THE NEIGHBOR

This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.

75-MidtownGA-NK-27

Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only?) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with this. Meanwhile, Garry got stares. No way to know if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Our situation was made even more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.

Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

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Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior (semper fi, and note I did not say “former Marine” because there’s no such thing as a former Marine). Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough.

One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

75-DecSnowHP-6

Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the year and half they have lived there, they’ve never bothered to say hello and I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I wish they’d shut up too, but hey, they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. (There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.)

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING – REDUX REDUX

Everybody blogger has a post or two that he or she considers special. This is mine. Why? Because it is a virtual summary of years of thought. Of all night discussion in college, philosophy courses and term papers, endless volumes of philosophy by obscure thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and authors from Douglas Adams to Friedrich Nietzsche.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve run various versions of this post a bunch of times. If you know me — like, you’ve hung out with me in person — you will understand how very “me” this post is. I spent much of my life pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. One day, I realized it didn’t matter. All that pondering had landed me where I began. I know nothing, will never know anything.

You don’t know anything either, because the answers we pursue are unknowable. We can believe, posit, speculate, theorize. We can not know.

So here I go (again), explaining the meaning of everything. This is a long post, 3 times longer than my usual stuff. It might be worth sticking with me, but I’ll understand if you don’t.


We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I knew The Truth.

I considered founding a church to spread my word. A church with no faith in anything. No deity to get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome since we all need to pay the rent.

This would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

 I know nothing. Neither do you.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way, if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology   was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

I’M JUST FINE. THANKS FOR ASKING.

BLAST FROM THE PAST:

A mere two years after a double mastectomy, I’m facing another medical crisis. I’m not handling it gracefully. Too many crises. Dozens of surgeries. I can’t bore you with details; I have, thankfully, forgotten them.

Fake breasts

I’ve spent more time in the hospital than most interns. I’m a professional patient with the scars to prove it. When I die, they should stuff me. Put me in some kind of museum proving with enough medical attention, even the totally unfit can survive. Each doctor who redesigned some portion of me can tattoo his signature along the appropriate scar, assuming all the doctors are still alive. Probably they aren’t because I started my career on the wrong side of medicine while still a teenager and apparently am not due for retirement anytime soon.

I need a new mitral valve. I used to joke and laugh, saying the only major system in my body that continues to work is my heart. I laughed too soon. Probably jinxed myself.

I go into each surgery with fear and resignation. I know how I’m going to feel when I wake up from the anaesthesia. I will hurt. I will be sick and disoriented. I will realize I must have survived because I’m aware how totally miserable I am. Again.

Last time I woke up and the first thing I did was look down at my chest to see if I had a semblance of breasts. I did. Lumpy, not flat. Though I knew they weren’t original equipment, I was comforted by the familiarity of the landscape. With all the pain, drains and anger at my body for betraying me, it was nice to know I would at least appear — on the surface — female.

75-BostonView__09

View of Boston and Fenway Park from the Baptist Hospital

That was when I said: “Never again. I’m never going through this again.”

I should just shut up. How stupid am I? I can’t remember how many times I’ve woken from that weird deathlike anaesthesia sleep and have fought my way back up to the light. Each time, just a little weaker, a bit less sure of the future — but alive. Hanging on.

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

It’s too soon. I’m not ready. Maybe this time the magic won’t work. My first husband died following complications of mitral valve replacement surgery. I watched him die. After the surgical accident that killed his brain, he remained technically alive, but in a vegetative state for 9 long months. I took care of something that looked like him, but whose eyes were empty. When finally he passed completely, I and the rest of his friends gratefully wished him well on a journey he should have taken nearly a year before.

Probably no surprise that this particular surgery holds a special terror for me.

Less than two years since I vowed “Never again,”  again has come. I suppose I’ve already made the choice to let them fix me, or try anyhow (does “or die trying” sound too ghoulish?). The alternative — slowly dying while my heart becomes less and less able to pump blood — doesn’t sound attractive. An attractive option does not seem to be available. But, there’s no advantage in waiting. I won’t get younger or healthier. The older I get, the more dangerous surgery is.

75-UpwardsNIK-31

Glass shaft at the Dana-Farber.

I gave myself a little gift of time. I put off my appointment with the surgeon until the beginning of September. I need to get my head into a better space, to settle down emotionally. A few weeks of denial before I tackle another scary reality.

So for the next three weeks If you ask me, I will tell you. I’m just fine. Thanks for asking.

WHY I FOLLOW THE DAILY PROMPT

I’ve been asked why I bother to write stuff based on WordPress’s daily prompt, especially since the quality of the prompts has been more than a bit lackluster in recent months and I’ve needed considerable self-restraint not to snarl, growl, or try to (virtually) bite the editor.

But I do them anyway and finally, I figured out why.

I am an incorrigibly anal-retentive writer/editor. If I give free rein to my natural inclinations, I will edit everything to death. Nothing will be good enough. I will write every sentence over and over until it’s as near perfect as I can make it. What it will not be is spontaneous.

Some of my best prose is written quickly, barely edited at all. Which means that after publication, I spend the following 12 hours finding and fixing typos — a different conversation.

But what the prompts do for me is give me leave to write quickly, off the cuff about a wide range of subjects that I would never otherwise choose. I post them immediately and don’t let myself get into a never-ending round of edits. Sometimes I get a bit fancy with illustrations, but I keep the writing simple and tight. Rarely does a response to a prompt exceed 500 words. Most are fewer than 350 words.

72-Peacham-Sunday_092

It’s hard for me to be spontaneous. About anything. I’m not sure if I was ever a free spirit, even as a kid. I’ve always lived in my head. Never been a party person. Never a “just do it” kind of gal. My two creative outlets, writing and photography, are the only areas where I can break free of my self-made restraints.

So I follow prompts. Occasionally, I use a prompt to publish something I was planning to post anyhow. The prompt, in those cases, provides a link so a few extra people might to read it.

I wish the daily prompts were more original, less repetitive. A “free write” exercise is not a prompt at all. It is the stuff of school assignments. Otherwise, WordPress prompts, even if they are obviously constructed using little effort and less thought, offer me an opportunity to write about something I would not ordinarily consider. Some of my best stuff has been in response to silly prompts. Some of my worst, too.

And that’s why I follow the prompts. (Phew. Finally answered that question. Took me long enough!)

BORN UNDER THE SIGN OF GANEESHA

Custom Zodiac – You’re tasked with creating a brand new astrological sign for the people born around your birthday — based solely on yourself. What would your new sign be, and how would you describe those who share it?



Marilyn's Horoscope

Every astrological sign needs a planet for influence. For this purpose, I am choosing Io, the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. It’s the fourth-largest moon, has the highest density, and is the driest object in the Solar System — perfect to represent me since I have the driest skin in the Solar System.

It was named after the mythological character Io, a priestess of Hera who became one of Zeus’s lovers. However, the Roman pantheon doesn’t work for me. I prefer be characterized by a god who represents qualities to which I relate and which I hope are the best of me. The Romans were too bloody, physical, non-intellectual, and generally churlish for my taste.

72-Ganeesha-001

My patron deity will be Ganeesha, the Hindu Lord of letters and learning. He is a patron for writers and others who are seekers and creators. In Sanskrit, the word buddhi is a feminine noun meaning intelligence, wisdom, or intellect and is closely associated with Ganeesha and the many tales of his cleverness, his passion for writing, his love of intelligence.

Thus from hence forth, those lucky souls born between March 10 and March 17 (note that some minor adjustments may be required using a proper ephemeris) will share many of these characteristics:

Intellectual curiosity, a passion for words, both spoken and written. Often accompanied by some degree of musical talent and for the graphic arts. These gifts can manifest in a variety of ways, both passive and active.

Other, less charming qualities may include shortness of temper, intolerance with ignorance, a snappish dislike of poorly spoken and written language. Inclined to be excessively controlling of both self and others. Not a warm and fuzzy personality, this individual lives primarily in his or her head, which will virtually always win when heart and mind come into conflict.

Despite this, given to periodic flights of bizarre fantasy which may be acted on without regard for consequences. Shows a marked lack of caution in emotional involvements as well as a willingness to try pretty much anything at least twice.

Terrified of insects, but a lover of animals and nature. Not a bad egg, but often a prickly one.

SKIP THE $20 WORDS

Dictionary, Shmictionary

Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).


The last time I used a word that I didn’t know how to pronounce, but whose meaning I understood just fine, was “epitome.”I had read it in context many time and understood its meaning. But how to say it out loud? I got it wrong.

Everyone laughed. I never forgot. I was 9-years-old.

I don’t now and never have used words when I don’t know what they mean. I look them up. That one little moment of humiliation was sufficient for a lifetime. I always wince with pain when I hear people misusing words. It used to require one find a dictionary to look it up — or at least ask someone “What does “phenomenology” mean?

These days, you just Google it. Some words, like “epistemology” and “cosmology” (as opposed to “cosmetology”) require a little more than a single sentence explanation. I avoid using them unless that’s what the post is about. Unless you are trying to lose your audience, find more easily recognized words.

It doesn’t make anyone look smarter to misuse 20 dollar words when a 5 dollar word will do the job nicely.

Meaning of life

From “The Meaning of Life” Serendipity, June 30, 2014

Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING

We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I got it! I knew The Truth.

meaning-of-life2

Revelation #1: The bottom line? Shit happens. It doesn’t mean anything.

I felt like I was 12 again. I considered founding a church to spread my word. My church would require no faith in anything. No deity will get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome, however. We all need to pay the rent. It would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Revelation #2: Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

Revelation #2: You know nothing. Neither does anyone else.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Becoming a Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it.

Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.


Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.