Happy Bloomsday

Wed 06/16/21 at 10:06 am

”I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.”

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Editorial Inquiry

Mon 03/22/21 at 11:10 am

Does it have to be a whale?

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previous post: Faith


Sun 11/01/20 at 11:27 am

I found this entry while culling my miscellaneous Word documents:

For years, long before I knew what it was, I lived in thrall to magical thinking. For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, magical thinking is the irrational belief that one can bring about a circumstance or event by thinking about it or wishing for it. I’ve since learned magical thinking is common in early childhood. I can, for instance, vividly recall a time when I would run as fast as I could and then leap into the air fully expecting I would escape the gravitational forces that made my flight impossible. It took me decades to outgrow the belief I could somehow use mind control to alter someone or something’s behavior. These beliefs were reinforced by sermons throughout my adolescent years based on Matthew 17:20:

[Jesus] said to them, . . . “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

And I believed.

When I was fourteen, my Mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Throughout her illness, I tried to summon the faith that would effectuate her recovery. I’m fairly certain my faith of what God could do exceeded the size of a mustard seed. Nonetheless, she died, and for a long time, I believed my lack of faith killed her. In the fullness of time, I came to the realization this statement is untrue. I still flush with anger when I think of how cruel this statement is, and what psychological damage it has inflicted on those who believe it. Everything bad that happens in an individual’s life is their fault because they lack the requisite faith to make it better. Talk about blaming the victim.

During the ensuing years, I practiced many variations of magical thinking, often in the form of a prayer. At first, I employed the Norwegian Lutheran “if it be Your will” approach. This methodology involved praying for a certain outcome, but always with the qualification that I wanted it only if it fit into God’s plan for my life. I was thrilled to learn from my Catholic friends that one could ask God for specific things and leave it at that. When prayers went unanswered, I accepted that sometimes God said “No.” I have since come to regard prayer as a manifestation of the hubristic belief I could bend the universe to my will. These days, after decades of resistance, I have come finally to accept (with occasional lapses) I cannot control people, places, or things.

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Happy Bloomsday

Sun 06/16/19 at 9:29 am

“I am, a stride at a time”
? James Joyce

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Happy Bloomsday

Sat 06/16/18 at 9:39 am

“If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend.’ Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce, Ulysses

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From I Be to I Am, Part 3: Eve (and Adam)

Sat 07/09/16 at 10:41 am

Below is the third installment of my version of the Eve (and Adam) myth as presented in my, at this time suspended, work in progress, The First Voice:
“Let me tell you what really happened. For the first few hundred thousand years of life on earth, the only mitochondria present in living organisms, including the genus Homo, consisted of ‘to be’ symbionts. In other words, all life on earth was sentient. Everyone and everything just hung out, living and being — like the singularity before the big bang. Then one day, about 100,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia, a homo sapiens female, let’s call her Eve, came upon an apricot tree. She’d never seen an apricot before, and she knew that sometimes certain foods made her feel bad, but she was very hungry. Throwing caution to the wind, Eve ate a few apricots. As it happened, the apricots growing on this tree contained ‘I am’ mitochondria.
“One of the ‘I am’ mitochondria migrated to Eve’s brain where it took the place of a ‘to be’ mitochondrion. There, it produced an electrical impulse which caused Eve to undergo an epiphany virtually identical to the one experienced by the original ‘I am,’ or Yahweh, string. In essence, the symbiote spoke the first words of what is now a long-forgotten language. You have probably heard the Latin equivalent, ‘Mememto mori,’ which freely translates as ‘remember that you are mortal;’ ‘remember you will die;’ or ‘remember your death.’ With this realization, something akin to the big bang took place in Eve’s brain. The ‘I am’ mitochondrion and its host cell started self-replicating until a highly specialized bundle of neurons formed in the center of Eve’s brain.
“You see, ingesting the ‘I am’ mitochondrion caused sapience, or knowledge, symbionts to form separate and apart from Eve’s sentience symbionts. The newly created neuron bundle was designed specifically to accommodate the ‘I am’ symbionts. It consists of two orientation areas. The left area creates the brain’s spatial sense of self, while the right creates the physical space in which the self exists.”
Elfredge distracted by Johanna’s account, began touching her fingertips with her thumb and then her forearm.
“I guess I never really thought about it before,” said Elfredge, slowly. “But I really don’t feel where I stop and the world starts, though now I do feel the breeze on my skin. I can see where I stop and the rest of the world stops. How weird if I couldn’t make that distinction. So what happened next?”
“Unable to bear her sense of isolation and the knowledge of her mortality alone, she convinced her mate — let’s call him Adam — to also eat some of the apricot. His brain and mitochondrial DNA, too, underwent the transformation. Their children were born with inner, personal awareness, free-standing, observant selves, possessed with all the attendant emotions, sensations, and cognition. Thus did sapience spread throughout the human race. Think of it as the first ‘Me’ generation. You, too, have such a bundle because mitochondrial DNA passes virtually unchanged from mother to daughter generation after generation.”
“Only matrilineally?” asked Elfredge.
“Good question,” said Johanna. “Male sperm contains only enough mitochondria to power the sperm to the surface of the egg – it does not enter the egg.”
Michael signaled Jim to bring another round to the table.
“And sapience is bad?”
“What you need to realize, Elfredge,” said Johanna, “is that in a sense, knowledge, or sapience, blew the singularity to smithereens.”
“You mean the ‘I am’ string, Yahweh?”
“That’s right. Yahweh is nearly pure sapience.”
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“Remember last night how Michael explained that dark energy is the fusion of knowledge and compassion?”
“Think of sapience as knowledge and sentience as compassion.”
“So dark energy is sapient and sentient.”
“Yes, but before the big bang there was no such thing as sapience and sentience, or any other dichotomies for that matter. Everything simply was, and, for the most part, even now, the vast majority of the universe, simply is.”
“Except for earth.”
“I guess we still haven’t been clear,” said Michael. “For the most part, Gaia, too, simply is. Sapience separate from sentience has manifested in only one species — though other Gaian species, whales, dolphins, the primates, parrots, and ravens are close. Homo neanderthalensis would also be included, had any survived.”
“So, you’re telling me the human race is the only self-aware entity in the universe?”
“That’s correct,” said Johanna.
“And that’s bad,” said Elfredge.
“If Johanna and I believed that, she and I wouldn’t be sitting here having brunch with you.”
“Then why Yahweh’s prohibition?”
“I need to clarify one thing about the initial Garden of Eden encounter,” said Johanna. “Yahweh’s anger and disappointed that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit stemmed from their disobedience rather than the actual eating. Secretly I think he was pleased by Eve’s initiative and, of course, desire to be just like Him.”

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Happy Bloomday

Thu 06/16/16 at 4:00 pm

“I think of you so often you have no idea.” James Joyce, Ulysses

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From I Be to I Am, Part 2

Sat 05/07/16 at 7:29 pm

Below is another excerpt from my suspended novel, The First Voice, which excerpt recounts how humans acquired sapience:

Elfredge emerged from the 59th Street/Columbus Circle station into a glorious day in the neighborhood. An early morning rain shower had scrubbed the air, and a gentle breeze had sent the last of the rain clouds out over the Atlantic. Her eyes moved up the 70-foot granite column embedded with the bronze replicas of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, then settled briefly on the statue of Columbus staring into the Park. The first traffic circle in the United States and the point at which all distances to and from New York are measured. Elfredge spotted Johanna and Michael motioning to her from the Merchant’s Gate. She walked up to them, and Johanna handed her a Good Humor Bar.

“You are my hero!” exclaimed Elfredge as she removed the paper wrapping and bit through the hard chocolate shell to the creamy vanilla ice cream inside.

“Did Robin ride up with you?” asked Michael.

“Yes. She regaled me with tales of how she’s allegedly spent her years among the humans. You all definitely get credit for imagination. She also mentioned something about ‘the Cause,’ but wouldn’t elaborate. I told her, and I want you two to know, that if I don’t get some answers soon, I’m going to call it quits.”

“I promise, by the time we’re done with lunch you’ll have a fairly good idea of what’s going on,” said Michael.

“Good. I’d hate to have to take my ball and go home.”

As they walked into the Park, Johanna asked, “So, Elfredge, you knew something about string theory, what, if anything, do you know about the Gaia hypothesis?”

“Gaia? As in Mother Earth?”

“The very one,” said Johanna. “Though I’m speaking of the hypothesis named for her that was first formulated by Dr. James Lovelock.”

“I confess I’ve never heard of it,” answered Elfredge. “Technically, I’m still here in my capacity as audience surrogate, however, so have at it.”

Author’s Aside:  According to Wikipedia:

In the study of literature, an audience surrogate is a character who expresses the questions and confusion of the reader. It is a device frequently used in detective fiction and science fiction. In detective fiction, the audience surrogate is usually a minor character that asks a central character how he or she accomplished certain deeds, for the purpose of inciting that character to explain (for the curious audience) his or her methods. In science fiction, the audience surrogate frequently takes the form of a child or other uninformed person, asking a relatively educated person to explain what amounts to the backstory. In superhero comics, the audience surrogate is often the sidekick of the hero. The earliest example of this is Batman’s sidekick, Robin, who was created specifically for this purpose. A revealing line in mystery or science fiction stories is that after the author explains the backstory, the audience surrogate will frequently utter lines to the effect of: “Well, when you put it that way, even I can understand!”  One possible meaning behind John’s uses of an unnamed “beloved disciple” in the New Testament is to serve as an audience surrogate.

This description is also helpful in determining what genre The First Voice falls into. Elfredge is neither a minor character nor a superhero. She is, however, uninformed. According to the above, then, this novel should be most appropriately considered a work of science fiction.

“All right,” said Johanna. “I will. Lovelock postulates Gaia is a sentient biota and that life on earth acts in concert to self-regulate conditions on the planet enabling life to continue to exist. For instance, the energy provided by the sun has increased by as much as 25 or even 30 percent over the eons, but the planet’s overall temperature has remained relatively constant. So, too, have atmospheric conditions and oceanic salinity despite widely varying conditions from time to time. Chance alone simply fails to account for the earth’s ability to maintain this state of equilibrium.”

Elfredge interrupted.

“Actually, I was being facetious about the audience surrogate remark. Some other time I’d probably find what you’ve just told me fascinating, but right now the only thing I’m interested in hearing from you is who you are, why I’m being followed, and why you think I need a security detail. So, unless what you’re going to say next has something to do with the any one of those topics, I’d just as soon skip it.”

“I’m sorry, Elfredge. You need to know just a few more details before we get to your questions. Please. You get lunch at the Boathouse.”

“Weeelll, okay. But only because it’s the Boathouse and it’s such a fine day for lunch on the deck.”

“In return, I’ll try to be brief,” said Johanna. “We need to fast forward a billion or so years after the solar system first emerged to the time when certain protobionts developed into the first living cells called prokaryotes. Indeed, scientists have since proven, by applying the laws of physics and chemistry, prokaryotes could have spontaneously formed in this manner. Two billion or so years later, these prokaryotes evolved into more sophisticated cellular structures called eukaryotes. Eukaryotes went on to form an intracellular symbiosis with certain organelles such as mitochondria.”

“As in mitochondrial DNA?” asked Elfredge, finally snagging a term with which she had some familiarity.

“Precisely,” answered Johanna. “A cell’s mitochondrion contains DNA different and distinct from the DNA located in its nucleus. What scientists have yet to understand is that mitochondrial DNA evokes sentience.”

Michael, seeing the puzzled look on Elfredge’s face, broke in, “Let’s go back to metaphor. I imagine you are a Star Wars fan.”

Elfredge swung an imaginary light saber. “Use the Force, Luke,” she said, trying her best to imitate Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Michael laughed. “Do you remember in Episode I of Star Wars when Shmi, Anakin Skywalker’s mother, tells Qui-Gon Jinn that Anakin has no father, rather she simply became pregnant with him?”

“Sure, and that prompts Qui-Gon Jinn to test the level of midi-chlorians in Anakin’s blood.”

“And then Qui-Gon explains that midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that live in the cells of all living organisms and communicate directly with the Force.”

It took a moment for Elfredge to realize Michael had finished speaking. “And so?” asked Elfredge.

“So,” said Johanna, slowly, “think of the Force as the ‘to be’ singularity.”

A look of realization replaced that of puzzlement on Elfredge’s face.
“I need to sit down for a minute,” she said. “You two are starting to make sense.”

Elfredge walked over and took a seat on a vacant park bench. Michael and Johanna sat down next to her.

“Let me get this straight,” said Elfredge. “You’re telling me living organisms serve as hosts for matter particulates called mitochondria and mitochondria communicate with a real force, with dark energy?”

“Yes,” answered Johanna. “These organisms are more than alive. They are sentient, a word derived from the Latin verb sentire which means ‘to feel’.”

“And Gaia?”

“Gaia is a complex interacting system formed by the living and nonliving parts of the earth. Gaia’s sentience is particularly attuned to temperature and atmospheric conditions she senses may cause harm to life on earth and, by extension, threaten her continued survival. Upon perceiving any such conditions, Gaia has taken, and will continue to take, steps to rectify the condition.”

“In other words, we’d better stop trashing the earth.”

“It’s no secret that so far, humans have done far more harm than good. Gaia maintains a sense of equilibrium; specifically, she maintains what are recognized as set points of homoeostasis.  These points, however, can change with time, and, overall, there appears to be no special tendency on her part to preserve conditions conducive to the earth’s current inhabitants, or, for that matter, to keep them comfortable.”

“Does Gaia know she’s Gaia?”

“That’s a tricky question. Gaia perceives that she is, but she is unaware that she is what you understand her to be, that is, a self-contained entity also known as Earth, any more than most of the organisms that comprise Gaia are aware of their separateness from each other or, for that matter, the universe as a whole.”

“Sounds rather Zen.”

“If you are using the term ‘Zen’ as shorthand for the condition of being one with the universe, that’s a fairly accurate observation. Some philosophers argue sentience can never be understood, and in a sense, they’re right. To understand sentience requires enlightenment, and enlightened beings have no need to understand they understand; they simply understand.”

“And human beings?”

“Humans are both sentient and sapient, a term derived from the Latin verb sapere which means ‘to be wise.’ Sapience connotes knowledge, self-awareness, apperception. As I imagine you learned in high school biology, the first sentient human species appeared about two and a half million years ago. Since then several species have come and gone including homo erectus and homo neanderthalensis. Until a few years ago, scientists thought homo sapiens had been around for about 130,000 years. In 1997, an anthropologist named Tim White discovered the fossilized remains of an extinct subspecies of homo sapiens he classified as homo sapiens idaltu which loosely translates as ‘elderly wise men.’ These remains date from approximately 160,000 years ago. So now, to distinguish present day humans from this subspecies, scientific accuracy requires that you be known as homo sapiens sapiens, though I hope you don’t mind if I shorten it to homo sapiens for our discussion today.”

“Not at all,” laughed Elfredge.

“Approximately 100,000 years ago, homo sapiens emerged from the African incubator as a species of conscious, self-aware individuals. Scientists have yet to offer a satisfactory explanation for this rather sudden acquisition of sapience, or knowledge.”

“Something tells me you’re about to explain it,” said Elfredge.

“Right, again,” answered Johanna. “But before I do, I am unable to resist one more metaphor.”

“Okay, let’s have it.”

“Well,” said Johanna, “the simple answer to how humans acquired sapience is what your ancestral mother Eve would tell you, according to Milton in Paradise Lost, ‘the serpent beguiled me and I ate’.”

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From I be to I am

Wed 03/23/16 at 5:11 pm

Below is an excerpt from my (currently suspended) novel-in-progress, The First Voice. The below is based on research I conducted a few years back, and I’ve not made any effort to see how it has withstood the test of time, so please excuse any errors that have been corrected by subsequent advances in Quantum Theory. We find our hero, Elfredge Betisdatter, having dinner at Joe Allen with two new acquaintances, Michael Zadek and Johanna Elder. We drop in at the point Michael undertakes to explain the Big Bang and subsequent expansion of the universe to Elfredge:

“Lucky for you, the nature of quantum physics is particularly suited to explication using the standbys humans rely on before they discover the math — magic, myth, and religion. In a word, metaphor. The famous mathematician Alan Turing used to ask, ‘where is God in 2+2=4?’ For purposes of our current discussion, ‘God’ is what gets lost in the translation from the myth to the scientific proof. For instance, now that we know about gravitation, we no longer believe that Atlas stands on the western edge of the world holding up the sky. Make sense?”

Elfredge stuck out her lower lip and shrugged, “I guess so.”

Michael took a drink of his scotch, “All right, you majored in English. Think of all the vibrating strings that comprised the pre-Big Bang singularity as the infinitive of the verb ‘to be.’ Only back then, ‘to be’ was a regular verb. How would you conjugate that?”

Elfredge dutifully recited, “I be, you be, he/she/it be, we be, you be, they be.”

“That’s it. So now envision all those strings vibrating ‘be be be,’ or more accurately, ‘be-not be, be-not be,’ in perfect harmony.”

Elfredge interjected, “Like the music of the spheres, or the mother of all mantras, Om ah Hum.”

“Exactly. Now let’s say that some 14 billion years ago one of those strings had an epiphany similar to Einstein’s, and it came to the realization that under certain conditions matter and energy could be destroyed. From there, this string was confronted with the possibility of its own nuclear annihilation. Just the idea of this possibility caused the string to mis-bow, metaphorically speaking, and instead of vibrating “be,” it squawked the irregular first-person, ‘I am.’  This discordance caused the singularity’s three visible dimensions to fuse with the fourth, thereby creating spacetime, or what we call real time, which in turn set up the determination we now refer to as the expanding universe.”

Michael sat back in his chair.

“Well,” exclaimed Elfredge, “When you put it that way, even I can understand!”

Just then, Thom reappeared.    “May I take your order?”

“Perfect timing,” said Johanna. “I’ll have the red beans and rice with andouille sausage.”

“Eggs sound good, actually. I’ll have a spinach and cheese omelet. Whole wheat toast. And an orange juice.”

“I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger, medium,” said Michael. “Let’s also have a bottle of Ravenswood Zin.”

Johanna observed, “A dependable choice.”

Michael flashed a smile in her direction and turned back to Elfredge. “Any questions so far?”

“Not really. Keep going.”

Michael continued, “During the first fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe underwent an incredibly rapid inflationary period. As the singularity separated, more and more matter was created from the high-energy radiation, pieces of which, in turn, spun off to form galaxy after galaxy, including the Milky Way. About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system emerged from a solar nebula that consisted principally of hydrogen, but also of other elements such as carbon and oxygen. In the next few million years, Earth and the other planets formed and began to orbit the Sun.

“A second planet named Theia, also formed and was orbiting the Sun in the same general vicinity of Earth. Theia was smaller than Earth, and as the Earth’s mass increased by the accretion of more and more material, its gravitational pull increased causing Theia’s orbit to destabilize until it finally collided with Earth. The collision sent a large portion of Earth’s crust spewing into space where it formed the Moon. The impact also altered Earth’s axis to produce the 23.5° tilt responsible for Earth’s seasons, which, in turn, created the conditions necessary to sustain life as we know it.”

Elfredge broke in. “I’ve never heard about Theia, but I do know about the 23.5° tilt because one of my friends is passionate about the number 47. He swears it’s the quintessential random number of the universe. He points to the fact that the axial tilt adds up to 47 as an example of its importance. He’s got a lot of other examples, too.”

“He is onto something,” said Michael. “You know that master equation I was talking about earlier?  Let’s just say the number 47 plays a fairly significant role in its formulation. But we digress. Back to the beginning. After the initial period of incredibly rapid inflation, the universe continued to expand. Scientists used to think that at some point the gravitational attraction of matter would eventually cause the universe to stop expanding, effectively reversing the process I’ve just described, and that eventually all matter and energy would compress back into another gravitational singularity. They called this theory The Big Crunch.”

“Now what do they think?” asked Elfredge.

“These days, physicists posit that approximately 73 per cent of our universe is comprised of dark, or phantom, energy and another 23 percent is comprised of cold dark matter. All the visible atoms are contained in the remaining 4%. With the discovery of dark energy, scientists now think it’s more likely the universe will continue to expand at an ever-increasing rate of speed until finally the electromagnetic forces holding molecules and atoms will be overcome and even the atomic nuclei will be torn apart. Scientists call this theory The Big Rip.” Continue reading From I be to I am…

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previous post: What I Am

What I Am

Fri 03/11/16 at 10:27 am

As evidenced by earlier Walking Raven entries, I have long struggled to formulate satisfactory answers to the fundamental questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Indeed, whenever I stop mid-step because I realize I’ve forgotten what it was I’m intending to do, my automatic response is to ask aloud, I “Who am I, and Why am I here.”

A few years ago I read a book entitled Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newberg, et al. It provided me with an explanation for question number one, “Who am I?” According to the authors, somewhere in the evolutionary process, the human brain developed a highly specialized bundle of neurons which enables us to differentiate between ourselves and the rest of our surroundings. Essentially, these neurons create two orientation areas. The “left orientation area creates the brain’s spatial sense of self while the right side creates the physical space in which that self can exist.” I still remember this idea of separateness led me to stand up, and, without touching anything or being touched, I closed my eyes and tried to feel my physical self apart from the rest of the world. I felt nothing but was keenly aware of my mind floating “out there” at about eye level. That night, as I settled into bed, I experienced the sensation of my physical self as a dark blob also suspended in space. With closed eyes, I also saw, in my mind’s eye, the blob that was me silhouetted against a somewhat less dark background.

According to Why God Won’t Go Away, “there seems to be, within the human head, an inner, personal awareness, a free-standing, observant itself.” I have long imagined I have a “mini-me” who stands like a Captain on the bridge situated in the center of my forehead. From there, she filters the surrounding incoherent din of the universe into understandable thoughts.

Why God Won’t Go Away offers the following explanation for this vision:

 We have come to think of this self, with all its emotions, sensations, and cognitions, as the phenomenon of mind.  Neurology cannot completely explain how such a thing can happen — how a somehow nonmaterial mind can rise from mere biological function; how the flesh and blood machinery of the brain can suddenly become “aware. ” Science and philosophy, in fact, have struggled with this question for centuries, but no definitive answers have been found, and none is clearly on the horizon.

I paused from my reading and tried to locate my mind. I fully expected to find it somewhere in my brain. Instead, I sensed what I now identify as The Mind which acts as an objective force of static energy that interacts with my brain causing my synapses to fire, thereby creating thoughts. The Mind is where everything exists in its cosmic form.

The Mind also has a subjective component, as illustrated by my favorite New Yorker cartoon ever:


I believe each of us is tapped into the Collective Unconscious. Jung coined the term and explained that it consists of structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. I envision a broader scope of structures where homo homo (sic) sapiens are concerned. I think there’s a cultural element involved that is further shaped by one’s individual experiences. In other words, a combination of nature and nurture works to customize an individual’s unconscious. This customization factor accounts for how we perceive our reality and why certain innate aspects of a culture (or subculture) makes it on some level impossible for an individual to appreciate fully the nuances of a culture different from their own.

For instance, individuals who convert to Catholicism in later life will never quite be Catholic. In a broader sense, much has been made about the differences between Western and Eastern “Thought.” As I was researching  my [at-present suspended] novel, The First Voice, I came across the Japanese term ma. In Japanese, ma, is a word for space that suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision. The West has no comparable word or concept.

Perhaps nothing underscores cultural differences better than difficulties often encountered with translation from one language to another. Some time ago, I downloaded a Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon onto my Kindle. This volume has 1344 pages of entries denoting important philosophical, literary, and political terms and concepts that defy easy–or any–translation from one language and culture to another.

In the days following my lung transplant, the meds I received led meto  imagine I had somehow managed to slip through a small opening in the veil separating this plane of existence from my Collective Unconscious. I beheld a seemingly infinite interior subterranean space with a jumble of avatars, totems, and archetypes floating in the darkness. I was unable to detect the light source that illuminated them but it was coming from above.  I reached this place by locating what seemed to be a portal in my brain. I opened the portal and fell into blackness, much, I suspect, like Alice’s descent into the rabbit hole.

Thus far, I think the above speaks more to what I am rather than who I am, hence the title. As Alice can attest, answering the Caterpillar’s question is no mean feat. Even so, in the next entry, I will endeavor to identify certain constants I find worth considering as to my/our whoness.


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previous post: Tink’s Encyclical f/k/a The November Encyclical: First Attempt (Fail)

February 23, 1970

Tue 02/23/16 at 4:31 pm

On this day in 1970, my Mother died at home. I was 15. Before marrying my Dad and having us 3 kids, she graduated from Luther College where she majored in social science with minors in psychology and English. She kept some of her textbooks, including a two-volume set of American Poetry and Prose underlined and annotated by her. As a future English major, I had recently claimed them as my own. I remember right after she died, I went to my room and opened the second volume to Robert Frost’s poem, “Home Burial.” I read the following passage:

The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!

Home BurialBack then, in small rural communities, there wasn’t a lot of guidance for what to do when someone died – other than casseroles delivered to the family and a funeral (within 3 days but never on a Sunday) accompanied by a church basement reception consisting of “lunch meat” sandwiches on white bread slathered with butter, Jell-O salads, and weak coffee. There were no grief counselors. Kubler-Ross’s model was as yet unknown. Years later, I hit upon an expression that sums it up for me: One day we had a Mother, and the next day, we didn’t.




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previous post: Happy Bloomsday

Tink’s Encyclical f/k/a The November Encyclical: First Attempt (Fail)

Wed 01/20/16 at 12:57 pm

Below is my initial attempt to communicate some of the thoughts I’ve had and observations I’ve made over the years.  It was a short-lived effort. What happened? Destiny happened. Destiny is a video game. I mainlined it for over a year. Had I not surrendered the disk to Darcy a few days ago, I would still be hooked, metaphorically speaking, of course. As I leveled my avatars and collected the treasures much  has gone unread, unsaid. It is with some satisfactiont that what went undone has significance only to me. Even so, i want to accomplish something that matters to me, if no one else. And so,  in the coming days, through a series of posts to Walking Raven and reposted to a newly created Facebook Page,  I will to pick up where I left off in November of 2014 and  undertake, once again, the task to create meaning where there otherwise is none.

  The November Encyclical


Kristine Osnes a/k/a Walking Raven

To Thomas 

The Means

The Means

The Cast

[This space intentionally contains no listing of names. I’ve tucked the original list safely away in a digital file. I refrained from including the list herein so as to spare any hurt/hard feelings on the part of those who either failed to make the list or whose names have been struck through. (Bygones, NOT.)

The Soundtrack

Joni Mitchell (all), Leonard Cohen (all), Tea and Sympathy, Diamonds and Rust, The Innocent Age, Heart Like a Wheel, American City Suite, Hymns, The Messiah, Opera, Bist du bei mir, Imagine, I Won’t Last a Day Without You, Mary Chapin Carpenter, There’s a Train Everyday, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Sarah Brightman, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Golden Slumbers, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Old Man, Lay Down Candles in the Rain, Pachelbel’s Canon, Old Friends, Broken English, Old Friends, Miller’s Crossing, Jennifer Warnes, Who Could Know?  . . . actually, nearly all of the 10,000 or so tracks in my iTunes Library uploaded from the  hundreds of backup cds stored in my closet.

Out of the Many, A Chosen Few

Don Quixote, Superman Comic Books, Robin Hood, A Wrinkle in Time, Lord of the Rings, Joseph Andrews, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Demian, The Madman, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Tristram Shandy, Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Sound and the Fury, Little, Big, The Secret History, The Man with the Golden Arm, Under the Volcano, Virginia Woolf, The Little Prince, Ulysses, Nightwood, Appointment in Sammara, Master and Margarita, The Recognitions, Gravity’s Rainbow, Pattern Recognition, Tales of the Otari, His Dark Materials, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Gilgamesh, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Infinite Jest, War and Peace, Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, The Indian Clerk, Frankenstein, The Stand, Cavalier and Clay, Jack Reacher, Gabriel Allon, Eve Dallas and Roarke, Douglas Adams, American Gods, Stardust, Lamb, Story of Edgar Sawtell, Can You Forgive Her?, The Crimson Petal and the White, Ahab’s Wife, Dante’s Inferno, The Brothers Karamazov, Professor’s House, A Song of Ice and Fire, Pendergast, Mallory, The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse, Cat’s Cradle, A Confederacy of Dunces, Oryx and Crake, Middlesex, The Sparrow, John Sandford, Perfume, The Great Stink, The Smoke Tree, Going After Cacciato, Blood Meridian, Infinite Jest, Kingkiller Chronicle, Forever, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, The Iceman Cometh, Waiting for Godot, Cyrano de Bergerac. 

Videos I own

Wings of Desire: Angels on the Streets of Berlin, Das Boot, The Seventh Seal, Prophesy I-III, The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Nashville, Ghost Dog Samurai, Kill Bill I and II, Bladerunner (Director’s Cut), Harry Potter Set, The Matrix Set, Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh), Michael, MacBeth (Judy Dench), Dark City, Dogma, Babette’s Feast, Farewell my Concubine, The Hobbit Set (to date), Magnolia, RepoMan, Star Wars Set, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The Table of Contents

The Preface

Academic Writing

The Law and Legal Writing

The Preface

I decided to give NaNoWriMo a bye this year, as the past few years have been rather disappointing. Then I started thinking outside the novel, and realized I could change the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel to writing 50,000 words about anything I felt like. Remembering a recent dream in which there was a discussion of papal encyclicals, my dream self wondered if perhaps they were akin to the State of the Union addresses. My awake self performed some research, and  learned for the most part use of the term is restricted to publications by the Pope. Even so, “encyclical” comes from Latin encylicus meaning “general” or “encircling” which is also the origin of the word “encyclopedia.” That worked for me. I decided to write an encyclical. Initially I intended to write it as a poem, but soon realized it was a perfect fit for NaNoWriMo.

At the beginning of 2004, I spent two glorious weeks on a solitary retreat at my Sister’s wonderful cabin on the banks of Cass Lake in Northern Minnesota. It was here that my blog Walking Raven was born. I described it as a Miscellany, and intended to post with some regularity entries exploring different subjects but with an emphasis on presenting backstories and discussions related to my partially written novel The First Voice. In reality, I’ve managed to post a handful of entries each year on on all manner of things, but many more were relegated to a on line description added to a file labeled “Writing Ideas.”

You see, I am a writer who doesn’t particularly like to take the time to write. To paraphrase Descartes, I have thought it, therefore it is written. Now, in the Eleventh Month of my 60th year, I pledge to transcribe in the next 30 days as many of these these ideas as I can to the digital screen of my MacBook 11.6 in. Air. From there they will become Walking Raven posts. Together they will comprise The November Encyclical; i.e., an account of the  State of Walking Raven Union. For those you few (you happy few) who have read, or perhaps more precisely, tried to read my Walking Raven compositions over the years, I envision these new entries to stay more “on task” without the distraction of parentheticals, tangents, and digressions.

I use the term “transcribe” deliberately as writing can take many forms, including printed or cursive writing with pencil or pen, typing, word processing, and so forth. I’m as yet unsure whether I would classify thinking in words or dictating as “writing.” The bottom line is I believe the end product will be different depending on the chosen technique. Over the years I’ve gone back and forth which is best for me. I have settled on word-processing as the overall best method for this project.

I will say, however, I continue to be intrigued with a company called Livescribe which produces a series of digital ball point pens. One writing implement consists of a pen with an ink cartridge that also boasts wi-fi capabilities and memory capacity up to 8GB. It also has a microphone. One can purchase a headset with earbuds that have built in speakers. It’s perfect for taking lecture notes. Using special paper, one can tap “record” and then go on to take handwritten notes. While reviewing these notes, however, touching any written word will queue up the point in the lecture when the note was written. If one wants to simply write without recording, the pen scans each written word producing a physical piece of writing as well as a digital copy that goes straight to an Evernote notebook. In turn, an app called My Script will turn handwriting into text. Pretty sweet. I suspect this will be my chosen means of writing poetry should I ever get back to it.

And so it begins. See you on the other side.

Academic Writing

I thought it fitting, since this is my NaNoWriMo offering, that in this first The November Encyclical entry I would present a few observations about writing. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. As I grew older, that desire narrowed to being a writer in Paris in the 20s and 30s smoking and drinking and hanging out at Shakespeare and Company or ay Gertrude and Alice’s place at 5 Rue de Christine de Christine de Christine. I surrounded myself with all manner of pens, pencils, and notebooks. Even so, I rarely wrote anything – although there was, of course, the obligatory stint as an adolescent poet expressing the depths of her existential angst. As an English Major at the University of Minnesota, I wrote several papers, none of which were especially memorable except for one about Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.

During my first semester as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico I experienced a rude awakening, I received a B-/C+ on a paper that I considered to be a brilliant comparison/analysis of the Circe episode in Ulysses  and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. The accompanying comment allowed as how the paper appeared to contain some good ideas, but they were hidden in the jumbled incoherency of the writing itself. Needless to say, I was devastated. In my best Scarlet O’Hara imitation I swore then and there that I would rectify the situation.

Ironically, I was teaching Freshman English at the time of the above incident. I supplemented my teaching materials with two or three “style” books, and worked alongside my students in pursuit of the perfect “5 paragraph essay.” Thesis, analysis, conclusion, again and again and then again. Thinking about it, the formulation of a thesis statement is akin to Hemingway’s quest for the perfect sentence.

And I learned. Things like, as much as one might want to add any number of random insightful comments, confine the analysis section to remarks in support of the thesis. Know one’s audience and make sure to provide enough analysis to allow the audience to follow one’s thought process. Wrap it all up in a tidy, satisfying concluding paragraph. In the ensuing years, I went on to write several paper exploring subjects like the “homosexual question” in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, or Britomart and Eve as Christian Heroes in Spencer’s The Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost respectively, or Sydney Carton’s alcoholism as the motivating factor for his sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities. And I loved every moment. My dream was to one day rewrite and publish that catalytic Joyce/Barnes paper and be invited to read it at the annual MLA convention. Instead, practicality set in and I sold out. I traded in my aspirations of being an English professor for the sure thing, law school. Three years and I would be a lawyer. To this day I wonder whether I did right by me. But overall it has worked out for the best.

It turns out I had a talent for The Law – especially legal writing. I soon developed an “office” practice, and for 10+ years I spent most days (Monday thru Sunday) (at first) dictating, editing, and critically analyzing hundreds of legal memoranda and briefs. Only toward the end did I begin to feel even remotely comfortable with written English. It still takes a lot of polishing to write what I mean, but eventually I get there – at least most of the time. Some concepts are, and will always be, ineffable.

The Law and Legal Writing

Law is based on the premise there are (at least) two sides to every story. At it simplest, Law is the process of determining which side has the “right answer.” As good an illustration as any is that of Solomon and the need for him to conduct a “best interest of the child” inquiry to determine which of two women was better qualified to have custody of a child they both claimed as their own. In the end, we’re pretty sure the child’s biological mother got the kid, but the only thing that changed in the case was judicial intervention to flush out who most loved the baby.

Law has managed to improve the tactics used to arrive at “the truth of the matter,” since the days of trial by water. [Okay, trust me, I have shown remarkable restraint in staying “on task” so far. But I feel a compulsion to point out that the expressions “trial by water” and “baptism of fire” seem the reverse of what happens in reality. What’s up with that? Whew, feel better now.)] To continue, these days we have juries and judges who act as fact-finders. To my mind, the process offers a decent answer to Pilot’s question: “What is Truth?” Truth is what a judge or jury says is the truth.

For instance during a jury trial, a grievously injured Plaintiff swears the Defendant ran a red light. Defendant swears the light was green. Plaintiff calls a witness who testifies under oath the light was red. On cross-examination it turns out the witness has recently been found guilty of fraud and has received treatment for being a pathological liar. In turn, Defendant offers the testimony of 100 Carmelite Nuns, all of whom swear the light was green. The jury accepts Plaintiff’s version that the light was red, and renders a verdict against the Defendant and in favor of the Plaintiff. At the time of the accident, and taking the yellow light out of the equation, the light was either red or green. It is up to the jury to decide, for the purpose of assessing liability, the color of the light in question.

The first step in any trial then, is to “find” the facts. The role of fact-finder is filled either by members of a jury or, if no jury, a judge. Once found, a judge must decide what law to apply to these facts. At the end of this process, the judge or jury renders a verdict disposing of the case.

There is a saying that the best attorneys keep their clients from going to trial. This goal is usually achieved in one of two ways, either by settlement (including arbitration or mediation) or by summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment maintains there is no need for a trial because there is no need to find any facts. Instead, a judge need only apply the law to the existing set of facts to find in favor of the moving party. During my first year in private practice I managed to convince a few judges that my clients was entitled to summary judgment. My future as a lawyer was decided, and for the next several years I spent much of my time researching the issues and gathering the information necessary to determine if a case warranted a motion for summary judgment.

. . .

next post: What I Am

Happy Bloomsday

Tue 06/16/15 at 9:22 am

“See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.” James Joyce, Ulysses.

next post: From I be to I am
previous post: Those were the Days

Happy Bloomsday

Mon 06/16/14 at 12:19 am

“Alone, what did Bloom feel?
The cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero of Fahrenheit, Centigrade or Réaumur: the incipient intimations of proximate dawn.”
— James Joyce, Ulysses

next post: February 23, 1970
previous post: Cognitive Surplus

Those were the Days

Thu 03/27/14 at 4:23 pm

I started 8th grade at Madelia High School in the fall of 1968. I was nearly 14. A new teacher, Thomas Ackerson, had joined the English faculty and I was assigned to his class. The day I walked through the door of his classroom, my world was changed. In an instant. In the blinking of an eye. If memory serves, Tom was about 30. He had spent a few years in the Navy before attending college and then beginning his teaching career. I’m not sure the term “dangling participle” or any other grammatical phrase was uttered in the classroom that year. Instead, Tom introduced a new concept: Each of us had a brain and it was time to learn how to use it.

Tom was the guiding force in my life throughout the rest of my high school career, though it is difficult, for the most part, to remember what happened when. There is no doubt, however, that if one attended 8th grade at Madelia High School during Tom’s tenure, you either read, or he read to you, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. (I spent each spring break after that rereading it.) Tom kept telling us he was a Hobbit, but we all knew he was Gandalf. I identified with Legolas. The Trilogy was only the beginning.

In the ensuing years, I heard and memorized many poems, with an emphasis on Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay. At one point I could recite nearly all of Millay’s Sonnets. It was an eclectic mix: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyam, Wordsworth, Edward G. Robinson (Mr. Flood’s Party), Bobby Burns, Archie and Mehitibel.

Drama also had its place. Camelot, Man of La Mancha, Sheridan’s The Rivals, and, especially, Cyrano de Bergerac and G.B. Shaw’s Man and Superman — in particular, the dream scene of Don Juan in Hell. [One of the highlights of my life was seeing Cyrano starring Christopher Plummer at the Guthrie: “And tonight when I, at last, God behold, my salute will sweep his blue threshold with something spotless. A diamond in the ash which I take in spite of you; and that is my panache.”]

At one point, D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature got a fair amount of airtime. As a result, I remember reading (on my own) Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Rainbow (fabulous), and The Escaped Cock. [Given this early exposure, one may well indeed ask why, having lived in New Mexico for 30+ years, I have never visited Lawrence’s grave in Taos?] Tom was especially enamored with Lawrence’s views of the Holy Ghost and The Unforgiveable Sin – the natures of which have haunted me for a lifetime.

Rather than The Prophet, we read Gibran’s The Madmen. At the time, I was far too poor to buy a copy which was only available in hardcover, so I borrowed Tom’s and typed the entire book on my Mother’s trusty Smith-Corona. Then there was The Little Prince [“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “[People] have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so [people] have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”]. And Alice in Wonderland. [“And Who,” said the Caterpillar to Alice, “are You?”] Two works Tom often mentioned, but would not provide copies to read, were Twain’s 1601 and Jules Feiffer’s Harry the Rat with Women (Carnal Knowledge, an amazing film). Not surprisingly, these books were also unavailable in either the school or county libraries.

Tom was a walking Bartlett’s Quotations. It seems he had a quote for every situation. Not only did he use quotation-speak, he would also type pages and pages of them and then mimeograph them for distribution. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in my papers there isn’t a cache of these sheets of paper containing blurry, purple ink sentences. On a related matter, Thomas is also responsible for what has remained a lifelong habit of highlighting passages in whatever book I am reading. For many years I used only lemon yellow (as opposed to egg yolk) colored highlighters. Rarely, if ever, did I annotate the margins. I still have my original highlighted volumes of Tolkien’s trilogy. Only recently have I disposed of a drawerful of dried out yellow markers. I’ve begun passing along the books I read to friends and family members, so these days I tag passages of interest with multi-colored flags to spare others  the distraction of the highlights. When I finish a book, I go through and type or dictate reading notes based on the tagged selections.

The above practice(s) were invaluable if I had to write a paper. To start, I would reference by page number and then type the highlighted passages thereby creating a set of reading notes. In this way, references to a particular subject or theme appearing throughout a book would be readily available for consideration. I still have my extensive notes for Don Quixote, many of Virginia Woolf’s novels, Ulysses, and Moby Dick. I sometimes think how if one were to gather up all the books I’ve read and collect all these singled-out words and passages, the end-product would be a sort of codex of my Weltanschauug.

Tom had a following. During his free hours and after school, we few, we happy few, would hang out in his classroom. Around the corner of his classroom was a door and a parking lot. Every morning he would park his sports car of the moment, and stand just outside the door to have one last cigarette before beginning the day. He smoked Camel straights unless he had a cold or other respiratory ailment, then it was Kool straights. We sometimes hung out with him during smoke breaks. (Though we, of course, wouldn’t smoke. If you were caught smoking back then, say goodbye to any extracurricular activities.)

Madelia was, and is, a small town with a population of roughly 2300. It was and still is, therefore, amazing to me the caliber of teachers at our small high school – approximatly 500 students from grades 7 to 12 when I was in attendance. The English faculty was outstanding. In addition to Tom, there was Karen Anderson. She was young, and “hip,” and the Queen of Diagramming Sentences. I took independent study classes from her, and absorbed Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and, Dostoyevsky, though there was some overlap as Thomas was fond of the Grand Inquisitor. She also taught journalism. I was one of the editors and the typesetter of the school newspaper. The “staff” would spend Saturdays listening to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story, Carly Simon’s You’re so Vain, and Johnny Rivers’ Realization, featuring Whiter Shade of Pale. I learned to justify print on a page utilizing a combination of the space and half-space keys. Talk about an outlet for my OCD.

Bill Brown was something of a free spirit. I don’t associate any particular books or authors with him, but he loved to hold (mostly one-sided) conversations about everything under the sun. He (and then wife Bonnie) would hold court on weekends at their home on the corner of First Street.

Rising head and shoulders above all, was the distinguished and elegant Frank Rommel. He taught Senior English (Dickens and Austin) and French (the only language offered), so everyone had him at some time or another. He was revered by all, especially and including those detailed above. Rumor had it that he was a classically trained pianist who in his younger years had spent time in Persia and knew the Shah. Front and center when one entered his home was a baby grand piano. How he ended up teaching high school in Madelia, Minnesota is still a mystery to me.

He conducted what is perhaps best described as salons most weekends where the chosen would gather and debate and recite and sing standards. I wish there was more to write, but I rarely got back to Madelia after graduation — the time when one, if found worthy, was traditionally admitted to that rarefied circle.

Some of you reading this share these memories and may have noticed I’ve left out a few things – well, maybe more than a few things. This is a post about educational legacy. The other things, I’ll keep, pondering them in my heart. Suffice that Peyton Place had nothing on Madelia.

Sadly, Frank died just a few years after the above events. Bill and I stayed in touch for the first few years, and then we lost track of each other. A few years back, he became a Facebook friend. We also spoke on the phone a few times. Well, he spoke, I listened. He too suffered from COPD, and a year or so ago, he went to the ER with a sore throat and that was that. Karen and I continued to see each other over the years. Eventually, she actually moved to Albuquerque. We’ve not spoken in awhile, but I presume she’s still here.

I reconnected with Tom a few years back, and for a while we kept up an email correspondence and had lunch every now and then when I visited the North Country. I’m not entirely sure, but I may have played my last round of golf with him. Somewhere in there, he sent me a package of several audio discs which included recordings of the Don Juan in Hell scene from Man and Superman and 1601. Two books accompanied the cds – Jules Feiffer’s Harry the Rat with Women and All Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith embossed with the stamp “Library of TNA Thomas Ackerson.” I stopped by to see him last year on my way to my 40th reunion.

next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Happy Bloomsday

The Comeback

Sat 12/21/13 at 2:37 pm

What follows is a Walking Raven entry I wrote a couple years back. I found it the other day while performing the Sisyphusian task of organizing my virtual life. I fixed a few typos, but pretty much I decided to post as written. On this, the fourth anniversary of my transplant, I thought some of you might find it of interest.  Not much has changed except, instead of WOW, I’ve been playing Skyrim. (I have measured out my life in video games.)


So, it’s June. 2011. Where have I been? Playing World of Warcraft (WOW) mostly, and my addiction to it may pretty much explain my absence, but I like to think there were other reasons, too – some of which I’ve decided I want to try and explain in what I hope proves to be a “come back” post. I doubt many of you will read much beyond this point (if even to this point). After all, what follows is way more than 140 or even 420 characters. So I write for me, and those few, those happy few I am honored to call my band of comrades.

As I think most of you know, several years ago I was diagnosed with severe COPD a/k/a emphysema. I spent the next few years managing that insidious disease. During that time I think/hope I learned how to die, or more specifically, learned I didn’t have to learn how to die. Nothing to learn. One just dies, or not.

During those years, I never read Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. I’m not sure why. It seems so appropriate given my illness and obsession with metaphors. Perhaps someday I’ll choose it as my next “to read.” I’m unsure why I bring it up other than to acknowledge I thought about reading it, and maybe on some level to remind that sometimes an illness is just an illness.

I’ve just kept the promise to myself which was that I would write something first thing. WOW is off-limits except while watching various and sundry (usually these days) streaming videos. The next three books (four if one counts The Bible) are either begun or queued. I still have some things to attend to on my list and some significant nerd maintenance, but I will write through it all. I want/need to explain. Which explanation I will endeavor to tease out from the fabric of the written universe in the coming days.

It’s been about a year and a half since I underwent a single lung transplant. I received a new left lung, and at some point every day I wonder at my good fortune. By the end, I was pretty sick and pretty miserable, but I did it the way I did it to give me as long a life as possible. My initial evaluation as a lung transplant candidate occurred in June of 2002. I had been diagnosed a few years before and told that in five to ten years I would probably need a transplant. A change in health insurance providers resulted in a temporary pulmonologist change, and my new doc was much more proactive (in retrospect more an alarmist) concerning the transplant. He advised I should take steps to get “on the list” as soon as possible. At the time, lungs were allocated according to blood type, size, and seniority (on the list). The wait was approximately three years. He told me given the current state of my lungs I had two and a half, maybe three, years to live.

I was devastated. I really like being among the living.

Long story short, I immediately began to get my transplant ducks in a row. Because no New Mexico facilities perform lung transplants I pretty much had carte blanche where to go. Given my beloved sister lives just outside Minneapolis and University of Minnesota/Fairview is one of the premiere transplant centers in the United States, it was a no brainer I would start there. I arranged for an evaluation and spent several days being poked, prodded, and measured. The highlight was a heart cath accompanied by a Benadryl drip. Oh, yeah. At the end of it all, I met with an amazing surgeon who recommended I be listed for a bilateral sequential transplant. And so began the wait.

My pre-transplant pulmonologist advised that after my transplant I would need to find a new home for my wonderful yellow-naped Amazon parrot, Lexis. As it was, his presence in my life was causing irritation in my native lungs. I decided it would be difficult not to let the knowledge I would one day have to give him up interfere with our relationship, and so we found him a home with a young male member of the Parrot Clan at the Zuni Pueblo. Lex would be treasured. We were companions for 17 years. I still miss him, but know he’s had a good life, and will hopefully continue to have a good life for a few more decades yet. (Average lifespan for yellow-napes is 63 years.)

As I moved up the list, and just as I was about at the point when I could realistically be called, the rules changed from blood type, size, and seniority to “need based.” Would-be recipients with COPD were generally at the bottom as it was really impossible to predict how long any of us would hang on whereas cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis have fairly predictable life expectancies; e.g., no one with a certain type of pulmonary fibrosis lived beyond three (3) years. I was 50, and for me it was decision time. I asked my transplant center pulmonologist to give me survival odds with my old lungs. At the time my lung function was approximately 24%. She estimated a 45% 5-year survival. I asked the odds with transplanted lungs. 55%.

Knowing that no one has survived beyond 15 years after a lung transplant, I made the decision to stick with my old lungs as long as possible. I took my name off the list since seniority no longer mattered, and began the saga of managing the disease. The next five years certainly took their toll. Shortly after my decision, I contracted pneumonia and spent 10 days in the hospital as a very sick puppy. I was unable to do much of anything except lie in a fetal position, sleeping fitfully, waiting for my lungs to clear. Eventually, they did. I took a shower and went home. As I understand it, frequent hospitalizations of pneumonia was pretty much par for the course.

The culprit(s) were “mucous plugs” that periodically blocked whatever airways I had left thereby drastically reducing my already totally compromised lung function. The danger was I would not have the strength to clear the blockage (or, as the alarmist pulmonologist once remarked, sneeze and collapse a lung).

Amazingly, that was my only hospitalization. Over the years I would require ambulance transport to the emergency room, but after a blast of intravenous steroids and antibiotics I went home, as hospitals were full of nasty germs. At the insistence of my sister Mary, I acquired The Vest by Hillrom. Normally only used by cystic fibrosis patients, its user-base was slowly expanding to include other lung conditions. I am convinced it kept the infections at bay and I am grateful to my sister for her tenacity in this regard.

The amount of oxygen you are on is measured by litres. I went from 2 liters at rest to 3 liters. 4 to 6 with nearly any kind of exertion. By the end, I was having to crank my oxygen up to 6 (as far as my liquid oxygen home tank would go) just to walk down the hall to the bathroom. I rarely went out, in part because it was just too hard; in part because there were germs out there. Being an off-the-charts introvert, spending my days hanging out with various farm members (that at present total a greyhound, a whippet, and 5 cats) was actually quite pleasant. I rekindled my love of reading, watched the occasional video. In 2007, I began playing WOW. Until that day, I had managed to write at least a third of my novel, The First Voice. After that, not so much. Indeed, not at all. I’m still struggling with finding a balance. On some level I know I must let go, but the opportunity to make order and the vibrant graphics of WOW continue to suck me in. I am an addict. It’s pathetic. I am a willful, stubborn addict — but I leave my WOW addiction for another day, or not.

On December 20, 2009 at 4:13 p.m. I got the call offering me a lung. By 6:30 p.m. we were wheels up at the Albuquerque Sunport hurtling toward Minneapolis at the speed of a Lear jet at altitude. Ground transportation to U of M/Fairview awaited us there. Now, I’m something of a word snob, though notoriously bad about using cliches. One word I particularly dislike is “surreal.” But the only word to describe what awaited us at the Minneapolis airport is “surreal.” The flight nurse, EMT, Darcy and I were directed to a Hummer stretch limo the interior of which was illuminated by multi-colored neon which glinted off the bar and the several champagne glasses hanging overhead. By the time we made it to the limousine, though, the shock of what was about to happen had really set in. I was floating in metaphorical amniotic fluid. My fugue state continued once we reached the hospital where my sister Mary and brother-in-law Marc were awaiting our arrival. I have little memory of the next few hours. I know I was administered 1000 mg of Prozac out of the gate to suppress my immune system. And I remember my surgeon explaining that he thought it was a “good lung.” I thanked him, and distinctly remember him saying, as he walked out of sight, “That’s why I brought you up here tonight.” (Later, he would tell the family it was the most “pristine” lung he had ever seen.)

I rely on others who were there to describe the next few days. The surgery took approximately __ hours. I hated being intubated. The first day off the tube I was in exceptionally good spirits. Then it all fell apart. Apparently I had uncontrollable diarrhea that eventually developed into an excruciating case of diaper rash. My back, from an old injury, was killing me. They’d broken three ribs on my left side to gain egress and ingress into my thoracic cavity. I had chest tubes that kept getting entangled. I was, in a word, “miserable,” which is why my reaction was not exactly joyful when people would suggest the transplant was my “Christmas miracle.”

Moving from ICU to the regular hospital ward only made things worse as the bed and chairs were horribly uncomfortable. The new year came. I spent approximately 3 weeks sleep-deprived. For the first time in long time, I wanted to die.

‘Roid rage episodes led to the alienation of everyone with whom I came in contact — especially those nearest and dearest. It is most frustrating watching one’s self be a red-faced, saliva spitting monster berating everyone about one sort of incompetence or another. The medical staff warned us this might happen, but it had little effect. Though I am utterly sorry for the pain I caused, still it would have been nice if my targets had somehow been able to accept that I was possessed by demons and been able to avoid taking it personally. Truly an instance of being “beside myself.”

I also hallucinated for many days. I sat in front of a huge computer console that enabled me to control my world. I would call up on a screen wherever I wanted to go, hit a button, and go there. I tore a rift in the fabric of the universe and slipped over to the other side where I floated amidst the Jungian archetypes. There were also audio hallucinations. One day while sitting in a wheelchair outside my room awaiting transport to X-ray (or somewhere), I “heard” two men conversing in the room next to mine. One said, in a distinct Indian accent, “You have not formed a sufficient personal relationship with God. You need to take a sleep study.” If only it were that easy.

Eventually, the diaper rash, diarrhea cleared up; the chest tubes were pulled, a final chest X-ray taken, and I was on my way to the Argyle apartment complex on Delaware just a few short blocks away from the transplant center and the hospital. For a reasonable rental fee, U of M/Fairview kept a block of apartments available for patients who required extended care.

Arrangements had been made for 24/7 care — Tim and Matthew (two cousins of good friends) and my baby sister on weekends. I bought a Samsung flatscreen TV and PS3 to keep the boys amused. I spent the next 3 months more or less sleeping in between clinic appointments and rehab. I started the latest J.D. Robb title on the plane to Minneapolis. The suitcase brought with me on the plane had been mostly filled with many wonderful books. I finished the J.D. Robb the first week in March. In other words, my fantasies of spending those days reading, reading, reading were a bit off. My attention span was that of a gnat. All was not lost, however. My dear friends mjh and Merri Rudd arranged to ship my iMac so I could play WOW. (There’s always time and energy to indulge an addiction.)

I’d had a reaction to Cellcept, one of the immunosuppression drugs, early on, and been put on Immuran instead. A couple weeks after I moved into the apartment, I developed symptoms of pancreatitis as a side-effect of the Immuran. That led to intravenous drug administration, a switch to Myfortic, and another week in the hospital.

In mid-March, 2010, I purchased the 1997 Buick LeSabre Tim’s grandfather had passed on to him. It easily accommodated my stuff and Tim’s. The two of us drove straight through and arrived in Albuquerque the following day.

previous post: Progress


Tue 06/25/13 at 10:28 am

I can look a friend or family member in the eye, and say, matter-of-factly and without flinching, “I am really smart.” Yet, just the thought of posting such a statement to the world wide web causes me to wince. It feels, at best, arrogant, at worst, really arrogant. The audacity felt by some at such a declaration is nearly palpable, sending a shudder through certainly the  Norwegian Lutheran members of my audience. As a group, we have rules to which there must be strict adherence. One of these rules prohibits an individual from any sort of self-praise unless it is accompanied by some sort of negation expression in the form of a self-depracating tone or gesture.

Well, I too, have rules. Some of these rules are specifically directed to breaking free from living what I best describe as a shame-based existence. One way I realized I could do this was to promise myself that if I wrote a Walking Raven post, I would publish it, no matter how flushed I became at the thought of doing so. In keeping with this promise then, I’m here to tell you all, “I am really smart.” There, I’ve said (so have I done) it. Anyone else out there care to give it a try? If you do, I’m fairly certain your  heart rate, like mine, will eventually return to normal. If you’re not yet ready for prime time, then go stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and see if you can say it and mean it to the person returning your gaze.

next post: The Comeback

Cognitive Surplus

Sun 06/23/13 at 7:25 pm

Whether I am living the only life I’ll ever have, or this life is one of many I’ve lived/am living either linearly or concurrently, I am privileged to have been born into what Buddhists call a “precious human birth.” For me, this means that meeting my basic needs requires relatively little energy each day, leaving me time to pursue other interests. A few years back, I ran across what I consider to be the perfect term for what I’m writing about: “Cognitive Surplus.” Clay Shirky coined the term in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. I’ve yet to read the book, but I’ve read enough about it to state unequivocally my life has taken place in the murk of a Gin Craze. Essentially, this means that over the years I have squandered nearly all my cognitive surplus engaging in mindless, dopamine- or endorphin-producing activities. The receptors in my brain chant relentlessly, “Feed me, Seymour.”

Every once in awhile, though, I emerge from the fog of television, video games, and trash fiction to think about “stuff,” and, on even rarer occasions, I endeavor to express these thoughts in ways that I hope others might understand. I’m convinced that providing the means for each inhabitant of this outlier planet to have sufficient cognitive surplus to create and to engage in an exchange of creative energy (in whatever form) is the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” It’s been decades since I’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert Heinlein’s saga of Valentine Michael Smith. I remember very little about it these days, back then it was a world-altering experience. I am convinced that our overriding mission on this earth is to grok one another in some fashion or another. See also Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

That said, opportunities for serious grokking are few and far between, better left between or among the grokkers. Communal grokking; i.e., shared expressions of cognitive surplus, ranging from random thoughts to whatever respective individuals espouse as the “highest form of Art,” is something else again. At some level, we humans as a whole are driven to transform our synaptic firings into external expressions of all sorts in the sure and certain that others will understand. [At this juncture some of you may want to pause and take a cognitive surplus moment to think about what is meant by the term “understand,” and how that concept entered the unconscious mind.]

Throughout the years, I’ve tried many ways to communicate with my fellow humans. [Remember “Reach Out and Touch Someone?”] I’ve had an AOL email account since 1995. [I have never changed the password. It was my first.] Ten years ago, with the invaluable assistance of my redoubtable Buddy Mark Justice Hinton, I launched Walking Raven: A Miscellany. With the advent of Social Media, the World Wide Web has played an increasingly important role in my efforts to communicate “stuff” – though mjh and I often commiserate on the lack of readers. Mostly, I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. If I fall, will anyone hear? [That would be two clichés and a mixed metaphor. Yes!]

Yet I remain undaunted. And so I introduce my new Facebook Page: “Cognitive Surplus.” I decided to do so because lately I’ve become increasingly aware of instances where my brain train comes to a screeching halt and I find words or symbols have emerged from the tumult of words and symbols racing through my neural tissue, which words and symbols then hang suspended before me awaiting further attention. I feel a vast field of [dark?] energy swirling all around that I call the Mind. An opening at the base of my brainstem serves as a gateway that acts as a filter and makes thoughts manageable for a puny human such as myself.

I envision Cognitive Surplus as a repository for the random thoughts that in my youth were once shared with regularity over coffee or tea when my friends and I had time for such activity. Walking Raven remains my blog of choice for posting the more substantive musings I’ve shared with two, maybe even three, of you over the years (which two or three are in all likelihood the only ones who have read this far). [I’m not bitter. Noooooo.] I continue to be a proud founding member of the Edgewiseblog virtual community mjh established long before the days of Facebook and other social media sites. That said, meander on over to CS and check out my first official post. Oh, and feel free to come by Walking Raven Central for tea or coffee any time. Luddite Facetime is always appreciated.



next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Happy Bloomsday

Happy Bloomsday

Sun 06/16/13 at 12:15 am

“What’s in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.”
— James Joyce, Ulysses

next post: Those were the Days
previous post: Virtual Scroll: Take 2

This Much I Know

Fri 11/23/12 at 1:20 am

On this date, at this time, four years ago, the music died.

This Much I Know

This much I know
To be true
With a certainty more certain
Than sure and certain hope.

I know it
Without question,
Beyond question.

I know it
Without doubt.
Beyond doubt.

This much I know.
My brother,
My beloved brother,
Is still dead.

The rest is silence.

November 23, 2012
1:20 a.m. PST

previous post: Poem Upon Waking

Poem Upon Waking

Sat 09/29/12 at 3:23 pm

The secret of life.
We all die.
Get over it. And live.

cko 9/29/2012


next post: This Much I Know
previous post: Oh, My Brother

Happy Bloomsday

Sat 06/16/12 at 12:30 am

“If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend.’ Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce, Ulysses

next post: Cognitive Surplus
previous post: Facebook


Thu 05/03/12 at 2:12 pm

Hi everybody. Didja miss me? Didja? Um, no, not really.

I’m asking because some of you may have noticed that a couple weeks ago I announced, “I give up.” What I gave up was posting status updates or comments and “likes” concerning other people’s posts. (How hard is it to click “Like?”) I chose to become one of what I’m told some folks refer to as Facebook “lurkers.” Hence, I’ve spent the last few days lurking, posting the occasional link but refraining from offering quotes, observations, or even cute kitty pictures (metaphorically speaking, of course). Trouble is, I like doing those things. I realized this morning I was reverting to my past victim mentality of “I’ll show you, I’ll hurt myself.”

Moreover, while I agree that love (what early Christians named agape, but also eros) is the answer, the means to accomplish this end is to communicate in one way or another with one another. Facebook is one of those ways.

Going beyond Facebook and borrowing a term from my favorite Martian, the ultimate goal of communication is to grok one another. Robert A. Heinlein coined the term “grok” in his 1961 science-fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land. According to Wikipedia, it is a Martian expression that can not be defined in Earthling terms, but can be associated with various literal meanings such as “water”, “to drink”, “life”, or “to live”, and has a much more profound figurative meaning that is hard for terrestrial culture to understand because of its assumption of a singular reality. From the novel:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as “to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with” and “to empathise or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment.” I think of grokking as sentience which I believe is shared with everyone and everything on this earth as well as Earth itself, as explained by the Gaia principle.

While status updates and all will probably never rise to the level of grok, Facebook is a fine vehicle for communication. So, I’m back because it seems “meet, right, and salutary” to be so.

Oh, and for those of you who read this to the end, a treat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q34z5dCmC4M

next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Write My Novel — Please

Virtual Scroll: Take 2

Mon 04/30/12 at 11:30 am

A few years ago, I had an experience that resulted into the beginning of a memoir of sorts entitled Tink: An Epic. It started when I took a road trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother. I stayed in a hotel adjacent to the back of my brother’s apartment complex. One morning, I experienced an incident that prompted me to write the following:

Imagine a fish out of water. Now, imagine you are that fish. Panning out, you as fish are flopped on a king-size bed in a Comfort Inn on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood California. Less than ten feet away is a closed door. Less than 10 feet from that door is the locked hatchback of a 2007 Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with indestructible seats and a beige interior. It just barely registers on the LA auto cool scale. Behind the locked hatchback is an ocean of air consisting of an LV30 tank of liquid oxygen and four or five standard E-cylinders. You delude yourself that you have options. You can (a) flop off the bed, somehow open the door, flop to the back of the car, somehow unlock it, thrust a cannula up your nose and turn the liquid tank dial to 4. If that were really an option, you’d’ve already done it and not found yourself in this predicament. So, you move onto (b). You have enough consciousness left to know you still hold onto your cell phone, try John again? He said he kept his phone on vibrate, but maybe not at night. He hadn’t answered a minute ago. Option (c), then. 911. Option (b) one more time before consigning your fate to the municipality of LA. Send. Send. He answers! “Come!” . . . “Now.” And then the wait. Can you wait? Breathe. Breathe. But this atmosphere is only 7% oxygen. Not nearly enough for lungs reduced to 15% function, with airwaves full of mucous obstructions, inflamed by LA pollution, narrowed with panic. Breathe. The Calvary arrives. “Get [housekeeping] to open the door.” Success! No, unbelievably, inevitably, stupidly I’d flipped the hinged-lock over. I would have to move, after all. Lunge and the door opens. Somehow the car key gets handed off. Get a tank. Take off the paper wrapper covering the fittings. Regulator off the empty tank. Onto the new tank. Set it in. Turn it on. No! Precious molecules gushing out the sides. Unscrew, reset, screw. Turn. On. Click around to 4. Grab a cannula. Put in nose. Breathe. Breathe. 4 liters of 100 percent oxygen each minute. Yes. Gasp. “We did it!” Gasp. “You did it!” Praise. Praise for the brother, so often incapable of performing the most basic technical or mechanical task. “Never tell Darcy. You, we must never tell Darcy.”

And how, you may be wondering, did little fish find herself in such dire straits at the Comfort Inn that morning?

At that point, I realized I had the start of an epic. It began in medias res, and presented a question that would take some spacetime to explore and eventually answer.

On the drive out to L.A., I listened to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I realize most of you probably know the process Kerouac went through to write his road trip experiences. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, in brief, he loaded a blank 120-foot roll of tracing paper into a typewriter set up in his Manhattan kitchen. Dubbed “The Scroll,” he sat and typed virtually nonstop for three weeks. The finished product was a single-spaced document without margins or paragraph breaks. [A tour of The Scroll in 2007 included a stop at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. I have no idea how I missed that.] Over the next few years, with a lot of help from his friends, the scroll became the novel On the Road.

I decided I would create a virtual scroll on my computer where I would record in no particular order the life experiences that had forged the bond among we few, we happy siblings, Big Brother John, Middle Me, and Baby Sister Mary Beth. I managed to write a few thousand words over the course of perhaps a month, and then an insidious event occurred that would sabotage almost everything in my life. I subscribed to World of Warcraft and became mired in the realms of Azeroth, et.al for years, yes, years. It has only been in the last few weeks that I have managed to abandon my beloved avatars. In large part, I credit George R.R. Martin’s saga The Song of Ice and Fire. I read all five volumes seriatim, only taking time to sleep and maintain my Facebook pages.

During those lost years, I had also forsaken my novel The First Voice. Sporadic attempts to make progress ended badly. I didn’t suffer from writer’s block. Instead, I realized I was a writer who hated to write. Moreover, I had so much other “stuff” floating around in my brain that I couldn’t stay focused on Voice. I returned to the notion of the virtual scroll. I decided to put the original project on hold and start a new scroll where I would empty my brain and make room for Voice. And so I purchased a “typewriter” in the form of an 11.6 inch MacBook Air that is dedicated almost exclusively to creating this new scroll. I loaded Word, opened a new document, chose – what else – the “American Typewriter” font, and here I am.

I envision this scroll to be a record of what has brought me to this point in the present in one multiverse, as opposed to what brought my brother and I to the earlier point described in the first scroll. [As an aside: recall that all points in a circle are equidistant from its center.]

For those of you who don’t know, my brother was brutally murdered in a road rage incident in L.A. in the early morning hours of November 23, 2008. I still haven’t reached a point where I can write about him. Shortly after his death, I did compose a Walking Raven post entitled Two Flutes and One to Wail for those of you who would like to know more.

At this juncture, I intend to focus on “stuff” that I will publish intermittently in the form of Walking Raven entries.

Long ago, I asked my buddy mjh to set up www.walkingraven.com. In part to jump-start a sustained effort to write Voice. I am hoping that writing this scroll will help me return to it, even though if I’ve learned anything from my Facebook experience, it is that attempts at “social-networking” serve more as reminders, we are all pretty much isolated voices crying in the wilderness.

next post: Happy Bloomsday
previous post: Testimonial

Write My Novel — Please

Tue 04/24/12 at 3:28 pm

Okay, here’s a major “do, do, do, do.”  A few days ago, I started a new Walking Raven entry that gave me occasion to pull up the Word Press Dashboard for the first time in a long time. There, I noticed a draft document entitled “Write My Novel – Please.” I began reading it, and realized I had no memory of ever having written it. I went to Walking Raven and searched for that title. Not there. It appears, then, to be an unpublished draft of a post. I searched all my documents and found none that contained the phrase “write my novel.” Here’s the deal, I can recall no other time when I composed an entry from the start in Word Press. I always write my drafts in Word and then transfer them to Word Press for the final polish.

I was, and remain, completely baffled by how this entry came to be. After reading it through, I concluded it and I have too many shared ideas to believe that anyone but me would have written it. Thus, I decided to give it a final edit and post it to Walking Raven. Here, then, is the mysterious entry:

Write My Novel – Please

Near as I can tell I’ve got one, maybe two, books in me. If I were ever to get them written, I want to write poetry and Walking Raven posts exclusively. Hence this entry to see if anybody else out there wants to give it try. In brief, Taylor Milleva, is a mathematical prodigy. She is a poster child that makes we Americans feel better about the somewhat dismal mathematics ratings compared to the rest of the world. [When I first read the draft, I had absolutely no idea how I came to name my protagonist Taylor Milleva. In thinking about it, “Taylor” may have made the short list as a name for a dog or cat. Just before posting this, I decided to search Google for “Milleva” to see if any results could shed some light. Imagine my surprise and then realization when I learned that “Mileva” was the name of Einstein’s first wife, a mathematician and physicist in her own right. Some folks believe it was really she who authored what Einstein dubbed the Annus Mirabilis papers in 1905. So my choice for Taylor’s surname solved.]

At an early age Taylor began pursuing a degree in Mathematics at Brown University. To allow her to do this, her parents insisted she take two liberal arts classes of her choice each semester. The first semester she chose Modern (Post 1950) American Literature and an in-depth comparative reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. She took Art History and Music Appreciation her second semester.

Taylor believes there is a universal “music of the spheres” which was spoken (or rather, sung/chanted) by human, celestial, and sentient beings until Yahweh and his heavenly entourage collectively known as “Us” decided to topple the tower of Babel and confound all speech. [For more about this topic, you may want to check out the Walking Raven entry entitled “Us.”] Taylor filled boards and boards with mathematical formulae looking for the key to this original language without success.  She was especially interested in discovering the Lost Chord.

At the end of spring semester, Taylor was given the chance of a lifetime — to spend the summer as an intern working at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. It was the summer the quantum physicists would attempt to prove the existence of the Higgs boson a/k/a the God particle. Some people are frightened that in doing so, a singularity will be created and a second “Big Bang” will result blowing us, and the rest of the universe, to kingdom come, metaphorically speaking, of course.  [We all know that won’t happen as the world is scheduled to end this coming December 12. The experiment actually planned for the collider is scheduled to take place this coming summer, but just in case.]

Well, I’ve gotten Taylor to CERN, now you’re on your own. Come up with a solid ending and figure out how to get there. Have fun.


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previous post: Testimonial


Fri 01/27/12 at 7:42 pm

During my visit to the transplant center last October, certain symptoms led my team to consider the possibility my new left lung might be in the early stages of my first bout of chronic rejection. Contemplation of my mortality kept me sleepless into the wee hours of the morning for many nights to come until I had my 2nd annual in-depth examination in December, and everything appeared to be as good as could be expected.

I have lived with thoughts of death for many years. My mother died of breast cancer when she was 42. I was 15. We three siblings were quick learners. Good or bad, I think each of us took away from her death a “why bother?” attitude. I finally lived beyond her death age.  Maybe I was going to live for a while after all. Not very long thereafter, I was diagnosed with severe COPD.

One thing is certain, our mother was seriously depressed, and we her children were too. I don’t exactly know when my brother started taking anti-depressants, but it changed his life and the lives of those around him. My brother suffered many symptoms of OCD. He was, well, rigid. Prozac made him much easier to live with. I can remember vividly the epiphanic moment when I realized just what an effect it had on him. It was during one of my visits to see him in Manhattan. We had left the apartment and were walking on 14th to the Subway station to catch a Westside train. At some point he looked down at his feet and realized he was not wearing the shoes he had planned to wear. I steeled myself, awaiting the temper tantrum that was sure to come as he turned us around and began stomping back to his apartment to retrieve the correct shoes. Imagine my surprise when he merely shrugged, remarked, “It’s a Prozac day,” and kept walking.

Shortly after I returned from Manhattan, I went to my doctor and obtained a prescription for Prozac. It’s hard to explain the difference antidepressants make. The change is relatively subtle. But one day, as a friend explained, you’ll be parked at a red light and out of the blue you’ll hear an inner voice remark, “I love my life.” And that’s exactly what happened. I realized that despite everything, I have had a most excellent life.

In other words, aside from that, for the most part, I’ve truly enjoyed the play.

next post: Write My Novel — Please
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Just in Time for the State of the Union

Tue 01/24/12 at 1:11 pm

I know next to nothing about economics. I never took a class, or read a book on the subject. I might be able to question a Jeopardy! answer or two, but that’s about it. Once upon a time, though, in 1976, I attended a film that did change my life. That film was Network. It boasts an impressive cast and, I was completely mesmerized. It got a boatload of Oscar Nominations and won several of them. I just checked on Netflix, and it’s available on DVD or for streaming.

What brought it to the forefront of my mind, is the decades-old foreshadowing of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in the guise of disgruntled Americans everywhere who were encouraged by a crazy news anchor to get up out of their seats, open a window and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Without giving too much away, a one on one speech delivered at the end has stuck with me these many years. Essentially, it was about how naïve it was to think borders and countries had anything to do with anything. The world is managed by a few multi-national corporations who have found that exploiting we humans’ penchant for patriotism, country/race identification, religious affiliation and so forth was a tried and true way of distracting the citizens of the world from realizing what was really going on.

I’m not quite ready to declare myself an adherent of the conspiracy theory, though I confess I am intrigued by those secret societies, the Freemasons, Templars, Illuminati, and so forth. And I certainly wouldn’t turn down an invitation to the annual Bilderberg conference.

In spite of my nearly complete ignorance about economic theory(ies), or perhaps because of it, a few days ago, I arrived at what I believe would solve many, if not all,  of America’s economic woes. As has recently come to the forefront, in 1819, the United States Supreme Court decided the first in a long line of cases detailing the notion of “corporate personhood.” In that regard, I propose treating them as such when it comes to paying income tax. I realize this would also probably entail a review and adjustment of existing loopholes.

On a related matter, I am totally on board with instituting a flat tax. I’m confident IBM’s Watson could come up with the percentage everyone would need to pay to meet the present budgetary needs and reduce the deficit. I would also favor determining what threshold amount of income would trigger the tax. No one, rich or poor, corporate or otherwise, would pay any tax on that amount. I have to believe that if IBM’s Watson were enlisted to run the numbers we would see this was, indeed, a viable alternative.

What’s wrong with this picture? The corporations would never stand for it. They would simply move offshore and outsource even more than they do now. The United States would become a “bedroom nation.” But I can dream, can’t I? Imagine.

next post: Testimonial
previous post: A Naming

A Naming

Sun 01/22/12 at 12:01 pm

I strive for precision when I speak or write. I search my mind for words and phrases, trying them on my syntactic model to see which fit the best. Many years ago I came across the statement, “There are no synonyms.” Since then, I try to parse the nuance, if any, between two words generally considered the equivalent of each other. I try to be aware, and appreciative, of those instances when someone uses the perfect word to convey meaning.

I take note of new words that are created to give meaning to new phenomena. Sometimes I come up with a word that I think might be a “new” word. Years ago I came up with “observative.” The other day I used “misclick” to explain a misdirected email. I checked the OED and it wasn’t there. Then I checked the Urban Dictionary and there it was, defined (split infinitive and all) as “to accidently click on the wrong Internet link.”

And then, of course, there is the practice of nouning and verbing. More often than not, I find this practice irritating. I cringe when people talk about “journaling-” – though I have no objection to “googling.” I leave for another day an examination of why I am of two minds concerning this subject. On a related matter, I find dropping articles, and thereby turning a noun into a proper noun particularly grating.  I want people to say they are “in a relationship” not “in Relationship.” Still, in terms of immortality, striving to have one’s name turned into what I guess, in such a case would be described as becoming a proper Proper noun, or a verb, is certainly one way to go.  The ultimate, of course, would be for one’s name to become a meme. (Visually this happens when someone becomes a widely recognized spokesman for a brand – for how many of you did “Mr. Whipple” just come to mind?) There I go, showing my age again. How about the Progressive Gecko?

For those of you who are wondering, I intend to get to a point. To do that, I need to tell you a little bit about my big brother John. First and foremost, he was a gifted musician. If he heard a song, he could play it in four-part harmony, in any key. There were certain songs, however, he simply refused to play. Feelings comes immediately to mind. (For me, it’s Fernando.) There were several others that he also considered unworthy, such as Memories from Cats. If someone requested one of these songs, he would instead play a different one from the same musical that, while less popular, he considered acceptable.  Sondheim and Porter were his favorites, Andrew Lloyd Weber, an irritation.

John’s musical opinions translated into other aspects of his life. He simply had exquisite taste and a dislike for the mob mentality. He had an uncanny ability to spot a trend that by the time it went viral (long before “it went viral” had become an everyday expression, or any expression at all), he had been there, done that and either incorporated it into his life or dismissed it. He was the first in our small town of 2500 to wear blue jeans – Levi’s to be precise. By the time everyone began sporting Polo Ponies, he, while still appreciative of Ralph Lauren, would only wear Polo clothes that incorporated a Polo pony anywhere but on one’s upper left side. He considered Polo Sport a travesty. His first cat couldn’t just be a cat, or even just any old purebred feline, she was a Cornish Rex. (Though later in life he acquired a huge orange tabby named Oscar whom he also loved and adored.)

Ultimately some would say he was a snob. For me, the better word is “snobbish,” and I think he might even agree with that description. His snobbishness was authentic, grounded in conscious consideration and arrived at independent from the crowd. And there were constants that remained favored even after popularization, Gucci and Tiffany’s for example. He was discerning and just somehow “knew,” appreciating quality and excellence wherever and no matter where he found it.

And so to the point, because for me, it’s all about the destination, progress be damned. For that matter, any journey be damned unless there is one, a destination that is. These days, I spend a fair amount of time listening to the songs I’ve transferred to my iPod Touch (by album, alphabetically). The number of songs in my iTunes folder now total in the several thousands, taking up nearly 45 gigs of disk space.  I often “thrill” to certain songs that I find particularly fine. Sometimes, in the midst of listening, I experience a flush of shame interrupting this delight – Sarah Brightman is perhaps the best example – as the realization dawns that I’m loving a song which my brother would dismiss out of hand.

One day I realized there was an already existing word, the definition of which could be expanded to give a name to this feeling. I still remember when an old friend (maybe you even know who you are) first used the word and explained the meaning. Now, when I experience the sensation of enjoying something of which I know my brother would disapprove, I tell myself I’m feeling Bourgeois. 

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Shoot to Kill: My First [Written] Movie Review Ever

Sat 01/21/12 at 5:07 pm

I watched the film Shoot to Kill a few weeks ago. *SPOILER ALERT* For those of you who have not seen the movie, Sidney Portier, a career “city slicker” FBI agent teams up with a mountain man to track a serial killer who has escaped into the North American wilderness with a group of other guys on some sort of outing led by mountain man’s girlfriend (Kierstie Alley) after Serial Killer got away with millions in diamonds and, pretty much for the hell of it, killed his hostage, the jeweler’s wife. It was not, in Mr. FBI Guy’s opinion, his first kill. Serial Killer needs Girlfriend to guide him to a road that will get him to the Canadian/American border.

Much of the movie is a gripping thriller, even though some of the early scenes are just a tad far-fetched. For instance, each of the guys and Girlfriend has an enormous backpack. Besides a sleeping bag and maybe a change of clothes, what else could be in those packs?  I’d bet on food. Even so, there’s a scene where Girlfriend catches two fish while Serial Killer first lights, and then, given the smoke, kicks dirt on a fire. In response, girlfriend plops down and tears into one of the raw fish. Serial Killer refuses her offer of the other fish. He refuses. She shrugs. The implication is that Serial Killer will go hungry. Cracks in the foundation of suspended disbelief.

Long story short, Girlfriend and Serial Killer eventually break through the trees and there’s the highway. Girlfriend manages to flag down a truck, but alas, Serial Killer catches up and we watch all three of them drive off toward the border. Later, the truck is found with Dead Trucker, and, of course, no sign of Serial Killer or Girlfriend. Here’s where suspended disbelief begins to crumble. Once Serial Killer’s made it to the highway, he no longer needs Girlfriend. His pattern has always been to ruthlessly kill anyone he no longer needs.  Along with Dead Trucker, she should have been toast.

I kept thinking about the film after it ended. I kept thinking long enough to realize that the pursuit of Serial Killer was totally unnecessary and would never have happened in “real life.” Here’s what Mr. Twenty-Years’ Experience FBI Guy knew at the time he and Boyfriend took off to track the expedition. He knew Serial Killer was among five guys who were being led by Girlfriend to a lodge in the forest. He knew, or could readily find out, where this lodge was located. The group was not a hunting trip because no guns were evident, and one of Serial Killer’s companions expressed surprise when Serial Killer’s handgun accidentally fell out of his pack.

I leave for another day what realistic steps may have been taken to attempt rescue all of the members of the expedition. Without giving it all away, only Serial Killer and Girlfriend arrive at the lodge. They had spent at least one night in the open.  During that time, I’m assuming FBI Guy would have obtained photos of all the party members, and, while he might not know what Serial Killer looked like, he could be identified through the process of elimination.

So, you give the photos to your best sniper, he boards a helicopter that makes  a wide berth around the search area so as to avoid detection. Sniper will be dropped off somewhere near the lodge, he’ll locate a desirable vantage point and don his snow camouflage. Sniper waits until Serial Killer and Girlfriend appear. As they approach the lodge entrance, Sniper blows Serial Killer away. Occam’s Razor.

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Oh, My Brother

Tue 11/08/11 at 3:00 pm

Oh, my Brother, my Brother.
My Brother? Dead?

I wish I could believe
My death would present an opportunity
For God to tell me Why.
A Why might help —
Not really.

I see him
Sauntering down the street
Dressed in his favorite best
Internally warmed by his last martini
Against the autumn chill.

Moving toward the fateful encounter
“Fateful” because a minute,
Perhaps even seconds,
On either side
And he walks on, undead.

Instead, he slaps at the vehicle
Driven by a Black, Swedish Rapper.
You read right,
A Black Swedish Rapper,

Not a beloved ’65 fastback ‘stang,
Or a ’67 Cobra,
Or a ’70 Chevelle,
But a rental
A rental.

And so they watched
As the Black Swedish Rapper
Emerged from the rental and
Killed the Music.
The rest is silence.

— cko, August 30, 2011

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