OO-BLA-DI, OO-BLA-DA

No news is not good news. It’s just no news.

We are in a slow news period. It’s not as if nothing is going on. It’s just that nothing is going on in which anyone is especially interested.

2014’s elections were the usual vicious, contentious, nasty business. We used to get outraged, upset, furious about elections. Now, they come. They go. Everything changes, but nothing is different. This time, when the elections ended, it got quiet in a hurry. Bring on Christmas.

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The holidays came and went. All through February, the weather (pardon the pun) has been the hot topic. And who Prince Harry is (or isn’t) dating. “Deflategate” is being beaten to death on the sports networks, but is anyone listening? Do we care? As memories of the Super Bowl fade, spring training begins. Can the Sox pull themselves out of the tank? Is there hope for 2015? That’s the most interesting question on the news horizon.

We’ve had a lot of snow.

snow window poster february 2015

I’m sure a national calamity was predicted for this year, but I forget what it was. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the sky isn’t falling, unless that’s really what all that white stuff is … the sky falling, I mean.

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So there are no fresh disasters. Whichever huge controversies were with us last year and the year before are still lurking, along with a few tired, sleazy scandals. It’s the same old, same old. Back to the everyday struggles of a tired population hoping things will get better and suspecting they won’t. A new year is rolling along. Oo-bla-di, oo-bla-da.

THE COMMITTEE

My cousin called. It’s nice hear from her, good to remember I have some living family remaining. There used to be a lot more of us. When we were all a good deal younger, we used to see each other sometimes at family events. Anyway, we got to talking about insomnia. It’s part of the “older person” package of goodies. I commented my problem is the committee. Its endless meetings. Just when I want to sleep, the meetings begin.

First up, the Scheduling Committee. Dental, doctor, and veterinary appointments. Vacation dates. Taxes. When the snow melts, we’ll have to get someone to take a look at the siding and the roof. See what needs repair.

Enter the Maintenance Committee. They get to worry about the aging heating system. The once new, now not-so-new refrigerator, range, freezer. Water heater. Doors, windows. And let’s not forget the well. Exhausted, I drift off for a while, but I’m awake and alert in time for the Family Concerns Committee.

Indian corn in kitchen window

The Family Concerns Group obsesses over health issues. Is Garry just tired, or is there some lurking disease? Is my shortness of breath because I’m old and out of shape, or something more sinister? Next up, worry about the kids and the granddaughter’s college education. And the dogs. Can’t forget the dogs.

I don’t even want to discuss the obsessive number crunching of Ways and Means. Complain, complain, complain. They just want to know where I’m going to get the money for everything. Shut up, already. I have no idea how I get from month to month and I’d just as soon not examine it too closely!

Wait! Another committee? Oh, right. Now it is time for the meeting of the Ecological and International Affairs Committee, an umbrella group that focuses on the economy. War. Global warming — which admittedly seems less an immediate threat right now than usual.

Melting ice caps. Disappearing polar bears. Besieged elephants, lions, tigers, rhinoceroses, and wolves. Where are the birds? Have they have survived this terrible month of bitter cold, snow, and ice? And the swans? I worry about swans. And geese. And ducks. Let’s not forget bats. We no longer have bats. They are all dead from an accidentally imported bat plague.

Bees. We are running out of hives. If we have no bees, there won’t be food. Which might be good for the planet. Fewer people equals less pollution. By the time the committees adjourn, the sun is up and I’m exhausted. Aren’t you? How are your committees? Had any good meetings lately?

What’s on tonight’s agenda?


Think Global, Act Local – “Think global, act local.” Write a post connecting a global issue to a personal one.

COURSE CORRECTION

Enough Is Enough – When was the last time you were ready to throw in the proverbial towel? Did you end up letting go, or decided to fight on anyway?


I had a job in Connecticut. My daily commute was 140 miles — each way. After a few months, I was exhausted. I could not go on. I quit and found another job that didn’t require so much commuting. It didn’t pay as well, but it was a saner choice. Because 280 miles of driving a day was crazy. Not only did it wear me down, it wore out my car, too.

I never thought of it as “throwing in the towel.” It was not giving up. More like acknowledging I shouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. What in the world made me believe I could spend five or six hours a day in the car and spend 8 to 10 hours at work?

Whenever I’ve given up on a project, job, relationship, recipe, or whatever? The problem was never being defeated by a foe. The foe was me. I made a bad choice. I should never have started whatever it was in the first place.

I knew I’d screwed up and corrected it. If you look at this kind of thing as a defeat, you will have a lot of trouble surviving. Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.

HAVE ANY CHANGE YOU CAN SPARE? – RICH PASCHALL

Begging on the city streets, Rich Paschall

It was a particularly nice evening for this time of year. The temperature has been known to be brutal when the calendar reaches this point of winter, but this night was different. People walked as if the wind was not pushing them along. For a town known as “The Windy City,” there was barely any wind at all. A few people were standing about in front of sports bars, having a smoke or talking about this year’s football disaster. There was no reason to hurry inside.

A parking spot was waiting for me across the street from my destination. It was not the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar from the short story series from last year, but in my mind it was close enough. I was ready to order some food that I probably should not have, but I thought I would just forget the word “cholesterol” for a while.

72-homeless-analog-OnTheRoad_007As I crossed the street I noticed a man and woman walking down the sidewalk at a pace to intercept me at the corner. They passed up people smoking or chatting or both and headed straight for me. They were middle-aged, whatever that actually means, and rather poorly dressed. By that I mean, their clothes were worn and a bit dirty. They did not look grizzled as so many street people do, but rather just tired and run down.

“Do you have any change you can spare?” the man asked. The woman looked at me as if she was hopeful I would give a positive response.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly as I shoved my hands in my pockets to find out. At that the man launched into a story of their personal problems. He told me they had a streak of bad luck in recent years. They both had lost their jobs a few years back and eventually lost all they had.

Now they were living on the street and just trying to survive. He added a few details about their lives and capped it off by saying that his wife lost or had her identification stolen and that made their situation more difficult.

In my left pocket were a few coins which totaled just under a dollar. I handed it to the man but thought I could not let it go at that. In the past when I saw people begging at street corners, I thought they could turn things around for themselves if they just knew where to go and who to see.  A little information might be all they need, so I thought I would do my best to pass some along.

“Do you know the church with the big clock tower down the street? You can see it when you get to the top of the bridge?” I pointed down the road toward St. Benedict’s. The impressive clock tower could be seen from a long distance down the road.

The man knew exactly what I was about to say. Yes, he knew the church and he did stop there on weekdays for lunch. If anyone came to the rectory during the week begging for food at lunch time (or much of the day), they provided some lunch. They were prepared and ready to give out something as begging had become a common occurrence in recent years.

The man then proceeded to tell me, in case I had a need to know, of other churches that would give them food. They knew where to go and on what days in order to get something. I guess it is nice to know the churches are responsive, as some of my Republican friends don’t feel this is the government’s job, but I was surprised to hear his list. The shocking part, in my opinion, is that we are not in a poor neighborhood.  In fact, the land around St. Benedict’s itself is highly desirable and the property values are quite high.

How many of those upwardly mobile professionals know that so people are living on the streets and in the parks and under the viaducts nearby?

Undeterred in my efforts to hand out useful information, I asked the couple if they knew where the Salvation Army was located. I said they might be able to help them get back on their feet. They could certainly provide shelter in an emergency as the winter could get quite severe. They had a general idea where they were located, but they were skeptical that this was a good idea. So at that, I offered up information on The Night Ministry. This organization will go around in search of people needing help, especially on below freezing nights. They did not know it but said they would keep it in mind.

As they prepared to go, I told them to try to stay warm. They then told me they knew a few people who froze to death last year when we had many days of subzero weather. I encouraged them to remember the shelters when the weather gets worse. They said they would and moved on

I doubted they would use a shelter no matter how cold it got. How do people go from living a normal life to adapting to life on the street?  How is it they become so set in this lifestyle, they would not use the help to get off the streets, even when they have information on how to do it? Is the real world just so tough for some that living on the streets is a viable option? The thought lingered as I moved inside for chicken wings and sports.

TRUST IN GOD, BUT TIE YOUR CAMEL

DAILY PROMPT: IN GOOD FAITH

I’ve come a long way since I originally wrote this. It’s interesting, like mental time travel. You get to see who you were “back then” versus who you are today.

Life changes. Change is the only constant in our world. Change can be good, but as we age, it tends to be … well … difficult.

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I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter. But, it turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far.

I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors. All of whom said I needed a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart.

That explanation and solution made no sense to me. After surgery, I’d be in more pain. My spine would be stable, but spinal instability was not my problem. My problem was pain and stiffness with the accompanying limited mobility.

I believe in miracles because I’ve experienced a couple of them. Nonetheless, I don’t count on them. If you could count on them, they wouldn’t be miracles, now would they? In lieu of prayer, I took my case to the top spine guy in Boston.

He said I did not need surgery, nor would it solve the problems I was having. (See? I was right.) “Ignore my colleagues’ scare tactics,” he said. “Your back got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

Since then, there has been so much more yet finally, I’m beginning to feel better. My back isn’t better. That’s not going to happen, but the rest of me is beginning to feel — younger.

Faith can help get you through times of trouble, but faith in what, exactly? Yourself? Your loved ones? Your friends? It need not be a deity (though I often think it would be nice to really believe that someone was watching out for me from on high), but faith in something, that there’s a future worth living. That’s a big part of getting through life-threatening stuff.

Faith is a tool, not an all-purpose band-aid. You don’t apply faith like a salve and it heals all ills. Contrary to popular mythology, it does not mean you don’t have to take care of yourself, nor will it make you young again, or stop your joints from aching. It won’t pay your mortgage or make you immortal, but it can offer you a context in which to see yourself and your problems, make you realize that you really do have something to live for. That is no small thing when the going gets very rough.

After a lot of intellectual dodging and weaving on the subject, I believe there is something, but I have no idea what. I don’t believe we have individual guardian angels looking out for us. It would be nice, but ridiculous. Nor I am not willing to commit to nothingness. To suggest I know the answers would be an extraordinary act of hubris. So I’ll let others duke it out on the details while I remain unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, whoever or whatever has helped me get this far, I’d very much appreciate it if that Force would stay with me.

THE ASS END OF LIFE – CREATION, DESTRUCTION, AND A CAT

Patricia was a silver-tipped Persian cat. Although she was not an outdoor cat, she managed to slip past us where her fans, the local toms, were eagerly waiting for her. She was unspayed because I had hoped to breed her. She apparently harbored the same hope, but had her own ideas about who would father the next generation.

On local roads ...

Not surprisingly, Patricia (she was so patrician) showed up pregnant. It was not the first unplanned pregnancy among our felines, nor would it be the last. Fortunately, we had plenty of friends who were more than happy to adopt one of Patricia’s progeny, purebred or not. When her day came, it turned out she was carrying only one enormous kitten who barely survived delivery. Breathing, yes. But that was all. Too weak to nurse and likely doomed. Patricia was fine, but utterly uninterested in the entire business.

A friend and his girlfriend were visiting at the time. She and I were fussing over the kitten, trying to convince it to nurse, or take a little formula from a doll-sized bottle. It wasn’t going well. Patricia was ignoring her kitten, a sure sign she did not believe her offspring could live.

Bob commented: “That kitten is going to die. Don’t get all weepy about this. Death is just the ass end of life.”

dark cemetary

It’s so many years later I can’t even count the decades, but that really stuck in my head. “Death is the ass end of life.” Not very romantic, but then again, there’s nothing romantic about death. It’s the final part of the cycle of life. Beginnings, endings, and there’s some stuff in the middle.

I have not died yet (what, you didn’t notice?) but I fully expect the day will come. Maybe sooner rather than later. I always hope for the best, but you can only play dodge’em with Death so many times until he outwits you.

Meanwhile, a few observations.

It’s not just that every creature born will die. It is that everything ever created — by nature or man — will eventually disintegrate. End. Stop working. Disappear. Need replacement. From your expensive kitchen appliances, to the even more expensive car you drive, to the pyramids in the Nile Valley. The trees and the flowers in the garden. From the day of creation onward, everyone and everything is marching to a final destruction.

Let’s not worry about the future so much. Despite what happens along our individual paths, our end will be the same regardless. The ass end of life awaits. I plan to have as many laughs as I can on the way.


CREATION AND DESTRUCTION – The Blacklight Candelabra

For the inaugural writing prompt, I am challenging you to discuss the interrelatedness of creation and destruction.

These are prompts for those of us who would appreciate prompts which are more of a challenge than those offered by WordPress. This is the first of what I hope will be many!

THE TEEPEE – I REMEMBER

Once upon a time, I built a teepee. I painted the door and filled it with things I loved. I made the poles, sanded each by hand, peeling the bark from the 16-foot saplings we had cut in our own woods.

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Then I wrote a book about building it, and about life, transformation, and other things, some funny, some sad, some just whatever. The manuscript for The 12-Foot Teepee took me about 7 months to write, about as much time to edit, then a few more months to design the cover and book. Getting it published, well … that’s another story.

This was my teepee.

It stood, through all seasons, for five years. Through snow and ice, drenching rain, hurricanes and hale, it stayed solidly anchored. This past summer, we realized the poles had rotted through. They could no longer support the canvas. And the canvas itself was mildewed and tears had appeared in various places. Its time was done. We took it down.

You can find the book on Amazon, both as a paperback and in Kindle format. It is The 12-Foot Teepee,  by Marilyn Armstrong.  My life has moved on considerably since then but writing it was a turning point in my life.

And for the years the teepee was mine, it was the one place in the world in which I always felt safe and at peace. I will always miss it. It was also the only space I’ve ever known which was entirely, completely, absolutely mine.


Oasis – A sanctuary is a place you can escape to, to catch your breath and remember who you are. Write about the place you go to when everything is a bit too much.