Monday’s Theme Music

I was out helping my wife with the Food and Friends Project. She’s the official volunteer. Once a week, the takes her place in the rotation to deliver meals to shut-in seniors. The list has become reduced to one page, just eight clients for her route, since the pandemic has set in. We know a few passed away to non-COVID-19-related issues. We wonder about the rest. I’m just the driver, helping her so it goes quicker for her, and it gets me out of the house, doing something else.

While out, I saw so many people walking alone. Of course, I generally walk alone; I plan to walk today. It’s sunny, temperatures in the high thirties, but dry (and that damn wind has stopped for a day). Perfect to do two to three miles of hills.

Among those walking alone were people who seemed like me. Out on errands or walking for the satisfaction of it. Some, though, you question their circumstances. Anyway, it prompted me to begin thinking about all of that, about who we are, who (and what) we were, and who/what we become. So much is beyond our control as circumstances and/or tragedy strikes and/or our bodies and minds betray us. Who we become often becomes dependent on who we have around us.

All these thoughts snaked around to a 2005 Audioslave song, “Be Yourself”. The song is about trying to find salvation (is it inside you or elsewhere) and also what you hide and what you reveal, and what you are inside.

Someone tries to hide himself, down inside himself he prays
Someone swears his true love until the end of time, another runs away
Separate or united, healthy or insane

h/t to Genius.com

2020 is closing up shop. Stay positive, test negative, wear a mask, and get vaccinated. 2021 is about to begin. Bring it on.

Thursday’s Trinkets

  1. Feels like a Saturday. Odd, for me. I haven’t worked for a company where I kept a schedule for several years. You’d think the days of the week would’ve lost their feel by now.
  2. How does Saturday feel? Less structured. Freer. More relaxed and less stressed. Comfortable as a pair of your favorite shoes. Full of expectation that something good is just about to happen.
  3. Mood was dark earlier in the week. Ah, the standard black cycle. Went into a snarling depression. Thinking about what/how to write a scene, I sulked. ‘Thoughts went, I’ll be sixty-five years old next year, struggling to finish a novel. Written fifteen. Published four on Amazon to no great success. Agents are barely interested in what I submit to them, and I don’t pursue getting published with any great energy. Why am I wasting my time with this shit?’ Then I went mumbling away, did some other things, and thought, oh, this is what happens, and went back and resumed writing. Mine is a fickle mind, probably like most people. The fact is, I enjoy writing, and employing my imagination to create puzzles for my mind to solve, then scrambling to find he words. That’s writing, innit?
  4. Some of the week’s hours were spent helping my wife. She belongs to an exercise class. They meet every MoWedFri at nine AM via Zoom. Pre-COVID, it was an hour earlier at a gym. The instructor has been teaching this class for forty years, and my wife has been going for fifteen. We’ve made many friends through the class, including the instructor and her hubby. The class also launched my wife’s book club. Each year for Christmas, the class members take up a collection and sign a card for the instruction. Well, hard to do that this year. So I set up a private Gofundme for them. We worked with the Y on a letter that was sent to the members. Then I created an eighteen inch by thirty inch prop check for my wife to use to present the collection to the instructor. The prop came out okay, although elements reminded me of a fifth-grade project. But we had to use what we had on hand. It’s the thought that counts, right? The class took up over eleven hundred dollars. Knowing the instructor and her hubby, who aren’t in need, they’ll share it with others who are in need. They’re quite generous people.
  5. Setting up the Gofundme was extremely easy. It impressed me with how simple it was. Which had been my impression, leading to why I helped my wife. She and her friends were thinking it was technical and required computer savvy. It doesn’t.
  6. Reading Bill Bryson’s book, The Body: A Guide for Occupants. It’s rich with history and details. Great expanding knowledge. I’m not as intimate with my body’s functioning as I’d like to be. That’s one reason why I selected this book as a read. As I’ve aged and endured some minor health issued (enlarged prostate gland, broken arm, high blood pressure), I wanted to know more details about myself. I’ve been reading on the net, pursuing symptom after symptom, organ after organ, getting more granular with processes and functions. I suspect many people take up the same pastime of learning more about their body as they age. I keep thinking that I should’ve paid more attention when I was younger. You know, before things began giving me problems, right?
  7. Ran into a friend at the grocery store. I was checking out, he was coming in. About eight AM on Wed. We were both masked and had hats on. I said, “Pat.” He stopped in front of me, six feet away, and stared. “Who is that?” “Seidel.” “Michael!” A smile lit his eyes. “Didn’t know you. Hat. Mask.” We chatted for about ten seconds, and then pressed on. Not great socializers, either one of us, but it was pleasant encountering him.
  8. Watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom last night. Fraught with dialogue, tension, and foreshadowing, the film kept me focused. Strong characters…well, strong in every area and value. Viola Davis is on the shortlist of actors that always shade my opinion of a movie. If she’s in it, I’m more likely to be drawn to watching it. All that I’ve seen her in, she impresses me. Chadwick Boseman had also joined the list so it was crushing to hear of his death. Gotta say again, though, white people are often cruel, greedy assholes. Which, as a white person, pisses me off.
  9. It’s been a windy week. My cats DO NOT LIKE WIND. Tucker refuses to leave the house. His position is fine with me; he’s safer in the house. Boo the house panther likes to go out in the morning for a few hours in the back yard (if there’s sunshine) and an hour in the evening on the front porch. Papi, though, (aka the ginger boy, Youngblood, and Meep) despises the wind. He goes out the back and returns to the front, banging on to get back in. Does this six to eight times a day. Bored in the house but too bothered by the wind (and the cold) to stay out. Poor boy. I wrote about his feelings about the wind last month in The Despised Wind.
  10. My Fitbit report said that I did eighty-seven miles last week, three less than the week before. I thought, bullshit. I don’t know how that thing counts. Yes, I know the principles they employ; I’m just dubious of the results. Still, I keep trying to maintain a twelve-miles-a-day average. Need some sort of goal to focus.
  11. Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time. Happy holidays, whatever one it is which you recognize or celebrate. Remember, stay positive, test negative, wear a mask, social distance, and get the vaccine. Cheers

Next Year

Picked up some library books the other say. The library set up is working for this lockdown era: go online, put a book on hold on my account. They send an email when it’s ready. I have a window before it’ll be put back on the shelf, giving me time to plan when I’ll go down there to pick it up.

I go several times a month. There’s a table set up outside, under a canopy, Saturday through Thursday, noon to four. Tape is used as markers to indicate the traffic flow and safe distances. Patrons line up six feet apart. The librarian comes out. We’re all masked. You give your name; the librarian goes inside and return with your books. Your account number is verified verbally via the last three numbers. They give you your books and you go on your way.

As part of the process, a slip of paper with the book’s title and its return date is printed. On that little slip are also two little financial gems. One states how much money you’ve saved yourself by borrowing from the library. The other tells how much you’ve saved this year.

The first is $26 on my slip of paper today. That was for two books. Both are hardcovers. Neither were published this year. I suspect I could get them for less than twenty-six dollars used.

The second number is $660. That’s how much I saved this year, they said.

Well, I don’t know about that. I pay a little in taxes each year for this. It was a bond issue for the county library system, and it’s part of my annual property taxes. I don’t think they take those taxes into account when they tell me how much I’ve saved.

But I like the system. I’m a writer. I’d like people to buy and read my books. It’s great that the library system pays books to fulfill that for writers. I hope my books end up in the library some day. It’s also an excellentway to save on trees, innit? Buy a book and let multitudes read it.

All that led to ebooks. These books were available to be borrowed as ebooks. ebooks do even more to save trees, although we then get into the sticky situation of electronic waste.

I don’t do much ebooking; I like the personal heft of the thick books in hand as I carry them around and read in various postures. I know I’m silly and sentimental that way. I could use ebooks and save more trees. Yet, I resist.

I blame blue light for some of that resistance. I watch television (so cut down, you reply) while I’m running in place (oh, you answer, that’s a little different) or using the Stairmaster as part of my exercise. I’m not good at reading while walking (though I’m trying). I also spend a lot of time on the ‘puter reading news (so cut down, you suggest) (I probably should, I answer, as not much of the damn news is good for my spirit), writing, and editing. I don’t want to add the strain of reading ebooks to the strain I already thrust on my eyes.

Nothing is as clear cut as it first appears any longer, whether it’s environmental impact, saving money, or selling books. Our lives are choices, decisions, and compromises. I could, instead of running in place or exercising while watching television just curl up with a book. I could, instead of using a hefty volume, make it an ebook and reduce other strain on my eyes. Or I can go to audio books —

Yeah, don’t even go there. I am a fan of audio books; I’ve used them when driving long distances, and I’ve used them while exercising. I’ve found, though, I prefer the inner voice that I create when I’m reading something.

So, I’ve thought about these things. I recognize some of my habits are comfort ruts. Comfort ruts can be pretty useful in periods of stress, such as, say, a global pandemic. Then again, it may be that I’m just too lazy to change, modifying that ‘too lazy’ to ‘too old and set’.

This is just one facet of existence. These same sort of exercises go on with other things as we live, from medicines to using plastics to cars to public transportation to fossil fuels to recycling to GMOs to organic food to nutrition to healthcare to eating healthy to money to politics to welfare to taxes to social security to war to equality to fashion to music to film to being healthy to relaxing to having fun to —

Well, that point is hammered in. Life is a busy process of constantly re-balancing all these choices. I wonder what’ll it be like in another hundred years.

Strike that: let’s just see what it’s like next year.

Sunday Sprinkles

  1. Had an unsettling dream last night. Not a nightmare, but a dream that I didn’t understand. After writing about it, I decided not to share it.
  2. I watch the NFL. The refs fascinate me. Some of them seem like they’re so disappointed when they announce penalties. “False start, offense, number forty-three.” You can almost see him sigh. “Five year penalty,” is delivered with regret. “Remains first down.” I wonder what they’re like in their non-football lives.
  3. I said, “Don’t fear the android.” I was making a joke while re-watching Dark Matters on Netflix. My wife said, “Oh, that’d be a good book title.” It has me thinking.
  4. Several of my wife’s friends encountered her this past week. Always masked and distanced. They emailed her later. One said that she started crying in her car afterward because it’d been so long since she’d enjoyed a friendly, spontaneous conversation with someone outside their pod. Another said that she teared up after dropping off holiday goods on the porch (and picking some up from us, which were awaiting her on the porch). Human contact is so random and remote.
  5. My cancer-inflicted friend is out of the hospital and back home. Friends are calling him to wish him well. I want to do so but I’m terrible with small talk. Not good with the phone. Terrible with socializing in general. He stays in my thoughts but I should call. I’m probably overthinking it.
  6. Likewise, the cancer-affected friend across country is out of the hospital and at home, going through treatment there. We exchange messages but I sense his energy is low. He was always such an upbeat, energetic person. He’s my age, too, which amplifies the impact, right?
  7. It is interesting, maddening, and shocking to witness what friends are doing in other parts of the country. Social distancing and masking isn’t part of their routines. Some have even gone in for elective surgery. One is dating. We respond, WTF? And we worry about them, but they remain blissfully ignorant. Come on, vaccine.
  8. Meanwhile, two other relatives have been diagnosed with COVID-19. One was intubated on Friday. She’d gone in for elective surgery on a toe earlier in the month.
  9. My broken left arm continues its recovery process. It sort of becomes entangled and stiff at night as I bend it under my body. But reach, movement, flexibility, and strength are all improving. One frustrating thing: scratching. I still can’t bend my left hand to scratch my back and several other (ahem) places.
  10. My wife didn’t make us a soup last Sunday, the first time in weeks. Holiday baking occupied her — and the kitchen. I did my part; my role is decorating. I was disappointed with the gels and frosting. It blobbed and sputtered. They were okay, but not great. That’s about half of the batch. They’re PB Rice Krispies bars dipped in white chocolate or chocolate bark, more like a candy bar than a cookie. (That’s them in the photo.) She also made peppermint cookies and my favorite, cranberry cupcakes with drizzled frosting. Today’s soup in progress is a smoky lentil with garbanzo beans. Chilly day, in the forties, diluted sunshine. Looking forward to it with some hot buttered ciabatta bread.
  11. I thought writing was going well. Then I read a paragraph last night which had me wincing, groaning, and gagging. Press on, finish the draft, then come back, right? Yeah. Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time. Oh, yeah, and the soup is ready.

Puzzles and Writing

Okay, here comes a little humbragging.

My life isn’t challenging. I retired from the military, so I have a pension egg that comes in each month. I worked for a few startups when I retired from the mil. Tyco and IBM bought them. I made stock off those deals, and my nest egg ballooned. In other words, I’ve been lucky.

Challenges amount to coping with cats, dealing with modern life, helping my wife in her adventures, maintaining things, writing novels, and doing puzzles. Writing novels was a desire delayed as I stayed in the military to retire and have a pension, and then stayed with companies to get stock options and build a nest egg, so I don’t feel guilty now pursuing my writing dream. Puzzles are a pleasant diversion. I do a few online every day, something to pump up my endomorphs so I feel good about myself.

There’s also the jigsaw puzzles. They started in 2019. We were on vacation at the coast. A puzzle was there and we worked on with another couple as a social activity. It was fun. Early this year, pre COVID-19, we decided to do more. They were a pretty diversion during cold and dark January days. My wife likes them in theory but finds herself discouraged by the struggle to find the pieces and make it all fit together. I, though, find tremendous satisfaction in fitting those pieces together and making it all come together. Is it any wonder that I think of novel writing as being just like puzzle solving?

I’m almost finished with the Christmas puzzle. We didn’t finish the Halloween puzzle until November. I then joked that we need to start the Christmas puzzle in November so it’ll be done by Christmas.

Well, it’s almost finished. Four percent remains. It’s a thousand piece puzzle; you can do the math.

While I was doing the puzzle, I was contemplating how much it is like my writing process, and my work process. I used to work alone in my tasks as an IBM analyst and service planner. People would give me problems or ask my opinion, and then I’d work alone, come up with answers, and feed it back to them. I enjoyed those challenges and learned how much working alone entertains me.

With those issues in IBM, I used to gather facts and insights, then walk away from it for a while. The length of time varied. Then, something would come together in my brain and I’d go back, attack and finish it. I also did the same in my final years in the military. Although I’d been in command and control, I was appointed a special assignment as Quality Air Force advisor to the commander for my final two years. A one-person office, I worked alone, setting up the curriculum, then teaching it to the base population while facilitating team building and strategic planning in parallel. It was fun.

That’s also how I do Sudoku puzzles each day. Bring them up, take a look, close it, and walk away. Then I come back and do it later.

The jigsaw puzzle is also like that. Finding an area to focus on, I’ll consider the finished image, where I’m at, and the pieces that remain. Then I walk away. Returning later, I discover that I can fit several pieces together, click, click, click, click.

(And this is where my wife and I have moved apart on working on the puzzles. I have my style, whereas, she tries fitting them piece by piece, picking them up and trying them until she finds one that fits. That’s so counter to my style, it irritates me. But, I’m an easily irritated person. That’s probably why I worked alone, too.)

That’s often how my writing process works. The character is HERE; the story is HERE; what must happen NEXT? Wander off, do tedious chores, wash the car, play with the cats, drink coffee, etc. Then return; sit; type. Walking and my pre-COVID-19 writing process was built around this. I’d walk to a coffee shop, then write, leave, think about what’s to be next, and then do it again the next day.

When it works — with puzzles, computers, analyses, writing, whatever — it is beautiful and rewarding. When it works, it feels like magic.

BUT —

You knew it was coming. It’s not always like this in any of these cases. My success with that process leads to overconfidence. I attempt to manipulate and hurry the process. I think I can force myself to see and do at will. I then end up overthinking everything, losing confidence, and stalling.

I’d learned that before. That’s why I developed my walking and writing routine. But when it was cut out from under me with the pandemic restrictions, I was at a loss. How do I do what I used to do without doing what I used to do? Doing the puzzles helped me understand myself, yet again. Developing that insight into myself was rewarding. Keeping it in mind is yet another challenge. It basically amounts to relax; take your time. Trust yourself. Be patient. And always, always stay positive and persistent. Go back when you fail, regroup, and try again.

Looking back at previous blog posts, I’ve learned this all before. Oh, boy.

Got my coffee. Ready to give it a go and write like crazy, at least one more time.

Friday Fraternization

  1. My wife was on her coffee clatch Zoom call in the other room. That’s what they call it; I adhere to their will. I could close the door, but I eavesdrop. They mostly talk about books and politics. Those are subjects that I enjoy. So I’m writing, but I’m distracted. Eventually, I put in my ear buds and listen to coffee shop noises.
  2. Bob Hoesch recommended that I try the coffee shop noises recorded on youtube. It’s an uneven experience. While the recording fulfills the coffee shop sounds, I’m lacking visual stimulation, and the smells. My mind likes all of these when I write. They’re not distractions but aids, as long as I’m not personally involved. Odd how the mind works, innit?
  3. My wife raved about the books The Stanger Diaries, Don’t Leave Me, and Squeezed on the call.
  4. The Baltimore Ravens were due to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving. That game was delayed until Sunday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among the Ravens. They traced the source to a trainer. He’d tested positive but didn’t tell the organization, and didn’t always mask as required. Lackadaisical practices within the organization caused problems with contact tracing as players and staff didn’t wear the tracking devices as required. The episode demonstrates the fragility of the safeguards, and how utterly dependent they are on everyone following the protocols, and the impact when they’re not followed. The Ravens’ season isn’t going as well as they’d hoped (and many expected), and these additional challenges just add to their mounting issues. It all does have a sort of ‘my kingdom for a nail’ ring to it.
  5. This just in: The Ravens-Steelers game has been moved to Tuesday.
  6. We were on a Friendsgiving Zoom with the people we usually do T-day with last night, a two-hour cocktail visit. They’re all intelligent and fun people, and the visit was a welcome interlude from the normal processes and routines.
  7. Tucker enjoys the Zoom calls. Exercise, coffee, whatever, he’s right there, a black and white long-haired feline who pays no attention to the people on the call admiring him. He seems to like the voices.
  8. Opposite of Tucker is Boo, the bedroom pantera, who hides from the voices. He wants no part of all those voices. As it was in the upper twenties and the sun was hiding, I didn’t want him out. I put him in the master suite with all the usual accoutrements. He hid in the corner of the closet, as expected, and stayed there until silence reigned.
  9. Papi (aka Meep, Youngblood, and the Ginger Blade) is the oddest of our cats when it comes to Zoom. He doesn’t like Mary B’s voice. It’s like he owes her money. “Oh, no, there’s Mary! I’m out of here.” As soon as Mary is off the call, he settles down in a comfy place and goes to sleep, even if others are talking.
  10. I’m struggling to keep up with my reading. See, priority-wise, outside of biological needs and relationship obligations with my wife, and cat stuff, writing is my highest priority. It’s a reward for putting in twenty years in the military and then almost another twenty in civilian employment, delaying my writing dream. I figure I owe myself. Outside of writing and the other matters, exercise is a high priority. I like getting twelve miles a day via walking/running.
  11. That keeps me from reading as much as I can. I attempt to read while running in place. That does work but proficiency in both decline and its dissatisfying. Don’t know what I’m going to do to resolve this. I like my reading.
  12. Now, lunch is done. That is, I’ve made it and eaten it. Time to get some coffee and return to writing like crazy, at least one more time. To quote an NFL player, “Stay positive, test negative.” Yeah, and wear masks, okay?

Jeezaloo

Somewhere out shopping this weekend, the expession “Jeezalou” struck.

I was probably looking at the price of something. Or maybe the sodium levels. You ever check out the sodium levels in processed foods? Some of them offer eighty percent of the recommended daily intake in one small serving. Jeezalou. Likewise some sugars levels. Holy Jeezalou.

Voices and personalities are stuck to the term. A previous boss and dear friend, Laura D, used it often. A co-worker, Paul, also used it. Both were from New Jersey, almost the same neighborhood. I wondered if it was a local thing.

I also wondered about its origins. Also, it’s correct spelling. After wondering these things, I know; I’ll do a search on the net.

Clever me, right? Sure.

Initial sources suggest it’s ‘loo’ and not ‘lou’. No sources told where it came from. Some people wonder if it’s Canadian, because they’ve heard Canadians use it. I do remember it being used on Canadian television shows, but also the show, Everybody Loves Raymond.

I speculate it’s related to people exclaiming, “Jesus.” That’s frowned upon for religious reasons in some places and times, so it was flavored to be non-religious by adding the ‘aloo’ part. Just speculation.

My wife agreed with that idea. She remembers using “I swear” and being chastised by religious relatives. She then switched to “I swain”, which also drew criticism.

Jeezaloo, those were gentler times, weren’t they?

Tuesday’s Theme Music

I was spying on neighbors this morning, verifying that they followed their regular routines. All seemed alive (although some moved like zombies) and in good health (but such appearances may be deceptive, no?). Each followed their recurring and regular, sharply predictable, Tuesday morning routines.

My routines are not predictable — in the mornings. Writing, I set my structure. As socializing and common activities like shopping or heading out for a cuppa are curtailed, my day is a freeflow form. What do I want to do, and when do I want to do it, along with what needs to be done regarding health, house, and history, right?

All that thinking about busy activities stirred thinking about insects, spiders, and ants. That invited the 1994 song, “Ants Marching”, by The Dave Matthews Band.

When all the little ants are marching
Red and black antennae waving
They all do it the same
They all do it the same way

h/t to Genius.com

What’s funny about human ant activity is how it may seem so same each day while inside, all manner of activity is happening.

Or maybe not. Maybe the thinking is like the activities, the same thing every day.

Time for my morning coffee, said the ant.

The End

The world won’t end in a whimper,

and not with a bang,

and probably not with fire and ice.

It’ll end with them shouting, “You lie,”

and others shouting back,

oblivious to the death and dying,

that’s rendering life a wreck.

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