Where is the home of sadness? It lies within me. I have tried to evict it, turned off the electricity, denied it sustenance and yet it refuses to leave. I have forced the sun to shine, blasting light at the yellowed shade and the soiled green curtains. They seem a weak barrier, yet only a wan and sickly haze is allowed in.
I walk around this enigma, this hole that sucks the warmth from my world. It intrudes on the pleasant green and blue of my surroundings. It is a stain. A wound. Death. I have looked in the door and seen the room. It is filled with dry and dusty furnishings. It whispers for me to leave the sun. To rest.
I hear my son playing on the hill, his voice dreamlike. Startled, I let go of the door. My feet have crossed the threshold. I step back, crushing brittle grass and feel the tug of sighing hands urging me to enter. I force another step, my shadow stretching long before me as if tangled in the threadbare rug. I step and step, and step again, ragged breathing loud in my ears. I step until I feel the threads that bind me to that place tear and part. I step until the sounds of forest life begin to chase the chill from my frame. I step until the cabin is a mote in my view, a tiny black hole tugging at the edges of the world around it.
I step until the curve of the hill hides the weeping dark and trees spring up at the corners of my vision. I continue backing slowly into their protective ranks until they stand like an army between me and my despair.
Then finally I stop.
Light rests gently on my shoulders and my son’s laughter rustles with the grass around me.
I will not cross that hill again. I fear that one day that dry and dusty place will seem a refuge.
I turn slowly to greet my son as tears roll down my face. They glitter like diamonds as they slide through the dust onto the green and fragrant grass.
Sometimes I feel that I stand on a bridge between two worlds. The knotted ropes that bind the slats are frayed, reduced to a mere pittance of turnings. From the top of the towers dotting each land angry voices call the people to war. They rise from the valleys to slash at the moorings that provide safe passage over the void. We who walk the bridge speak of peace, but they cannot hear our words. Each combatant sees the other as a weight that unfairly drags them down, when in truth each is a hand, whose opposing pull prevents both worlds from plunging into the abyss of dissolution.
I am a Christian – and I don’t say that to make anyone uncomfortable or to assert some sort of specialness. Sometimes people wear their religious, or political party affiliations, their positions on a variety of issues like gun ownership or abortion like merit badges on a sash. It gives them a proclaimed identity. In some ways it is akin to a gorilla beating its chest. We want to be seen. To project the image of being special via the labels we wear and the stories we tell about our own virtue and courage – or by naming the groups we dislike or even hate.
There are people I know – good people – who have been caught up in the politics of the day. I’ve gone to church with them. Worked on community and disaster relief projects. I have helped some, and been helped by others. I have had my son taught by them in Sunday School, and have taught some of their children.
It hasn’t always been a natural fit. Our family is of Hispanic extraction and for the past 20 years or so we have mainly been part of Anglo congregations. Our shared faith allowed us to work together with people who were culturally different than us, and even form the basis for some friendships and camaraderie. A sense of brotherhood. But in recent years I find some of those people, even people I have greatly respected, poisoned by the politics of the day. This has caused by wife and I to become more cautious and retiring. My wife has quietly removed most of the members of the church from her Facebook friends list. This includes many we have kept in touch with from other places we have lived, because of their toxic politically driven and sometimes tonally racist posts.
I am saddened and disturbed by this. I have forced myself to try to engage and politely share a more moderate viewpoint. It hasn’t always gone well. I’m not sure if you have ever seen YouTube videos where cats are fighting and a peacemaker dog jumps in to separate the combatants but if you have that’s me. I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in a house with violence or because I have experienced death and loss but all of this intolerance, narrow-mindedness, tribalism, hate and violence feels dangerous to me. Everyone is walking around with a nuke in their little red wagons and ready to use them.
There is an movie from 1983 called WarGames that I really liked. Matthew Broderick’s character is a young hacker who gets access to WOPR a US military supercomputer that runs simulations of possible outcomes of nuclear war. He believes WOPR is a computer game and starts a nuclear war simulation without realizing that WOPR is tied into the nuclear arsenal. The computer’s AI doesn’t know the difference between the simulation and reality and prepares to launch World War 3.
At the very last moment the computer, with some help from our young hacker, simulates every possible attack combination looking for a ‘win’ and determines that all choices result in mutual destruction. At this point the computer delivers the classic line;
“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
That’s the game it feels like we are playing. Everyone is armed to the teeth – inside and outside the country. The fires of hate are stoked and politicians and others with self-serving agendas keep pressing the fear button. We are convinced that those on ‘the other side’ of every issue are trying to destroy us. We believe this is a life and death struggle with no room for compromise. If history is any guide, and I believe it is, this will eventually end in something we won’t all walk away from.
The reason I mentioned Christianity is because this is incompatible with a belief in a higher power. The scriptures tell us we cannot serve two masters. Either your faith is at the core of who you are, and you use that set of core values as a lens to view everything else – including your politics – or you are not a Christian. If you are using your politics, or your prejudices to interpret your religion, you are looking in the wrong end of the telescope. The same is true of any other religion, humanist or even scientific belief.
If you are using hate, racism, bigotry, your passions about some narrow topic, perverted ideals or selfish interests to bend the lens of TRUTH to fit your ‘truth’ then you are not a true Christian, or Muslim, or scientist, or public servant, or humanitarian or anything else TRUE.
It’s time for each of us to step back and take an honest look at who we are and who we want to be.
This is another fragment and not polished. It features Dulcet. She is a ‘gutter smith’ with hidden depths and strength she has yet to discover. Her father once had great talent but has been bent by life and drug use into a bitter self-loathing man. He is abusive towards Dulcet which makes her own struggles that much more difficult.
It is said, in Duaren lore, that when Fulkan forged the world, his twin hammers of light and darkness beat the iron at the center of all things. Each blow drew forth a note. Each note became a living thing. All that are, that were, or ever will be, are counterpoints in an eternal symphony just beyond the ken of mortals. Yet there are some who through suffering, diligence or some divine virtue have ears pressed tight against the veil. They hear more than the single ping of their existence and from among these few may rise one who can alter the arrangement of that transcendent music unto salvation, or utter destruction. History of the Daughters of Alfhira, The Third Age, Vol 1
Dulcet swung tirelessly, the muscles of arms and shoulders rippling as she drew music from the anvil with each blow. She worked steadily to to curve the hot metal into it’s intended shape. Sweat slid down her neck revealing fair skin beneath the soot. She laid down the hammer and stared at the small split head shovel with a critical eye. The curved part at the fore that would pin down a spiker-clam’s neck wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darn close. She felt a flush and looked around quickly to make sure nobody saw the big goofy smile she was surely wearing. I’m getting better.
In Illia, where the guild was strong, she would not have been able to work without an apprenticeship. Here in Hemmer, the largest of the five Islands of Farish and nearly two thousand leagues from Illia, unlettered craftsmen and merchants were tolerated as long as they did not directly compete with the letter holding members of a guild.
It wasn’t easy making a living amidst the squirming maze of streets between the harbor and the salt mire. Unlike those who lived on the hill, people here scrabbled and scrimped to survive. Many would never have the money to purchase guild services. So they made, or stole or traded for castoff items gleaned from the dumps. Most simply would do without. Dulcet’s growing skill had started to bring people in for simple utilitarian work and repairs and she was beginning to hope things would change for the better. She just wished she had access to more metal. Scrap and bog iron were plentiful enough to allow her to make small items, and effect repairs, but not enough to do anything bigger.
She shook her head at her worrying. A few months ago she was struggling to get enough to eat. Now she had a bag with some coin hidden in the rafters, and a few items she’d earned in trade which she could use or sell. The shovel blade and the pair of hinges she’d repaired for the tavern would net a few more coins. She’d deliver them and pick up a little food. Maybe get a couple of those dried sausages her father liked…
She wouldn’t ruin this day by thinking about him. She grabbed his old jacket. The sleeves crudely hemmed to fit her shorter arms but the shoulders were broad enough and she had sewn two straps to the sides which allowed her to belt it at the waist. It was an ugly thing. Still, it was warm and it allowed her to hide her unusually muscular arms and the old scars and burns left by her work. She slid her finished metal work into an old carrying harnesses, one that Tebo had outgrown and given to her, then lifted it onto her back. The weight pressing down on the bruises on her back, caused only slight discomfort. Despite her intentions to avoid thinking about her father, Dulcet recalled his rage when she told him she had no coin. His addiction to glim had made him unpredictable. He had struck her repeatedly with a broom handle until it broke on her back then looked up with the splintered end gripped in his hand. Surprise filled his face, then self-loathing as he saw the unshed tears in his daughter’s eyes. He’d dropped the wood as if it were a piece hot iron, grabbed an old hammer, and run out into the street. She knew he’d try to sell the hammer but didn’t care anymore. After he left, she’d burned the remnants of the broom, and with no one to witness, sobbed quietly.
Dulcet sighed as she let go of the memory, then stepped onto the street. Her breath puffed out in tiny swirling clouds. She slid her calloused hands into her pockets. With her head down, and walking as fast as she could. She angled towards the market area near the docks, picking a route that would allow her to avoid as many people as possible. She’d learned to be cautious. But she did have a few friends. Without meaning to she angled her path towards the harbor. I wonder if Tebo is at the market, she felt the flush rise to her cheeks at the thought. Slag! She hoped the cold would mask the red flush before she got there – though Tebo probably wouldn’t even notice. He was as dense as a kley sometimes. A cute kley… she thought as she stepped over an icy puddle. A sudden shiver, unrelated to the cold, coursed up her spine as she thought of the mindless monstrosities that had once been men. No such thing as a cute kley.
Dulcet stepped past a section of fused rocks, the bones of an ancient city beneath her feet, and quickened her pace into the market.
This is a Mexican drink made from deep red hibiscus flowers. A little of the Jamaica flowers goes a long way so this is a fairly inexpensive drink – you can make gallons of this from one bag of Jamaica flowers. You can find alternative recipes on the internet this isn’t a set in stone recipe. My goal is to use some of our immunity boosting / cancer fighting ingredients so I modify it to include as many as possible.
Power-up tip: In Spanish Jamaica is pronounced ‘hah-my-kah’
4 quarts water
2-3 cups Jamaica flowers
2 or more cinnamon sticks – I also have used powder but buy a good brand for potency
Ginger – I mash several pieces
Allspice – I use a teaspoon or two of powder
Cloves – I use 3/4 teaspoon whole cloves or powder
Orange (I have also tried apple slices or pineapple instead of orange all work)
I use a covered pot and put in all the ingredients except for the honey, orange, apple and/or pineapple slices. I don’t boil the water just cook them on low heat for 45 minutes or so. I don’t want to risk excessive heat breaking down any of the ‘good stuff’ since my main purpose is not to make a refreshment but to load up my body with anti-cancer ammunition.
I usually do all of this before bed and let it sit all night, then strain it the next morning. By that time it looks like deep purple dye. Finally I add my apple, orange and/or pineapple slices and adjust with raw honey as needed.
Note: it’s best not to go overboard with the honey if you’ll be drinking this multiple times per day especially if you have diabetes or other health issues.
Then I fill a large insulated beverage container with ice and the magic purple potion and I try to drink a glass at least once per hour throughout my workday.
Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa aka Roselle) is a sort of tropical hibiscus. It is not the same as Hibiscus rosa-sinesis which most people are familiar with though they are related and Hibiscus rosa-sinesis also provides health benefits. This page which show you how to identify the differences. Hibiscus vs Roselle: How to Tell the Differences
Getting old can bring with it wisdom, an ability to deal with difficult circumstances and a greater appreciation of the the value of human life.
It can also bring with it a lot of ‘uh-oh’ moments that hopefully are not captured by someone with a YouTube account and a large following.
I had one of those moments this week. Rather than hide it and hope nobody finds out, I figured I’d share. Laughing feels good.
I was at the oncologist laying on my back while a machine beamed radiation into my body in an effort to kill the cancer. I had to pull down my shorts to expose the area from my stomach to about half of my private parts. The technicians and nurses lay a towel across the area for which I am grateful. I feel a little vulnerable with people in the room, staring at intimate portions of my ageing anatomy despite understanding that it is necessary.
It goes fast, and everyone is kind. They know me by name. We talk a little before and after about common things. Still I pull my pants up as quickly as I can while trying to hide my discomfort. I’m sure they know but we tacitly agree it didn’t happen.
I am relieved and stop by Albertson’s to pick up some groceries on my way home. I look down and see a white square hanging from the left leg of my shorts. I assume it is my long underwear – the elastic is a bit worn. I look around to make sure there are no witnesses and pull up on the waistband but instead of disappearing up my short’s leg the square is now a rectangle. Confused I decide the white fabric waving like a parley flag from my leg must be a broken pocket. I stick my hand in my pocket, intent on pulling up the torn edge so it is out of view, but the pocket is intact.
And then it dawns on me.
In my haste to pull up my pants after my treatment I pushed the towel that covered me INTO MY SHORTS! Well what could I do? I now had about a foot of white towel hanging from my leg. I proceeded to pull and roll it as quickly as I could and stuck the resultant melon-sized bundle in the trash can. I didn’t look up but definitely heard snickering as I headed down the aisle to get some yogurt.
The next day when I went for another dose of radiation I confessed to inadvertently stealing a towel and when I told the story we all had a good laugh.
I’ve been thinking a bit more about how the brain works. I mentioned previously that it seems that for the most part our brains don’t react to the world, so much as react to a model of the world. Well, as I considered this further, I realized it is more likely that instead of a large rigid model of the world, we have multiple chunks of ‘pre-processed data’. Partial models.
I imagine it like this; our world, reality, is like a huge puzzle. No picture on the box. When you open it, you have 100,000 puzzle pieces. Reacting to our world, to all of the stimuli and data in realtime requires a huge amount of processing power. We would not survive our first encounter with danger, or be able to make decisions in a reasonable way if we had to comb through the individual pieces of the puzzle, determine where it fit into the overall picture, and how we should react each time we received new information via our senses.
What if instead we pre-assemble chunks of the puzzle from the moment we are born? We learn new things and are taught new things that allow us to have enough chunks of the puzzle built and loosely laid out to make a reasonable guess as to the area a piece may fit in. This is much more efficient and flexible.
My musing today is a ‘what if?’ What if Alzheimer’s disease and perhaps other types of dementia, are a breakdown of these chunks of pre-processed data? Or perhaps of the system or ‘index’ that can make that quick ‘this piece fits here’ determination? So I am wondering if the disease breaks up the parts of the puzzle we have solved destroying the relationship. Then when they try to process that flood of input again they are unable to easily process the world in an efficient way.
I’m not a scientist, so this is just my creative brain asking questions.