strange?

Often, I am content with not knowing how things work. Do we really need to know all about consciousness in order to enjoy it? I suppose the need to know is a good idea in the realm of healthcare. The more we know about the brain, the better able we’ll be to fix it when it breaks down. But in our daily lives, do we need to know? Many people drive cars everyday without being able to explain how that car works. Does it matter? As long as the mechanic knows, do I need to know? I guess I’m inadvertently campaigning for a simpler life. The less I know, the happier I am.

I suppose if people had decided not to improve their brains, decided not to get smarter, not to ask why or how, we’d all still be living in caves. Some awfully smart people invented this computer I’m using to shoot off my mouth with, so I suppose I should be happy about that. Or should I? Does it really make me happy to write nonsense for others to read, or am I happier taking a walk through the woods? And what exactly is happiness, anyway? Can you explain it? We know what makes us happy, but what is happy? What is happiness? And why the hell do these things keep popping into my brain? Wow!

The Meaning Of Life


What is the meaning of life? Here is a question that has kept sages and clerics and ordinary people busy for most of human history. What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has kept me busy as well. Why? Because I want to know. Just like millions and probably billions of other people, I too want to know if there is any meaning to life. There are lots of opinions as to the answer, but has anyone really come up with it? Douglas Adams, one of my favorite writers, has his characters in the classic, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” ask the question, “What is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” A super computer, built for the sole purpose of finding that out, took 10 million years and came up with the answer, “42”. Everyone was quite disappointed, having waited 10 million years to get an answer they didn’t understand. When they consulted the computer about the answer it said, the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. The problem being, they didn’t actually know the question. This sent them on another, millions of years quest to find out what the question was. I think Adams was trying to tell us, that there’s no answer to that question. Not that that has stopped anyone from asking, however. Inquiring minds want to know. What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Is there any meaning to anything we do? Lots of people have theories. Lots of others claim outright that they know the answer. But do they? How do we find out?

You can ask anyone the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and you’ll get answers from, “I don’t know, to “The meaning of life is to love God” and just about anything in between. I’m going to postulate a theory here. This is it: There is no such thing as life. Now, before you go banging your head on the computer, or cussing me out, stop and think about this. What is the “life” that we’re wondering about. If we can ask the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” then “life” must be something tangible, that we all belong to or are a part of in some way, right? It’s like asking, “What is the meaning of a NASCAR race. Before asking that question, we should know what a NASCAR race is. Once we know that, we can fathom the meaning. Like “The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”, we won’t understand the answer if we don’t know the question.

So what is life? I’m postulating that life, as we think of it, doesn’t exist. Now some of you are probably thinking I’m going to get all metaphysical on you. That’s not it. But I’m going to show you why I think “LIFE” as we have come to think of it, doesn’t exist. Here goes. Consider all life on Earth. Human, plant and animal, right? Since science tells us that humans are the only life form capable of reasoning the question of life, we really don’t need to think much about animals or plants. Like this: Does a Fox question the meaning of life as she hunts her prey? Does a Bee wonder why it’s attracted to flowers? Science tells us, it’s only humans who ask those kinds of questions. So let’s concentrate on them.

Say for a moment that we could remove all humans from the Earth. Snap! Like Thanos, except 100% of all humanity is gone. Right before the snap happened, someone was contemplating the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” Now that all the people are gone, where is the “LIFE” that this person was wondering about? If we are all part of life, and we can contemplate its existence and meaning, is it not then, tangible? Can we not then, so to say, put our hands on it? Or, and here comes the messy part, Does life only exist because we think it does? Now I know what you’re going to say. Of course life exists, because I’m alive, you are alive, my dog is alive. That however, is not what I’m talking about. Yes, life exists. Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefor I am.” Proving that life is tangible and real. But, is that the same as “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t believe it is. Now if we make one small change to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” to “What is the meaning of MY Life?” Now were getting somewhere.

Each individual has a life. There is my life, there is your life. That is how life exists. There is not, an entity called life. So there is no answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life.” Because there is no “life”, there is no meaning. But there is, MY life. There is, YOUR life. And those things have meaning. People have searched for the meaning of life since life first began. Finding an answer to that question has given birth to religion and philosophy and consumed people, some people for their entire lives. But really, shouldn’t we be asking, what is the meaning of my life? And why aren’t we asking that question? Why aren’t we looking deeper into our own lives as opposed to looking for the answer to a question that’s unanswerable? If we turn the question of meaning to our own lives, then we have to start taking personal responsibility for their meaning. We must be in charge. We must decide what, if any, meaning there is to the things we think, do, and say. And that can be hard.

To take conscious responsibility for every aspect of our lives isn’t easy to do. We have to constantly monitor ourselves and look deeper into the meaning behind every thing we think, do, or say. Rather than thinking of “life” as something “out there” that we can’t control, asking the question, “what is the meaning of my life” puts the responsibility of answering that, squarely in our own laps. And it’s a big responsibility. Watch the news on television or read the paper. Look closely at all the horrible things people do each and every day. What is the meaning of their lives? Is it to screw people over? Is it to take as much as they can? Is it to hate, or is it to love? The only way to improve “life” in this world is for each of us to ask ourselves, what is the meaning of my life? What am I meant for? What am I here to do? They are much smaller questions than asking, what is the meaning of life, and yet the answers put upon us much greater responsibility. We are now faced with answering that question and then acting upon it if our lives are not meaningful. If we can answer these questions for ourselves then we have found the meaning of life.

Quality and Intelligence


I read an article today that informed me that Donald J Trump refuses to believe that climate change is real. Government climatologists have issued him reports and he chooses to ignore them. The president of the United States has at his disposal, the top minds in every scientific field there is, and he chooses to disbelieve them when they tell him we must do something about climate change. He doesn’t believe them because there are snow storms. He reasons, (if you want to call it that) that our atmosphere can’t be warming if we’re having snow storms.

One measure of the intelligence of a person is when they know, that there are lots of things they don’t know. I have a high school education and a two year Associate of Applied Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science. No Bachelors, no PhD, no Masters degree. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know everything. I know that there are experts in thousands of fields of study who know infinitely more than I do. I know that virtually all climate scientists agree that climate change is real. How is it, that an average guy like me knows that climate change is real and we must do something about it, and our president doesn’t?

Jesse Venture, ex professional wrestler, was Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. I voted for him. I got a lot of crap from quite a few people for admitting to that. The reasons I voted for him are many, but the single most important reason was this: He knew he didn’t know everything. He was smart enough to surround himself with really intelligent people who could help him get things done. Yes, he was a loud mouth. Yes, he said publicly, things he shouldn’t have said. But he was there, in the office, doing the job and listening to his advisors. It turns out, he wasn’t a bad governor. This is the difference between intelligence and non intelligence. Knowing you’re not the smartest person in the room.

But Donald J Trump is not really the problem. The problem is two fold. The first part of the problem is this: How could so many millions of people think that Trump would make a good president. The second part of the problem is having a Congress that has defended him and willingly aided and abetted everything he’s done. Many people I have talked to have said education is the answer. We must do a better job at educating people so they understand these things better. I agree that education is sorely lacking in the U.S. No doubt about it. But that in itself is not going to fix things. Many, if not all of our Congress people are highly educated. Trump himself has a college degree. Intelligence alone will not fix what’s wrong. Character, is what’s wrong with those who aid and abet President Trump. Simply, quality of character.

Robert M Pirsig, in his 1974 book, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote about quality. Quality for him, was the single most important issue of life. Quality in our words and deeds. When I read that book so many years ago, it really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. It made me realize that the quality of what we do, think, and say is as important that the things themselves. Striving for quality in our lives, even in something as simple as washing dishes or something very important like dealing with climate change should be a top priority. Unfortunately, we don’t have quality in our government, or our country. Tear gassing children, closing the borders to asylum seekers, doing nothing about climate change and the many, many other things our president and congress have done, or not done shows us all the low level of quality and intelligence that runs rampant through the halls of our government today. We need a higher standard. Every one of us needs to look at our lives, our words and deeds and do our best to improve their quality. And we need to use the intelligence and reason and common sense we have been given to make this country better for us all.

A Fine Day To Mourn


Yesterday, I went to the memorial service for a man that I knew who died of cancer. I didn’t know him well. He attended the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship that I frequent, and he always seemed to me to be a very nice person. Always friendly and warm, always a smile on his face. My wife’s service, sixteen months ago now, was held in the same church. I hadn’t been there since. This church, The United Church of Christ, is the very church I attended as a child. It is a very liberal leaning church, an open and affirming church, meaning, they don’t judge you for being Gay, or for being anything else. It’s sanctuary has a sweeping arched ceiling, beautiful stained glass windows, and lots of dark woodwork. And rows of old wooden pews, the same pews I reluctantly sat in as a captive of my parents, being forced to sit still (stop fidgeting!) with hands in lap (don’t touch that!) and listen to a man talk about things I had no interest in. Of what use was any of this to a child who’s head was in the sky and who’s body could hardly be kept still (don’t they know what it’s like to be a kid?) Little did I know that I would be sitting there so many years later, mourning the loss of my wife. Or a friend.

I don’t like funerals. I don’t care how much they say that this is a celebration of the person’s life. When you sit, in rows, with a coffin or an urn full of ashes and people are weeping, it’s not a celebration. And yes, we should mourn. We should cry, for our loss. But it’s not a celebration. I remember vividly, the day of my wife’s funeral. I went through the motions, shook hands, hugged, said thank you hundreds of times, wept tears. I was not celebrating.

My mother died the same month as my wife. 27 days before her. We had her funeral there, also. 2017 was a lousy year. The United Church of Christ in Northfield Minnesota started Carleton College (actually it was the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches) in 1866 and my Grandfather and my mother spent their careers working for the college. So I guess it seemed natural to them to attend the church so closely connected to it. I am thankful that they chose a liberal church to attend. It is the basis for my liberal outlook today.

While I’m not comfortable with labels, (liberal, conservative, etc.) Liberal most closely explains how I feel about things. I don’t believe you should be judged for who you are. The content of your character (Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr.) should be the basis of another’s judgement of you. What kind of human being are you? That is what should matter.

As I sat, mourning the loss of my friend from the fellowship, I thought about his character. Our pastor told of his kindness, his generosity, his smile and quick wit. He had a wonderful wife, and a loving family. And nothing else matters. Just that. He was a good human being. A good man. And we mourned his loss. And we will continue to do so. Nothing else matters.