ONCE UPON A TIME … – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Erratic

Once upon a time, I was a total wacko. That is not an exaggeration. In my late teens, I was nuts. Big time.

Fortunately, by the time I hit my twenties, I had settled a lot of my hash. If I wasn’t exactly “normal,” I was no longer completely loony tunes. As the years have rolled on, I have become more “normal” and less crazy until these days, I’m about as normal as I will ever be. So far, so good which is really the story of my life.

I am not particularly erratic. I am, if anything, a bit inclined towards doing being extra careful. I write with great courage, but I walk with utmost care.

I don’t know if this is how life goes for others who started out pretty wild and weird. I have gone through periods of serious depression and with some good psychiatric talk therapy, found ways to climb out of them. I also learned to control a lot of the mind muck that used to turn me into a mental tar pit.

One shrink pointed out to me that depression wasn’t just a feeling. It was a reaction to life, that it could become habitual. You are depressed because you are always depressed and that is how you see yourself, understand yourself.

And from that point, because he hit a nerve with that observation, I began to be happier. I stopped looking for the dark places and started hearing joyful music.

It probably helped that I was madly in love with Garry.

No, you can’t have him. He’s mine.

THE WORLD CHANGED 17 YEARS AGO – Marilyn Armstrong

I had just come back from a couple of weeks in Israel. It was work, not vacation. I was in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, so there was no sense that this was a vacation. I also made the dreadful mistake of drinking local water without worrying about it because, after all, I had lived there a decade without a problem. Times changed. So did my gut. What I did in the past didn’t stop me from getting one of those ugly waterborne diseases.

Which is why I was at home on 9/11. I was in no shape to go anywhere where I couldn’t get to a bathroom in less than a nanosecond.

The phone rang. My son was working at one of the “backbone” services that handled the Internet.

“Turn on the TV,” he said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he replied.

Any channel? That sounded serious. I turned it on in time to watch the first tower fall and was still standing there with my mouth open, in total shock when the second tower fell.

Tall ship by the towers that were there before 2001

Everything changed after that. We were not invulnerable. Not that we had ever been invulnerable. Pearl Harbor should have reminded us of that, but that was before I was born. And it was on “some other island.” It wasn’t “home.”

Not that I currently live in New York, but I was born and raised there, as was Garry. New York wasn’t “just a place.” It was home and even though we lived in Massachusetts, New York was where we began, where we became ourselves.

Everything changed and we thought, for a while, it was better. But it wasn’t. I wonder if it will ever change back again to the place I remember. I know growing up, the world was very far from perfect, but it was home.

Now, I don’t know what this place is. It doesn’t feel like home anymore.

CHASING CARROTS … by Sue Vincent

It has been hot in England recently… hotter than usual, even for summer. There has been no rain in my part of the country for weeks now and the ground is parched and cracked. Harvests are being brought in early, fields are already shorn and neatly dotted with straw-bales, and the human population has been slowly wilting in the scorching, heavy air. So, it was with some eagerness that we awaited the promised rain and thunderstorms.

They didn’t arrive… The forecasters shifted their predictions to the next day, then the next… and all we had seen was a spot or two of moisture accompanied by a distant, lazy rumble of thunder. When the rain finally arrived last night, it was no more than the briefest of light showers. The dog and I, nevertheless, headed outside to enjoy the fall of water, watching its instant evaporation on the superheated concrete of the paving, but glad of the momentary respite.

Although the weather is a national preoccupation in England, we generally don’t suffer too badly from its vagaries. Ours is a temperate climate. Summers are generally warm, winters cold but not glacial… but whatever the weather is doing, we will soon be complaining about it. On the odd occasion, we do get a severe winter… by English standards… or an unusually hot summer. We are prepared for neither, and both can bring the country to its knees at temperatures other nations would consider mild. We don’t cope well with what we consider extremes of anything… be that weather or behaviour…

There is a ‘normal’ for everyone… parameters within which we are comfortable because they are familiar. They do not have to be good, or what we would choose … they are just our accustomed and accepted standards of normality. Step beyond their boundaries and, depending upon your temperament, you are in a zone of unease, or one of excitement. Such boundaries shift and change with time and circumstance… and the adaptability that is one of humanity’s greatest assets can also be its greatest handicap, as we learn to accept a new ‘normal’ very quickly and alter the parameters to suit the moment.

I was talking to my son about this as we headed out to the local farm shop on Saturday. Because of the changes in his life and capabilities caused by the brain injury, he has been redefining his ‘normal’ on a regular basis. He tends to forget where he has come from, and what he has endured and achieved to get here, and the latest version of ‘normality’ takes a great deal of the journey for granted.

We took the country lanes back to my home after we had done the shopping, stopping by a field gate so he could get out, lean on the gate, and watch the fast-forming clouds race in. It is a simple thing, but I remembered the first time he was able to do that a few years ago… and the wonder we both felt at that achievement.

This time I watched as he lost himself in the moment, seeing emotions on his face shift from bright to dark and back again, like the cloud-shadows on the land. The wind was getting stronger as dark clouds raced in. The little bit of rain had enhanced all the colours, turning the dry grasses to gold and illuminating the green of the hedgerows, where blackberries glistened amongst the wildflowers. The changing weather and the experience of beauty lifted him out of his normality and allowed him to see what he might otherwise not have noticed.

Continue reading at The Silent Eye

YOU ONLY CHANGE WHEN YOU’RE READY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

A good friend finalized her divorce after 30 years of marriage. She has started a new life and is happier than ever.

I’ve rarely seen such a dramatic transformation in a person in such a short time. We’ve known her for 14 years and we’ve never seen this relaxed and happy version of her. She has changed physically too. She lost 25 pounds, changed her hair and looks like a different person. She has an inner glow about her. Her inner happiness and self-confidence shows. She’s not depressed, angry, or feeling bad about herself. The marriage was weighing her down.

I tried to get her to see the toxic nature of the marriage three years ago. She admitted that there was little left in her relationship except anger and resentment. They led separate lives with little positive communication and no love. He refused to acknowledge his contribution to the problems. He also refused counseling and showed no interest in changing in any way.

The one thing she had left in the marriage was hope. She still, somehow, believed it could work. She was not ready to pull the plug. Now she looks back and wonders why she couldn’t see the writing on the wall, those giant, black letters screaming “It’s over! Get out!”

She wasn’t ready to see it.

I had the same experience with my son. Tom and I saw that it was time to end his severely dysfunctional and destructive marriage years before he was ready to accept the inevitable. He too had a major transformation when he left the negative relationship. He became more relaxed. He seemed lighter, more positive. He laughed more and looked like he had shed a giant weight off his back and heart.

But he could not end his seven-year marriage – until he was ready.

Something happens inside of us when we are suddenly receptive to change. A light goes on or a switch is turned somewhere in our psyches. Suddenly, things gel. We see things differently. The blinders are gone and so is the hope. People cling to the familiar. We, as a species, hate and fear major changes in our lives. And divorce is one of the biggest and most difficult.

Sometimes with divorce, people can’t see past the pain and hassle of the separation and divorce process. They can’t focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Many people can’t even see the light. They don’t believe they’ll have a better life on their own. All they see is how they are feeling at that moment — lonely and heartbroken.

It takes people time to prepare for change. It can’t be rushed. I never pushed my son or my friend. I supported them through endless decisions to just give it “a little more time.” I led them to the water to see if they were ready to drink. When they weren’t, I backed off. That’s why I could be part of the divorce celebrations when they finally came.

I have to admit, my life is better now that both my son and my friend are divorced and happy. We wanted these divorces to happen, for personal, selfish reasons as well as for altruistic ones. So even if you desperately see that someone needs to end a relationship – shut up.

They will let you know when they are ready.

HARD TIMES AND NEW DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times are not when we create solutions to problems. I was sitting here today thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody sits around thinking about the 1400s, but I do and fairly often. It’s part of the pleasure and burden of a deep passion for history. Right now, I’m reading a series of books about the Tudors. The early Tudors. Owen, Edmond, and Jasper. And, of course, Henry who became the seventh of the many Henrys of England.

The 1300s were a horror show for the old world.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe.

Beginning in 1346 and continuing through 1353, the number of deaths — from war, disease, or anything — is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. And the world was much smaller, so 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was as much as 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed through Europe. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved because there was no one to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor. The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and death by war, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

The golf ball (1400)
The piano/spinet (1400)
The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
Hoisting gear (1421)
Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
Engravings (dry) (1465)
Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
The copyright (1486)
Bell chimes (1487)
The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
Whiskey (1494)
Sometime during this same period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Historians are still arguing this issue.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive

And everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s.

These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central government among nations. It elevated the peasant and middle classes. It advanced banking and industry and art. Towns grew as guilds developed. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads. Better roads made it easier for people to take their goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people forget that before the first world war, it wasn’t a caring Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.

I’d like to think that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.

AN OPEN GATE. THREE WORRIED DOGS.

Stifling change because the dogs don’t like it has become a way of life. Until we opened the gate.


Garry felt we should leave the hallway gate open, or, to put it another way — stop closing the gate. He is worried that one of these days, Duke will get hurt leaping the gate although to be fair, I see no evidence of this.

Nonetheless, Garry has a point. Duke has grown up. He isn’t quite as much of a flyer as he was when he arrived. He has filled out. His chest is deeper. He’s got jowls. He’s a dog, no longer a puppy.

Bonnie and Gibbs

A couple of nights ago, I decided to leave the gate open when I went to bed. I gave the furry ones their last biscuit of the night. Grabbed my bag of medications and my drink, and headed for the bedroom. I turned around and started to say “Good night, fur persons,” which I say every night, but instead, all I started to laugh.

All three dogs were lined up at the place where the gate normally would close. Not in the hallway, but on the other side. They stood there looking at me, then looking at each other. I could hear their conversation in my mind.

“Bonnie?”

“Yes Gibbs.”

“The gate is open. Why is the gate open? Is this a trick?”

“I don’t know Gibbs. Duke, what do you think?”

“I don’t know either. This seems so … wrong.”

“It’s got to be a trick,” says Gibbs. “I bet she’s going to come back and yell at us. I’m going back to the sofa for a nap.”

“I better do that too,” says Bonnie.

“Yeah,” says Duke. “A nap. Good idea. When we wake up, the gate will be closed.”

“Good night, fur people,” I say. They wrinkle their foreheads. They are worried. Something is weird. A night’s sleep will fix everything.

There is nothing more hilarious than dogs who are dealing with … change. Change is not something welcomed by dogs. They want everything to always be the same. Except dinner. They want dinner to be a delightful, ever-changing selection of yummy things. Leftover steak. Remaindered meat loaf. Spare chicken parts.

Change? Stifle that. Do not move the furniture. Do not move the water dish. And now that you mention it, close the gates like you always have. Today needs to be just like yesterday and the day before.

Without thinking, I briefly closed the gate yesterday. They seemed relieved. Life was back to normal. But then, I remembered and reopened it. My last look at the dogs last night was the three of them, all lined up in front of the open gate looking forlornly at me. Why was I changing something?

I know it’s a bit demented on my part, but I might change something else — just to watch them fret about it!