Tag Archives: Life

The Flapping Wings of my Personal Butterfly

My last post was inspired in part by the well-documented and somewhat self-evident Butterfly Effect.

Indeed, most of my thinking is in response, one way or another, to this concept. For when I reflect on my actions, I am concerned first and foremost with their effect. Underneath that focus there is an assumption of some level of  agent efficacy that may or may not exist.

The things we quibble and quarrel about, like Good and Evil, Accountability and Blame,  Morality and Righteousness, God and Country, are shallow and somewhat vacuous intellectual romps compared to the really hard and far more fundamental question of just how much a flapping butterfly wing matters.

On the one hand, proof of mattering is all around us.

That may not seem so obvious when we describe the Butterfly Effect as the flap of butterfly wings on one side of the  globe causing a Tsunami on the other side. It may even sound absurd. But it becomes less so when we call it the more technical sounding Chaos Theory and look at it instead as simply saying that a small change can have huge effects down the road.

And it becomes immediately personal when viewed in terms of us existing at all.

“Us” in the plural sense, certainly, when you realize how many extinctions have occurred, but here I am meaning “us” in the singular sense: you, me,  and other would-be agents of change.

For when I reflect on my own existence, I can’t help being awestruck at how amazing it is that I am here at all. My presence might not seem like a particularly grand effect when viewed by someone other than me, but from the biased perspective of JD Fox, it is an inconceivably huge effect

But  the other hand is present, too:

Effects can be easily wiped out. One vote makes a difference. But an opposite vote cancels it. The flapping of wings can have an effect. But  the flapping of other wings can negate it. I am here, but I could have easily never been.

Such things in no way disprove the butterfly effect, of course, since those negations are also reliant on the small changes of long ago and act instead as further proof.  But they humble me, as I not only look at myself, but I look at the systems and processes involved.

The further out we move our lens, the more the effects, however huge,  get negated.  Trump’s insane tantrum-tweets, Kim Jong-un’s childish missile-waving, and all the other imbecilic, get-out-of-my-sandbox acts that spin us into hysterics are to the universe like a drop of water clinging to the edge of a pail.

That’s been left out in the hot sun.

Death of a Cat

Christopher, 2015

Christopher, 2015

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Obvious, huh? So much so, why bother writing it? Maybe because I’m not sure what it means.

Christopher died on Tuesday. We had been expecting his death, but it still felt unexpected. The timing was definitely…

I half want to write “inconvenient” here as there is a certain amount of accuracy to it. But there is an unintentional coldness present, too, with using such a word; an uncaring to it that is as far from the truth as one can ever get.

Maybe I can substitute “awkward” instead.

Gary called me at work. Already stressfully behind on bills, including rent, and with little food in the house, Christopher died: on Tuesday, two days before a future paycheck already devoured by red. I borrowed $85 cash from the store director to cover the cost (deepest thanks to him), clocked out, and, along with Gary, took Christopher to Kingston Funeral Home and paid for him to be cremated.

Afterwards, I went back to work.

Life continues.

We had him since he was a little black dot of 7 weeks. An integral part of our lives, his 19 ½ years saw us in three states, various apartments, and up and down circumstances. He woke us up on our 1996 Wedding Day with his “turbo tongue” full of kittenly affection. He was still around for our 2013 Marriage Redux.

Over the years, cat habits formed.

Evenings, he’d patrol our home like a security guard, checking off each room and being annoyed at us if we got up during the night; he’d have to recheck that room. Affectionate in his own way, he’d make a beeline for our heads, wanting — needing — to touch noses before settling on our laps. Later in his life, after we introduced moist food to help with constipation, he developed a clockwork habit of waking me up by standing on me and screaming to be fed.

He loved office chairs, catnip, and shredding nice furniture. He had a talent for opening doors and cabinets. He liked butter, which we learned to keep covered on the table. He had a strange fixation with tape that made wrapping presents – and keeping them wrapped — challenging.

He was lovable, insufferable, and all the adjectives in-between. Then those adjectives started losing their hold except for lovable, being replaced by the new ones old age and sickness bring. Yet it felt like love alone would be a powerful enough word to contradict fate…

Yet, here I am, Sunday, several days later and still trying to properly mourn the loss of our beloved cat.

Sunday, my day off, with a committee meeting and board meeting coming up this afternoon. Grocery shopping somehow needs to be done, as we have nothing for dinner. I have submissions to read for the Mud Season Review, author bios to compile for the Burlington Book Festival website, and I should probably read Go Down Moses for the event I’m hosting at the Kellogg Hubbard Library come this Tuesday.

I have a resume and cover letter, too, that need revised, as they both must be absolutely perfect as I apply for my dream job at the Vermont Humanities Council.

And, of course, my in-progress fiction and poetry awaits my focused attention, along with markets to be researched for submitting completed works…

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Is that a nihilistic expression of the meaningless of life? The ache in my heart feels like it is, wanting me to throw in the towel at the banal absurdity of it all.

Or is it a seize-the-day cry emphasizing the first part and beseeching us to pick the towel back up, dry our eyes, and make the most of this limited time?

I think it just might be both.

 

Fair Thoughts

I went to the animal fair
the birds and beasts were there
The big baboon by the light of the moon
was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk
and fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
but what became of the monk, the monk

I don’t know where or when I first heard that silly rhyme, but it’s stuck with me without deliberation in the weird way some memories do. I want to attach it maybe to my Grandfather Ross or my step-dad Max, or both, as I seem to remember it coming out of their mouths, but I can’t be certain beyond that seeming.

That’s par for the course for me, as my memories are at best disorganized. And at worst? Maybe lost or at least irretrievable.

I remember my life in fragments that are never attached to dates.

Oh, sure, I can sometimes calculate what the date must be, but that’s coming from the outside as I re-process the shard of remembrance with the conscious part of my brain. I mean that there is typically no date inherent in the memory itself. Instead, stray pieces of event data bubble to the surface.

As they did when Gary and I went to the Vermont State Fair.

We went on Patron Appreciation Day, which translates as Free Day. Gary had a caramel apple. I had fried dough (which sounds wrong to me, as I grew up calling the same thing an Elephant Ear, and that’s how I always think of the pastry, and will likely always think of it). We also saw different birds and beasts. And rode some rides.

The rides is where the most bubbling occurred for me. Again, without dates or any other such lattice to fully secure them into place. But I remembered:

Being downright chicken-shit with rides. One of the more embarrassing childhood moments for me was slinking out of line for a ride my step-brother Tim tried to trick me into going on. Or in. He told me it was a line to go watch motorcyclists drive around the walls in that gravity-defying way that is popular for watching.

Instead, it was that ride where you stand against the wall of a round room which spins fast enough to allow the floor to drop out from under you in your own gravity-defying, non-motorcycle riding way.

I was mad at him at the time but now I’m thinking he had to have found me exasperating.

Sometime, though, during the course of life, I became un-chicken-shitted. I rode The Racer — backwards and forwards — the Screaming Demon, The Beast  and The Bat as well as assorted rides that emphasized various degrees of equilibrium-disturbing spin. One of my strongest memory fragments is racing through Kings Island with my friend Mark making  sure we got our money’s worth of thrills.

Just a short decade or so ago Gary and I went with  the folks to Busch Gardens and rode, among other things, the Demon Drop, which is just what it sounds like:  a completely vertical drop

Now, though, I find myself viewing such rides again with more than a little trepidation.

Oh, I can’t rightly say I’ve reverted back to my scaredy-cat past. For one thing, the pair of balls I’ve managed to grow over the years won’t let me. I’m not the same afraid-of-my-shadow kid that I was and I think all-in-all that’s a good thing.

As it is, I reckon I even fancy myself being the butch — or maybe more butch — one of the relationship, so I kind of have an obligation to automatically agree to whatever ride Gary wants to go on, regardless of any reservations I might have about the amusement level of such amusement rides.

So I bought us each a ride band and we rode as he willed, us getting scrambled, tilted, whirled, and, déjà vu of that day long ago with Tim, spun fast enough so the floor could drop away from us as our backs clung to the wall.

As we revolved around our mutual center, I couldn’t help but think of that song by Duran Duran:

The world spins so fast
that I might fly off

And yeah, I had faith in the machinery that moved us, just like I have faith in the gravity of the considerably bigger ride we’re on, so I didn’t really believe I might fly off in either case.

Yet how are such beliefs grounded?

Yeah, sure, we can measure, predict, and mathematically model this spinning piece of rock we call home, but the starting point of such scientific explanation rests ultimately on a faith similar to that of a religious nature.

Oh, I don’t mean the silly dogmatic kind of religious faith that applauds dioramas of men riding dinosaurs like Neanderthal cowboys and weirdly if earnestly believes that calling evolution just a theory somehow is a refutation of it.

I mean instead the faith of those who are actively engaged in trying to make sense of something that at the end of the day, no matter how you grapple with it — philosophically, religiously, or scientifically —  is beautifully, wondrously, and awe-inspiringly more than a little absurd.

The ride stopped and I stepped out onto the ground that was there as I expected it to be, blind faithfully feeling the Terra Firma baptism of the cosmos.

Mountain Climbing

Okay, so it wasn’t a mountain. It was more of a hill.

And I didn’t climb, I walked. Though I reckon the two verbs merge as angle of degree increases. Still, I would be hesitant to ascribe the perhaps exaggerated exertion of climbing to the route I took to the Hubbard Park Tower which was 90% paved road.

But the pavement part leading to the relatively level trail-inside-the-park had an ungodly elevation to it that suited the street names of Hillside and Cliff. Even the final street before the Tower Loop, Corse, sounds enough like curse and course to make it seem readily a part of such spot-on naming.

The frequent changes in inclination here are surely a wonder to behold, but they can also be a challenge to making pedestrian plans. A short and sweet route on Google Maps often gets a reality check that reveals itself to be longer and not near as pie-easy as originally anticipated.

But I kept faith in my chosen path, put one foot in front of the other, and made it to the tower. I climbed — stairs inside, so it is climbing — to the top and took a picture of the new view I had:

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Kind of a crappy picture, I know.

I did it with my phone and my face reflected back at me, so I couldn’t be sure what kind of view I actually had through its lens. Also, in retrospect, I should have used landscape view. Nevertheless, it gives perspective that a ground-view doesn’t offer and I like the isolated  house or two up in the hills that it captured.

However, the most important thing is that the path I walked took me where I wanted to go. The map may have obfuscated the difficulty involved, but it did not lie. I just had to follow it the best I could and, based on my previous knowledge of maps, I had certainty that my goal would be achieved.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my other exertions.

I find myself suffused with doubt about my ability to do anything that truly matters. The kind of doubt that looks up a staircase of meaningless infinity and is overwhelmed from taking the steps needed to get anywhere. Indeed, the kind of crippling existential doubt that not only questions the chosen where, but wonders if there is a mattering where to be found.

So much so, I’ve let myself mentally and philosophically languish.

I’ve been in a kind of thought coma that I’ve been having difficulty waking up from. I know I should have deep thoughts, want to have deep thoughts, deserve to have deep thoughts… but one of the problems with deep thoughts is that any single one of them is only arrived at after a journey much more involved and difficult than a jaunt to the tower.

The other problem is the obvious one: the deeper the thought, the less clear what the best route is, or whether the route being taken is a good one at all.

It is like climbing a mountain where your footing not only is uncertain at best, but there is a nagging feeling that upon reaching the summit, if one is even reached, you will cast a gaze in the distance and realize you should have been climbing that one way over there.

I’ve been trying to squelch such depressing and disempowering thoughts, since the alternative is staying way down here where nothing grows and the way over there would still be way over there; we just wouldn’t know it.

On Amazon today, I looked inside the kindle edition of the most recent book by the septuagenarian philosopher Daniel C  Dennett. At the start of chapter one he has a quote by Bo Dahlbom that made me feel considerable — and deserved — guilt at letting my tools rust and my blades dull.

You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you
can’t do much thinking with your bare brain.

Philosophical mountains call to me and I think my backpack’s been on the floor for far too long.

Sunset Thoughts

sunset 1

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;

I tend to be more aware of sunrises than sunsets. I get up before dawn and the world lights up — wakes up — as I type. There is a certain exhilarating yet peaceful energy in the cracking dawn that rejuvenates and gives momentum to the day.

But the sun always sets, too. As I get older I find my awareness of this growing and I’m paying more attention to the end of day.

Last night Gary and I went on a sunset cruise on Lake Champlain, where I took the photo at the top of this blog. I meant to get some more pictures of the setting sun, thinking I would take them when it was lower in the horizon and just beginning to hide behind the mountains.

But my phone wouldn’t cooperate, which of course is a euphemism for can only be attributable to human error. As I struggled to get the phone powered back on, security code entered, and stay on the proper screen, the sun dropped out of sight.

Dropped as in, well, dropped.

I had no idea the set part would happen so quickly. We were watching for a good several minutes as the sun leisurely drifted downward, giving an illusion of plenty of time. Then poof: no more sun.

This morning I conquered my usual introverted tendencies and attended a small neighborhood pancake breakfast. I talked with one of my neighbors, Nina Thompson, about her Wake Up to Dying Project as we ate pancakes and drank coffee outside.

Life is so precious and oh so fleeting, yet we spend so very little time — surprisingly little time — thinking about our own mortality. Her project aims to change that.

Oh, not change it to a thinking filled with dread and morbidity; quite the opposite. Drawing from her years of work as a hospice volunteer she is concerned about how people prepare for the end; or rather, don’t prepare.

Often people don’t even talk about it at all.

More broadly, there seems to be a disconnect between the reality of death coming towards us and how we live our lives. If one were truly aware of — that is, if one gave serious thought to — their eventual demise, the life they lead would surely reflect it.

In this sense, the project could just as easily be called Wake Up to Living.

The sun will set whether our camera is ready or not. Our loved ones will at some point die and our last words to them will be our last words to them: the good, the bad or the ugly. How important it is — deadly important, in fact — to make the most of each moment, taking a beautiful snapshot when we can.

home with cat

Becoming a Vermonter

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so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

Okay, so I need to get in the habit of regular blogging. I mean that’s what you are supposed to do, right? No one just works on stories and poems any more. You need to ensure your social platform is regularly infused with new content to stay visible.

Often what happens, though, is my brain is so regularly infused with new content, and the subsequent new new content that comes from that then old new content getting processed a half-dozen different ways, is many things that might at the moment be cool (I think) to blog about end up getting buried instead.

But at this moment — and that’s all we ever really have — I feel like it might be cool to talk a little bit about our new place and new city and maybe even throw in a why or two, even though why questions by their very nature can be dangerous in the hands of the philosophically careless and any purported answers to them should be handled with kid gloves if handled at all.

But such thinking is for later posts — unless that thinking gets buried and stays buried — and at this moment I’m thinking of Gary and me both having places to work in our new place. The picture at the beginning is my particular work area and shows the table where I did my current paying work today of checking papers submitted to Public Library of Science, ensuring metadata is accurate and that the manuscripts are formatted correctly and so on.

And yes, there is an empty box there at the back and also a swath of brown paper on the floor near the front. What can I say? Our cats love boxes, especially from Amazon. As for the brown paper, it is the special kind of packing paper that you sometimes get in those empty boxes when they aren’t empty yet.

Amber, our young female cat, goes nuts over the crinkly, crackly claw-friendly stuff. She plays with it in all sorts of self-entertaining ways. She covers herself with it, dives into it, and hides things under it. She nestles it, shreds it, and in general has a right good time rearranging it like it is all the cat’s meow this side of feline origami.

So we keep it and an empty box or two at the expense of looking a little trashy.

As you probably can guess from that, my space is shared space.

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But there is enough room that it isn’t too bad, as Amber frequently finds other places to be.

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As far as that goes, and it goes pretty far, our oldest cat hangs out in the shared space, too, loving the couch. But he also finds other parts of the apartment to his liking.

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As far as outside our apartment, the best way to describe it is green. Mountains and green with small towns separated by miles and miles of this incredibly beautiful mountainous green. So beautiful I’m thinking at this moment that it maybe should be a post in itself, along with talking about what all is within walking distance of us now that we are living in the smallest capital in the nation.

So I’ll just jump forward to a blog-entry-ending why. Although there are many why‘s, as there always is, one of the most significant why‘s is answered by something we didn’t think we would see in our lifetime.

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With section three of DOMA struck down and the visit to the Justice of the peace that we took soon after moving here, our well over 17 years of marriage is now a marriage that is not only legally recognized by Vermont and 12 other living-in-the-twenty-first-century states, but Federally recognized as well.

The importance of this ruling is huge.

Huge enough that it totally changes the why question. It is no longer just a Why should we move to Vermont? Instead, with Indiana being as legislatively hateful as it was, is, and continues to strive to be, it is Why on earth would we stay?

Ear We Go

I can hear in my left ear now.

I took matters in my own hands and can now hear again in my left ear.

Well, rather, took matters into Q-tip. And yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that. But several days of using Rite Aid home treatment and the world still mostly coming up soundless from the left drove me to it.

There’s a mostly there in the above because hearing isn’t the same all day. I didn’t know that until no sound at all came in. For far too brief packets I felt my ear almost start to open up, but then retreat to its clogged state for whatever unknown to me  bodily reasons. So I clumsily but effectively unclogged it, with all the grossness implied, and presto-chango I can hear.

Maybe not band conductor great, but hear compared to deaf is its own kind of great. As is being able to wear headphones again while I write.

And I need to write. I want to write. I should write.

But I haven’t done that good of a job of it of late. I haven’t journaled regularly in quite awhile and my once steady production has waned to the point of being an endangered species.

Oh, I could blame it on externals. The work-at-home job I do is far from slack-at-home. It is intense during those hours and it is tiring. There are also the seemingly endless administrative and household stuff that always need attention and they are their own form of tiring.

I could also talk of mental states; states of melancholy, depression, and the meaning of life in general seeming like the meaningless of life, especially in light of the casual disregard with which we treat the loss of it.

But the main problem with excuses is they serve no purpose for the self.

Oh, sure, they are useful for trying to get out of a ticket or explaining a missed deadline or, I reckon, for trying to justify why the hell you would acquit a man who chased down and killed an unarmed boy. And yeah, sure, another problem with excuses is that they are often bad ones.

But the primary problem with them is that they don’t change anything; post-excuses, the self is still the same self that hasn’t accomplished its supposedly important goals.

So I’m trying to figure out how to unclog my writing life and open it up again.

And if I didn’t write today, if I used some excuse not to write today, it still would be as supposedly important a goal to me as it ever was; but I would also be just as far from seeing that goal’s actualization.

Too bad there isn’t a Q-tip for the brain…

Oh, wait. But there is.

There’s this.

So-so It Goes

I had a job interview today and the last question threw me a bit. He asked:

What in your current or previous jobs are you hoping to avoid in your next job?

I paused a long time to answer. For one thing, “avoiding” doesn’t sound like it typically would be a good employee quality to have. Especially not with “and other duties as assigned” being a common catchall — or maybe a common gotcha — in job descriptions. But also, I don’t tend to think in terms of avoidance. I mean, I would like to avoid the usual; hunger, homelessness, illness, etc. But tasks are what they are and if something needs to be done, avoidance doesn’t take away that need.

I paused for a long time, a maybe interview-crippling long time. But I think the answer I ended up giving was a good one and was actually more true than the interviewer might ever realize.

I said I hoped to avoid stagnation.

In context of work, it means striving to learn new things, pick up new skills, advance one’s career, and so on building upon et cetera ad infinitum. But I meant it moving beyond a work maxim, though, and into a Weltanschauung where life far too often seems like one giant, twisted mass of averaged-out stagnation: the distance between birth and death divided by the giganormity of the universe times all the moments before and after that you weren’t, aren’t and won’t be.

It’s a tad overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, from a different point of view.

But despite the absurdist-friendly math, growth is the only thing we have to combat the absurdity of it all; for the alternative to growth will eventually happen of its own accord, making actively choosing such an option redundant.

I try to avoid redundancy, too, which is stagnation’s sister.

I didn’t mention her in the job interview and now I’m no longer thinking about the job interview anyway and thinking more about my life as it is right now.

Earlier in the week, I had a better job interview; that is, for a better job. The kind of better, quasi-writing-but-still-writing job I got excited about when someone gave me a lead on it and became even more excited when that lead-turned-live-contact gave me a chance to prove myself worthy of that opportunity with a test of sorts.

But the excitement couldn’t be shared as at that exact same point in time, other, less pleasant circumstances manifested and dominated. That was okay, though, as I reckoned there would still be excitement enough left afterwards to make such insensitive-to-the-events-at-hand expression unnecessary.

But I ended up mucking the test up.

So that excitement moment disintegrated unshared under the weight of the subsequent dismal moment. Both those moments are gone now, as is the one in which you read this sentence.

I feel like I’m in a maddening holding pattern that is a first cousin of stagnation and redundancy; dull isotopes of decaying moments.

Like this one.