Saturday, July 31, 2021

Friends leaving

One of the most notable aspects of being older is that long-standing relationships get ended by death.  There are other enders, too.  People move to be near their adult children or a medical center.  But until death comes, there remains the possibility of live or live-ish communication by email or phone or Zoom.  

It can seem that the world is falling apart since things aren't the way an older person is used to, and then some pillar of one's life goes and dies on you.  It is sad, knowing that you won't hear from that person again.  Well, you might but as time goes on, it is less likely there is a letter or a video you haven't seen, maybe multiple times.  It is motivating, maybe guiding you toward your own blog posts and photographs and memories.  If you get in touch with a mutual friend, you might reminisce about trips or comments or personality traits.  It is motivating too in that you can be driven to start smiling at younger neighbors and contacts while trying to get some younger friends.

Of course, that a pillar of your life can topple, exit, is sobering and maybe frightening.  Not only might you be rather alone, you too might exit.  My friend envisions me playing a harp in the sky but that doesn't ring true for me.  I do like harp music but I am musically illiterate and I don't know notes, tones or harmonies.  

I have heard that a difficulty conscious minds have is imagining their own cessation.  It helps me to focus on the millions of human lives that have been lived before my time and to see and feel that I don't know them or any of their details or stories.  So, I plan to join the unknowns and the absentees but I would appreciate it if you postpone any permanent departure until after mine.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Tongue worms

I borrowed "On Repeat" by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis.  I saw an article about the book somewhere in the Pocket article suggestions but I lost it.  I asked the university library to borrow it for me.  The woman is a specialist in the psychology and neurology of music.  The book discusses the difference between music reception and production as opposed to language reception and production.  People don't learn a language with the intention of listening to it only and not speaking it, but people listen to music and enjoy it and remember it without learning to produce it and without an intent to produce it.  

When my mature and intelligent nephew told me that the songs of the Beatles were a major influence on his ways of looking at life, I was shocked.  Still, it was his comment and words by Margulis that gave me the idea that popular songs, often message, poetry and tune, all three contributing to a strong impression on modern peoples' thinking and stance toward their lives. I recently read an email from my friend Ames that further demonstrated the depth that tune, words and rhythms can reach in our minds and emotions.  

I was motivated to look through some of my blog posts (there is a handy search window on the blog page:  . I found that I haven't referred very often to words in music.  Tunes, melodies, yes.  Words, not much.  However, I did find that members of my family, especially the children, have uttered words and phrases that replay over and over in my mind.  Therefore I am hereby launching a new line of study: tongue worms!  They are like the well-known earworms, which are themselves tunes and songs that recur unbidden in our minds.  Tongue worms are quotes that stick, fascinate and recur:

"In the grand scheme of things…" - my greatgranddaughter explaining that a week away from parents actually passed quickly

"Grandad, I'm just a kid!" - my greatgrandson mentioning he had no power to assist me with my problems

Hizzy, Behie! Our daughter Beth surprising us, jumping out of her hiding place.  Her phrase translates into adult language as "The daughter you are seeking is located here!"

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Fwd: Sale

Our family is holding a three day rummange sale.  Meanwhile, try this well-done piece:

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Write it down!

Writing this blog is an extension of meditation. It is an activity aimed at paying attention to what is going on.  I realize that I have aged a little bit since I typed the word "Writing" at the beginning of this post.   I realize that the moment I wrote that word is gone forever and will not, cannot, return.  I am not trying to stop time, but I do want to try to savor the good moments and not just bolt them down without noticing their beauty and their unique flavors. Even fears and pains can be experienced as special opportunities.

I am an old man, already beginning to experience "extraordinary longevity" while an increasing number of other people are doing the same thing.  So, my memory may be different from when I was young.  It is possible that my ability to remember isn't as good as it was, but I know that it is common practice to ask people what they had for dinner last night to show that it is not easy to remember events, themes, comments unless they are a threat or some special achievement like a winning lottery ticket.

When I was asked by a professional hypnotist what I wanted to achieve by the experience of being hypnotized, I said I wanted new eyes, an ability to see myself, others and my life anew, for the new experience it always is.  I didn't want to just toss each day into the bin marked "Just another one."  Writing daily has changed my habits and added an automatic search for themes that could be used in that day's post.  

I am surprised at how easily I can think of a topic, consider it a bit, realize it is a contender and then be unable to recall it 30 minutes later.  I am working on getting a few words for each idea written down before I forget them.  The themes of interest are often ideas that don't easily connect to rocks, furniture or hard and fast objects.  I don't blame myself when a good-sounding idea slips away and I can't retrieve it. Lynn is reading "The Splendid and the Vile" by Larson about WWII and I am reading aloud "A Distant Mirror" by Tuchman about the 1300's in Europe. These history books make me realize that when I learned about history, it can seem to be the only way things could have turned out even though people at the time were rightly worried that worse turns awaited.  That "history can seem inevitable" was one theme I have been writing down and considering.  It is a somewhat slippery idea.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

What is my next thought?

Several friends know that I like meditation as a personal aid to living.  Whether a person is dealing with pain, poverty or perplexity, meditation can often help.  It has been handy for me to remember that ancients, without benefit of smartphones or super highways or electric heating pads, developed the tool of sitting with one's mind in quiet.  I have suspected for years that the act of meditating can be helpful if done for 5 or 10 minutes.  I have never devoted myself to a week of daylong meditating and I might be better off or a better human or a better husband if I had.  

A question arises naturally when sitting quietly, as Karen Maezen Miller says, "looking at a wall", what am I supposed to do?  How do I do this?  That brings up the anxious, eager, young person who asks, "What happens next?"  The good answer is "Nothing happens next.  This is it."

Impetuous, squirrel-ly people like me are often advised to keep paying attention to something: a wall, one's breath in and out.  Thus, books like "Breath by Breath" by Larry Rosenberg and "Joy on Demand" by Chade-Meng Tan. Rosenberg is a retired psychology professor and Tan is a software engineer with Google.  He is the one who says he and his two year old daughter meditate for 2 minutes, about as long as a software engineer and a 2 year old can manage.  He teaches a course on this subject to Google employees and says that a single, conscious breath will be sufficient to increase mindfulness, the awareness of what is occupying one's attention and thoughts.

This approach to knowing and liking one's own self is about the same as practiced by many Quakers and American Buddhists.  A different approach is explained in the books by Eckhart Tolle.  His question: What is my next thought? often helps me watch my mind while looking with curiosity to see what comes to mind next.  Generally, looking with alertness sends thoughts scurrying away until a brave or extra sneaky one slips into my mind.

Monday, July 26, 2021

A book to read

I try not to buy too many books.  I already have too many.  We just read that in the 1300's, an institution like a monastery that had 76 books had a good-sized, impressive library.  We have considerably more than that on our office shelves and we have about 40 times that many in our Kindles.  It's no wonder that I keep finding that helpful banner across an Amazon web page that says I purchased the book in question ten years ago. (That means that despite having never downloaded it or opened it or looked at it, it has been waiting there all that time.)

There are times when I am simply looking for a good mystery but much of the time, I am after a specific book.  Sometimes a book I would like to look through is available in used form for only a dollar but usually that will require a shipping fee of $3-5.  Now that covid is losing some of its grip, I can enter a local library more easily and I can check if the public or the university library has the book.  If the book is from a long time ago and it is a famous one, there may be an ebook at no cost or very low cost.  One of several good things about an ebook is that I can get it immediately.  One of the not so good things is that older books that are not popular may not have ever been converted to an ebook file.  

I turn to the Libby app on my phone or iPad to check if a book I am after can be borrowed in e-format from our ring of libraries that cooperate in sharing and lending.  If the book is available in e-format, and if the library has purchased it [two big "if"'s!], it is often the case that other people are also after that book.  Others may have already put holds on the book and the app estimates that a copy will be available to me in about 6 months or a year.  If I were more patient, that would be ok but I am not.

Yesterday, for once, I found "Facts and Fears" by James Clapper, former head of US intelligence, and got it right away.  I find the book clarifying and the writing easy to digest. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Multiplicity and limits

I was impressed by a tv ad years ago. It showed a football coach in the locker room calling for attention and explaining that a chaplain was about to ask for blessings for the game.  He said something like "Please give Father Clancy your attention."  As the priest finished, the coach said something like "Pastor Jones will now ask for a blessing."  As the pastor finished a short invocation, the camera showed another man wearing a Jewish skull cap, a man in Buddhist-type robes, a Native American man who looked like a spiritual dancer and many other religious and spiritual types.  The impression is that there are too many blessers to accommodate the time schedule and the impatience to hold the football game.

Whether we are inviting guests for an occasion or listing books or movies we plan to get to, there are limits.  We have only limited attention, limited patience and limited memory to remember our own plans and wishes.  If you are sympathetic to the plight of orphans and I seem to be all taken up with concerns about the climate, your focus and my cause may make each of us dismiss the other as irrelevant and basically unconcerned with important situations that deserve attention.  When I see titles like "500 Places You Must See" or "The 1000 Must-Reads Before You Die", I am seeing a lack of focus and restraint.  

How about recommending A book you think I would enjoy or ONE place for me to visit?  If you feel real tender about not mentioning 999 other really good places, the tenderness, the sorrow, the pity that I may not get to those other wonderful places, that is the pain that editors and librarians and broad-minded people feel.  Maybe you can console yourself with the realization that I have limits, plus new respect for your bravery and commitment to using your strength of character to trim your recommendations down to a usable, valuable size.  I may learn to use your recommendations as good advice. 

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