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I woke this morning to the sound of rain and the smell of petrichor; I was immediately transported into a good mood. Inclement weather does this to me. I feel at ease and happy on rainy cloudy cool days. They call for staying indoors and think introverted thoughts. It is on such days my Psyche turns inward to the Collective Unconscious for a visit with Qi. It would be a delight to sit with The Sage all day, without moving or saying a word, taking in an amalgam of  smells and sensations, waiting for wisdom to creep in like fire smoke.

I am at work at the Mesa Office. Today’s appointment book is solid from 8 to 5. This will not be a day of sitting quiet. I will be quite active, listening to patients and deducing what’s to be done. Many of them will require me to be “on my toes” as it were. This is hardly the quiet day I envisioned for Wisdom to sneak in an insight.

Or is it? We err in our belief The Numinous enters only when we are quiet and focused, or in a religious-like situation (whether formal or substance-induced). Wisdom constantly knocks at our noggins, seeking permission to enter. It is possible to receive such even when very busy or doing the mundane. It is like a quiet ostinato in the loud orchestra of daily doings. It is easily missed if you are distracted by the mundane melodies of the day.

By the end of the day I will have my usual fatigue having seen over two dozen patients and a handful of phone calls and crisis. The weather report says it will clear and it will be perpetual sunshine. The day will have had some Wisdom as well, if only I am aware enough to receive it.

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Pensive

LEAR

“My wits begin to turn.— 
Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange
That can make vile things precious. Come, your 
   hovel.— 
Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart
That’s sorry yet for thee.”

Spo-fans know these are troublesome times in history, especially in the USA. There is a lot anger, hurt, anxiety, and paranoia. This is accomplished by ill-will, poor manners, and downright nastiness. What to do? It is tempting to withdrawal and isolate oneself; it is easy to succumb to the dark side and join them.

Out of all of Shakespeare’s play King Lear is the most bleak. The villains get the upper-hand and there is no redemption. There is no sense justice or right has been accomplished . What keeps the tragedy from being utterly despairing is throughout there are small acts of kindness, like little drops in a bucket full of ditchwater. They are hardly noticed among the misery. Lear, The Fool, “Poor Tom” – all down and out – comfort each other. Only one stands out: during the blinding of Gloucester , an unnamed servant suddenly speaks out to say this is wrong. There is no apparent benefit. He is promptly killed and the blinding continues. Some see this as another example of the play’s futility but I see it as a loud blatant call to the audience to ponder doing something yourself.

Most of us think of heroes as the people who do dramatic actions like saving the world while the soundtrack swells and the nation applauds. I say real heroism is seen in the everyday deeds of good and simple folk. Their actions are hardly noticed. If they are they usually dismissed as insignificant. Power has a paradox: what looks to have power does not and what looks powerless holds power. I may never be called on to save a regiment but I can assist a person in need.

In light of Hair Furor and his minions turning people into faceless stereotypes I am doing something inspired from King Lear.  “Illegals” “Muslims” “Liberals” are labels which allow people to hate others as something nameless. When I meet a homeless person asking for money, or faced with a person at odds with me politically, I ask them their name. I tell them mine. This deflates the dynamic of seeing a person from a faceless nonentity into an individual. It’s easy to hate ‘them” but not so one person. Then I say “John, it won’t change until we talk” or “John, here’s a quarter. I wish it were more. I am sorry for your plight”.

Perhaps like Lear, these small deeds will not stop the tragedy. Maybe my attempts at standing up for the Gloucesters of the world will only get me clobbered.  Objecting to autocrats and refusing to turn others into nameless “Thems” may be all the heroism I can be. I hope it makes a difference in these trying times.

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This blog entry is inspired by the death of Roger, at 3rd and long.

“And I, brother John Clyn, a monk from Kilkenny, have written in this book the notable events which happened in my time, for I saw for myself, or have learned them from men who deserve to be believed.  So that these notable events should not be lost from the memory of future generations, I, seeing these bad things, and die whole world surrounded by evil, wrote down what I heard and investigated; and I leave parchment for my work to be continued, in case any man can escape this pestilence and continue the work I began.”

This quotation is from the time of The Great Mortality, commonly called “The Black Plague” of 1347-352.  This monk saw the world he knew literally dying.  Whole villages were dropping dead and civilization was coming to its end.  He writes with the resignation death would soon come for him. At the end of his entry, he leaves room on the page. I like he is thoughtful so about his readers. I also like the sand-grain-size hope perhaps someone will live to carry on the journal.  This grim bit of history has always fascinated me; perhaps I am haunted by him. How responsible is it for the living to carry on the work of the dead? 

In the decade-plus years of blogging I have seen the end of countless blogs. Most times the authors seem to simply lose interest and stop writing. They do this without word of warning or explanation. I drop by from time to time in hope but I usually stop after six months when I recognize they are not coming back.  Once in a while I know the reason is the author has died. Someone (usually a relative) comes on to write a note to tell the readers the author has died.

Most of the time when I realize a blog is kaput I stop going and these are forgotten. Sometimes while editing my old entries I see a comment that makes me recall an old blogger. I press on the link and I am back to a place I haven’t visited or remembered in years.  There it is, sitting there like a souvenir of a holiday long ago forgotten.

However there are some defunct blogs I have bookmarked for me to revisit from time to time.  These are more like virtual gravestones. I can drop by and read an old entry.  They remind me of saved old letters written by deceased aunts and grandmothers. 

I wonder what would become of Spo-reflections if I were to suddenly die. I fret Spo-fans would be in a lurch as to what happened. I plan to prepare for such an event, for I don’t want people wondering where did I go all of a sudden. The late Roger and his quick demise prompts me to finish my editing. I want my blog published on paper lest I croak or WordPress suddenly pulls up stakes etc.

I don’t plan on dying anytime soon; I hope for years if not decades of scribblings to come. But you never can tell.

 

“Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

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Is better to have a short life with heroism and passion or is it better to live a long and comfortable life? To other modern man the question seems a silly one. The vast majority of us want the latter: a long and prosperous life of self-care, without drama or relevance to others. We hope to live to 90 and die without leaving a mark.

This wasn’t always so. There are some who still choose a life of heroism. Often these lives are cut short yet these names live on in history as people who made a difference. Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tecumseh come to my mind.

The Jungian archetype of the struggle between contentment and passion is The Achilles Archetype. For those who don’t remember“The Iliad”, Achilles is the son of a mortal man and a goddess. We see the dichotomy of the question in his make-up. He is told he has two paths from which to choose: he can stay home, grow old, and have a happy marriage with children, be prosperous, and then die in obscurity. The other choice: he can have a heroic meaningful life full of honor and glory but die young. He chooses the latter, and he dies in battle. By today’s standards it looks to be a useless and senseless death. Yet his name lives on in our collective consciousness as The Warrior. His story is known throughout time.

The opening quotation is from Joyce’s “The Dead”; it is a reference to a Michael Furey, who died at 17 for the love of a woman. He is in contrast to the woman’s long time nondescript spouse Gabriel Conroy. Their marriage is pleasant and stable but in her heart is the passion for the boy who loved her so.

I am one of many who choose the stay home/be quiet and try to live a long, prosperous, and uneventful life. Every once in a while, when I read the stories of such men as Achilles or Michael Furey, I too feel the pang of lack of passion. Can I have some passion in my life, although it means (but the very definition of the word) some suffering?

In this new chapter of US History the times seem to call for men and women of passion to rise up and not choose creature comforts. Even if it hurts, even if it shakes up our lives, the times call for us to get more in touch with Achilles, come out of our tent and fight even if it means some loss. Am I brave enough to do so? Are you?

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I just finished listening to a podcast on how to manage email. Apparently normal people are continuously inundated with the wretched stuff to the point it becomes a time-sucking entity in desperate need of containment. The teacher gave tips on how to write email to better communicate the ‘gist’ of the neutral words; she also gave ways to prevent endless emails from going back and forth like a pingpong ball. It was all most fascinating especially because none of was applicable to me as I don’t get any.

There is email at work but the staff never uses it. Like Charlie Brown hoping for a letter I look for something, anything in my inbox but I get nothing. The bosses seldom need to communicate with me, and when they do they use the EHR or call me. If I want to communicate to The Wonder Receptionist I only have to walk next door and speak with her. The therapists were told not to put patient matters into not-secure email; since this is the only reason really they would want to talk to me, none bother.

My personal email box gets maybe a dozen a day. Most of my time on email is to delete not read. Most of it is medical news, of which I read the headlines and into the rubbish with it. Spam is surprisingly minimal. A proper email from an actual person with real content are as rare as ravens.  I guess I am lonely; I want a letter telling me your news.  I get such but it arrives in texts or FB announcements rather. Email is becoming more and more just a nuisance.

Getting back to the topic of work email, what is blatantly missing is patient email. In Medicine (psychiatry no exception) patients are all for it while their doctors would sooner eat rats at Tewkesbury than have it. Imagine the daily email from hundreds of patients, many with poor boundaries and/or with the patience of a boiling kettle! Besides becoming the time sucking vampire mentioned in the podcast, there is the security factor:patient information zipping through the internet without security. * Then there is the tedium of making sure all email gets into the charts.

A colleague recently tried email with patients but soon abandoned the experiment. His made it quite clear email was not for emergencies or to renew prescriptions or for billing/scheduling purposes. Of course this is exactly what patients wanted and they ended up doing anyway. Patients become irate ‘they had emailed about needing valium and/or thinking of killing themselves’ and the doctor didn’t get back to them immediately. Apparently he checked his email box 2-3/week at scheduled times. He soon scraped the system and stated he doesn’t look back.

This week I will send some email to some long time chums whom I haven’t heard from in awhile. I have to think of something to say. I lead a dull life.

I am curious to hear from Spo-fans if they use much email at work or at home or do you not bother but still call people or write letters.

I am told this can be fixed somehow, but the bosses are not willing to shell out the money for such.

“A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential? ”

Jane Wagner

My life is an ongoing struggle between ‘proper’ and ‘good enough’. Sometimes I want to do something right or not at all, and sometimes I seem to settle on sufficient.  I continually strive for perfectionism but seldom achieve such.  It’s sort of like being an optimist who often falls flat.

This afternoon I am going to try (for the umpteenth time) to make onion soup. I have grown despondent over the years of making a proper at-home version of this most delectable potage.  The ‘proper’ side of me thinks (and fears) there is a precise formula for French Onion Soup, a magical precise incantation of heat, ingredients, and cooking process that if missed by an inch makes the soup fail creates failure. The other approach, the ‘good enough’ philosophy says so long as the soup doesn’t come out putrid that makes it OK. All this precise nuance isn’t necessary; cooking is not a complicated password that if missed by an iota won’t open.

Cooking is one example of good-enough vs. just-right; weight-lifting is another. I have an uneasy sense there is a right combination of diet, frequency of lifts, timing etc. that translates into success and anything else is the equivalent to wasting my time.  On the other hand, some gym seems better than no gym, right?  Besides, it’s jolly good fun.

Ironing shirts and trousers definitely falls into the ‘good enough’ category, although Someone would disagree. As a rule he irons his own clothes (and he does do a better job I must say).

“Proper” cocktails are the rule for ’good enough’ manhattans, margaritas, martinis and non-M libations are immediate recognized and rejected by my persnickety tastebuds. I’ve learned in dive bars and with suspiciously untrained bartenders not to order such potations but stick to can’t-go-wrong bottles of beer or just straight whisky (proper lager, no rubbish).

Rolling down grass hills is any form, style, and duration is always “good enough” and better than none at all.  I thought pizza was likewise until I had PizzaPizza in Toronto which was quite the exception to the rule.

Today I will go to the gym, tidy the house, fold the laundry, and iron some shirts settling on ‘good enough’ without disappointment.  As for French onion soup, I am going to try a ‘no-brainer’ crockpot version.  Proper cooks may sneer or groan but I have my fingers crossed it will be ‘good enough’.  This one calls for beer, which portends it will be quite good enough. Now I have to worry about getting a proper beer, no rubbish.  This nonsense never ends.

Pensive

I had a prodromal essay on the subject of integrity but it seems to have disappeared. This is most curious for I had three versions of it on three different computers (home office, work, and laptop). They have been all absconded, perhaps Hair Furor and his minions have deleted them as it is a now-forbidden attribute. So as not to let down the Spo-fan who requested said entry, I will be succinct to the point in this remake.

Integrity is what we do when no one is looking. It is doing the right thing even when you know you could get away with it. Some examples:

Stopping at the stop sign late at night when no one is around to see you.

Obeying the highway entry traffic light even when you know you can get away with it.

Not taking a small item when the gas station attendant has their back turned to you.

Keeping promise seven when certain the others have probably forgotten all about it.

Some would argue integrity is even more defined about what you WON’T do despite what everyone else is doing. People who see others blowing through the mentioned highway ramp entry signal are more likely to do likewise along the line what the hell everyone is doing it.   It is a common phenomenon when folks see cheaters getting away with something they follow.

Honor and Integrity are not synonymous. Integrity is a ‘within me” matter while honor is something bestowed on you. Honor can be horizontal (given by peers) or vertical (given by minions and underlines). Most of the time honor and integrity are highly correlated but not always. One can lose honor for having integrity and one could be honored for tossing integrity. I once had a patient of a certain background who told me in his culture to not steal when possible would lose honor.

Thanks to my Midwest Protestant upbringing Integrity is rather ingrained. I am one to do things one should do even when no one is looking – I think. There are exceptions. I don’t wipe down the gym equipment with hand sanitizer, even though the rule says to do so, on the scientific rationale this does no good. At the grocery store I don’t point out to the check-out lady my vegetables are the more expensive organic ones, but hope she won’t notice. There goes my good Henley St. name. Perhaps I qualify after all for a federal government job.

This spring I plan to visit my parents to go over their possessions and take inventory what is valuable and what is rubbish. Last Christmas Mother idly added into holiday chit chat bombshells about the items in the dining room . Example: for as long as I can remember there stands a small Chinese vase filled with  what looks like withered potpourri.  I suggested replenishing it.  Oh no, she said matter of fact, those rose petals are from your grandmother’s wedding day, from her wedding bouquet. She added she was supposed to have them buried with her mother but she forgot to do so and she’s been meaning to spread them on grandmother’s grave. (Grandmother died in the 80s).  Aghast, I would have thrown them out – why hadn’t she said something? She’s been meaning to write this down all these sorts of things – some day. Throughout the holiday weekend she gave me mild chest pains with further examples of curious things about the house, things that have significant family history attached to them. The nondescript bowl on the dining room shelf was revealed to be an 18th century creation my great-great-grandfather received as payment for military valor. It would have gone to a church rummage sale.

So – I decided I make a weekend jaunt and get Mother to tell me as much as she can about the bricolage about the place, what has value and more important what has significance.

My brothers have no interest in attending, as they are assured I will do a good job and pass it all on to them. I know many families who get ugly after the parents die; they fight over who gets what etc. My brothers and I will have the opposite problem viz. each will want the others to take it all so they don’t have to.

I am the genealogist of my generation. I know so much goes when a person dies. When someone dies there are so many unanswered questions as everyone assumed what was common knowledge in one generation will be remembered. Fat chance of that. Even the photographs in the family album, which were taken in the 60s-80s, look as unfamiliar as strangers on a subway. Who are these people? Why were these photo taken ? Oh, Mother would say, that’s your great grandfather’s sister in law, Great Aunt Marion, you know, the one whose clock you have ( Oh lawd!)

This trip will be a bit ticklish with its implication of an approaching death, their death. When my parents die, my brothers and I will probably throw most things out like the last scene in “Citizen Kane”.  I want save a few Rosebuds from the fires of the forgotten – if not for me, then for my niblings and their descendants for when they become curious about their heritage. I can pull down from my shelf the bowl or the vase or the photo album and tell them the stories.

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Solitude

Someone went to work early this and he did not return until late this evening. Between good-bye and hello-again I realized I had not said a word all day to anyone. Nobody called and nobody came. What few words I uttered were to the dog. I spent the day home, alone. It was both lovely and unsettling. I was busy; I did a lot of house cleaning, paperwork, and sewing so I hadn’t connected the dots I had been a proverbial hermit until now.

Most people need a balance of ‘Me time’ and being in the company of others. Unless you are schizoid or introverted with a capital “I” you need some human contact some of the time. Thems who have some sort of social network live happier and longer lives. I suppose my work week is one long social intercourse so my weekends sans others are more delicious than deleterious.

It was a gray and rainy today; inclement weather seems to say ‘say home and stay put”, so I did just that. What did I do under my rock? I learned Spanish*; I swept and mopped and tidied up; I did the laundry and the dishes; I worked on Spo-shirt #101 (stay tuned).

To be sure, I enjoyed solitude, but there is always a tinge of loneliness that goes with it. I wonder how come nobody called or texted me today. Everyone was busy with their lives apparently, or maybe they had similar Sundays as mine. I hear some Spo-fans already wondering ‘Well, you could have called”. True.  Sometimes it is nice not to be the one who always reaches out.

For a day with nothing but self-absorbed activities and tidy-up it went by remarkably fast. Someone texted me about 730PM he was on his way home. We had a simple supper. Now he watches TV on the West side of the house and I am on the East, typing out these Spo-thoughts, prior to getting into bed with a good book. Not a bad Sunday, this. However next weekend I would not mind going out if only to be among my fellow men.

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*Mostly Los Animales.

Pensive

I learned via FB the valedictorian of my high school class has died. Nobody knows ‘how’ or ‘why’ he died; the obituary is rather sparse, limited to a discrete short paragraph without detail. K passed away on his birthday and he is survived by his parents. He was 54. My age.

The lack of the listed cause of death (“after a long battle with cancer”, for example) and  he died on his birthday make me wonder. These seem to suggest the possibility of a suicide.  There was also no mention of wife or children or partner; it sounded lonely.  He taught German and he worked sometimes as an accountant.  Not to disparage teaching or accounting, but this man was a genius who always got straight As without effort. It seems an ignominious life. In contrast, I did ‘OK’ in high school and I certainly wasn’t the brightest. Yet, I have ‘done well” as it were.  It touches on the Life is not Fair feelings I get when I hear of someone’s premature death.

I haven’t seen K since a high school reunion in 1990 so I didn’t feel great loss or sorrow but I wondered about the capriciousness of Life. On paper K should have become another Bill Gates or some great university scholar. I don’t know what happened to him. Perhaps he was quite happy and content in. I hope this was so.

Another man’s death – particularly at the age of your own – conjures up introverted reflections on death, life, and such. I too could drop at any minute. What do I want now?  Is something missing? Is Life passing by?  How much of Life is in my hands to master and make my own versus how much of it is beyond my efforts to create it in an image I covet?  And – what about Meaning?

I feel sad if K’s life had been a disappointment for him. Dying at 54yo certainly sounds sad to me. It prompts me to keep to the gym and be grateful for what I have and for goodness sake keep mortality in mind to make my every day count.

 

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