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Gruffed

The notion or possibility of dating anyone, let alone hook up for sex, while appealing at some level, leaves me feeling exhausted.

Gruff

LJ, as he goes by on Gruff, is a handsome Panamanian I have been chatting with for a couple of days. LJ is funny and playful; he likes to flirt. Today, he is in London on business. I was surprised to get a message from him on Gruff, but I did not make a lot of it. I replied to his greeting, keeping things light, but without any overt indication of interest on my part for us to meet when he returns to South Florida.

It’s not that I’m not interested in meeting LJ; it’s just that at this time, if anyone were to ask me what it is I’m looking for, I’d say I’m interested in meeting people and making friends. Nothing more.

I wouldn’t be lying if I said this to anyone. At this point what I really need is a friend, or a couple of friends I can go out and enjoy myself with. Good friends are hard to come by these days, and most people I speak to about this in South Florida agree with me. Even my best-friend warned me about Miami’s tough crowd when I moved back a few years ago. “It’s not the same Miami you remember,” she warned. “People are ruder, louder, and harder to get to know. Everyone’s set the bar high for everyone else, but no one’s done anything about it for themselves.”

When I talk to acquaintances, they all say the same thing: if you’re not rich, driving the latest Lexus model, and living in Brickell, you’re nobody. And if you don’t have the abs to show for it, then you might as well retire to Naples or Pensacola.”

The notion or possibility of dating anyone, let alone hook up for sex, while appealing at some level, leaves me feeling exhausted. I don’t want to go through or put up with the effort of flirting and putting myself in a situation that will yield little for me. Certainly, a sexual fling would be pleasurable. If I wanted that and only that, there are plenty of opportunities for it an hour’s drive away in Wilted Manners. But after last year’s dating debacle, even that seems like a lot of work. I’m just not interested.

I may be feeling tired, or having a carb-crash where all I want to do is nap and wake up in time to watch an episode or two of the Good Wife. I don’t see the point of going out of my way to meet someone just for sex. Instead, I’d rather meet someone I have enough in common with to hope for a second meeting and possibly go out to dinner some time after that. A day at the beach would be nice. Then maybe a movie, a few weekends where we get to know and make each other laugh. Then after that…I can’t even think that far…

This all brings to mind the musical number in Blazing Saddles where the brilliant Madeline Kahn, playing Lili Von Shtupp, complains about how “Tired” she is of “playing the game, again and again…” I feel the same way.

It would be nice if one day someone not hailing from the other side of the world, or visiting South Florida for the weekend, returned a Gruff message that yields a friendly “Hello” and becomes the start of a life-long friendship; but for now what I look forward to is another night at home, hugging my body pillows, while I shop for shoes online.

Different

Some folk say that the more things change the more they stay the same; but to me, it’s beginning to look like the more things change, the more different they will be.

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I must have shown my age today and taken one step closer to becoming my parents.

This afternoon I went to Staples in search of a notebook. Not a computer or digital writing pad; a notebook: the kind with paper made from trees. And not just any notebook. I wanted Mead’s Five Star college ruled notebook, the one with a plastic cover (preferably in blue or red, but I’ll settle for green), a sturdy back cover, with 3 or 5 subject dividers that have pockets so I can put handouts neatly in the book. Oh, and not a full size, 8.5 x 11 notebook either. I wanted the half-size 9 x 6 notebook that is easier to carry and tote around in a backpack.

Turns out, I’m one of those people who learns and memorizes by writing things down, in lists, over and over until my brain absorbs the information. I’m not good at memorizing; I’m more of a doer. I learn by moving or by doing what I’m being asked to do. In school, I did much better in practical exams than in written ones. If I’m taking a multiple choice test, I can argue and make the case for all the wrong answers, so I didn’t fare as well on written exams. Practicals were easier because I was doing. I immersed myself in the topic I was being tested on, and when it was my turn to demonstrate how well I knew the material, I excelled.

So, when I started writing down the 240 Chinese medicinal herbs by category I need to memorize for the board examination, something clicked in my head and the information started to stick. Now, I know that Chai Hu is an herb that Releases Exterior Wind Heat just like Bo He (mint) and Chan Tui (cicada skins); while Xin Yi Hua (magnolia flower) and Gui Zhi Release Exterior Wind Cold. Who knew?! When I look at Zhi Mu and Tian Hua Fen I remember that I’m looking at herbs that Purge Heat from the body, but Sheng di Huang and Mu Dan Pi Purge Heat from the Blood. Huh! Writing all this information down is a long and tedious process. It’s boring, really. But it works. Now, I remeber 56 of the 240 herbs I need to know, with the rest (hopefully) coming in the next week or so.

So in a flash of inspiration I rushed out the door and drove to Staples to buy a couple of Mead spiral bound notebooks where I could write my list of herbs over and over in a notebook that I can take with me and practice with when I’m not at home. I’ve been using these notebooks for years, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to find them.

When I arrived at the store I walked to the notebook aisle and didn’t find the wanted book. There were plenty of notebooks to choose from on the shelves, but the selection was lacking in the half-size and divider with pockets section. I walked up and down the aisle several times to make sure I had not missed what I was looking for. I even walked over to the Day Planner section thinking, maybe, they would be there with half-size and pocket sized books, but nothing could be found. When a red-shirt-uniformed store attendant asked if he could help me, I told him what I was looking for and he showed me a regular size notebook.

No, I said. I want the half-size one. It’s smaller and easier to carry. He showed me another notebook the size of a notecard, and I told him that would not do either. There are far too many Toxic Heat Clearing herbs to list on one page. He looked at me blankly unable to provide me with what I was looking for. When he asked me to follow him to the Martha Stewart business supply aisle, I turn in the opposite direction, walked out of the store, got in my car, and drove across the street to Office Depot.

There, I ran into the same problem: plenty of notebooks, but no Mead Five Star half size ones. My grunt of despair must have alerted a white-shirt-uniformed attendant who came over to my rescue. When I explained to him what I was looking for and asked if he had any in stock, or if they would be getting any of them soon, he looked at me as if I had ordered a three day old road-kill for a main entrée. When I tried to explain to him exactly what I needed, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think they make those any more, sir.”

What!

“I think they’re discontinued.”

Discontinued? What? How? Have we run out of trees? Must we go back to using reeds and papyri?

“I think papyrus is a reed, sir.”

Never mind that, I said. Like his red-shirt counterpart from across the street the attendant grabbed a regular sized notebook and handed it to me. “We have plenty of these,” he said.

I backed away from him as if he had just offered me a dinner invitation to Mar-a-lago in Palm Beach. I declined the notebook and walked to my car. That is when I felt I had begun turning into my parents.

My parents usually come home from the mall, a store, or the grocery complaining that one of their favorite products has been discontinued or that it’s not carried by the store any longer. “It’s a plot!” my mother declared a few years ago when her paper towel dispenser broke and she couldn’t find another like it at the store. “No one makes paper towel dispensers any more,” she announced as if anarchy had finally won the day.

That same afternoon I drove to Bed Bath and Beyond, where they had plenty of paper towel dispensers for sale, and where I got three for her to choose from. When I showed her the items she looked at them suspiciously and said they all were the wrong color and the wrong kind of plastic. The paper towel dispenser she wanted was different.

“Well these are the ones they have, and the ones they make now. We’ll have to get used to it.” The dispenser sat on the counter for three days until I took it upon myself to screw it to the wall where it now hangs, faithfully holding and dispensing paper towels.

I drove to Target as a last resource for my notebooks. Today I wanted to cover Toxic Heat Releasing herbs so I could review the Deficient Heat herbs tomorrow. I was sure Target would have something I could use. Target is my one stop shop for everything, even things I don’t want or need. But in the School Supply aisle it was the same story. There were some good notebooks to choose from, but not what I wanted. I stood by the shelf, feeling defeated, and not unlike my parents do after a shopping run.

Target had what I needed, but not what I wanted. It was the same, but different. The cover of the notebook I ended up getting was blue, but it was the wrong kind of blue and it was not made out of plastic. The back cover was not as thick or sturdy, so I would have to rest the notebook on a desk or a flat surface, otherwise the paper would curve if I rested the book my lap. The notebook only had one divider but no pocket for handout or printed materials. And the lines on the paper where not college ruled. It was a notebook alright, but different from what I had intended to buy.

As I drove home, I pondered what items I had grown up with would be exterminated or become extinct over the next 5 or ten years. Will notebooks eventually go the way of VHS and Atari game consoles, or would they desperately cling to life as they do now. And if so, in what form? Would notebooks adapt and evolve to thrive outside a computer? And how about todays DVDs and Blue Ray? Ten years from now, would I be able to play and enjoy the Moana DVD I purchased as a consolation prize, or will I be using it as a coaster at a party or hang it on a Christmas tree as memento of the past?

Who can say what the future will bring or what it will be like. Certainly, some things will survive like computers and gadgets, but even those will continue to evolve and change. They will be different, and the ones that don’t make the cut will become extinct like typewriters, fine pens, or corked wine bottles. Some folk say that the more things change the more they stay the same; but to me, it’s beginning to look like the more things change, the more different they will be.

Hope from a flower

I only have to wait for the right moment, and the right person, to show my real colors to, and to make an ordinary moment a memorable one.

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There are times where I sit at my computer or before a blank piece of paper to write something and nothing happens. My mind draws a blank. I come up empty. After a half hour of letting my mind wander from here to nowhere, I give up and return to doing what I was before.

When that happens I feel disappointed. I walk around the house wondering why my life is not more interesting. I go to the fridge, open the door, and ask the milk and juice cartons why I’m not like the Instagram or Facebook A-listers who jet-set to Thailand, Timbuktu, or Tokyo to post photos of themselves at ancient temples, eating deep-fried crickets bought from a street vendor, while thumb-upping standing next to a world-class martial arts trainer who doubles as a world-class chef at a restaurant recently opened in the Mongolian desert. (I know, right?)

While I make myself a cup of tea, I sigh and ponder: “Face it. You’re not glam. What have you done that’s so interesting that you have to share with the world?”

Most of the time I come up empty. My life is not glam, I admit. I’m stuck learning and memorizing 240 herbs and 160 herbal formulas for an exam I should have taken in January but keep postponing because there’s just so much to remember. When you’re a man of a certain age, things don’t come as easily as they used to, and the paper trail of Post-it notes reminding me to keep track of, or do something, keeps getting longer and longer.

When the tea’s ready, I sit outside and contemplate a garden that has more weeds than actual grass and a few remaining trees struggling to stay alive. Not glam at all, I think. Nothing to share.

I turn my gaze to the small ceramic pot that sits on the edge of the deck, and there I find what’s left of an old, forgotten plant my sister gave my mother years ago. At one time, the plant was full of leaves and pink flowers that delighted everyone who saw it. But over time, the plant withered and wilted and now looks more like an ancient stump of wood someone stuck in the planter as if making a poor joke. Over time, the plant has rotted from the inside out, and now has a hole on the center from which you can see insects and ants that have chosen to make a home for themselves in the plant’s interior walls.

For some unknown reason, the half of the plant that is still alive hangs on and sprouts leaves at least once each season. At other times, it is just a stump giving no indication that life remains within. Every time I’m ready to give up the plant for dead, and want to toss it out with the garbage, I notice a new leaf breaking free from the old bark and a few weeks later the plant is green again. It’s a game we play, I guess, or one the plant plays with me. I fall for the joke every time.

This morning, I woke up with every intention to write something clever for the blog. I was ready to sit down and write about my latest round with the witch-doctor; or how we had to cut and dig a hole in the living room to access a plumbing pipe that had rotted and was backing up sewage; or how my nephew wants to dress up for his prom as the Penguin from the television show Gotham (thank goodness he has a fairy god-father to keep him from such errors!).

But when I sat at my computer, I drew a blank. Every sentence I wrote lacked cadence and gravity. No two words I put next to each other made sense. So before I spent the next half-hour berating myself, I decided to walk to the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea so I could drink it outside.

When I turned to the potted stump, I noticed a brand new flower from the tallest branch of the living part of the plant. A pretty little thing it was! White, with touches of pink around the petals’ edges that spilled to a yellow center where a bee buzzed with delight. I had to smile and thank the stump for it’s latest joke.

Neither I nor the half-dead plant are glam. In fact, most people would take a look and dismiss us as they walk by and past us. Fewer still would give us a second glance. But anyone with enough patience, or anticipating a good joke, would sit idly by, enjoy a nice cup of tea, and wait for the right moment for us to make our move. I guess I don’t have to be an A-lister, a jet-setter, or a celebrity to make a statement. I only have to wait for the right moment, and the right person, to show my real colors to and make an ordinary moment a memorable one.

Long form

Now more than ever, we need to know and understand the issues affecting and challenging our country and our world, instead of letting titillating and false headlines distract us from the real issues.

When people ask what Inquietudes is about, I either direct them to the site’s About page or say my posts are mostly restless thoughts that call for something deeper, and longer, than a tweet or a share on social media.

Back in the day, blogs were the original social media platform. Intrepid Internet users took to the Net to share information, resources, and knowledge that was not easy to come by. At the time, Google was only a novelty word few of us could pronounce, let alone spell, and the search engine had not yet reached the verb status it enjoys now. Twitter would not make an appearance until a decade later, so most of what people found on blogs and personal Web sites were topics explored and expounded upon ad nauseam, leaving readers with a good understanding of what was meant to be said about such topic. Succinct and to the point were not en vogue, so rants and diatribes could go on for paragraphs, if not days, if flamers were involved.

Inquietudes harks back to a time when attention spans were able to focus on written pieces that are longer than 140 characters, and whose authors attempt to provide more original content than what a share attempts to on social media. This, admittedly, weeds the number of readers down to a handful. These readers, however, are interested in topics and rants blog writers share, and they appreciate the time and effort that goes into stringing a number of words together.

I have to admit that I too suffer from a reduced attention span when reading or browsing the Web. While I don’t read as many blogs or visit as many Web sites as I did when I started blogging, there remain a few blogs I do have interest in reading and there are Web sites I can’t spend a few days without visiting. Some of these Web sites are reliable sources of “un-fake” news, with articles and information harking back to the days of old-style journalism: news based on facts (not opinions), quantitative information (instead of midnight tweets), and reliable sources (which do not include a certain Kellyanne).

One of my favorite long-form journalism publishers is the The New Yorker, a magazine devoted to classic style investigative journalism and excellent writing source. I have been a New Yorker reader for two decades, and even though I can’t claim to have read every issue cover to cover, there are plenty of articles that have given me a deeper and better understanding of current events than anything I have found posted on Facebook.

Recently, The New Yorker has had some troubling reads about the current administration and their political entanglement with a certain foreign country. The articles are not quick reads; seldom does The New Yorker have a quick read. The magazine’s articles are considered long-form journalism: in depth write-ups about a particular topic, subject, or person that gives readers a an informed understanding of the subject at hand.

Long form journalism is a dying style of reporting, given most people who get their news on the Internet only read tantalizing headlines before they share the headline with their followers. The New Yorker, in contrast, reveals very little in a headline and reserves the meat-and-potatoes of the story to after about 15 minutes of reading after the opening sentence. What transpires in the time in between is the depth and information most news services lack, and what news pundits seem to have little grasp of.

I recently read several stories in the magazine worth sharing with readers, if they’ve read far enough into this post.

In “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War” Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa offer an inside look at what lies behind the 2016 election interference by Russia and what possibly lies ahead. The article is a challenging read, but offers a very good discussion and background on Putin’s tactics and approach for discrediting American democracy and the West. The article covers quite a bit of history, but after reading the last sentence, one feels that an independent and bipartisan investigation on what really happened is not only necessary but required.

In turn, “What Calling Congress Achieves” by Kathryn Schulz is an insightful report of what really happens when a constituent calls his or her Congress representative to complain about an issue. What I enjoyed most about Schulz’s article was the history behind American voting activism and how the US Congress began taking constituents’s calls. The article races through time to current modes of communication (e-mail, phone, tweets, and social media) and suggests which ones would work better, and under what circumstances, when reaching a representative.

Finally, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” by Adam Davidson sheds light on a Trump-ism and blunder that one is not likely to find being reported in the evening news or talked about in any spin-zone. This is #SAD because the article gives readers a clear understanding of how the Trumps handle their dealings. And artful it is not.

As long time reader, I’m fond of long-form journalism and long-form stories. I enjoy reading The New Yorker in magazine and Kindle format. Part of the enjoyment is immersing myself in a well-written story that leaves me feeling like I understand a topic better than when I started reading — or outraged at knowing that what some people in Washington are peddling is not true. Some people might dismiss it because they feel it’s too high-brow for them or it takes too long to read. But it is precisely that effort that makes it a worthy and necessary news magazine for today’s political atmosphere.

Now more than ever, we need to know and understand the issues affecting and challenging our country and our world, instead of letting titillating and false headlines distract us from the real issues.

Lucky dog

I have a weakness for dogs, and given the choice, I’d rather spend a day with a four legged pooch than people.

This is Lucky. He’s a good boy.

When my sister goes out town, Lucky stays with me — or perhaps I should just admit that he becomes the boss of me. I have a weakness for dogs, and given the choice, I’d rather spend a day with a four legged pooch than people. This has always been the case. I once got reprimanded by my father (not a dog person) when I voiced my companionship-preference, but years later I still feel the same way. Other dog people agree with me.

When I say Lucky is the boss of me, I am not kidding. When he’s home, our conversations tend to go something like this:

Lucky: Let me out. I left my ball outside.
Me: You just came in. Your ball is right there.
Lucky: Wrong. That is not my ball. My ball is outside.
Walter goes outside with Lucky.
Lucky: Wait here. I left my ball inside.

I have fallen for this on more than one occasion. I feel like a fool when I do, but something about Lucky’s brown eyes make me loose all sense of competence, and I’m easily overcome by canine logic.

When Lucky visits, we both get plenty of exercise. A Golden Retriever loves to run, and Lucky is very possessive about his belongings. Lucky has a soft-chewable ball he likes to keep with him at all times. When he’s indoors, he carries the ball in his mouth wherever he goes. While napping, he’ll rest his head on the ball, and at the sound feet coming anywhere near him, he’ll open his eyes to make sure the ball is safely guarded from prying hands. When he’s outside in the backyard, he likes to play fetch and run after the ball. Our games are simple and go something like this:

Lucky: Let’s go outside and play fetch.
Me: We just came in. I’m not going out now.
Lucky: Wrong. Let’s go outside. Throw me the ball.
Walter goes outside with Lucky and throws Lucky’s ball.
Lucky: Fetch my ball. I’ll wait inside.


I’ve lost 15 pounds since Lucky and I began playing fetch. He makes for a good workout partner and coach. The walking and fetching are a lightweight’s version of cross-fit exercise, with stepping on a pile of old dog poop the only danger to look-out for.

The more time I spend with Lucky, the more I wonder at canine intelligence and cunning. Dogs are not as dumb as some movies make them to be. Hollywood has a tendency to claim that dogs are not as clever or smart as cats, and that they are easily distracted by, say, chasing after a squirrel or trying to catch a limpkin. But I don’t find that to be true. On a recent visit, Lucky displayed dexterous flexibility and rational thinking skills while I made myself a snack.

Lucky: Gimme a milkbone. I’m a good boy.
Me: I already gave you four. That’s enough for today.
Lucky: Wrong. You don’t know how to count. Gimme a milkbone.
Walter gives Lucky a milkbone.
Lucky: I meant a bacon strip yummy. Gimme a bacon strip yummy because I’m good.

All of which proves my point that dogs are better company than people. On Mondays, when my sister comes to pick him up, I find myself longingly looking out the window hoping he’ll come back again, soon, so we can play fetch again, and curl up with the latest episode of Cesar Milan’s The Dog Whisperer. Now there’s a human who needs some dog training!

Talking to myself

I seem to have discovered that I hold conversations in my mind with people who are no longer part of my life.

The witch-doctor leaned into me and said, “Okay, what do you see?”

I was lying on the couch in her office, eyes closed, holding a yellow pillow in my arms. The room was comfortably dark and cool, just the way I like it when I want to take a nap, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s dark. It’s just me in a dark room. I don’t see anything.”

The witch-doctor leaned in closer. I could feel her breath on my face. “Try again. Look around. What do you see?”

I tried looking. I turned my head one way. Then the other. My “private place” was pitch black. Someone had turned the lights off and neglected to tell me where the light switch was. “Nothing. It’s just dark. I can’t see anything. No furniture. No demons. No monsters. Are you sure we can’t burn some incense? Drink some ayahuasca? Or use chicken blood instead? You know, try voodoo or something to jumpstart my visions?”

“That’s illegal and beyond my scope of practice,” the witch-doctor said. “Let’s try this another way. Tell me what happened when you meditated this morning. Tell me about your thoughts. You said you found yourself talking to yourself. That you were having conversations with people who were not in the room with you.”

“Yes.”

“Does this happen often?”

“I guess. I only just began to realize this.”

“And who are you having these conversations with? Who are these people?”

“Old people,” I said.

“Old as in your grandparents? Elderly people?”

“No. Old as in a long time ago. People from way back.”

“Okay. Then tell me about those people. Tell me about those conversations.”

I seem to have discovered that I hold conversations in my mind with people who are no longer part of my life. Some of these conversations date all the way back to when I was a teen, or when I was experiencing hard or difficult times.

I’ve begun to catch myself having these conversations when I’m meditating, and when I do, I tell myself, “Stop. This conversation is not taking place. It’s not real. Let it go. You are thinking.” That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re meditating and you realize you’re distracted by thoughts. At least, that’s what my teachers taught me to do.

This seems to work most of the time, but a day or two later, I will hold another conversation with the same or a different person, or I will mull over an event that left a negative impression in my mind. This time, however, instead of letting the other person hurt me, or get the best of me, I’m the one in control of the situation, gaining the upper hand.

I don’t know if this is healthy, or if this is something I should stop doing. I’d like to figure out why the conversations are taking place and how I can get to the root of what may be triggering them in order to make them stop. My guess is that these are unresolved issues and situations that I am still processing and that have affected me. I want to come to terms with them in order to let those experiences go and not feel as if I was carrying a burden I should no longer be carrying.

I suppose this is what people call personal baggage: experiences that color and distort my daily life, thoughts, fears, and influence decisions I make. My baggage, instead of being a backpack that fits comfortably in an airplane’s overhead compartment feels more like a traveling trunk I’m carrying on my back. The trunk is big and heavy, and I can’t seem to be able to get rid of it. It has so much stuff inside that I can’t figure out how to sort the junk inside in order to toss what I no longer need.

Most of the conversations I have seem to be with men who’ve hurt me. They have to do with letting go of moments that left a wound in my heart. In other conversations, I try to convince myself that I am better without those people and situations, and that there is no reason for hanging on to them. Not everything in life gets the comfort or finality of having closure. The truth is: I’m still hurt, my ego is bruised, and at a certain level I blame myself for not seeing those situations clearly and for not leaving them sooner.

Yesterday, I ran across one of those “feel good” posts people share on Facebook that read: “The hurt is where the Light comes in.” This made my prostate contract in not a good way. I smirked and closed the window right away, but later, as I sat in meditation, I had to admit (begrudgingly) there was some truth to the statement.

Some good has come out from the hurt I’ve felt in the past. Without it, I wouldn’t have started meditating, or writing, keeping a journal, or seeking the help of a witch-doctor (albeit one who works without incense, ayahuasca, or chicken blood) to help me make sense and move past the hurt. Over time, and through hard work, I’ve begun to feel happier, better, and healing has begun to take place.

What I want is for the conversations to reach a certain conclusion and for them to stop. I want to be able to empty the trunk I’m carrying and go back to a manageable backpack or fashionable shoulder bag that is easier to tote and where I can just keep my personal things so I can leave those people, experiences, and conversations where they belong: behind me.

I heard the witch-doctor sit back in her chair. She let the words hang in the room between us for a while. “I think this is good,” she said. “I think this is a positive observation and discovery on your part. Where do you want to take this?”

“Forward,” I said. “I want to lighten the load, and move forward.”

“Good!” the witch-doctor said. “Let’s do some work then.”

Days like these

Give me a bright blue sky, a cool breeze, palm trees, and an ocean view that stretches out to the horizon and all my troubles seem to disappear and melt away.

Palmeras

When the Shirelles warned that there would be “days like these,” they weren’t kidding. Their Mama knew better, so she told them of those days, and we all hoped for better ones ever since.

When I have one of them days, I take to the ocean. Give me a bright blue sky, a cool breeze, palm trees, and an ocean view that stretches out to the horizon and all my troubles seem to disappear and melt away.

Here in Miami there are plenty of spaces where anyone can while away “those kind of days.” Our city is graced by the Atlantic, and on sunny days there is nothing better than spending time listening to the sound of waves crashing on shore.

Biscayne bay is a favorite of mine. If one ventures into Coconut Grove, one can visit at Kennedy Park and picnic or sit on one of the bayside benches that overlook the causeway onto Key Biscayne. Another favorite spot is along South Miami Avenue, right next to Mercy Hospital, where the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity offers another splendid view of the bay and one of the best ocean breezes available in Miami. The photo above was taken there not long ago, during one of those days, and after an hour of listening to the waves rub against the sea wall, I had nearly forgotten what had brought me there in the first place.

Just down the road is Vizcaya, the old Italian palazzo that is yet another spot to heed Mama’s advice. Here, the old world meets the new in gardens and European style architecture that makes anyone believe they’re in Tuscany, and not in the swamplands of South Florida. Vizcaya was once famous for hosting the White Party, a gay circuit event that raised funds for the fight against AIDS. The party has since moved to Miami Beach because of some gay-drama or other, rowdy revelers, and can’t-help but-rub-intimately size crowds but the palazzo remains one of Miami’s best kept secrets for spring-time afternoons.

I have a love / hate relationship with Miami and South Florida: I love to hate it when I’m here, but I hate to love it when I live elsewhere. Ours is a tedious relationship my witch-doctor and I can’t seem to unravel. When I lived in New York, there was nothing that would make me want to come back and visit. But after 18 long winters, Miami beckoned and I had to close up shop and move back.

This is the time of year New York has nothing on Miami. I love the weather, the light, and cool breeze that blows from the east. Sitting outside on a warm afternoon feels lovely, and I wish days like these would stretch endlessly as far as where the ocean meets the sky. Around Memorial Day, however, said weather will turn on us and suffocate everyone with stifling humidity and shirt-drenching heat. That’s when I want to forget all about Miami and head — elsewhere, really.

On days like those, there’s nothing Mama can say that will make me feel better.

Kryptonite

Chris Wood, playing the role of Mon-El is my new kryptonite.

As a man of a certain age, I thought my days of swooning over a handsome face on television were behind me.

Back in the day, when I was growing up, I used to look forward to Saturday nights when I tuned in to watch Battlestar Galactica (the classic flavor), so I could gawk at swarthy do-gooder Apollo played by Richard Hatch. While the rest of the country — and junior high girls — melted over Dirk Benedict’s cigar smoking, bad boy Starbuck, I was drawn to Apollo’s brooding and soulful character.

When my sister was in ballet class or playing with her friends, I’d steal into her room to flip through the pages of Teen- and Tiger Beat magazines to scan the latest photos and pin-up centerfolds of the week’s heartthrobs. When she discarded old issues, I rescued the magazines from the trash, tore up the wanted pages, and clipped the images of the stars I was infatuated with. I stashed the photos away in a secret box, and I would only look at them at night, when I was alone, under the protective and invisible shield cover of my bedsheets.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself recently gasping at a new face on television that makes me hold my breath every time it appears on an episode of the CW’s Supergirl. Chris Wood, playing the role of Mon-El is my new kryptonite. Playing opposite Glee alumni Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl, he is the perfect contrast to her do-gooding character. His goofy, awkward, dude-like character makes my toes curl every time he steps on screen, my attention hangs on his every word, and whenever the script calls for him to appear shirtless, it is cause for celebration.

The CW has made a hit of television shows that exploit teen angst and alienation. Most of their prime time programming adheres to a formula where parents and adults are misguided and evil and where teens or young adults know and do better. Theirs is a fantasy world of alternative realities full of inclusive, ethnically diverse casts, tolerant and embracing of aliens, misfits, vigilantes, and meta-humans.

The epic, soap-opera-ish story lines brim with enough melodrama to keep one watching week after week in anticipation of what hair-raising twist the plot arcs will take on next. In every show, villains are larger than life and far more evil than the current administration. Actors come in every flavor and shade of beautiful. And it is not difficult to find oneself considering attending a Comic Con gathering in full superhero regalia if only to get a glimpse of your favorite hero/star.

When Supergirl premiered last year on CBS, the show garnered enough fans to save the show when CBS decided not to renew it. The producers moved the cast and crew over to the CW where the rest of the DC Comic world enjoys a solid following, and where it made more sense for the show to thrive. In its new home, Supergirl lost one of the best reasons to watch the first season of the show. Calista Flockhart, playing Cat Grant, added the much needed sarcasm and snark to off-set Kara’s do-gooding nature. But when the show’s production moved to Canada, Ms. Flockhart decided to leave the show, giving way to new characters to step in.

At the end of the first season, a new shuttlecraft from outer space landed in National City with a good looking alien lying unconscious inside. Said alien, we got to find out this season, is Mon-El, last son of Daxam, Krypton’s nemesis planet, and Supergirl’s new love-interest in the latest Romeo and Juliet twist.

chris-wood-supergirl

When Chris Wood assumed the role of Mon-El, I did not think much of him. In fact, I wanted him off the show. What drew me to watch Supergirl in the first place was the emphasis on making a female-centric show where the hero is a modern day woman learning what being a superhero in today’s world means. I am a fan of stories where strong women are the focus and heroines. I am drawn to strong female leads and characters, which is why Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek Voyager is the reason I am a Star Trek fan.

In Supergirl, Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers, played by Chyler Leigh, is one of the characters I am drawn and more interested in. This season, her character came out as a lesbian, and the way the show’s producers are handling her storyline is worthy of praise. As the second season unfolds, the stories are beginning to intersect and become more complicated, adding Mon-El’s to the mix as he finds his way in a new planet and to Supergirl’s heart.

I had not heard of Chris Wood until his recent crash landing, but in the last few episodes, he’s fast becoming a character to watch and love. Mr. Wood (chuckle) has given Mon-El an awkward but likable bro-like personality that ranges from infuriating to endearing as he learns to fit-in with humans. While we may have missed what Kara went through when she arrived on Earth, we get the full dose of what it’s like for an alien to assimilate in Mon-El’s story. In the hands of Chris Wood, it is easy to watch week after week, particularly when he is scantily clad in boxer briefs and socks in Kara’s apartment, or when a mischievous alien drops him off at DEO headquarters almost naked.

It came to no one’s surprise that Mon-El and Supergirl have a romantic entanglement that was consummated in last week’s Valentine’s day episode, but whatever happily-ever-after afterglow one may have expected after that evening was quickly dispelled in last night’s episode with Mon-El reverting to his dude-like ways and a plot twist that will continue to play itself out until the series’s season finale.

None of this makes for high-brow television. There is nothing deep or enlightening about Supergirl, other than good entertainment and its girl-power affirming message. In National City, women are empowered and supported by their friends and don’t need to be rescued by men. That is all well and good with me, especially when it leaves handsome Mon-El available for someone to keep him company when Supergirl is flying about saving the world. I’d enjoy volunteering for such a role, and would not mind hanging out with him anytime he finds himself free after a night of bartending to aliens. So long as he gives me one of his dimpled smiles, I wouldn’t mind succumbing to his kind of kryptonite.

MON0

An urban art walk

Wynwood is home to many fine examples of urban art. Regarded as one of the country’s most dynamic and up-and-coming art districts, the industrial neighborhood is home to an ever growing number of art galleries, bars, and shops that have turned the once forgotten and abandoned neighborhood into one of the largest outdoor art installations in the world.

Over at Willy Or Won’t He, Wyllym gives an excellent art history lesson on the beautiful murals Marc Chagall painted for New York City’s Lincoln Center’s Opera House. Wyllym writes:

Chagall painted the two allegories in his Paris studio and had them shipped to New York.  Each canvas is 9.15 metres by 11 metres (30 by 36 feet) and is ripe with figures and symbols familiar from many of his previous works amidst those swirls of colours that captivate Walter and so many of the rest of us.

The paintings are indeed larger than life, and every evening they welcome Metropolitan Opera patrons with their dazzling colors, swirls, and imagery that pay homage to music. I remember being swept by the paintings every time I attended a performance at the Met. At the time, I felt lucky to be able to attend and appreciate the art museums and exhibits New York is well known for.

Thus reminded of the power of art, I decided to venture to one of Miami’s most popular and accessible art museums with my best friend. On Sunday we drove to Wynwood — Miami’s epicenter of urban art.

Squeezed between Miami’s Downtown and Design District areas, Wynwood is home to many fine examples of urban art. Regarded as one of the country’s most dynamic and up-and-coming art districts, the industrial neighborhood is home to an ever growing number of art galleries, bars, and shops that have turned the once forgotten and abandoned neighborhood into one of the largest outdoor art installations in the world.

Taking over what used to be the warehouse and manufacturing district of Miami, developers have rehabilitated warehouses, shuttered factories, and other unused buildings and transformed them into art complexes, galleries, performing art spaces, restaurants, and cafes.

With the introduction of the Second Saturday Art Walk in the District and the arrival of the Art Basel fair in 2002, Wynwood now boasts unparalleled growth as it earns attention by residents and visitors as the go-to place for an alternative and cultural nightlife in Miami.

Today, Wynwood offers a varied array of art walkstours, and art that is constantly changing, evolving, and disappearing. A mural or painting that may have graced a side street or shop front a few months ago may now be painted over or replaced by a new artist, making a visit to each city block a new experience. Wynwood’s outdoor art museum is really the ultimate art SnapChat where one can spend hours walking and basking in the color and power of modern urban art.

You can click on any of the photos below to see them in a slideshow.

Shadowplay

That’s when I notice a visual Yin and Yang of light and shadow that makes me pause and wonder how I never noticed this before. Seen, yes; notice not until now.

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Shadowplay. 2017

Every evening, as the sun begins to set, I stand and walk over to the window to shut the blinds.

I’ve been doing this for years. It’s no more a ritual than brushing my teeth or taking a shower. The action has become a habit I don’t think about anymore. At a certain time in the day, depending on the sun’s position in the sky and the season, sunshine streams into the room unimpeded, warming the space beyond what I consider comfortable. If I don’t close the blind before the room reaches 80 degrees in temperature, I can expect an evening stewing in South Florida heat while I read or watch television.

Normally, when I shut the blinds, I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. I’m usually doing two or three things at the same time: reading a book, chatting with a friend, figuring out a crossword clue, writing in my journal, watching a pack of tigers take down a drone, or trying to decide what to have for dinner. It’s not rocket science, and not something I waste time thinking about.

Unless sunlight hits the blinds a certain way, the reflection catches and flares on my glasses, and makes me pay attention. That’s when I notice a visual Yin and Yang of light and shadow that makes me pause and wonder how I never noticed this before. Seen, yes; notice not until now. So I pause, tilt my head to the right, then to the left, decide that this is something I want to keep and remember later because the light will never be the same again, nor my way of seeing. It won’t matter how hard or how many times I try to conjure the same image: if I don’t capture it now, it will be gone. Forever.

And that’s just how things are: fleeting, vanishing, elusive. If we don’t pay attention, we miss other sunsets casting light against shadows, each a different take on nature’s artistry and genius.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography.

A question of love

I too have found myself in a similar quandary wondering how it is that some people seem to find a happy and perfect mate to share their life with, while some of us remain on the look-out for a special someone to date.

proposal

I know, I know, that is just so sappy but I would love it if that happened to me. Trust me, I can hear the groans but I love a bit of romance.

—from: “I Know It’s Sappy But…,” by Sooo-This-Is-Me (S-T-I-M)

Over at Soo-This-Is-Me, S-T-I-M muses about the sappy nature of love. He writes:

“One of my worries in life was that I would never know what being in love felt like, real love, not just an infatuation….I remember asking people how did someone know if they are in love. I think if you are asking that question, you already know what the answer is but are to afraid to admit it.”

S-T-I-M is not alone in his wondering. Over time, I’ve met many a person asking the same question with an equal sense of bafflement. I too have found myself in a similar quandary wondering how it is that some people seem to find a happy and perfect mate to share their life with, while some of us remain on the look-out for a special someone to date.

Not long ago, I was in the arms of a man who stated: “I don’t know how to love.” This threw me for a loop, as we had just spent a long weekend together and were basking in the after-sweat of a frantic tumble. Was this an early warning to get dressed and leave the room, my gut asked at the time. Had I misjudged the previous weeks of infatuated anticipation of getting together and learning each other’s histories? Was this the beginning of a long and sad good-bye? The answers were not long in coming, as I had misjudged the situation, and the good-bye came rather abruptly, requiring  a break from all that.

It’s hard to say or figure out what people one meets these days want or are looking for when it comes to dating or a relationship. There appear to be so many choices and options one has to choose from, dating has become an a la carte system of trying to find a person with enough similarities before a choice can be made. First, one has to decide the right app or apps to peruse for a main course. Then belonging to the right totem or power animal group seems a necessity. Never-mind determining an intimacy lifestyle that depends on whether a mono-, poly-, open, or strings-free preference can make or break the opportunity for meeting and having a cup of coffee. And let’s not forget the current trend of displaying a measureable level of “masculinity” be the latest reason for accepting or skipping on a date.

Former essential qualities like respect, honesty, patience, and staying power on people’s Must-Have lists are noticeably absent and seem to have been replaced with requirements for muscle mass and self-determined, fixed sexual roles. A quantitative level of success is necessary, as well as a fantasized length, girth, and sexual repertoire. Rejection is as simple as a left-sided swipe. And possession of an arsenal of selfies and self-revealing photos should be on hand for trade; otherwise, interest wanes until enough time has passed to warrant a case of Net-amnesia and for the courting to begin again — under a different screen name. Applying for NASA’s Mars-Colonizing space program seems less demanding and complicated.

S-T-I-M writes about and longs for his “own version of something that happened to a couple of friends of mine, come true for me.” That is the seemingly clever pretense of dropping on a knee, while pretending to tie a shoe, or rid oneself of a leg cramp, as a ring is presented, and courtship is turned into the promise of love.

“I know, I know, that is just so sappy,” S-T-I-M admits, “but I would love it if that happened to me. Trust me, I can hear the groans but I love a bit of romance. … I am not into drama but a little in a positive way would be nice.”

And I agree with him. There is, and there should be nothing wrong with romance, or schmaltz, or finding love — true love. Lasting love. Honest love. The kind of love that makes us feel happy for the two people involved. And the kind of love that makes me glad to believe that such a thing is possible, even today when snark and pessimism seem to win the day. I’m not suggesting a Disney kind of love, where Prince Eric falls for Charming for even I would squirm at such a thing in public, but cheer for it in private. What I’m thinking about is the kind of love where actions mean more than a feeling or sentiment, and where staying together for the long-haul means commitment and honoring a promise true.

Call me old-fashioned, but the kind of love I long for is the love I read about in books and novels while growing up and the stories that remain alive in my memory years later. These people, both gay and straight, met and made it work. Some were more romantic than others, but they knew they loved their partner and made it their quest to be true to their promise. There’s nothing sappy in this; only the need to meet and satisfy a hope, a longing we all have at some level, and which we pursue again and again, no matter how many times our hearts break.

What I’m up to

The lists are bite-size morsels of information of interesting things these bloggers and Masters of the Universe think one will find interesting themselves or that will make life better.

There seems to be a growing trend among the online literati of writing and sharing with their followers short lists of their on-goings and doings. The lists are bite-size morsels of information of interesting things these bloggers and Masters of the Universe think one will find interesting as well, or that will make life better. Some of these on-line personalities have taken to calling their lists “What I’m up to” or Now page replacing what used to stand for a blogger’s bio or About page.

The lists and range of topics are wide and include such things as projects the site’s owner are currently working on, books they recommend reading, on-line discussions they participate in or follow, or quick online reads on psychology, philosophy, sex, fitness, travel, money, tea, and shopping. There are no constraints to the kinds of lists or items one can write and share. The only requirement seems to be an urge to let others know about something that sparked an interest or brought about an A-ha! moment. In other words, it’s what one would answer when asked, “Hey, what are you up to?”

Here’s my Now list:

What I’m doing: Organizing myself to slay a new dragon. This one has been a long time coming, but I’m finally gearing up to stare it in the eye and say, “Enough! I’m about to best you.” (More on this later, on a different post.)

What I’m reading : The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner. A travel log and journal that explores the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas. With plenty of self-deprecating humor, but with an eye for entertaining history, Weiner takes us on a tour to places in time and history where genius flourished and advanced civilization forward.

What I’m watching : The Good Fight on CBS All Access. Starring Christine Baranski, reprising her role as Diane Lockhart, the show picks up a year after the last episode of The Good Wife. I never saw the original series, but the pilot for this spin-off was compelling and interesting enough to warrant signing up to the subscription base channel. Crisp writing, excellent acting, and high production value. But they had me at Christine Baranski.

Riverdale on the CW. A guilty pleasure for sure, but this re-telling of the Archie comic books is moody, dark, and sexy. Continuing the trend of teen-angst series, the CW has a hit with this soapy series that echoes the first season of Twin Peaks and Popular from yesteryears. But unlike the celibate cartoons of yore, Veronica has a mean streak worthy of Mean Girls; Betty is on anti-anxiety medication; Archie is having an affair with his music teacher; and Jughead is writing a novel about the town’s murder. Oh, and don’t forget Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s newest addition and out gay teen whose steamy kiss with Joaquin, a member of the Serpents gang, made us drop our iPhones and left us all out of breath.

Favorite on-line read(s) : “Google’s former happiness guru developed a three-second brain exercise for finding joy.” A short read on Google’s mindfulness guru on how to flex your mind to cultivate happiness in your life.

Multiple Orgasms During Sex for Men (Positions, Techniques, & More).” One of Nat Eliason’s essays on how to improve male sexual performance. His book, Come Again? What Men Should Know About Amazing Sex, was recently published.

New tech : Ulysses. No, not the impenetrable Joyce novel, but perhaps the app Joyce would have used to write his great literary works. The perfect, distraction free, easy to use writing app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. This award winning gem is what every writer needs in order to write the great American novel. Full of editing and writing features and a distraction free writing environment, I’ve become a true fan of this app. So much so that this blog entry was written and published in Ulysess.

Favorite purchase(s) under $100 : The Five Minute Journal, by Intelligent Change. The easiest way to practice gratitude and keep a daily journal. This book will help anyone “focus on the good in your life, become more mindful, and live with intention. With a simple structured format based on positive psychology research, you will start and end each day with gratitude. Side effects may include: increased happiness, better relationships, and becoming more optimistic.” I’ve been doing it for more than 50 days, and small miracles do happen.

Waterman Expert Ballpoint Pen. As I wrote earlier, I’m falling in-love with writing, and one of the reasons for it is Waterman’s Expert pen. Simple, elegant, and refined, the tip of the ballpoint just glides across the page so smoothly it makes me want to write all day. If you’re a pen enthusiast, this is a worthy acquisition.

Charmed

It has been a while since I’ve been as charmed by a book or story as much as I was reading Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.

One of the most charming, delightful, moving, and enjoyable books I have read in years! Highly recommended.

It has been a while since I’ve been as charmed by a book or story as much as I was reading Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow.

I’m not one to write a review for Amazon or Goodreads after I finish reading a book. Reader comments normally irritate me, as they tend to be nothing more than synopses of the story [I prefer reading the book’s jacket or back cover for those], or a complaint filed against Amazon for missing a scheduled delivery.

When it’s time for me to leave a review, I find so many readers have done so before me, that any word I should pen would be lost in the mix. Yet, every time I reach the last page of a book, my Kindle insists I add my views for the book, only so that it can display a hundred similar options and titles to purchase that would excite, or disappoint, in similar fashion.

Yesterday, I found myself breaking with habit. I wrote a simple and straight forward review for a book that left a lasting impression. After spending the last week cooped at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow with Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov learning about his thirty year house arrest inside one of Russia’s most notable hotels, I had an unfamiliar urge to share with someone the pleasures of reading a book. After giving the book a 5-star rating [something I seldom do], I dispatched a text message to a fellow reader: My friend: get this book, go to your room, shut the door, and enjoy. You’re welcome!

At first, one would think a 400 page story devoted to a life lived inside a hotel would not make for interesting reading, but once acquainted with Count Rostov and the cast of characters that inhabit the famed inn, one can’t help but fall in-love with a person of impeccable manners and keen sense of observation.

When the Count is found guilty of being an aristocrat and man of leisure by a Bolshevik tribunal, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, the grand hotel that sits across the street from the Kremlin. Count Rostov is forced to live in an attic room in the hotel while the tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold outside the hotel’s doors. And while this may seem like the beginning of a long, drawl Russian tragedy, under the expert pen of Amor Towles, it becomes a witty, funny, joyful romp across Moscow’s (and Russian) history instead.

Count Rostov is a charming a character as one can hope to find in literature. Dickens would have been proud to have known him. Mr. Towles breathes life into his main character, giving him ample wit to confer on a stranger, incident to move about, and history to cover. There is so much life taking place inside the walls of the Metropol that given the chance I would have enjoyed thirty more years with Count Rostov and the staff of the hotel.

Joining the Count in his adventures is Emil, the Metropol’s chef, a gruff but amiable man known for wielding a knife in order to make a point. I fell in-love with Anna Urbanova, the famous movie and stage actress, known to drop a dress to the sound of whoosh! I’d have a drink any day with Andrey, the Metropol’s maître d’hôtel with fingers so long and skilled, he could have been a concert pianist. And I will not soon forget Nina and Sofia, who give the Count plenty of reason to live and explore the hidden secrets of the Metropol.

The real hero in the story, however, is the narrator of the novel. With a keen eye for detail and language to charm even the most demanding members of the Politburo, the narrator’s commentary and sharp observations breathe life not just to Count Rostov’s character, but to everything that falls within sight of the Count.

On the virtues of choosing the right wine:

The Rioja? Now there was a wine that would clash with the stew as Achilles clashed with Hector. It would slay the dish with a blow to the head and drag it behind its chariot until it tested the fortitude of every man in Troy. Besides, it plainly cost three times what the young man could afford.

On the fine features of Anna Oblomov, the film and stage actress:

As the willow studied the Count, he noted that the arches over her eyebrows were very much like the marcato notation in music— that accent which instructs one to play a phrase a little more loudly. This, no doubt, accounted for the willow’s preference for issuing commands and the resulting huskiness of her voice.

On first impressions:

After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration— and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.

On coffee:

[H]e figured a cup of coffee would hit the spot. For what is more versatile? As at home in tin as it is in Limoges, coffee can energize the industrious at dawn, calm the reflective at noon, or raise the spirits of the beleaguered in the middle of the night. …
But when the Count opened the small wooden drawer of the grinder, the world and all it contained were transformed by that envy of the alchemists— the aroma of freshly ground coffee. In that instant, darkness was separated from light, the waters from the lands, and the heavens from the earth. The trees bore fruit and the woods rustled with the movement of birds and beasts and all manner of creeping things.

On unrequited love:

Mishka would pine for Katerina the rest of his life! Never again would he walk Nevsky Prospekt, however they chose to rename it, without feeling an unbearable sense of loss. And that is just how it should be. That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.

On the proper use of an ellipsis…

Ever since the Bishop had been promoted, he had taken to adding an ellipsis at the end of every question. But what was one to infer from it . . . ? That this particular punctuation mark should be fended off . . . ? That an interrogative sentence should never end . . . ? That even though he is asking a question, he has no need of an answer because he has already formed an opinion . . . ?

On the written word:

Now, in all of Russia, there was no greater admirer of the written word than Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. In his time, he had seen a couplet of Pushkin’s sway a hesitant heart. He had watched as a single passage from Dostoevsky roused one man to action and another to indifference— in the very same hour. He certainly viewed it as providential that when Socrates held forth in the agora and Jesus on the Mount, someone in the audience had the presence of mind to set their words down for posterity.

On parenting:

For it is the role of the parent to express his concerns and then take three steps back. Not one, mind you, not two, but three. Or maybe four. (But by no means five.) Yes, a parent should share his hesitations and then take three or four steps back, so that the child can make a decision by herself— even when that decision may lead to disappointment.

There is so much to like in this novel: the well realized characters, the friendships forged and lost under challenging circumstances, the discovery of love in the unlikeliest of places, the humor found even when under duress. To write or say anything else about the book or the story would mean cheating the reader of finding out for themselves the many charms and surprises that abound in the novel. Mr. Towles’ story is rich in detail, events, and surprises. The book works like a Russian Matryoshka doll where one nested surprise leads to another, and where a carful reader who keeps track of all the pieces Mr. Towles juggles is richly rewarded in a heartbreaking, but perfect, ending.

Nostrovia!

A limpkin

Imagine my surprise when my reading reverie was interrupted by an unfamiliar squawk that made me loose my place on the page and look up as a brown bird of unusual size, beak, and coloring flew across my line of vision.

On weekends, I like to sit out in the backyard and take my morning tea as I read the day’s appointed chapters on Taoist and Buddhist dharma. This is my quiet time, communing with nature, reflecting on how to be one with Tao, witnessing as morning stretches towards noon.

The backyard meets a community lake where ducks, geese, and migrating birds perch on trees and fences looking for the day’s meal. In between chapters and reading pauses, I’ve noted ibis, vultures, and parrots flying about, as well as local crows and seagulls cruising overhead looking for discarded ducks that did not make it across the street in time to avoid a speeding car.

I’m not a bird watcher, nor am I a fan of walking around a nature preserve counting or admiring birds. I have friends who venture on hikes in Shark Valley and botanical gardens in search of feathered migrants who happen to winter in our state before flying back north, or south to a different hemisphere. Apparently, because of shifting weather changes and disappearing landscapes, these birds often find themselves stranded in unfamiliar territory, or disappear altogether when they cannot find a suitable habitat they can thrive in. My bird-watching friends are always encouraging me to report unfamiliar specimens in order to alert local wildlife authorities about migration pattern divergences. I’m usually deterred from snitching on feathered migrants since I always fail to take an incriminating mugshot of the perpetrator, and because I don’t know the difference between a duck or a hawk, or what makes a raven different from a crow.

Imagine my surprise, then, when my reading reverie was interrupted by an unfamiliar squawk that made me loose my place on the page and look up as a brown bird of unusual size, beak, and coloring flew across my line of vision and disappeared behind a tall palm frond. I frowned. This bothered me because I don’t normally frown at a bird, unless one happens to be using my car for target practice.

The bird’s features did not register as one of the local birds I normally see when I’m sitting in the yard. A vulture it was not, I knew that for certain, as I’ve noted their wingspan, dark coloring, and fondness for gliding in the wind without a single flap of their wings. The bird was too big to be a crow, and crows tend to gather about in businesses — usually making me wonder what sort of shady deals they are peddling. Nor was it a seagull, as seagulls will make a nuisance of themselves the moment they suspect a morsel of anything is laying about. Besides, the mysterious visitor had a distinct squawk not usually associated with Latino cultures. I was at loss to make heads or tails about it. But, out of sight meant out of mind, and so I returned to my book, my feathers unruffled — so to speak.

When the tea grew cold, and the last page of the day’s reading was read, I was once again surprised to hear the loud, unfamiliar squawk. Now, instead of flying about, the mystery bird stood at the lake’s shore, and I was finally able to get a better look. A swamphen? The last remaining dodo?

I grabbed my phone, walked slowly toward the lake, and snapped a photo of the bird. Satisfied with my shot, I promptly texted the image to my bird-watching Friend!!!

Me: New guy in the hood. A Pokémon, perhaps?

Friend: Oh my goodness!!! I think that’s a limpkin!!! I don’t even have a picture of a limpkin yet!!!

Me: You’re welcome?

Friend: LOL, Good for you!!!

Me: It’s quite loud, I’m afraid. And not a pleasant squawk either. But interesting looking.

Friend: I’m going to have to visit your neighborhood soon!!! So the only brown ibis there are, are called glossy ibis!!! They are a dark brown and look shiny…hence the name “glossy ibis”!!! This is the larger “cousin” called a limpkin!!! They are not all that common!!!

Me: Huh! Well, she’s making a ruckus out on the lake today and not too many friends. You’d think she just arrived from college for Spring Break.

Friend: It just so happens the picture in my birding app shows it making a ruckus!!!

Me: Perhaps it’s on its way down to Cancun, or Daytona where the parties are. I knew you’d figure it out. Thanks!

Friend: Definitely a limpkin!!! Thank you for sharing your discoveries with me!!!

Me: Well, you know: if you see something, say something…you never know with these migrating birds. Perhaps it’s from Russia. I think they’re all spy drones anyway.

Friend: You may be right!!! LOL!!!

Scratching paper

I call it scratching paper because that is what it feels like to me most of the time. It is a form of physical meditation where the object of concentration is the tip of the pen as it moves across the page.

I’m falling in love: with writing.

Not so much the writing that comes from pounding on a keyboard to see my words appear on a computer screen, nor writing stories or posts for this blog. Rather, I’m falling in love with the act of writing: of putting down pen to paper and writing the way I was taught to write before I ever picked up a mouse or learned how to use a computer.

I have been practicing this act of spilling ink onto a page to reveal thoughts and words that cross my mind for 50 days. Although I can’t claim that it is a habit I perform every day, like brushing my teeth, it is something I hope becomes a daily habit that I can cultivate and maintain for 500, or 5,000 more days.

The writing is nothing but transcripts of the anxiety and worries I feel when I get up in the morning. Some would call them Morning Pages. Others would call it journaling. I call it scratching paper because that is what it feels like to me most of the time. It is a form of physical meditation where the object of concentration is the tip of the pen as it moves across the page.

Normally, I wake up, take my cup of coffee, groom myself, and sit in quiet meditation for 15 or 21 minutes. Then, I sit at my desk, perform a small ritual of lighting a candle, diffusing essential oils, and invoking whatever kind spirits happen to be about. Then I write for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until I feel there is nothing more to say — at least for the moment. This in turn becomes an intimate moment with myself that doesn’t seem to solve much, but gives me a chance to unburden what wells up in my chest during the day and that I need to express on to something, or someone, so that I don’t feel so overcome by my emotions.

This writing practice began when I took up Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion. The book is a guide to keeping a journal and the pleasures that come from exploring personal landscapes that occupy our mind and spirit. The chapters in the book direct me through the rigors, comforts, and pleasures of writing and keeping a journal. I have not been much impressed with some of the early chapters in the book. For the most part, her advice has been on topics I’ve been aware of since I started writing years ago, and some that I remember from her more popular book One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing.

I like to read a chapter from Life’s Companion on Sundays and highlight passages and exercises that seem interesting or relevant to me. This will keep the book on my bedside table through the end June, or until I decide I’d like to speed up the reading process in order to get to another book on my reading list.

This week’s chapter was devoted to the dark night of the soul. The entire read was a meditation on what to do and how to write during moments of despair. The chapter’s exercises and journal samples are elegant exercises one can use to reflect in difficult times, and I think that I will be coming back and read this chapter again to distill the insights and wisdom I found in Baldwin’s sentences.

Ms. Baldwin asserts that despair, or a dark night of the soul, while a “confusing, painful experience; it is also an ordinary, to-be expected part of the spiritual journey” (pg. 91). It is not, she continues on page 93, “until we admit our despair, or until someone/something helps us name it, we are in free fall.” But, she also counsels: “These are exactly the times when a half hour of journal writing, first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, may be the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Words reorganize experience” (pg. 95).

I did a lot of highlighting of the chapter — too much to transcribe or add to this entry. The point is, I found comfort in Baldwin’s advice and encouragement to keep on writing in order to move past emotions and feelings that may otherwise disrupt a perfectly sunny day.

Regardless of what happens when I write, or what I write about, the point is to write. To keep the pen moving. To make it to the end of the line, and begin at the start of the following one. When I do so, at some point, I feel myself free falling onto the page and losing myself in the rhythm of the pen scratching paper. Writing then becomes a sensual experience that I am unable to replicate with a keyboard and computer. On the page, there is room for errors. With a pen, there is no Esc or Delete key to strike when I’ve made a mistake. On paper, I don’t feel the need to add commas or punctuation. The point is to write and only to write. And in doing so, recover and restore a part of my soul I once considered lost.