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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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 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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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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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

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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.



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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

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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

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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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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.

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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.

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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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Who Could Know?

Sun 09/11/11 at 8:46 am

My brother John watched as one of the planes followed Fifth Avenue down the island. Shortly thereafter, he wrote the following tribute. Who Could Know?

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Free Association

Thu 09/01/11 at 6:57 pm

Today when I appeared to be napping, I was actually thinking because even after a largely sleepless night I was unable to go to sleep. Ever since my transplant, sleep has been iffy. Indeed the first few weeks I maybe caught 20 minutes here and there. Days are very long when sleep fails to happen – especially when one is encumbered by draining chest tubes, lying in a bed with a mattress that precludes being able to reach the controls with at least one “Code Blue” called on the ward each night — talk about momento mori. Anyway, I’m really sick of being sleep deprived. But, I digress.

Today, as I was lying there, a question came to mind. Assuming dogs and cats are sentient but not sapient, are they nonetheless enlightened in that they don’t know where they end and the rest of the universe begins?

That thought gave way to a somewhat related, but really not so much, reminder of a line in a song recorded by Art Garfunkel in his first solo effort entitled “Angel Clare.” One of the tracks ends with the question, “Do spacemen pass dead souls on their way to the moon?”

I think I may have dropped off for a bit after that.

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Famous Pairs

Thu 08/18/11 at 10:57 am

At dinner last night, the subject of Odin’s Ravens came up. When I got home, using Wikipedia, I compiled the following and sent it (minus photographs) as an email to my buddy mjh. He suggested I post on Walking Raven, so here goes.

In Norse mythology, Huginn (from Old Norse “thought”) and Muninn (Old Norse “memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring the god Odin information. Huginn and Muninn are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in the Third Grammatical Treatise, compiled in the 13th century by Óláfr Þórðarson; and in the poetry of skalds. The names of the ravens are sometimes modernly anglicized as Hugin and Munin.

In the Poetic Edda, a disguised Odin expresses that he fears that they may not return from their daily flights. The Prose Edda explains that Odin is referred to as “raven-god” due to his association with Huginn and Muninn. In the Prose Edda and the Third Grammatical Treatise, the two ravens are described as perching on Odin’s shoulders. Heimskringla details that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak.

Migration Period golden bracteates, Vendel era helmet plates, a pair of identical Germanic Iron Age bird-shaped brooches, Viking Age objects depicting a moustached man wearing a helmet, and a portion of the 10th or 11th century Thorwald’s Cross may depict Odin with one of the ravens. Huginn and Muninn’s role as Odin’s messengers has been linked to shamanic practices, the Norse raven banner, general raven symbolism among the Germanic peoples, and the Norse concepts of the fylgja and the hamingja.

* * *

In Norse mythology, Geri and Freki (Old Norse, both meaning “the ravenous” or “greedy one”) are two wolves which are said to accompany the god Odin. They are attested in the Poetic Edda, a collection of epic poetry compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. The pair has been compared to similar figures found in Greek, Roman and Vedic mythology, and may also be connected to beliefs surrounding the Germanic “wolf-warrior bands”, the Úlfhéðnar.

* * *

Two famous stone lions guarding the entrance [to the main New York Public Library] were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter. They were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, in honor of the library’s founders. These names were transformed into Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (although both lions are male). In the 1930s they were nicknamed “Patience” and “Fortitude” by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. He chose these names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression. Patience is on the south side (the left as one faces the main entrance) and Fortitude on the north.

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And So (Hopefully) It Begins

Wed 07/27/11 at 10:20 am

Some of you may recall from other blog entries or posts that I have transferred almost all of my cds to iTunes. At present, I have 9119 songs in my Library. For some time now, I’ve been listening to them all by album, alphabetically by title. As of the beginning of this entry, I’ve made it to “Hits” by Phil Collins. The other day, I remembered I read an interview with Neil Gaiman in which he explained that he listened to music while he wrote. I thought I might give it a try. Then my musician Brother was killed and it was too painful to listen to much music – especially Standards and any song with a piano. Lately, I’ve added music back into my life. I am still, however, neglecting my writing.

Then a few days ago, it dawned on me that in all likelihood I had at least one unwritten page swirling around in my head for each of those 9119 songs; maybe even that many unwritten poems, novels, essays, posts, etc. My biggest regret by far is my unwillingness regularly to perform the act of committing the compositions of my mind to paper – real or virtual – i.e., writing. [One night I asked a group of friends whether if an individual lacks something with which to write and so tells a thought story to him/herself for later transcription (maybe), is that “writing?” The consensus was “No.” Writing by definition includes the physical act of placing symbols on a page – real or virtual.]

In a weird sort of way, I can see how listening to music might help a person to focus and stay engaged longer than might otherwise be the case. Then I thought waaaaay back to my 17th Century Literature class and the poet Christopher Smart. He would suffer bouts of insanity periodically and wander the streets of London practicing Paul’s admonition recorded in I Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing.” I substituted “write” for “pray,” and decided I would indeed endeavor to write without ceasing to the best of my ability. It’s time and I have much to say – even if from experience I know I am more or less a lone voice crying in the virtual wilderness.

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Happy Bloomsday.

Thu 06/16/11 at 6:16 am

Another year and I’m still here. Yes.

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Happy Bloomsday

Wed 06/16/10 at 7:01 pm

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

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Poetry Found

Wed 12/02/09 at 4:25 pm

“I heard the Bell toll for some that were dead.” Pilgrim’s Progess, John Bunyan

“[A]nd therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne

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In Memoriam

Mon 11/23/09 at 2:20 am

On this day one year ago at or about the hour of 1:20 a.m. PST the music died. The rest is silence.

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Of Turtle Bones, Arrows, and Awo

Wed 10/07/09 at 10:12 am

The Teaching Company offers a 24 lecture course entitled “The Great Philosophical Debate: Free Will and Determinism.” The “Buy-This-Course” blurb uses Saul Smilansky as its example of a contemporary philosopher who “believes that we do not have free will but that we must keep it a secret from the masses” because “ if all people knew their behavior was determined, they would stop behaving morally.” Huh?

I’m still unsure who to believe, all those angels of print and screen who are ticked God gave humans, but not them, free will, or Calvin and his categories of the elect, the damned, and the preterites who are damned simply because they are not meant to be saved. I’d like to believe we have free will, but the ironist in me suspects that the notion God needs to damn a whole class of people just so certain others can feel special is the more likely scenario. Of course this presupposes the existence of God. Take that presupposition out of the equation and what’s left is a universe that either operates according to a set of laws (even if the “unified theory” continues to elude), or is some random conglomerate of matter and energy.

Two isolated (and admittedly minor) events in my life caused me at one point to contemplate whether it really is futile to try to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. The first incident occurred sometime in the year 2000 when I saw my first picture of a PT Cruiser. I simply had to have one. I went shopping, but, early on, supply exceeded demand. By the time supply caught up with demand, and I was once again in the market for a new vehicle, I chose practicality over visceral response and purchased a Wintergreen Subaru Outback (beige interior) instead. Fast forward to 2007, where, for a few months, I exchanged the Subaru for a well-loved-but-too-small-to-accommodate-my-oxygen-tank 1999 green Mazda Miata convertible (beige interior). Unfortunately I was pretty sure it was incapable of getting me safely to LA where I needed to go to see my beloved brother. Enter the newly designed Scion xB. It reminded me of the mini-hearse Harold built in the movie Harold and Maude, only Teal. Blue neon interior lights. I loved it. I priced it. I slept on it. On the way back to the Toyota dealership to buy it, I took a detour into the Chrysler dealership where I found a Tangerine Pearl PT Cruiser Touring Edition with power moon roof, YES Essentials® cloth low-back bucket seats, pastel pebble beige interior, and body-color spoiler. I bought it instead of the Scion. A few weeks later, I spotted a Teal Scion xB driving down the street. I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Self, they’re driving my car.” (I think in inclusive language, grammar be damned.) And then I realized I meant what I had just said. I really did want the Scion. So why had I bought the PT? Was I destined to own a PT? Did I really have a choice? Even knowing then what I know now, I’m unsure whether I could have left the dealership that day and driven the extra mile down the road to Toyota.

The second incident also began in the year 2000. Darcy and I were in the midst of designing the residence we later built just behind the Biopark here in Albuquerque. We had a rule that served us in good stead during this time. We called it the “Ick” rule. If either of us was categorically opposed to anything in connection with the planning, construction, or furnishing of the house, all either one of us had to say was: “That’s an Ick.” End of discussion. The only challenge ever raised with respect to the “Ick” rule occurred during the design phase when Darcy wanted to have a bay window in what would be her office. I invoked the Ick rule. She countered it was in her space. I stood firm, and she agreed to a design modification whereby the window would be built out like a bay window so there would be ample shelf space for cat beds, but it would be squared as opposed to angled with no side windows.
Last year Darcy’s Mom, Margaret, decided to move to a senior facility, and we decided to purchase her home because it was a single story. My space in our old house was a wonderful loft on the second floor called the “Aerie,” but I hadn’t been able to use it in literally years given the effort required to climb the stairs. When Margaret first bought the house in which we presently reside, she performed some fairly extensive renovations (including building the addition that has been transformed into Walking Raven Central). The living room looks east onto a park and then onto a view of the Sandia Mountains. To optimize her view, she added, . . . wait for it, . . . a bay window. (Hey, I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years.) Was I fated all along to have a bay window?

Still unconvinced? Well, how about this one. I started law school in 1983. Shortly thereafter, I attended some sort of mock trial event presided over by Justice Mary Coon Walters. Justice Walters was the first woman appointed as a Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. I thought she was way cool and remember saying to myself, “Self, I’m going to work for her someday.” Three years later, Justice Walters sat down at her desk, arranged the resumes of the prospective law clerks she’d interviewed according to class rank, and started making calls. She moved down the list until Jana accepted her first offer and continued on down the list until I accepted the second.

I’ve just finished reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. In each book, after a hero is given a quest s/he must go consult the oracle in the attic. The role of prophesy, at least in “Western” art and literature certainly suggests free will is an illusion. Moreover, even if the hero is told that the outcome of a prophesy is evitable, I’ve been unable to come up with, or be directed to, an example where a prophesy has been thwarted or gone unfulfilled. (Although one “quest-ending” continues to trouble me. Frodo put on the Ring.) The same holds true with quest literature, except we’re often informed that the back-story involves other wannabe heroes who have tried and failed. I’d like it if my destiny included finishing my novel, The First Voice, since that means my number won’t come up until I finish it. In the meantime, I continue to listen for that voice in my head that signals I may have just been given a glimpse into my future, keeping in mind, of course, that inherent in oracular prophesies is they are understood only after the fact.

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Happy Bloomsday

Tue 06/16/09 at 8:05 am

“Who’ll hang Judas Iscariot?” — James Joyce, Ulysses

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“New Year”

Thu 01/01/09 at 8:36 am

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T.S. Eliot

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Two Flutes and One to Wail

Wed 12/24/08 at 12:47 am

Many of you know by now that at approximately 1:20 a.m. the morning of Sunday, November 23, 2008, David Moses Jassy, a black rap musician from Sweden, brutally murdered my beloved brother John. According to eye-witness accounts, as my brother crossed the street, a white SUV crossed the line delineating the crosswalk. Apparently, John slapped his hands on the hood of the car. In response, Jassy exited the rental SUV, hit him in the face, and, as John bent down to retrieve his glasses, kicked him in the head. Despite efforts on the part of witnesses, including an off-duty police officer, to restrain him, Jassy broke free, got back in the vehicle, and drove over my brother’s body as he fled the scene. EMTs arrived within four minutes of the first 911 call. John had no vitals at that time. Even so, he was intubated, given CPR, and so forth. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:52. More about this senseless tragedy, along with memories, photos, and music may be found at www.johnosnes.com.

John and I were 18 months apart. My younger sister Mary Beth came along 6 years after I did. Our Mother’s death from breast cancer at the ages of 16, 15, and 9, respectively, formed a bond among the three of us that strengthened over time. One of the many things we shared was a love of music. Whenever we were together, a word or phrase would cause one of us to start singing, and the other two would chime in. We knew a song for almost any word. For instance, one of us would use “sunshine” in conversation and soon would be heard, “we sang in the sunshine, you know we laughed every day . . .” We were “on the road again,” or on “the long and winding road.” We never “let the sun catch [us] crying.” We did our “crying in the rain.”

John and I lived together (with a few other friends) in St. Paul for about a year while I attended the University of Minnesota. It was the hey-day of the Selby-Dale restoration. Our gang was well-known at the Commodore Hotel where F. Scott and Zelda lived while he wrote This Side of Paradise. One night John orchestrated a Lutheran Church basement potluck to be held in the magnificent Art Deco bar. Everyone who had escaped from the surrounding small towns and made it to the “Big City” brought their favorite childhood casserole and Jello dishes, washed down with martinis and other cocktails. Scandalous.

We also frequented the Oak Room Bar which was a couple blocks down from the Commodore on the Southwest corner of Selby and Western. This area of the city was still very much in a state of transition. The regulars would be lined up outside by 8:00 a.m. waiting for the doors to open. Many would still be there when we arrived around 8:00 p.m. Cutty Sark was the bar scotch (60 cents a shot). The jukebox played standards like “Mac the Knife” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.”

I moved to New Mexico in 1978, and for the next 30 years ours was primarily a long-distance relationship. I made it back to the Midwest at least once a year. After John moved to New York, he and I nearly always managed an annual Minneapolis rendezvous with Sister Mary. In addition, I tried to make it to Manhattan at least once a year. For many of his years there, John had a fabulous 18th floor, one-bedroom apartment on West 14th between 5th and 6th facing dead onto Midtown and the Empire State Building. We used to come in from a late dinner and sit on his sofa (my bed) and make derisive comments about the tourists who pointed their cameras into the night, flashing away in the surrounding darkness.

In 1993, for John’s 40th birthday, his then-partner Jim drove John to a cattery in Connecticut where they picked out a Cornish Rex kitten with the registered name of Beaconwood Desert Chief. As they drove back into the City down 7th Avenue, John spotted an old painted sign on the side of a building that read “Jensen Lewis Awning Company.” And the kitten had his everyday name, “Jensen!”

Jensen was fairly feral in those days. He didn’t mind being petted, but forget about holding him. Any attempt to do so would be met by a fierce struggle that ended with him leaping out of one’s arms and running for cover. He was, however, extremely fond of playing fetch with his little toy mice. John would throw one and Jensen would go careening full speed after it and pounce on his prey. He would then pick it up in his mouth, walk over to my brother, and deposit the mouse in front of him for another throw. He never tired of this activity. Given his penchant for fetch, I sometimes refer to him as “dog-kitty.”

Rexes have a need to communicate their presence often and loudly — especially in the early hours of the morning. For that reason, the kitchen served as Jensen’s bedroom, and a blanket atop the refrigerator as his bed. I still remember stumbling into the kitchen to start the coffee, and there would be Jensen — staring down at me from his perch.

John and Jensen lived contently in Manhattan for several years, but in 1997, circumstances made it difficult for John to keep him, and John asked if he could come live with me. I readily assented, and so one day, he and Jensen boarded a plane for Albuquerque. I met them at the airport. I will never forget the moment Jensen’s Kennel Kab finally emerged through the flaps of the oversized luggage conveyor belt. He was wide-awake, lying on his refrigerator blanket. Jensen has lived with me for over 10 years. Even so, if you knew my brother at all, you knew about Jensen. Jensen is/was the love of our respective lives.

John and I had a few “must dos” in New York. If he was playing somewhere, I, of course, would hang out and listen whenever I could. One night at the Omni, Judy Collins came in for dinner. John and I conferred as to which song he should play. We settled on “Michael from Mountains” by Joni Mitchell that Judy covered on her Wildflowers album. As she left, she walked over to John and thanked him, both for playing the song, and reminding her how much she liked the song. He told her his sister had suggested he play it. She replied, “Well, then, thank your sister.”

Even though he had a wonderful voice, John sang rarely and reluctantly. For 30 years I begged him to sing. Finally, during what turned out to be my last visit to Manhattan, John both played and sang at the Ada Restaurant. The night I went to hear him, he pulled the microphone close and announced that the next song was for his sister Kris. He then serenaded me with a beautifully phrased version of the Carpenters’ “I Won’t Last a Day Without You.” Needless to say, I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

No matter what time of year, on Sundays we’d walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and have either lunch or breakfast in Brooklyn. At least once during each visit, we’d have dinner at Joe Allen’s. We’d sit at the bar, and John would treat himself to a cheeseburger and fries. I liked the red beans and rice with andouille sausage. Two of my most prized possessions are the Joe Allen Christmas presents given out each year to regular patrons. John gave me the t-shirt and wine bottle coaster. (Sorry, Deborah.)

One year my visit overlapped the Thanksgiving weekend. John took me to see the Metropolitan Museum’s Christmas tree adorned with 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs and other crèche figures. Exquisite. That may have also been the year he and I attended his favorite holiday event, “Lessons and Carols” at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. Angelic voices intermingled with the muffled rumble of the subway trains rushing below.

On the morning of 9/11, John was on the roof of an apartment complex near Columbia having his morning cigarettes and coffee. One of the planes flew directly over his head and on down the island. Shortly thereafter, John wrote a beautiful anthem,“Who Could Know.

At the very least, John was an economic victim of 9/11. In times of economic distress, live music is one of the first cuts. To make matters worse, his “day job” was as a travel agent. The agency he worked for eventually closed its doors. He struggled valiantly, but in 2004, it became clear he simply had to leave his beloved Manhattan. In September, he started driving with a friend from the east coast about the same time I started driving north from New Mexico. We converged at Sister Mary’s house in Burnsville, Minnesota, the southernmost suburb of Minneapolis.

We both loved road trips. The initial plan was to check out possible piano venues in D.C. and do some touring along the way. We were excited about visiting, among other locations, Gettysburg and Savannah. Essentially, we planned to turn right at D.C. and end up in Miami where he hoped to find piano work. Once we met up in Minneapolis, however, we reevaluated the situation. John thought he might like to come on to Albuquerque with me instead. And so we did, by a somewhat circuitous route. I had earlier managed to travel old Route 66 from Springfield, Missouri to Albuquerque. We decided we could use the opportunity to tour the first leg, starting at Adams Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago. So we went east before we went west. On the way to Albuquerque, we rode to the top of the St. Louis Arch and touched the nose on Abraham Lincoln’s bust for luck.

John enjoyed his months in Albuquerque. During that time, I experienced my first major COPD exacerbation and emergency room transport. After my hospitalization, he moved in with me and my partner Darcy, so that someone would be home during the day should I require assistance. He and I had many good times while he was on “Kris Watch.” At the time, in addition to Jensen, our “farm” consisted of three other cats (Sophie, Shobo, and Simon) and two rescued greyhounds, Dante and B’mer. John and Dante fell in love. The two of them were inseparable. John would take both hounds on long walks almost every day. On the way out he would let them wander and sniff, but on the way back, he would march them home, one on either side. It was a sight to behold.

In 2005, an employment opportunity took John to Los Angeles. Though he left behind Jensen, Dante, and me, his former partner, now best friend, Jim a/k/a “Chonga” lived in Silver Lake. I made three trips to LA, and John came back to Albuquerque twice on the train. His first train trip coincided with a Sister Mary visit. It was the last time the three of us were together.

For the past two years, my brother and I either talked to each other or exchanged voice mails every day. Last February, I could tell he was feeling kind of low, so I jumped in my tangerine pearl PT Cruiser and drove out to LA for a visit. I timed it so I would be there for his Sunday night “John Osnes and Friends” at The Piano Bar. He had some wonderful singers who were there most Sundays, but it was also set up so that anyone who wanted to sing was welcome. For the first, and now only, time, John played and I sang “Imagine” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” I also cajoled him into riding the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier.

In the past few weeks I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read from folks offering condolences, “I don’t know what to say.” That’s just it; there is nothing that can be said. What happened is unspeakable. In a different sense of the word, the more I read and tinker with the above, I realize it tells you some things about John and me, but it doesn’t really “say” much. Perhaps someday I will find words to tell you about my brother, and our relationship, and what he meant to me.

One thing I will say is that many of you are unaware that for most of John’s life, his was a struggle simply to survive. The reason most of you were unaware of this struggle is that he managed to survive (and, yes, often to the consternation of his family and friends) on his own terms.

Finally, when someone dies people often remark that a light has gone out in the universe. In John’s case, I’m with Don McLean. The early hours of Sunday, November 23, 2008 mark, for me, “the day the music died.” The rest is silence.

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Beware of Tricksters

Thu 09/18/08 at 10:51 am

pro-woman, anti-palin

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Prednisone Rant, Sort of

Sat 08/30/08 at 10:21 am

Just wanted you to know I’ve been on prednisone for a few days now and ran out of my generic Paxil last week. Don’t worry, I’m just waiting on a refill of the Paxil. My ribs hurt. Either because I’ve been coughing so much, so hard, or my lungs are trying to expand out of my chest. And, I don’t mean to be a drama queen, but sometimes it gets a little scary. [Note: And I wasn’t being a drama queen; I spent the day after I wrote what you have just read at the emergency room on the urging of my wonderful Nurse Jane and the EMTs and orders of Dr. Bro relayed via Nurse David. A kick-ass steroid and a couple antibiotic IVs have hopefully gotten my infection under control, but the gang at Presbyterian gave me an open invitation to come back anytime this weekend should the need arise.] As a result, I’m a little cranky, and possibly a tiny bit manic. Something to keep in mind as you read the below.

Some of you know I’ve been spending the last couple weeks writing a post whose working title is “Mother of All Blog Entries” in between fighting my massive addiction to that massively multiplayer online game (“MMOG”) World of Warcraft (“WOW”)with The Burning Crusade extension — me and 10 to 11 million other monthly subscription players worldwide. (I used to have a postcard on my bulletin board that read “400,000 heroin addicts can’t be all wrong.” I suppose on some level that remains to be seen, but I’m more or less betting it doesn’t really matter one way or the other in the; i.e., my, “grand scheme of things.” [And for those of you who just rolled your eyes, clichés are hardwired into my DNA, so deal. Besides, when you think about it, they are an excellent “common-denominator” communication device even though I know many of you would begin that phrase with the word “lowest.” In this case, untrue. The qualifier “at the end of the day,” is the lowest common-denominator for communicating the particular sentiment expressed above. I suppose I could have said, “in the grand scheme of Indra’s Net.” Show of hands, how many of you have I lost with what some might consider an obscure reference? How many of you just think I’m being affected? How many prefer “in the long run?” Okay, enough.]

Yesterday, I had the following early morning Instant Message (“IM”) exchange with one of my most preferred human s (“ph”) who will know who s/he is when s/he reads it:

Me (6:41:58 AM): [M]aybe the Matrix [movie] is right. [W]e play video games to manufacture energy for [the inhabitants of] another universe and they decided to at least make it pleasant for us.
ph[d](6:42:51 AM): [O]r maybe you’re just using it to keep away from your own real feelings and to keep from interacting with other living human beings[.]
Me (6:43:28 AM): [N]o, [I]’m following the natural law of physics. [A]ll things being equal, [an object will follow] the path of least resistance. . . .
Me (6:44:39 AM): [I]t’s easier to play WOW than read. [I]it’s easier to read than write.

Some of you may have had encountered me in the throes of my initial infatuation with WOW. I confess. I was rude. I kept playing while we talked, and for that I apologize. That said, the idea I am playing WOW to avoid feeling or interacting with other humans is, at least in my reality, (almost) ironic. “Almost,” because, as I stated in an earlier entry on this same subject, I am an off-the-chart introvert. See December 8, 2007 Entry. [And speaking of irony, I note I posted that entry on the third day of a prednisone burst.] Perhaps in the minds of those of you who read my earlier entry, you misunderstood me, thinking I meant I really didn’t want to talk to any of you. If so, that was a failure to communicate on my part. [And a “shout out” to another buddy who, after reading my earlier post was prompted to call me on Skype to have voice contact rather than send an email while traveling outside the country.] [See, I’m watching the Democratic Convention. A new meme, “shout out,” has gone national. Thanks, Barack.][Okay, show of hands, now how many of you have I lost? Screw it, I’m just going to write, and let the chips fall where they may.] [Oops, there I go again.]

Before our friend Myra died, she and Darcy would periodically call each other and talk for seemingly hours. When asked later what they had talked about, Darcy would invariably answer, “Green grapes,” her metaphor for the everyday stuff, places gone and people seen. She came up with the expression after seeing the following New Yorker cartoon:


The caption reads: “On my way home today on the bus, a lone grape rolled down the aisle and came to rest near my feet. It was pale green and looked to be of the seedless variety.”

Unlike Darcy and Myra, I am Green grapes-impaired. When I was practicing law I consciously had to remind myself to begin a telephone conversation with “Hi, how are you? How are the spouse, pets, kids?” Often though, I would screw up and just dive right into the business at hand. I think I got better over the years, but if I’m in a social situation with a lot of people I don’t know, I still have trouble coming up with things to talk about. So, for me, food and the weather, not so much. Movies and books, better, much better. Discussions about a subject du jour, free will, predestination, the nature of karma, the Islamic version of the second coming of Christ, the meaning of life, the fear (or not) of death. Even better.

I’ll also confess to being empathy-impaired. I was fascinated to learn, well into my 20s, that some people, when they tell me, for example, “I have a headache,” don’t want to hear “Well, have you taken aspirin? Do you need to call the doctor?” More often than not, they don’t want the perceived problem solved, they just want me to acknowledge their pain or frustration or whatever. I still tend to miss those signals, but learning, and employing, the expression, “Poor, baby,” when I think of it has been invaluable.

For the record, though, I am still, and will always be, a recovering attorney. I do like to argue, and I like to win. Perhaps the least understood aspect of the practice of law is that law is based on the precept that one side wins and one side loses. Ultimately, a decision must be made. Good attorneys, and I was a good attorney, must find the winning argument, based on the facts and the law, no matter which side one takes. That’s why so many attorneys invariably preface any answer to a question with the infuriating quip, “It depends.” That’s because law, like physics, adheres to the special principle of relativity; i.e., before one can apply the law, one must create an inert situation by establishing the facts. Juries are known as fact-finders. Judges are the law-givers.

Here’s a classic law school illustration: 99 nuns swear under oath the light was red. A witness, known by the jury to have previously been incarcerated for committing perjury and to have been paid a large sum of money by the present defendant to testify the light was green, swears under oath the light was green. If the jury believes the perjurer, well, the light was green. And it’s the attorney who is charged with the task on behalf of his client, the defendant, to convince the jury to believe the perjurer. [Show of hands, how many of you have just thought, “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit?”]

I hope the above somewhat explains the overzealousness I sometimes exhibit over something that really doesn’t matter, oh, let’s use “in the long run,” this time. On another day, I might agree with your position or decide it’s not worth fighting over. But for today, it’s the hunt. The smell of fear and blood. (My fear, my blood, too, remember.) So cut me a deal and don’t take things so personally, okay?

There are other times though I would like to have what could be characterized as a serious discussion. To experience the intimacy of communication and understanding. And it’s those times I regret my adversarial ways because well, these ways get in the way. Perhaps my major regret in this life is to have done (and still do) whatever it is that prevents this level of communication. So, there you have it.

I don’t get out much anymore and planned events get cancelled for health reasons as often, if not more often, as they happen, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood feel free to come on by. No pressure. Be it for green grapes, debate, or to climb into Kerouac’s bathtub (metaphorically speaking, and fully clothed, of course), you’ll be welcome. I’ll even try to remember my manners, and at some point ask if you want something to drink. But if you don’t want to wait for that to happen, please feel free to wander into the kitchen and help yourself.

next post: Beware of Tricksters
previous post: Quiz


Mon 07/28/08 at 6:42 am

Which statement was written by a college graduate:

a) I’m not dead yet.
b) I’m not dead, yet.
c) I’m not dead . . . yet.
d) I’m not dead. Yet.
e) I’m not dead; yet.
f) I’m not dead yet?
g) I’m not dead yet!


next post: Illustration No. 1
previous post: Final Jeopardy Answer

Final Jeopardy Answer

Fri 07/18/08 at 3:46 pm

“Wish I could quit you, Enkidu.”

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