Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pills and Implants

Since I stopped using Xanax a month or so ago I must admit I don’t sleep as well, but I also don’t have any of the weird side effects that went with taking the drug. I would really like to know whose idea this drug was, or this class of drugs, and I would also like to know how much money they are making off selling this as the way humankind ought to be when we’re not being who we are. Yes, there are people with severe problems who need adjusting but there are also a lot of people who are perfectly fine the way they are, unless of course, they compare reality with what is shown on television and the Internet.
There’s a commercial on television now, and I can’t remember what the product is they’re selling, but it shows a pretty blonde in a bikini, and the blonde is as thin as we’ve come to be told is perfect, but she is also not implanted with 99DD breasts. Oddly, the woman is actually a little on the flat side. I’m not sure whose idea it was to sneak a realistic looking top part of a woman into a commercial that is selling anything but cosmetic surgery but I think it’s a good thing. Had she only weighed in at over one hundred pounds I would have really had something to talk about.
Unless you happen to have the same body type and chemistry as the people who look good for a living then you aren’t very likely to look very much like those people. In point of fact, they look no more like who is shown in television as you do in the beginning but computer graphics and a few thousand dollars worth of make-up and great lighting can make Drew Carey look like Miley Cyrus. The world of the super model and the six pack abdomen man is a world of make believe where an individual has all the time in the world to look good and nothing to do all day but get that way.
But let’s get back to how our minds work and why it isn’t a good thing.

Once we get the people at the far end of the spectrum dosed then those close to the edge need help and that means the people who were not close to the edge at all are now closer to the edge than they were, and oh why the hell not just put the stuff in our water supply and be done with it? But why? Why should we allow doctors to prescribe to people drugs meant to help people with problems when the doctors ought to be addressing physical issues not mental health issues? Could it be that by allowing this there is an almost infinite amount of money to be made here?
The same could be asked as to why a doctor would perform surgery on a perfectly healthy woman just to increase the size of her breasts. The breasts themselves are not really bigger but they certainly look bigger, don’t they? They won’t produce more milk or do anything breasts are supposed to do better, but they address the issue of vanity, and isn’t that a lot like selling a pill to a healthy person just because they do not fit perfectly into the round hole we’ve been trained to think is normal? We have already established that we’re all supposed to be the same shape and size, and now we’re all supposed to take the same drugs so we can be Barbie and Ken with a frozen smile and a limp psyche. Oh, and don’t worry about the limp thing; there’s a pill of that, too!
So what’s the problem here? We need to lower our level of anxiety? Go get a stray dog out of the shelter and spend about thirty minutes each day trying to wear him out by wrestling with him. As long as you didn’t pick out a foo-foo dog and got a real one, you’re going to feel better immediately. Go to the Y and take a Yoga class, or get down on the floor and try it yourself. Unplug from your computer and go outside, pick up a leaf and realize as beautiful as it is, the thing is dead. There is beauty and worth even in the end, and there is no need is getting attached.

Here’s something your doctor won’t tell you; Scotch. I highly recommend you go out and get a bottle of single malt, twelve year old Scotch, and find someone to sit and drink with until you’re both legally drunk, or even legally dead. Man, screw it. If you’re not out trying to run your first 5k or walking into a room full of strangers and showing them just how out of shape you’re in then grab a bottle and kill some brain cells. Excess is to be avoided most of the time, but every once in a while, do something that isn’t good for you, and enjoy every second of it.
Do this one Saturday afternoon, oh screw it, do this one Tuesday night; go see a movie and don’t check the times or what’s playing. Walk up and buy a ticket to whatever movie is playing next, regardless of what it is. Don’t worry about it. Just go in, sit down, and know that the Universe works this way most of the time, and you’re just playing along.

I still cannot sleep at night. I never will, I suspect. But the idea of getting doped up to be able to handle being alive is repugnant to me. I rather fight my way through the day, live with the nightmares, and live my life the way that I am. This may not work for you. It isn’t working real well for me, but this is who I am, and what I am, and I am.
Oh, and you should write.
Take Care,
Mike

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Possession of Earl Benningfield

Earl opened up the Oxford unabridged dictionary and laid it beside his bible. It was going to be today. He could feel it. This was the very last day on earth and by this time tomorrow he would be in heaven. The End Of Days was nigh, and he was the only person on earth who knew it. He opened the notebook that held yesterday’s list, and began working backward through the past lists. He couldn’t use any of the words he had used before, he knew that, and he had to make sure there were no repeats. Earl recited the Lord’s Prayer five times, and then started looking for The Five Words.
He didn’t remember ever using “anvil” but there it was, used on the Fourth of July in 1988. Earl suppressed the urge to curse. Anvil was a good word, and one God might use as one of the five. But he couldn’t use it again, no, that was against the rules. Earl looked up at the clock and realized it was almost dawn. He had to hurry. Oh no! “Semaphore” had been used back on the third of April in 2007. Earl had to find the two words in a hurry now. He recited the Lord’s Prayer again, and for the one millionth time wonder if The Five were contained in the prayer.
Dachshund, Entotic, Heavy, Milestone, and Porcelain.
Earl went through the previous lists as quickly as he could. He had glued each list to a piece of paper, and put all the pieces of paper in a notebook, and then started stacking the notebooks on shelves. Each notebook contained one hundred pages each. Earl would update the master list of words he had already used later, he kept telling himself that, but each day the list got longer and Earl despaired of beginning such a task. And after all, this would be the last day of earth as many people knew it. There was no sense in beginning something so near the end.
Earl took the list and hurried to the Cathedral. If the list was accepted the Cathedral would burst into flames at dawn. He stood in the darkness and waited as the sky lightened. The priest inside would be saying Mass, and the parishioners would be bowing and scraping and… There was smoke! Smoke! Smoke was rising from one of the windows in the second floor of the Cathedral. Earl felt warmth spreading down his legs but didn’t care. The sun was coming up, there was smoke, he could see it clearly now, there was smoke!
“PRAISE GOD!” Earl shouted. “THE END IS HERE! BURN! BURN! BURN!”
People began to run around and shout. The people on the inside of the Cathedral came rushing out and Earl looked up at the sky and felt himself being pulled upwards. His feet left the ground and Earl screamed in ecstasy, “THANK YOU JESUS! BURN! BURN! BURN!”
Earl fell to the ground with someone on top of him. It was a policeman. “No!” Earl cried, “Let me ascend! I have to ascend!” But the cop was putting handcuffs on Earl and treating him most harshly. Worse yet, he could hear fire trucks coming, their sirens wailing. Earl fought against the policeman but another arrived and they drug him away. “No, no!” Earl shouted. “It has to burn! You have to let it burn!”
Earl sat crying at the table with a court appointed lawyer. This woman they had assigned as his attorney wasn’t saying anything about The Five, or The End Of Days, or anything he had told her. She kept talking about treatment and using words he had never heard before. The people were thwarting the will of God! They wouldn’t give him his dictionary and they wouldn’t let him cross reference his lists. Dawn had come and gone and for the first time in twenty-seven years he had no made his list. The judge was asking him a question but Earl couldn’t stop crying. The whole world depended on his list and these people were preventing The End Of Days on purpose.
“YOU’RE PUPPETS OF SATAN!” Earl screamed at the judge. “YOU’RE KEEPING THE END AWAY!”

“So why the hell would you do that to someone?” Colleen asked.
“You are inattentive.” Regal replied. “I never said that I did this; I merely related to you this story as a means of example.”
“What city was this?” Colleen asked.
“Atlanta.”
“So if I look this man up I will find records of him?” Colleen sat up suddenly.
“Assuredly,” Regal replied, “if your police force keeps their records up.”
“So if this man is possessed, and you know about it, does this mean you know the demon who possessed him?” Colleen wanted to rush out of the room and call Harvey.
“No, Colleen, this means I killed the demon who possessed this man.”
“Why?” Colleen demanded. “Was it related to what the man was doing?”
“Don’t be silly!” Regal replied but he looked at Colleen intently. He fell silent and Colleen realized this was his way of ending the conversation, but it also might mean he was thinking about something he had said, or thinking about what he was going to say. Colleen watched him, and she realized this was different. Regal was watching her, not staring off into space as he usually did when he came to the end of a conversation, or when he was between thoughts. What was different? Colleen suppressed the urge to ask. Did Regal realize he had given her the name of someone she could look up before he had done it?
“I suggest you look this person up, Colleen.” Regal told her. “He should be very easy to find.”
“Okay.” Colleen said. She got up to leave and still Regal watched her. Colleen knew something had happened but she didn’t understand what it was, or why it was important. She would get Toby to run through the tapes on this one.

Colleen walked through the two room house and stared in awe at the notebooks. The shelves were full of them. Earl Benningfield had spent nearly thirty years of his life making five word a day lists, and taking them down to the Cathedral at dawn, hoping it would burst into flames. The day there was a fire there he had gone into some sort of fit. Colleen had read the file on Benningfield and it was nearly exactly as Regal had told her. Ben Johnson wouldn’t have known about Benningfield. How could he? Yet Colleen knew as long as Johnson had an internet connection there might have been a way for him to have read about this. Regal had to know this too, so why the weird look? Colleen took a notebook down from the shelf and opened it. “Dachshund, Entotic , Heavy, Milestone, and Porcelain. “ All this lists in the notebook contained the same five words. She took another down and discovered it too had the same words in every list.
“Son of a bitch” Colleen swore.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Memory Of Trees.

If you’ve never lived out in the woods you’ve missed out on falling trees. Yes, trees fall. They fall all by themselves, well, with Newton’s help in the way of gravity, and you would never suspect they fall with the frequency they do, given the slowness of their growth. Since I have lived here nearly ten years now, I’ve had four really big Oak trees die.
The first was a shock because it was so damn huge. I mean this thing was ginormous. It was also my first trip into taking down a dead tree of such magnitude without a professional. I had to rent a machine to get my high enough to reach the upper branches, had to get a friend crazy enough to help me yet sane enough to be of some help, had to get three different chainsaws, and had to have some luck in not killing myself. It took the better part of a day to get it all done but it taught us something about taking trees down, and it taught us something about ourselves, too.
Wait, that wasn’t the first tree to die. It was the second. I forgot about the first one because I didn’t take it down, and it wasn’t dead. It just broke in two and fell on my house. I came home one day and there was this tree in my house. It was a little disconcerting because I didn’t remember leaving a tree there. The tree was perfectly healthy in every regard; the trunk was solid, the limbs full of green leaves, and the wood was healthy and unrotted. I mean, other than the fact it was in my house, it was the very picture of arboreal health. It left a hole the size of a Volkswagen in my roof, and a bigger hole in my heart.
Tropical Storm Fay dropped a tree on my shed, and I had to rent out a teenager to help cut it up. The young man did a great job, despite his mother’s contentions that he was lazy and not worth my trouble in hiring. I lived through that once myself, and there is a difference between doing something for your parents and doing something with someone else. It was good to have good help, and in the end I wound up defending him to his mother, and she didn’t like it a bit. I’ll never understand the need some parents have to think the worse of those they’ve brought into this world.
Last year I finally accepted the idea the Oak in my front yard was irrevocably dead. It had been in a state of decline since I got here. It had shed a few limbs here and there but this time the top part had died and it was hanging over the front yard like a gallows. The woodpeckers had come and gone in the upper branch and honestly, pure Oaken determination is all that held the damn thing up. Fay had stripped some of the lower branches off earlier, and the guy who cut it down for me asked me why I had hung on for so long. He had heard the same answer before, but I think he just liked the idea of people loving trees. An odd sentiment for someone who took them down for a living, but you have to understand trees to know enough to take one apart.
This is the first time I have ever paid anyone to take a tree down for me. One of the reasons was there was a very large limb hanging over part of the house. Another reason was for what it would take to rent the equipment to get up high I could hire someone to do it. This wasn’t true a few years ago but times have changed and people are looking for work for the sake of working. People will do work and make just enough profit to cover their payroll and costs just to keep working, and I suspect this was the case here. I paid five hundred dollars to have them drop the tree and cut it up. But let’s face it; part of me paying to have it done was also based on the fact that I’m getting older and the tree was a little bigger than I needed to tackle.

Yesterday, after lunch, I was trying to decide if I wanted to go rake leaves when I heard a weird “thump”. The dogs reacted for just a moment then they let it pass, and because they did, I did too. How long have human been doing this? The canids are calm so we humans relax. We trust to them our eyes, our ears, and our very lives, and how long how we have the luxury of doing this? But because they didn’t run outside to investigate neither did I. When I did go out to rake the leaves there was a smallish Oak tree lying in the back of the yard, he’s dead Jim.
Trees die. You know you’ve been around for a while when you start outliving trees. This one is one of the water Oaks that are tall and skinny but wide at the base and prone to rotting. It’s large enough to destroy the fence at the back of the yard, and I’ll have to get it back up in case the yard floods again. I can’t let Bert have access to water all the time or he’ll turn into an otter. The dog loves water more than he loves food.
Soon I’ll start replant some of the saplings from the woods into the yard. I’m going to create a tree corral and fence off about a quarter of the backyard for a year to keep the Loki Mutt from digging them up. Another year and I’ll fence in another section, and the next I’ll do it again. I’m going to turn the back yard into woods again, the way the giant old Oak tree in the very back of the property remembers it.
Take Care,
Mike

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cigarettes and Divorce

It’s odd the more stressed out someone gets the more they’ll smoke cigarettes, if they are a cigarette smoker, and in the end it only makes things worse. But that is the nature of nervous energy; almost anything you do that isn’t solving the problem is only throwing gas on the fire. Smokers are like any other species of junkie in that the habit comes first and that in itself kinda helps push other problems away, albeit for a very short time. Smoking seems to be extremely personal sometimes. Just me and my habit, us, against the world and you know if you’re a smoker you’ve had this feeling. Then again, there are times it’s just background noise and you have to think about it to know when you last smoked one. That’s a transitory feeling because if you go too long it will call you, and let you know.
My marriage was dying, had been dying, and was going to die. I can remember the exact moment I knew, really knew, knew beyond any doubt at all it was over and I stopped trying. The remaining time was just waiting for the funeral. There were things going on at the time that wouldn’t allow me to pull the trigger on it, and trust me, I did the right thing in not doing it, but at the same time I kept smoking. My wife went to Texas for ten days and somewhere in that ten days I decided to end it as soon as she got back. The strangest thing was when she would call, and we would always end the conversation with “I love you” like married couples are supposed to do, but this time it was like lying, and I wondered if she knew me well enough to tell, or if she had known for a while. I think in every relationship there is that period of time everyone can tell it’s over and everyone is just going through the motions, but no one wants to say it out loud, and no one really wants to take that first step into hell, which divorce can become, and it will, too.
Ten days seems like a long time, and in some cases it might be. But the first day you wake up and you feel like you have time to decide, and you don’t have to deal with it now, and there are cigarettes to smoke. The sun went down on that first day as I sat on the deck smoking, and I felt a little better about all things because I didn’t have to do anything at all right now. The next day felt okay because there was still over a week left and I watched the sun come up and was drinking coffee, and smoking, and that made all things right in the world. I still had time, and maybe I would win the lottery, or something dramatic would happen. There is no one you can really talk to about this sort of thing without making a case one way or another, and once you start trying to talk yourself out of being with someone you can always find someone who will listen to you, sympathetically. It’s dangerous and futile to do this, and I knew it.
I was going through a pack a day, and at day six I was hit with a sudden sense of panic. I had less than a week to go and nothing had happened. Her truck hadn’t broken down, there wasn’t a massive earthquake, aliens had not landed, and I remember counting cigarettes and pretending I would quit the next day. I wonder how on earth I was going to get a divorce going when I couldn’t stop smoking. We were terribly busy at work and that helped a lot, but with five days left I knew it would get worse without getting any better. A pack a day, a pack a day, a pack a day, a pack a day, and suddenly she was driving back from Texas and the countdown had really begun.
The memory of that day is crystal clear, the emotion, the stress, the jacked up feeling of something terrible happening, and the raw nerve feeling of conflict and the feeling that whatever just happened had just begun, and resolution was far, far, away. Declaring the marriage as dead wasn’t the beginning of the end, but rather the beginning of that third box feeling, where I would never be married or single again, but divorced. It’s a singular and distinct classification, much like what you are when you are no longer a virgin.

If you are going through this for the first time, I might suggest to you it’s going to be as bad as you think, and sometimes it’s going to be worse than you could imagine, and I have a pretty good imagination. I was caught off guard by the intensity of the emotions, which having the process drug out by lawyers made it infinitely worse. Her lawyer told her she “had nothing to lose” by trying to get as much out of me as she could, and so that was where she was going with it. I, on the other hand, locked into the idea she would get nothing, and so the war began. The two lawyers very likely got together and decided how much they could get out of both of us if it drug out, and in the end, they made money, I lost money, and she wound up owing money.
In the end, please realize it is going to hurt, and it should. You would not be human if it did not. You would not be human if you didn’t feel a sense of loss, a sense of waste, a sense of guilt, a sense of tragedy, and a sense of failure. You will feel all of these sometimes, all the time, and there are times you’ll feel nothing at all, too, and this is normal.
No matter how bad it feels, as long as you’re feeling something, you know you’re still alive. It took me four years after the divorce to stop smoking forever. I don’t think anyone ever stops thinking about the end of a marriage, and all in all, that’s normal too.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, November 26, 2010

Adam Savage says "WTF, TSA?"

Thanksgiving 2010

The first Thanksgiving I remember that was held other than my father’s house was when my mother remarried back in 1980. Her new husband was having a family get together at his house, and I staggered in late, hung over from moonshine, having spent the night with a young woman from Possum Holler Virginia, and having zero sleep. It did not occur to me then I might have freaked some people out. I was long haired and strung out, amped on speed and fogged by pot, so most people there wondered who the hell I was and what the hell I was doing there to begin with. The woman from Possum Holler was right where I left her, the moonshine was with her, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her at all.
We have Thanksgiving at my oldest sister’s house these days. Neutral ground, as it were, between the divorced parents of long ago, and the place where it’s sort of in the middle for everyone to meet. This is my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian and it’s going to be weird. I’ve discovered I do not eat nearly as much, or as often now. I cannot think this meal will be different.
The drive isn’t long but it feels that way. I leave early this year because last year the traffic got weird about ten, and I was still on the road. I lock down into 55mph, and cruise down the road with Tori Amos. Tallokas Road, the place I found Lucas in the road fifteen months ago, is incredible this time of year. The houses there are simple yet they hold an elegance that comes from hard working people making their homes beautiful. This is the very soul of South Georgia, the people who farm, and who still know how to coax from the earth the very food we need for survival.
Moultrie comes and goes, Doeun passes by, and finally Albany, a city I have never liked is there. My sister and her family live in Lee County, but they might as well be in Albany proper. Albany is too crowded, too dirty, and too run down for me to really ever like the place, but so are most places where there are more than a thousand people or so. I’m the first to arrive, and I’m early. I get to finally meet the dogs, however.
Last spring my sister and a co-worker discovered two puppies that had been abandoned and my sister took them in. Remarkably, they were Lab/Weimaraner mix. Luke is part Weimaraner, but he’s a little larger than Marcus and Greyson. Grey rewards my pettings by jumping up and marking my shirt with two perfect paw prints. Most people might get upset at this, and I certainly won’t allow Luke to jump up on people, but I’m a Mutt Person, and Grey senses this. Weimaraners are very sociable people and they love to be handled. Both they and the old Lab that was rescued years ago like me.
I wonder why my other sister and mother haven’t arrived. My father is with my younger sister, so he isn’t arrived yet either. It’s good to see my niece, who is going to Mercer (have I ever mentioned that?) who is maturing quickly. This one is getting her feet under her quickly. This is very likely the last time I will ever see her in the role she has always played all her life. After this year I suspect she will become more and more her own person, and we’ll start treating her more like an adult than an older kid.
I start to wonder. Everyone is late, not just late, but late at the same time. This means family drama, and I don’t do family drama. I make a mental checklist of things everyone has mentioned, and then go through another list of things no one has mentioned. Nothing stands out but I know something is up. True to form, both my mother and father-in-law show up, and my sister and father show up about the same time. Something is up, but it doesn’t involve my father, because I can tell when he’s ornery. We’ll revisit this later, I’m sure, as soon as someone tells me what happened, and why.
We’re getting older. My brother-in-law, father-in-law, my father, and myself got into a conversation while watching a dog show on television.
B.I.L (seeing a dog like Lucas)—“Mike that’s a Weimaraner, right?”
F.I.L (the camera angle has changed to show a Rottweiler) You don’t have a dog like that do you?
Father ( looking up from his magazine) You’ve got a Rottweiler?
BIL “No that was a Weimarraner.”
FIL “Mike has a Rottweiler?
Father “I thought you had a Weimaraner?”
Meanwhile, I don’t think anyone but my brother-in-law and myself could actually hear what was being said, and it struck me I might have been missing part of the conversation myself.

Oddly, and this was unplanned as far as I could tell, we had two tables set up for lunch, with the prospective members divided by gender. My nephew, who is as self absorbed as any fourteen year old ever born, wanted to sit with his mother and sister, because he can’t stoop to socialize with anyone who want wait on him. My sister made him sit with us men folk but I could tell he wasn’t happy at all with it. He ignores everyone around him, and everyone is more or less given up on ever reaching him. It’s a Hermitude without thought or purpose, and I suspect things will get weird for him later in life.

The lunch is good, but I miss turkey. I miss eating as much as I can, and somehow, I can’t eat that much anymore. I wonder if it’s vegetarianism, or if there has been some fundamental shift in the way I eat that caused all this. After lunch everyone leaves fairly quickly, more signs that something is amiss, that I have missed out on.

When I was my nephew’s age, I was more or less lost in a sea of kaleidoscope events seemingly unrelated to reality as I saw it. I have no idea how to talk to someone that age, I suspect, and I wonder when I became so willing to just stop trying. Today I sent him a fifty dollar gift certificate for skateboard things. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.

Take Care,
Mike

Russian Rat Attacks Cats

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Infamous Turkey Drop

Losing The Cyber Space Race...to the Russians.


Here in Georgia there is an outbreak of cheating on a test called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which is designed to measure a student’s preparedness to move on to the next grade. When the test scores came out it looked like Georgia was once again headed for the very bottom of the educational dung heap.  Miraculously, in some districts the students did much better after a two weeks “Summer school” session. In fact, some of the students who had made the lowest grades turned around and aced the test. Cheating was suspected, teachers and principals were fires, and in the next round of testing, so many of the test sheets had been corrected it gave the image of a lunchroom full of teachers going through each test sheet and changing the answers to correct ones.
This, people, is happening in grade school.

A friend of mine who teaches senior level Journalism at a Valdosta State University tells her students at the first of the year there is a level of assumed competency.  If you’ve somehow gotten to the point where you’ve spent three years in college there are some things that you just have to know to get to that point. Many, however, bail out of her class and look for an easier professor. They aren’t looking for an education but instead are merely seeking a degree.

Regardless of whether you “blame the teacher” or “blame the parents” or “blame the system” something is terribly wrong with public education in America. Students enter our classrooms woefully prepared to learn, and they leave in the same condition. It’s impossible to get a high school student to make change without a calculator. It’s nearly as hard to get one to discuss the last book they read. American history is something they have heard about, and they know it involves that war where Private Ryan was fighting the Russians, but more than that, they cannot say.
If you really want to know the difference between what American cousnt as important versus what, let’s say, the Russians are thinking about, look no further than the blogoshere.  Americans are predominated by who got kicked off dancing island and where the latest implanted celebrity has crashed her car. Americans cannot tear themselves away from the playoffs, and something is always in season when it comes to sports.


I’m not claiming there are no intellectual conversations being held in American English, nor do I claim the Russian are some intellectually pure society. What I do claim is there is a higher regard for simple discussion in Russian in regard to language, and other pursuits of the mind, that are sadly lacking in American cyberspace. Moreover, it’s not impossible for me to jump into a conversation held by Russians for most speak some American, but damn few Americans speak any Russian at all.

Do you see where just that last fact might be a bad sign for us?


The Russians are grasping the concept of video art in a way that transcends language. We Americans are still hooked on videos that show some moron on a skateboard losing his front teeth on a rail. Whereas the Russians are seem to be melding music and video together in ways that most Americans haven’t dreamed of doing yet, we’re still fascinated by what Paris Hilton did last week, or what the hick daughter of a hick governor from a hick town did on television last night. The Russians are producing some incredible artwork on the internet and in real life, and they are working hard to make it better. I trust this is also true in India, and in China to some degree, and I know the Poles are breaking out on the net, yet we Americans are being left behind.

Isn’t bad enough we are not educating our children, but we have also stopped trying to educate ourselves.

Once again, let me make one point perfectly clear; this is not some anti American rant or some pro Russian treatise. This is one man’s point of view in regard to what the American culture values. Clearly, education takes back seat when it comes to sports, television, video games, social activity online, and otherwise being entertained into a stupor if not stupidity. The friends I have close to me are all self educated people who lean heavily on writing as a skill. True, they are college educated folk, but most of what they have learned about the craft has been self taught, as I have been.

The idea that a person can go somewhere and become educated against their efforts is just plain silly. Neither adults nor children can be made to learn. There has to be a drive, a thirst, and a zest for knowledge not found on television, video games, or text messaging lol. I see this is some of the Russian people I keep up with, and some of them want very little more than to have a chance to use their artistry to come to America, the home of the brave and the land of the free. It’s the Promised Land for many people who have vision and who want to work hard to see their dreams come true, or at least have a chance for that. I think many of these people see Americans as a people who have an incredible opportunity to seize the educational resources around them, free of oppression or government interference, yet they are a distracted people, bound to being amused by the latest You Tube video of two cats dancing with a Bigfoot.

We Americans have failed when it comes to education even as we succeed in being entertained. We have forgotten the simple and pure joy found in the hard work of discourse and discussion, bent not on proving one person or group right or wrong, but discussion as a method of discerning truth. We are dismayed at the state of our politics, but we have only to look back at our education system as a model to see where we are headed. We cannot expect our children to be better than we teach, we cannot expect our news channels to rise above what we demand, and we cannot expect our leaders to do more than give us what we have earned, or not earned, as it is.

Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

colonoscopy  co·lon·os·co·py (kō'lə-nŏs'kə-pē)
n. 
 Examination of the inner surface of the colon by means of a colonoscope.

11/22/2010… I turned fifty a couple of weeks ago and it was time to get the scope rope out and see if years of eating broccoli has done its job or if there is something lurking beneath the depths of my body that is going to make my life a little more interesting than I generally like it to be. I’ve never truly loved broccoli, but they say it’s good for you so I’ve done my part in eating it raw, eating it steamed, eating it cooked in a dozen or so dished, and as far as I can tell, nothing is seriously wrong with me. But then again, as much as some people might aver otherwise, I’ve had my head up my ass for quite some time. I think I’ll get a note from the doctor stating he did not find it there. I went and saw the doctor, got a prescription for a half gallon of something I do not like the looks of, and began the process at two in the afternoon. I had taken the pill at two, and waited until six before drinking three quarters of the two liters of vileness.
I figure my experience as a professional drinking is going to pay off here. I’m used to drinking large volumes. I can handle this, right? The first glass wasn’t so bad. Fifteen minutes later the next glass wasn’t that good, fifteen minutes later I was sitting in the toilet with the next glass and could barely stand it. Fifteen minutes later and the last glass wasn’t wanting to go down, the third glass wanted to come back up, and the two previous glasses were firing out of the other end a lot quicker than they went in. I had settled in for the evening. This is what it was going to be like for the rest of the night. At two I got up and it seemed to never end. At six I got up and drank the rest of it, and at ten I was hoping it was all gone, because it was time to go.
Okay, it’s paranoia, but there is a reason people have colonoscopy, What if they find something? What if it’s as big and ugly as it can get, and I’m out of time? What if I have to go through chemo and radiation, and I have to do this prep work for each time they go in, and it becomes sort of a hobby? Bert’s leg is better, but no one is going to take care of him like I do. Sam needs his head petted two or three times a day and Lucas, oh Lucas, who will put up with him? I think they would feel as if they had done something wrong, and they would think I left them. Bert would die waiting for me to return. What if they find something.
11/23/2010
To boldly go where no man has gone before. There is also a joke in there about Klingons and Uranus, but I seem to be running a little short on humor right now. I haven’t eaten in over twenty-four hours, I have had no coffee, and I feel like if I fart there is going to be a wet spot the size of a Chihuahua in my pants.  Elbow and her youngest son has very generously offered to drive me there and back again, but I think I’ll be okay. I was once a professional drinker, remember? Things go very smoothly and the woman tells me she’s going to give me two shots. The first is a pain killer. That one goes into the IV and I feel a slight burn. I’m ready for the sleep shot. I’ve prepared for it. I started last night getting geared up to beat this thing for as long as I can, and see if I can actually handle their sleep drug one on one. I’m telling you, if I can stand up to Jack Daniels as a hobby, this stuff can’t touch me.
I come to, sort of, on the way home. I don’t remember anything at all past the last shot, and don’t remember that. Elbow and her son are talking about something but I don’t hear them. They drop me off and for the first time in over thirty-six hours I can eat, and there is coffee. Coffee! Sure, after something like this it isn’t a good idea but my head hurts. I have to get some caffeine in me or die. I eat some rice and beans and lie down on the sofa. Two hours later, I call Elbow and she comes to get me, so I can pick up my truck from her house.
It’s an odd feeling being that stoned. I don’t feel as if I went through the procedure, and it occurs to me something went wrong, and I didn’t do it. It strikes me odd I have no memory of it ending, or getting dressed, or leaving the place. I feel gassy, cramped, and hungry, but other than that, okay. I call Elbow and she comes to get me, to get my truck back, and to feed me leftovers from Thanksgiving they had early in the week.
Elbow laughs when I ask if everything is okay. It’s the fourth or fifth time I asked, she says. No, everything went well and your colon is “perfect” as the doctor put it. Perfect. That’s good, right? Nothing was fond, nothing at all, and suddenly I realize how scared I was. My stomach hurts, and I’m still gassy, and I’m still getting cramps, but I am alive, and otherwise healthy.

It’s only eight thirty, 11-23-10, but I am already feeling sleepy. The food is kicking in. The coffee is wearing off. The colonoscopy is over, for at least another ten years or so. They didn’t find anything. That’s one less thing to worry about.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Full Moon Mutts Nov 2010

Bert has outgrown running around during a full moon and he is the only one of The Three to doze through the night now. The Loki Mutt and Sam got up twice last night, thoroughly convinced there was something out there that needed their attention, and I finally gave up and left the back door open.  It’s my theory they think there is more to see out there because there is more light, but it may go deeper than that. But Bert isn’t buying into it anymore, so that leads me to believe there isn’t anything to worry about. Sam and Lucas wander around for a couple of hours then return to be praised for whatever it is they did. I praise nothing at two in the morning but sleep, and more sleep.
I drifted in and out of sleep and in and out of a dream state. It’s happened before, where I will be in a dream, then wake up, and then go back to the same dream. Last night between the canine updates and when they fell into repose from their efforts, I dreamed I was going somewhere with a group of people on foot, but I couldn’t actually see the people around me. It wasn’t dark or foggy, or anything optical, but I was looking forward, not around me, and they were not invisible either, it was just I didn’t see them. We walked by a wall, even though one should not have been there, and it was covered with red clay tile, but the pattern was giraffe-like, and very pretty. I’ve seen tile like this, somewhere, but I cannot remember where, and last night I put my face to it and felt the coolness of the tiles. One of the people with me came into view, and I realized it was someone I worked with a very long time ago. He was wearing a flannel shirt and there was dust on one of his arms, and his shoulder, as if he had been carrying something heavy that had not been clean. Somewhere in my mind I thought it a nice touch that the dream would be so detailed, and that woke me up.
The room was flooded with moonlight. Bert was snoring softly, but Sam and Lucas weren’t back. I was sinking back into sleep when I heard the sound of both dogs pounding their way across the deck, through the porch, and into the house. They sound like there is an even dozen of them, sometimes. It’s exciting for the weather to be cool, the moon to be high, and the woods to be open for late night exploration. They can barely be contained, but Sam wants to nap, so they lie down in the semidarkness of the bedroom and I drift back into sleep again.
I remember walking in near total darkness many years ago, but there was just enough starlight for me to see the tips of my white tennis shoes just below my field of vision. Blink-blink-blink-blink- and a four mile an hour pace dismayed the two friends walking with me. They thought I was walking far too fast, but I was the only nonsmoker in the group. The dream comes back as I have this thought, and honestly I had to think for a while before I got get the two disengaged. They had become intertwined the past and the dream, and it was hard to remember where I was, or where I was not. Memory and dreamscape melded for a second or two, and somehow I knew it.
The dreamscape where I was walking with the man with a dusty shirt began anew and this time the people were nearly visible to me, as if I could see shapes in the periphery, or almost hear whispered voices. There was a female, maybe old enough to be a young woman, or a girl barely a teen, who was walking behind me, and she wanted to tell me something but she was having a very hard time deciding what language she should use. How I know this, I cannot say, but I felt her struggle and even though I wanted to speak to her, I felt as if she wanted to do this communication on her own. It’s hard to explain, really, but there seemed to be something going on, and I felt as if I had landed someone in the future, and this was how it would be.
“Woof!”

The Loki Mutt has learned if he barks for no reason at all The Elder Mutts cannot discern if it is a nothing at all bark or something important. I, on the other paw, have discovered if Lucas barks at something he is generally in motion at the same time. When he is barking just to get the other two dogs to go out with him then he will sit there and wait to see if it’s worked. It works. Sam heads for the backdoor and Bert struggles to his feet, and then changes his mind. Let the younger dogs investigate, we will rest a while, yes? Lucas and Sam charge out the back door, over the porch, across the deck like a thundering herd, and into the moonlit yard.


I look over at the clock and it is nearly five. There isn’t any real reason to think I will sleep, or dream, anymore this close to dawn. The moonlight is now coming into the windows on the other side of the house. I’m in shadow now, but it’s like having the ghost of a dawn coming in from the west. An owl hoots far from the back of the property, and I can hear the mutts giving chase to the sound. I suspect the owls use the dogs as brush beaters but I cannot prove it. I rise and Bert gets up too. He pads towards the back door as quiet as dark, and I wonder about the young woman in the dream, and what she was trying to say.

Take Care,
Mike.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mike Vick

There are those out there who have very short memories. The good times are great, the best ever, and the bad times will not come.  There are those of us who have been around long enough to see many things come full circle, and we are not surprised when the good times crash and burn before our eyes. We do not despair of the bad times anymore than we get giggly over the good times. The circus has come to town, true enough, but it has been here before, and all of those who spend their time and money on the bright lights and rigged games will wake up after the tents are folded and wondered where their time and money went.
A few years ago Mike Vick was the highest paid player in the NFL. He had a multi-milllion dollar signing bonus when he joined the Atlanta Falcons and he was red hot. Vick looked very good against teams that were not so hot, but as the seasons came and went, Vick cooled when he played tougher teams. His stats looked great some games but then they looked very poor in other games. Overall, it was beginning to look a lot like Vick was a one trick pony; he could run well, but as soon as that was stopped, Vick was less than impressive. He fumbled the ball a lot. He played poorly once his team fell behind. His work ethic was questioned and there was the persistent rumor that Vick smoked a lot of pot.
Then there came the allegation that he was involved in dog fighting. Vick’s lawyer stood in front of a crowd of reporters and declared that Vick was looking forward to proving his innocence, and Vick himself declared he had never set foot in the house in question. Lies upon lies upon lies and finally Vick was housed in a kennel of his own devices. Mike Vick went from being the toast of the town to just being toast.  The details of what he did to dogs made most of us sick. The idea that he might ever play again in the NFL seemed very remote, but as I have said, there are those with very short memories.
One thing I can tell you about someone like Mike Vick is he will always be who he is. When someone like that reaches the very depths of inhumanity and criminality and drug use, there isn’t any return to the land of the living. Mike Vick is not seeking redemption, no, the man is seeking validation. In winning football games he will become famous again. He will be loved again.  In his mind, all that he once was will be resurrected, with himself as a Christ like figure, going from the grave to heaven again. We, the mutt lovers, will be proved wrong. We, those of us who are still boycotting the NFL, are not important. We, who rescue dogs instead of killing them, are no longer heard.
But you see I have a very long memory. I have watched football longer than Mike Vick has been alive. I understand the game. Mike Vick is a problem for defenses to solve, and they will, as they have in the past. Someone very large, who is moving very fast, is going to collide with Mike Vick one day. There is going to be a very loud snap as a bone breaks, and Mike Vick is going to be history. I give him no more than this season, maybe one more, before someone in a uniform ends his reign of error. It may be on the field, but it may be off the field as well.
First and foremost, Mike Vick is a moron in the order of magnitude. He believes the sycophants who crowd around the rich and famous, and he believes that if you are rich enough or famous enough, you can do what you want. That’s true to a degree, but you also have to be invisible, and Vick is a very visible target, both on the field and off. He will let his renewed stardom go to his head, and he will do something incredible stupid. If this happens before or after he gains a permanent limp, I cannot say. One will very quickly follow the other, I suspect.

In less time that it takes for the NFL to change a season, Mike Vick will be forgotten. He will be part of the past. He will go the way of other fallen stars but in this case he will be behind bars. There will be some mention of him at some point in reference to someone who had it all and lost it twice, but that will be all that is ever said of Mike Vick, in the end.

I have a favor to ask of you, you dog people, you advocates, you rescuers, you most excellent people out there, who if I may, would call you my pack, my family, my kindred spirits, those of us whose houses will always smell a wee bit doggy, whose purchase of tennis balls have nothing to do with a game played with a racket, and whose family wears real fur, all the time. It is going to happen, and it may be gruesome. Please, I beg of you, do not cheer. If Vick goes down in a game, do not reach down to his level and applaud. Remember to keep your humanity. Do not surrender it to him, even to spite him. Do not become what you hate, in rejoicing to watch someone in pain.  Do not find joy in the ruin of a man’s body for his soul was lost long ago. Do not be grateful when they carry him away in chains for once he led others away in chains. Do not offer thanks for his suffering even though he has caused much suffering.

Our task is longer than a season, more important than one man, and it is we who have long memories. Let those memories be of wagging tails, of doggy smiles, and of saved lives. Do not waste your time on those who hate, for it must be we who are those who love.

Take Care,
Mike Firesmith

Sunday, November 21, 2010























The Alien

Sharon worked in upper management somewhere and it was her job to make sure us new employees where the people we were supposed to be. I found it funny that someone like me, who had applied as a dishwasher at a truckstop, would be given some sort of post hire interview to see if there might be something else I could do, somewhere else. I was barely nineteen, and had left my father’s home at the heels of being arrested for a variety of minor offenses that wouldn’t have resulted in jail time, likely, but it seemed a good time to go.
I didn’t have any job skills, certainly no social skills whatsoever, and was frightened by new people. My handwriting was nearly illegible. Filling out an application was a lesson in futility. I didn’t have a phone, and I knew two people in Brunswick, where I had moved. Both of these people had nearly landed me in enough trouble to be tossed in jail for real time, so I was more or less on my own in a strange town with no appreciable skills to make my way.
I honestly had never been so happy.

As a dishwasher I worked alone, and for the first time in my life, even if it was a very menial job, I was away from everyone who knew me, and I was being judged by the job I did and not who my father was. I made drug connections on my own without having a friend of a friend help me. I was drinking in my own apartment and actually paying my own bills. I had learned to do laundry. I had learned to write checks and how to get things done like have the electricity turned on, and shop for food.
Sharon sat me down in the restaurant where I worked and asked me what my long term plans were and I told her if I could get a double shift this week that would be great. She was buying lunch and I had memorized the menu as to what items came with the most food for the least amount of money. The truckstop was my biggest source of food, which may sound sad, but they had a great salad bar, and the cook let me create my own meals, sometimes.  I was still just above starvation level, and I did not consider it rude to eat as much as I could as fast as I could. Sharon asked me if I had enough to eat, and I told her this would be enough for the rest of the day. I’ll be honest with you, and please remember these are the thoughts of a man just nineteen, who spent most of his time drinking, and smoking pot, I thought Sharon was ancient. She was forty-two, and I thought that was one-foot-in-the-grave territory. I was very surprised when she admitted she drank, and even more surprised when she invited me over to her room for a drink later.
Social situations freaked me out. There was no situation so causal that it didn’t make me breakout into a sweat, make my pulse race, and caused me to have an impending sense of panic. Pot made it worse, but I never realized it until I stopped smoking. Drinking helped calm me but more or less created a situation where I was too numb to understand what was going on around me. But there was a free meal involved, and stray-like, I would go towards food, even in terror.
Sharon was staying in a hotel in Saint Simon’s Island, and I was duly impressed if not more than a little freaked out. It was early spring, still a little too cool for swimming, but we walked on the beach and drank. In my mind more was better, and Sharon wasn’t used to drinking with a professional. Instead of going out, we had pizza delivered because she was a little too drunk to stay upright and not giggle. Suddenly, Sharon was visible to me, because she was drunk, and it was a lot easier to relate to her. She laughed when I told her I had some pot, but she decided to smoke a joint with me, and that really made her giggly. Sharon didn’t look so old anymore, and the same fears and weirdness I had just survived in High School she had gone through, too. She had been the skinny flat chested girl no one asked to the prom, and even though that had been her big dream in High School, the prom, it had never happened, and it never really was in any question. She wanted a big wedding, too, but that hadn’t happened either. She had gotten married to the first guy that asked, and they were married in a county courthouse with her mother as a witness and that was that. Sharon had wanted kids, but something wasn’t right with her body, so they had talked about adoption. Her husband left one day and called her a few hours later and told her to keep his stuff, and he never came back.
Sharon told me she thought she was an alien, no really, that somehow when she was born there was some terrible mistake, and where she was supposed to be born, to the people who would know and love her, she didn’t go there but instead wound up here on earth, where she was destined to spend her life wanting to be someone she would never be. I was stunned. This was who I was, and it scared me to death to think that a real adult had these feelings. I mean, wasn’t there some sort of age where enlightenment kicked in and all? Wasn’t there some magic line to be crossed and all the answers would be given and secrets revealed? Sharon had gone to college, and she had a real job. Where was the reward for this? She didn’t have any answers. She was a frightened little thing who was hiding behind a nice set of clothes and a paycheck.
We walked on the beach again, and Sharon regained her composure. I would have touched her on a bet, not because I wasn’t attracted to her, but because I was so blown away by this revelation it wasn’t going to get better, even if I had a better job, or if I had better clothes, or if I got older. Sharon was an alien, and I was out a little further than she. Looking up at the stars from the beach I felt very small, and very much alone.

Take Care,
Mike

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bert's Tea-Part Three

It’s easy to see how we derived some of the inventions of humankind from nature. Sailing was invented by watching leaves pushed across the water, perhaps. Fire was tamed by virtue of observing its affects on dead animals, and the desire for warmth and defense. Making fire through friction was likely the result of feeling warmth from sliding down a hill or some other event that would lead to the thought that friction equals warmth equals fire, eventually. Even alcohol could be thought of as a natural invention because I have seen birds too drunk to fly after eating fermented wild grapes. Observation is easily the most obvious method of copying nature and improving upon ideas from generation to generation would be likewise a natural occurrence.
Imagine if you will the invention of rope. Some early human watched an animal trapped in vines, killed it and ate the animal, and then after a feast, wondered if this might be something that might occur again. Hmmm, these vines that entangled the animal, yes, look how they intertwine, I wonder if there is a way we might be able to reproduce this, yes, why I think we could. What would come of such thoughts? Rope making, knots, weaving, slings, and a host of inventions waiting for mankind to do more than make the first hammock and enjoy a good meal. It would be very easy to imagine human sought to improve on nature’s gifts and from very simple happenstance, an entire encyclopedia of invention might have issued forth. It’s not a very big jump at all to see how braiding would be invented, and once mankind mastered knots and tying, then sewing and cloth making was surely inevitable. Likely, it took a very long time to go from a trapped animal to a wedding dress, no analogy intended there, but you can see how the steps were made after the first one, yes?
But let us consider the curious case of the drug used by South American natives in their Shamanic practices. The drug is a powder derived from the dried flower that is pulverized and then blown into the nasal cavities of someone who wishes to experience a state where the sense of self is stripped away and all that is left is an awareness of the surroundings. The odds of observing this in nature are very nearly zero. The odds of accidently having a dried flower that has been pulverized blown into your nasal cavities are likewise low. I do not buy into the theory that all the herbs and plants humans use for such practices are the product of trial and error. You’d wind up with a lot of dead people that way, more than a few maimed ones and some serious pain before you wound up with an unforgettable and pleasurable experience. I don’t buy into the idea that humankind watched stoned animals and from those observations learned what plants were psychotropic. This doesn’t explain the hundred of medicinal plants that have no psychotropic properties at all, but can remedy some injuries and pathogens. To suggest that throughout humankind’s existence we’ve tried each and every plant out there in a variety of ways, with the blind hope of getting something out the deal other than dead or hurt is just plain silly.
If we can postulate trial and error would not have worked or would have taken too long, or would have taken too great of a toll, and we could also surmise that observation would not explain some of the more exotic natural drugs, so what exactly have we left to explain their existence? Did aliens come down from the sky and tell us how to roll a joint, or how to extract aspirin from willow bark? Was the secret of psilocybin mushrooms given to humankind via some exchange with the supernatural?

Through our last conversation in regard to this subject we agreed that wild animals simply “know” what plants are edible. This is necessary to their survival and I think we can agree deer are not going through trial and error to discover some plants will kill them. Instinctively, they are guided to food and away from harmful plants. Deer, however, have not invented knots, and they have not harnessed fire. Deer have been given what they need to survive by instinct, so you won’t find one rubbing two sticks building a fire to make tea. You will, however, find a human here and there doing just that. Clearly, fire making isn’t instinctive, but what about the tea? Are there properties of tea that we crave, and therefore instinctively know to ingest the leaves soaked in water?

Very rarely do I invoke human superiority over animals in any manner. I believe we are animals, and damn little else. Our intellect has failed to create a just and prosperous species. Our exploitation of the earth will take centuries to repair even if we began such efforts today. Our exploration of space has faltered. We cling to myth and superstition as if they might save us from ourselves and we worship science as if it might explain to us who we are. We are a fractured and aggressive species who seem bent on self destruction just ahead of our pushing each and every other species on earth into extinction.

I suspect we have stopped listening to the voice in our heads that would guide us towards the experiences by which we might divine who we were meant to be, as creatures designed by nature. Obviously, in most primitive cultures psychotropic drugs are not chemical entertainment, but rather devices of enlightenment. We know, truly know, at some level that our minds can reach past the here and now, and explore other realities, but in our modern world, we get stoned and tune out. We seek oblivion rather than consciousness. We have created chemicals to get us nowhere but numb, and we’ve turned drug use into an escape rather than a journey.
Before you reject my hypothesis out of hand I ask you look at how we have bastardized food.  What we eat does not nourish us, does not make us stronger, and instead makes us weak and fat. We’ve created the same design for our drugs that do not heal, but instead lists side effects more harmful than disease itself. Nature has given is what we need to survive, but in our haste to improve on Her gifts, we have instead destroyed them, and in ourselves, have become blind to who we might be.

Take Care,
Mike

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bert's Tea- A Thought Continued.

Before the dogs destroyed it many years ago there was a clay planter on the deck, and I can’t remember what sort of plant was in the planter, but I very distinctly remember Bert running across the yard with it in his mouth. I’m a big proponent of inertia and I allow an object to stay in a state of rest unless there is some compelling reason for me to put that object into motion. The water tray under the planter, and this is also made of clay, is still there, and it is likely to stay there until I find a reason to move it.
I noticed that after a rain Bert likes to drink of the water tray, and he especially likes it if the tray is full of leaves. I thought it an odd thing but then I wondered if this was some sort of canine version of tea. Is there some sort of health benefits derived from drinking from a water tray full of Oak leaves? There might be if Tannic acid is good for the digestive system of a dog. At any rate I can’t see any harm it is doing to Bert, and he really seems to like it. I wonder if the fact it’s rain water has anything to do with it.
We accept the idea that dogs and people are hardwired for certain activities. You don’t have to teach a dog to eat. You don’t have to teach a dog to drink water. They are voluntary activities, but at the same time you can accept the idea a dog knows how to eat or drink. Now, if you can accept the idea animals, as we are animals too, are hardwired for certain activities that are voluntary, then you cannot help but expand that concept to include those activities we do not know about, or have not considered.  
When I brought Lucas home for the first time it was obvious he hadn’t eaten well or in a while. Somewhere in his puppy mind, letting a stranger have control over his location and movements was preferable to his current condition, even though someone who had raised him to that point was responsible for what was happening to him. I think Lucas trusted people to a certain degree, but also realized people had done something to him. It wasn’t as bad as I have seen, and certainly not as bad as what had happened to Sam, but Lucas was clearly frightened. That lasted up until I put a bowl of food in front of him, and suddenly something in his mind told him there was food, and it time to eat.
On the flip side of this, Lucas didn’t seem to know what snakes were until this Summer. Last Summer he ran right over the top of a fairly large banded Water Snake and didn’t see it, or smell it. This Sumer a branch stepped on that makes one end jump also makes Lucas jump. Lucas has discovered what snakes are, and he doesn’t seem to like them one bit.
His caution with snakes is learned behavior, clearly, and his need for food is hardwired into him. Both indicate survival methodology but each is something we humans can recognize. So what about Bert’s Tea? Do dogs have in them the ability to know what substances might provide better health if ingested? If so, is this something we totally missed in them? Is it something we have somehow lost in ourselves? Is there a way to reinvent instinct, so that we might more be able to see the things in nature as part of what can help us rather than hurt us?
This is all highly speculative. But I reject the claim of “trial and error” as to why animals know what is good to eat and what is not. Clearly, human know damn little when it comes to nature, and if we assume that animals blunder around and die of poisonous plants and those who don’t learn from it, we’re cheating ourselves out of knowledge.
If animals “instinctively” know what to eat and what not to eat, where did that come from? When did we lose it? I also reject the idea of transcendence, where we human animals have been given some sort of gift that differentiates us from other animals. That cheats us out of who we really are, and what we can perceive in the world, and chains us to knowledge that must come from others. We are unable to “see” the nature of things in the wild simply because we are told we are blind.
What blinds us? Why do we allow ourselves not to see? Why do domesticated goats eat poisonous plants while their wild cousins will not? Have domesticated goats been given some form of transcendence?  Really? Has civilization dumbed them down, as it has us? You can either make a case for us, goats, both, or neither, but you cannot ignore that we seemingly are in the same boat with goats who cannot discern what is good for them, and what is not, unless we’re there to help.
What blinds them? That is the question, really, as to why you can kill an entire herd of goats with the leaves of a plant that wild goats won’t touch. How many generations of goats must pass before they blindly eat poison set before them? How many generations of human must pass before we see again? Under what conditions would our sight return?

You may, if you wish, argue that we are not blind. You may argue transcendence. You may argue that domesticate goats are not a reasonable simile for the human condition. You may, if it pleases you, argue that Bert does not take his tea on the deck after a hard rain. Religion and science will agree that he does not. I would, at this point, humbly suggest to you, that perhaps that both religion and science have made us blind.

Take Care,
Mike

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Of Paint Artists and Art

Art isn’t about making a living it’s about making an impression. You don’t need a payoff for what you create except to have someone stop, and think, to feel, to wonder about what you have brought forth.  To me, at least, it is enough for me to know that somewhere out there a person might stop and thinking during the day about something I have written. Did it make that person smile, or feel some emotion attached to a character I created, or did they laugh at some line I wrote, or did it make them angry that I write what I did. Can I touch people with my art, can I touch their hearts, their minds, and can I reach out into someone and touch their souls with what I write?
If I can I don’t need to make a living doing this, and if I cannot I won’t anyway.
Paint artists have always held a special place in my heart because I learned to love art though loving a paint artist. Paint artists are always a little weird because of the fumes, I assume. When I owned an art gallery the level of talent in this area was revealed to me, and I was amazed at what this part of the world held. There were incredibly good artist here, right here, and they never even realized how good they were.
A woman painted a very large painting of a rain forest frog, and I remember talking to the person who bought it. The colors were so vivid, so incredible, so bold, and it was one of the first pieces of art I had ever sold. It isn’t very hard at all to sell a painting to someone who loves it. I can tell. I can look at someone and I know if they love the painting. I can see it. They do not want to own the painting, no, they want to paint it. They want to be part of the creation process, and by hanging it somewhere special, by letting people know they value it, and by looking at it, they are reminded they are part of something larger than a piece of canvas and some paint.
Unlike writers or poets who retain their work, paint artist surrender their souls to someone else forever. The painting is taken by someone to somewhere else and is gone. If money has exchanged hands, that is a good thing but once a painter lets go of a piece of their lives, a tiny part of their souls, it continues onwards. Someone gave me a painting she had painted here, in my home, and I watched as it was created, and it was so incredible. There in front of me a painting was given birth, and there in my home it would stay. I see that painting every day, and it reminds me of who and why and how and it reminds me that paint artist give away more of who they are than do writers, sometimes.

We writers have files there days, some keep real journals, but an unfinished essay or a half written poem can sit hidden away in a computer or on a desk. An unfinished painting is an accusation, a crime frozen, and it is an unfed child sitting at a table staring at you. Ah, yes, as you can tell, I have loved and lived with artists. It is not an easy life, though most cannot see it as such. I can tell you that each artist, be it print or paint, carried some burden of creativity that most cannot, and will not, understand.
You can’t give up on it. Now because there isn’t any money in it, not because the people around you do not realize it’s important, not because it isolates you in ways that few realize, not because you are afraid of who you might become if you keep going, but seriously, never because of money. Money is the least of all reasons. Money will not give you anything in return that you put into it. Yes, it is nice to have money, but at the same time, money cannot buy it. Money cannot pay for it. Money cannot guarantee it. Going into art for money is like going into love for money, except with love you have a much better chance of getting money and sex, but with art you’ll only assure yourself of what you can do with your Muse. There is nothing sure except if you do give up, there will be a day you look back and regret it. Like walking away from someone you love there will be a day you look back and still feel that love.

You know, we might never meet. I would not recognize you on the streets, and we may even live in different countries, our languages might make us strangers, our customs might leave us cold, but at the same time, art is something that is universal, innately human, incredibly spiritual, and totally and intensely personal. In nearly all art I can find the soul of the artist, and I find wonder there, too. I can see vision with sight never imagined in each photos, each brush stroke, in every line of a poem, in each word of a novel, and in some of these works, lies heaven.
You may not know me if we passed in the street, or if we stood in line together at a market. You may pass me in a gallery and never look twice. You could see me in a bookstore and I would be invisible to you. But if what I write can reach you, and in some way my words that speak about art can also speak to you, then we are kin. We are family. We are brethren of the burden that artist alone bear. If my words speak to you, and you year to create, then do not thank me, for in a way that only an artist may understand, I am in your debt.

Take Care,
Mike 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fire and Rain and Mutts

The rain woke me up at three, and I lay there half asleep and listened to it for a while. It’s a white noise sound, rain is, and I listened to it pick up and rain harder, until the rain was running off the roof and making the tiny Niagara sounds it makes as it falls. It’s been desperately dry here, and even Arabi Bay in Clinch County is burning. The rain might not put the fire out, but it will begin to put the fire out, and it will keep it from spreading into the lower places. We did this in 2007, with the world being on fire and all. I would just as soon we not do it again.
Rain in November means the falling of leaves, the stripping of the limbs of the last few hold outs, and those trees who haven’t turned yet will start down that path soon. The days began getting shorter than the night nearly two months ago, and even if the weather isn’t cold it is still grey and dull most of the time. It seems late in the day at six, and I still remember it being very hot and very sunny at six just a few months ago, during August. On night shift I would watch the eastern sky lighten at five, and by six the sun would be up, but now, even with Daylight Stupid Time, the sun is late getting up by seven. The rain and the clouds means there will be no dawn.
It’s still fairly warm for this time of the year so I’m not running the heat. Two really big comforters and three good sized dogs make for a cozy bed. The downside is it’s chilly when I get out of bed, and even if I turned the heat on it would get warm about the time I left for work. I have to go outside with the mutts because if I don’ they’ll just turn around and get on the porch and not pee. Then, in the middle of breakfast they’ll want out because they really, really have to go. If I go with them then they see me peeing and they’ll go. I stand in the rain and get wet to keep from having to let the dogs out during breakfast. What wrong with me?
Still, even in the total predawn darkness there is enough light for me to see shadows and shapes, the slipping of clouds overhead silhouetted through the tree branches and the moss. I haven’t felt the rain in months it seems, and it feels good on naked skin. It’s far too cool to feel comfortable, but there is a certain sense of exhilaration in this. The weather has changed, rain has come again, and after all the long hot days of Summer, this is a moment I would have sold my left kidney for in August.
Up until The Loki Mutt cold nosed me from behind.
It’s a puppy thing, a young dog thing, to use the nose as a weapon, and most older dogs view that sort of thing as juvenile and beneath them. Elbow has a Great Pyrenees who still torpedo noses people, and Lucy is over one hundred pounds of solid dog. When she rams that snout into you then you are going to stop what you’re doing. She doesn’t mean to hurt anyone but she also still hurts when she manages a direct hit. The dog is dangerous, I tell you, but she is such an adorable little polar bear, too.
The mutts know if they get too wet I won’t let them into the house so they all make a big show of shaking off. The downside to this is they put this show on inside, and I have to get towels out for them if they’re really wet. Toweling dry three dogs is nigh impossible when the other two not being dried think they’re being left out. Everyone wants to be dried first, and no one wants to be second. Sam considers being toweled dried one of those events like Christmas, or finding out the guy your ex cheated with gave her herpes.
The radar shows a great green mass of rain heading right for us, covering us, and extending deep into the day. The pond will get some water, the earth won’t be so damn dusty, and the air will smell clean again. I hope the fire is put out, or at least knocked down some, and it is a peat fire, which means it’s down in the low spaces where water wants to go. I’ve been told my some of the old timers that the peat goes so far down the water takes time to reach it, and you can see smoke rising up from the water as the fire burns underground. I have no idea if that is true or not, but stranger things have happened.

A friend of mine set fire to an old stump once and he claim the fire went down in the ground and followed one of the roots and popped out of the ground outside his containment. Several acres of plants pines were burned, but he swears he was watching the fire carefully. I’ve seen fire go underground before and witnessed it coming back up to haunt the person who thought the fire was out, and yes, that person was me. I personally believe the root story but to think fire will survive underwater is a bit of a stretch. There’s no way for air to get underwater.

I watched on the radar as the storm lashed the area where the fire is, and someone went out to investigate late in the afternoon. I suspect the fire is out, but we’ll see later on Wednesday. I’m betting if they got the rain we had fall on us, the fire is gone, too.

The mutts are warm and dry, and Bert is snoring. The sky is clearing, the air is turning cooler, and there is no rain in the forecast.

Take Care,
Mike

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Carnivore's Migration (III)

Being a vegetarian in The South is a lot like being gay, I would suppose. People take one aspect of your life and define you simply by what you put in your mouth. Most of the people I know and who know me saw this coming, and I’ve flirted with vegetarianism for awhile now. But there are a couple of people who have decided that every time someone who doesn’t know is around they have to spill the beans and rice. I have to explain it all over again to someone who likely wouldn’t care if someone else hadn’t pointed it out to them.
I used to get dressed to work out before I went to the gym because the gym I went to had a locker room the size of my first computer. There were a couple of people who made fun of the fact that I am the whitest white man alive. I do not have tan lines, just white, and blazing white blind you if you look at it glow in the dark white. This is how I came into this world, and this is how I will leave, white, naked, and screaming. The people who made fun of me were all overweight slackers who couldn’t run a mile if their heads were on fire and their asses catching. Fat people ought not make fun of people going to the gym, or people who just gave up eating meat. I can, when the need arises, be fairly brutal or brutal without being fair. Don’t stand there and make fun of my legs when you can’t see your feet without bending over. Don’t make fun of the choices for food, if your choices are killing you.
What I eat, or do not eat, really isn’t public fare, and I wish some people would just get over the fact that I don’t eat meat, and go about their lives. I haven’t said anything, ever, about the way they eat, or what they eat, and it isn’t any of my business anyway, unless they’re eating whales or dogs or endangered species. Honestly, short of me getting involved with who they might be sleeping with, there isn’t anything less my business than what they eat.
I do not mind the genuinely curious. There are people who want to know how the other half lives, or in this case the other one percent and I am more than happy to share with them why I eat what I do. I suspect some people are looking for some sort of starter kits for being vegetarians. More people have asked me how to start than people have given me a hard time about it, but very much like myself, most people don’t have a clue as to when and how and where to start. It is very difficult to live in The South and not be tempted to buy into the slab- of- meat- and- two -sides type thinking. And we do have the very best of food down here but it just isn’t very good for the average person.
I’m losing weight simply because I am not eating as much. Going out for lunch with my co-workers two or three times a week usually meant we would go somewhere with a noon buffet and everyone would eat far too much. Because all most restaurants offer around here are salad bars for vegetarians, I haven’t eaten out but two or three times in the last month. That and the fact that even at home I am eating less means I’m going to drop those ten pounds I gained on Night Shift. I’m working out on a regular basis so I hope to regain some muscle, and at the same time lose the extra tonnage.
I know a woman who has caught a lot of grief in her time because her son is not only gay, but openly so. He married a man, and I have no idea how she’s dealt with it. He isn’t a bad person at all, but he is really gay, and it shows. No one has to tell you. It shows like the white on my legs. Mostly, no one gives him a hard time because he’s a good worker and I know his supervisor pretty well. He doesn’t like gay people and doesn’t want to be around them at all, but he’s perfectly fine having a good employee. The man is a contradiction, the supervisor that is, but I think it works out well for everyone. You don’t have to like someone or their lifestyle to treat them well, you know.

Still, I must say the overall reaction to my becoming a vegetarian has been positive, and people have been supportive. I get kidded for “grazing” and eating “porridge” but most people are being kind to be during the transition phase of learning how to become a vegetarian, and no one has said anything outright mean to me, so far. I do miss going out with everyone to eat, but it just isn’t healthy to do so anymore. If I overeat now it upsets my stomach, even thought I am not eating meat. I’m eating smarter, better, and less. I have fewer leftovers and I’m throwing away less food than I did before. There are no plastic containers with green fuzzy stuff growing in them pushed to the back of the refrigerator.
I’m trying new ways to cook, new things to cook, and I’m being more careful about reading labels. I remember learning how to cook many years ago, and when I find myself stumped by an ingredient I smile, knowing I have been here before. I learned a new way to prepare food once before this, and I will learn again a new way to cook. I’ve always wanted to be better at cooking, but never really made the effort because I already knew enough to get by. I wonder if changing my diet will change the way I think about a lot of things.

Take Care,
Mike