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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.

A social timeout

The idea is to occupy Facebook with art and break up the political posts that don’t contribute to a positive conversation or understanding of the issues. This is NOT meant to ignore what is going on, but to give your eyes and mind a “break” from all the negative commentaries that are being shared.

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Flower Seller. Diego Rivera, 1941

Now we have Facebook and Twitter to expand each others’ rancor with copy and paste and link and forward so millions of commiserates can simultaneously bitch and expand on our rants. Perhaps we should pull the plug on this internet thing as a nobel idea gone bad, like New Coke. Did the inventors not know a world wide web is more likely to spread woes than facts?

—from: “Urspo has a complaint,” by Urspo in Spo-Reflections

Over at Spo-Reflections, Urspo begins his eleventh year blogging complaining about the negative downturn social media has taken. There was a time, he reminds us, when Twitter and Facebook were platforms we “used to read about cousin’s birthdays and bad weather in Michigan, or see zany photos” about ordinary things we encountered on trips to faraway places. Now, however, “the posts are full of tirades resembling an orchestra of scorched cats,” he wryly observes. And with good reason.

For the last few months, ever since — let’s say — November, social media has turned ugly and nasty. Gone are the photos of dreamscapes or family reunions. Noticeably absent are dogs surfing on a California beach, or quotes about the virtues of the Internet attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Instead, we have, as Urspo observes, an endless stream of “complaining about complaining.”

So what’s to be done? How can anyone wired to their social media accounts hit the pause button on the stream of rancor and ire that seem to ooze from almost every post?

A friend suggests doing the following on his most recent Facebook post:

The idea is to occupy Facebook with art and break up the political posts that don’t contribute to a positive conversation or understanding of the issues. This is NOT meant to ignore what is going on, but to give your eyes and mind a “break” from all the negative commentaries that are being shared. If you LIKE, or otherwise comment on this post, you will be given an artist to look up. Then you have to post a piece of art by that artist on your page, along with these instructions so your friends can do the same.

Unable to resist a modern day pyramid scheme, I enthusiastically LIKE-d my friend’s post, and was duly assigned Mexican artist Diego Rivera, a personal favorite. I love Rivera’s earth-tone color palettes and his honest interpretation of Mexican life and folklore. I also saw it fitting to display art from a country that’s been much maligned by the recent powers that (shouldn’t) be.

I chose Rivera’s Flower Seller because it is one of my favorite pieces of art. The image is that of a woman holding an impossible bouquet of calla lilies; it is also one of Diego Rivera’s most famous and well known pieces, painted in 1941.

Already, a few of my friends have taken the bait and LIKE-d the Facebook post, so I’ve assigned to them the job of posting artworks by Paul Signac, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Odilon Redon, and Henri Rousseau.

It’s my hope to see more art on Facebook and Twitter than political or global discord. I’m not blind to what is taking place in our country or the world. On the contrary. Now more than ever, I feel we must be vigilant and make sure our liberties are not taken away and voices are free to say what needs to be said. It’s just that sometimes what needs to be said could be firmly and confidently stated with a fine piece of art.

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Hope spring’s eternal

Maybe, it’s not that nature is out of synch. Maybe nature is so attuned to us, it gifts us its finest to remind us of what we’re missing, and what is important.

It feels like spring in our backyard, although yesterday it was predicted that winter would remain in place for another six weeks. It’s hard to predict anything these days. The world seems so topsy-turvy that one can’t easily rely on what is factual or alternate reality any longer. It’s like we have all donned a collective set of virutal reality goggles, and we are walking around in a landscape that seems oddly familiar but that has been significantly altered.

I’ve been reading Daoist philosophy lately. This Eastern practice is ancient, dating back to a time when elders and shamans provided insight and wisdom acquired by observing the cycles and rhythms of nature. The lesson of Daoism is to know oneself by understanding the flow of Tao in nature. Man is a microscom of the land around him, and to cultivate peace means to be attuned to the land and the seasons.

Nature seems to be out of synch in our backyard, what with blooming orchirds in winter and a lake that thirsts for rain that modern shamans predict yet doesn’t arrive. I like to sit in the yard in the afternoon to witness evening unfold. Here is where I take my goggles off and forget about facts and non-facts. Here the grass is real. So is the dirt under my bare feet. The lake’s water feels cold. In the distace, crows call out to each other, relaying messages I can’t decipher.

The orchids keep blooming in winter, yearning for and pointing to spring. An afternoon breeze dims the light of the setting sun, and on such breeze a shaman delivers his message. Maybe, it’s not that nature is out of synch. Maybe nature is so attuned to us, it gifts us its finest to remind us of what we’re missing, and what is important.

Crossed

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Last year, I hooked-up with a digital subscription to The Gray Lady as she hustled herself to keep abreast of the election that got away from her — and most of us. At the time, she offered her services at half her regular rate, and I thought it a fair fee for her graces. Part of the subscription benefits included a month-long admission to her playground free of charge: an archive of current and post-dated puzzles that exercise brain cells that were left reeling from trying to make sense of national and world events. After the free month, I could opt out of the playground privileges or pay an additional monthly fee to continue playing.

I have never been good at playing games. More often than not, when I play Monopoly or other such board games, I willingly and early on in the game give my money over to the bank after a few rounds around the board, refuse to get out of jail (friends say I tend to back myself in a corner anyway), and enjoy the rest of the evening watching others achieve real estate magnate status four or five hours later.

I have never been good at playing crossword puzzles either. I find them daunting, obscure, and difficult to complete, especially the Sunday puzzles folk immerse themselves in for hours when the early Sunday edition is published and that arrives late on Saturday evenings. There was a time when I attempted to fill in the puzzles that came on the last page of New York Magazine. At the time, EX-Man 2 was a fan of completing Maura Jacobson’s mind-benders. When the weekly issue of the magazine arrived in the mail on Monday, he got me to help him figure out the clues that yielded words that revealed a larger theme hidden in the empty squares. I don’t remember ever completing a puzzle on my own, but he and I spent the remainder of the week looking up answers in crossword puzzle dictionaries, thesauruses, and almanacs. The Internet was not as ubiquitous then as it is now, and Google was not so readily available as to provide the answers to esoteric questions La Jacobson posed to us at each turn.

The first few times I tried to answer the Gray Lady’s riddles I felt at a loss, inadequate, or like I was playing chess with the Sphinx. In the app’s archive there remain a number of puzzles that are left unfinished because, try as I might, I can’t figure out the words, answers, or what, exactly, the clue is asking for. Once, on a Monday, I did finish a puzzle, but not without looking for words online or cheating by looking up the clue’s reference on Wikipedia. Puzzles published later in the week are far beyond me, and they leave me feeling like my vocabulary is lacking.

One day, by chance, my thumb brushed the icon for the Mini puzzle in the Gray Lady’s iPhone app and before me appeared what seemed to be the upper corner portion of a larger crossword puzzle. I pinched the screen several times trying to zoom out to see the larger riddle, but I discovered that the Minis are bite size puzzles one can finish in a matter of minutes, or seconds, depending on one’s verbal dexterity. The words are no longer than five boxes usually, and many of the clues reference recent current events or popular culture icons.

fullsizerenderHaving plenty to do that would solve half of the world’s problems, I decided to put it all aside and I tried working on a puzzle that I solved in about 5 minutes. When I tapped the final later to fill in the remaining empty square, I was rewarded with a congratulatory message and short jingle that validated my victory, and released a substantial dose of dopamine that made me feel extraordinarily good at having neglected the world’s problems. Of course, I thought, this was an easy puzzle. There is no way that I could repeat such feat of daring and wisdom again. But as the following day dawned, the world’s problems increased, and a decline in the previous day’s dopamine became apparent, I decided to test fate again and play the day’s Mini puzzle. Four minutes later, the previous’s day’s message appeared on the screen again and the very same jingle played, confirming, once again, that I had cheated Death at its own game, the Sphinx recoiled to her cave, defeated, once again, and I welcomed the day’s dopamine rush. I went about ignoring the world’s problems once again, sure that nothing could be so bad while under the influence of the neurotransmitter’s pleasures.

I have since then developed a daily crossword Mini practice — or obsession, some would claim. Every morning, after coffee (gotta be alert), meditation (gotta be calm), and Tai Chi (gotta get the Qi circulating), I indulge in the day’s crossword Mini, and have averaged completing the puzzles in less than 2 minutes. There have been embarrassing days, however, when the Sphinx is far cleverer than I and bested my best efforts. But in the process of accumulating laurels of victory, I have amassed a number of words and clue answers that seem to repeat themselves across different puzzles in myriad of ways. Erie, for example, is common when answering clues about a lake in the New York region, or one of the Great Lakes. Yoko, or Ono, are usually reserved for artist who broke up the Beatles, or not really an artist. The largest land mass is Asia. Iraq and Iran are usually trick questions best left unresolved until one figures out the correct consonant when answering the clue that completes the Ira-part of the word. Obama keeps coming up at least twice a month in puzzles, perhaps as way for the Gray Lady to remember happier, or easier to manage days. And I was happy to find the appearance of a certain villain hailing from a galaxy far, far away in a puzzle I recently completed. Love that dopamine rush!

I have yet to graduate and attempt a full crossword game, the likes of which most serious crossword puzzlers relish and attempt solving. I’ve begun several of the easy Monday games, but leave them incomplete and unfinished, not happy with the results or how long the dopamine release is withheld from me. I don’t know the answers to enough clues or many of the Sphinx’s references yet, but as my vocabulary grows and improves, and I develop skills to read through the less obvious clues, I think that maybe one day I’ll be able to put those skills to the test and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction avid players feel at besting the puzzle’s writer.

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My gap year

I wanted to meet people the old-fashioned way: face to face, analog, over a drink and a conversation. I wanted to talk instead of text. I wanted to be able to have meaningful conversations with folk who didn’t feel the need to be wired, connected, or looking at their phone every 5 minutes in fear of missing out on a post or a dopamine hit from a Like they received on their Facebook wall.

With a flick of his wrist, Victor pointed the magic wand at the black box sitting under the television, he uttered the magic words, “Main menu,” and as if by some strange hoodoo, the television screen filled with icons and logos of cable entertainment providers.

“Well that’s two hours I’ll never get back,” Victor spat. “I’m glad we can scratch that off our list. So, my dear, that’s Apple TV for you.”

I looked away from the television screen and deep into the half-eaten tub of microwave popcorn I was cradling on my lap, peering into it as if a kernel of hidden truth waited to be found in one of the popped pieces of corn.

“I’m thinking…” I started to say.

“No! I forbid you to think!” cried Victor, almost spilling the remainder of his Pinot Grigio into the bowl. “Do not say whatever you’re about to say. I forbid you from speaking until morning, at the very least.”

“Why?” I interjected.

“Every time we watch a Julia Roberts movie, you get to thinking, and then go on to make some God awful decision. I forbid you to say whatever you were about to say.”

“Name one bad decision I’ve made after watching a Julia Roberts movie!” I objected.

“Name the movie,” Victor challenged.

Pretty Woman.”

“The German hustler at Gay Pride in Miami Beach and the subsequent round of antibiotics the week after.”

Ocean’s Eleven.”

“The blackjack player at the Hard Rock Casino and the three hour interrogation with Security that ensued.”

Ocean’s Twelve.”

“The South-American man on Bingo Night at the Miccosukee Casino and the close encounter afterwards by the crocodile pit.”

“Fine! August: Osage County.”

“Sunday Brunch with your mother and the Republican nut-job contingency afterwards.”

“I already apologized for that.”

“Do not, I implore you, continue any further. Stop right there. Finish your Pinot and go home. And refrain from thinking until morning.”

“One more. Steel Magnolias!”

“Mississippi, for God’s sake!” he hissed. “Or have you forgotten? We should have rolled up our windows, locked the doors, and not stopped at the Stuckey’s! I can’t bear to walk past a salad bar without remembering. I still wake up screaming!”

Victor was right. I tend to make unwise decisions after watching a movie starring Julia Roberts. But this time I felt different. This time I knew I was on to something.

“I think you should hear me out. This time it makes sense given the circumstances.”

Victor leaned into to me, put his hand on my shoulder and whispered slowly, with an air that seemed threatening, “It may seem like that to you at the moment. But, trust me, it’s not. You’re under the spell of a vixen, a siren, a sylph who has you captive under her spell. Yes, the elephant was pretty. Sure, Italian men are gorgeous. Pasta does not make you fat! And under the right conditions even Javier Bardem may seem, well…attractive. But in the morning things will be clear once again. You’ll snap out of whatever Ryan Murphy fueled horror scenario you’re suffering from and come to realize, ‘What a waste!’”

“But,” I began to say. I wasn’t ready to let this go. “But Ketut!”

“NO! Ketchup is not real! He’s not a thing. There is no Yoda! There is no Ketchup—”

“Ketut!”

“Whatever! Ketchup! Yoda! Ketut! I don’t care what the little man is called. He’s not real. It’s not real. It’s a movie! Fake! Finito! You’ll get more wisdom out of a fortune cookie than a strange, sarong wrapped, little man. Drink your wine and be happy!”

Victor was upset. I was upset. I looked down at my popcorn and flicked it inside the bowl hoping to find the perfectly popped kernel: the one with a fluffy top I could bite from the crispy popped bottom so I could feel it melt in my mouth. But Julia nagged me. Ketut beckoned. And the elephant at the end of the segment about India had me by the balls. I had to proceed, carefully, around Victor’s objections. I had to make a case and make him see I knew what I was talking about — even if I wasn’t all that clear what I wanted. I had to convince him, as well as myself, that this time things would be different.

“Vic,” I said. “This time I know what I’m doing. This is not a fantasy —“

Mirror, Mirror! And we both know how well that did at the box office. No!”

“This is not a fantasy I’m making up. I think I should try this. You don’t have to come along if you don’t want to. But I want to do what is right. And I think Liz had the right idea. I want…”

Victor threw himself on the couch and buried his head into several wine-spilled stained cushions.

“I don’t want to hear it. Please. Stop.”

“Victor,” I said solemnly. “I’m not going to date anyone for a year.”
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I went

I went to Miami’s Women’s Rally because now I know I’m not alone. I went because now I’m not afraid. I went because now I know there are others like me. And went because I won’t be silenced, and I will not rest until we ensure that we are all free, protected, and safe.

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I went.

Or rather, we went.

Women went. Men went. Gays and lesbians went. Muslims went. Latinos went. African-Americans went. Hindus went. So many people went. Pink T-shirts everywhere. Pussy hats all around. People everywhere. Parents. Children. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Friends. We went and we showed up because this matters. This is important.

We who care about women’s right, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, climate change, protecting the environment went.

It was inspiriting and moving to the see so many people went too.

We went because we are the majority: the loud majority. We are not, and will not be silent. We went so we could tell and shared our stories.

Maybe ours wasn’t the biggest rally or march in the country. Maybe ours wasn’t the loudest — which is rare for Hispanics — but we went nonetheless. We showed up. We joined the hundreds of thousands around the country, around the world who went and raised their voices and their fists.

And here’s the thing: no one fought. No one argued. No one got hurt or said a hateful word. We went because we wanted to show, to prove, that we care, that we love, and that we can get along. All of us.

I went to prove that human decency, tolerance, and equality can be a reality and coexist. We went because we were there for friends and people we know who are afraid. We went because all lives matters. I went because this matters. I went because I wanted to be in the thick of it, with the rest of them, surrounded by others — many — who believe.

I went to Miami’s Women’s Rally because now I know I’m not alone. I went because now I’m not afraid. I went because now I know there are others like me. And I went because I won’t be silenced, and I will not rest until we ensure that we are all free, protected, and safe.

I went because I love my country.

Click on any photo to see them in a slideshow.

Power animals

INTERIOR: A Wilton Manors gay bar. SCENE: Victor and Walter stand in a corner admiring the crowd.

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INTERIOR: A Wilton Manors gay bar.

SCENE: VICTOR and WALTER stand in a corner admiring the crowd. WALTER holds a beer he’s been nursing for two hours. VICTOR winces every time he sips from a glass of red wine. They both look confused and perplexed.

VICTOR
Okay, then. Explain this to me. If he’s a bear. And that one’s an otter. The one over there you say pretends he’s a puppy. And the beautiful man over there is a wolf. Then what the hell are you? And what the fuck am I?

WALTER
I’m a platypus.

VICTOR
A platypus? Why the fuck would you choose a platypus?

WALTER
Because I’m a otter who didn’t give a fuck, screwed a duck and a beaver, got the best parts of each, and I don’t care what others think about the way I look.

VICTOR
Fair enough. So that make me a what, then?

WALTER
You? You are Ferdinand the Bull! You look tough and burly on the outside.
But inside, you are noble and kind, and I couldn’t have a better friend.

VICTOR’S lip quivers for a moment. They hug and hold each other for a moment. A young otter walks over to where they stand.

OTTER
Hey, guys. You’re so cute together. You make such a nice couple.
Are you looking to hook, or are you up for a threesome?

WALTER (releasing VICTOR)
You can have this one. I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll wait for you outside.
Be nice to him. He doesn’t know about Ferdinand’s dark side.

WALTER moves away, as VICTOR’s tirade begins.

FADE TO BLACK