Thursday, August 11, 2022

Fun


            As we left the dock in our rented boat, the attendant said, “Have a fun day.” His words made me wonder what, exactly, the word “fun” means.

 

            I believe that a word carries into the present an echo of its origins. The dictionary tells me that the origin of “fun” goes back to a word meaning to hoax, which suggests to me that the word “fun” connotes something unreal, or perhaps even deceptive. A fraud. As when the guy says, “I was just funnin’ ya!” When you are having fun, you are setting reality aside, and that pleasure you feel is some sort of hoax you are perpetrating on yourself. No harm in that, right?

 

            When we “have a fun day,” we are temporarily setting reality aside, perhaps for some laughs, maybe some harmless excitement, maybe some novelty. Our grandkids have fun being dragged behind a boat. Some people (not I) have fun at wild parties, jumping up and down to loud music. Some people have fun doing a jigsaw puzzle, which is certainly not part of the serious Real World. I have fun playing Wordle on my iPhone, though few people would say that I look like I’m having fun. In fact, Kim tells me that I rarely appear to be having fun. I don’t jump around a lot.

 

            Kim was able to rattle off a long list of activities that she sees as fun, from chasing butterflies with her camera, to exploring a new place, to trying a new recipe. But sitting in the woods, drinking in all the beauty, she sees as deeper than fun. It’s spiritual. She describes the rock and garden area that we created just outside our window as her “altar.”

 

            “Fun” is a shallow sort of amusement, as distinguished from “joy,” which seems to me deeper, even spiritual. Kim’s doing her artwork is more than fun. Being affectionate with your partner is more than fun. Making music is more than fun. People don’t attend religious services because they are fun – but I may be mistaken about that. Activities that are fun are often described as “lighthearted,” which is perhaps a kinder term than “shallow.” Who wants to be heavyhearted? But my point here is that there is a difference between fun and enjoyment, and you can sense the difference if you are aware of the quality of your experience. Of course, if you are having fun you are probably not paying that kind of analytical attention.

 

            “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Probably as true as most proverbs, but what’s interesting to me here is the word “play.” When you are playing – a game, a sport, a dramatic production – you are creating an alternate reality outside the normal, non-play flow of your life, and this play is (or can be) fun. If you are as fortunate as I was, your work can be very enjoyable, but it was not “fun” unless I’d done some sort of bit to throw my students out of routine classroom comfort.

 

            So – did you find it fun to read this little essay? I didn’t think so.

 

            And what do you do for fun? Is the experience anything like what I’ve described? It might be fun to share for next week’s blog post . . ..

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Entropy

 

            I recall, vaguely, hearing that everyone is supposed to know the Second Law of Thermodynamics. So, in an attempt to fill the few remaining holes in my education, I looked it up in google. The result was a flashback to Freshman Physics – not anything I learned in the course, but rather the feeling of bewilderment that I experienced. For example, “the entropy of isolated systems left to spontaneous evolution cannot decrease.” Buzzzzz.

 

            But I found the word “entropy” in the phog of physics, and I felt that “entropy” was something I could get hold of because I suspect that I experience it in everyday life. From the dictionary: “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity.” This was followed by the cheerful words of James R. Newman: “Entropy is the general trend of the universe toward death and disorder.” Great! And it’s a Law.

 

            I actually prefer the definition given by one of my Amherst professors: “You can’t kick shit up a cow’s ass and expect it to spit hay.” (I doubt it was a physics professor – probably English.)

 

            Whatever the definition, people my age (80-ish) know first hand what entropy means, both on a personal level and a global level – as Yeats summarized, “Things fall apart . . ..” My son’s car is experiencing entropy. I even read about the deterioration of copy editing and proof-reading as a sign of “cultural entropy.” (Thanks again, Gene.) Or, just look in the mirror. And global entropy is too obvious for discussion.

 

            As I was muddling through these thoughts, an answer arrived in a text. Our dear friend, Randy, learned that he was going to receive a kidney from a living donor. Take that, entropy! And as I am hunched over my laptop, Kim is out working to clean up a messy part of the woods that is part of our landscape. She is putting into practice the closing lines of Voltaire’s Candide: “We must cultivate our garden.” Fight entropy. Spit hay.

 

            Kim will be attempting this on a personal level in two weeks when she begins physical therapy from a colleague who Genne’ recommended, hopefully reversing the painful decline in her knees and legs. Two weeks seems a long time when you are in pain, but when we contacted the hospital pain clinic, the first available appointment is in October, which reminded me of the joke: “Suicide Prevention Hotline – would you hold, please?”

 

            And we can fight entropy globally by countering global warming, by planting trees, recycling, and by appreciating the common humanity we share with those with whom we disagree, while still working hard to defeat the Bad Guys.

 

            At a certain point, however, we have to accept entropy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is, after all, a law. The question then becomes, how can we accept it with grace? And what does that grace look like?

 

            I asked our friend Jerry how to deal with entropy. His answer: “friends.”

 

            

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sonny

 

            Sometimes you need to celebrate a good person doing a good job. Kim had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon recommended by a friend to try to get her painful knees, legs and feet diagnosed and treated. The problem was that she would have to wait to mid-September for an appointment.

 

            She called the doctor’s office to see if she could get in earlier in the event of a cancellation. The woman answering the phone was sympathetic, and Kim was put on the list. At the suggestion from Genne’, with her physical therapy expertise, we called back to try to identify the specific site in Kim’s knees where the cortisone was injected by the Physician’s Assistant, and whether an anesthetic was injected along with the cortisone. Kim had me make the call because, in her experience, doctors don’t listen to women as well as they listen to men. Whatever. With Kim at my side we established a human connection with Sonny, who went above and beyond to get us help. He listened patiently to Kim’s pain chronology. We were lucky to have Sonny on our team. He answered our questions the best he could from the PA’s notes, and he listened to our description of the history of the pain, which went back to March. He said he would try to work out a solution.

 

            Sonny suggested checking with another surgeon at the practice, but found an equally long waiting period for an appointment. He then suggested a third doctor, one trained in sports medicine who he could recommend from personal experience as he treated his wife’s broken leg, to her great satisfaction. He also mentioned that his wife also is a cancer survivor, and that this doctor knew to check on possible cancer issues. Sonny said that he was not supposed to give medical advice, but he suggested that Kim consult with her oncologist about the possible role of cancer in her pain. We told him that we already had that appointment scheduled in a few weeks. We asked him if we might go to an Emergency Room or Urgent Care, just so we could get a CT scan of Kim’s knees so a doctor would have more information to help make a diagnosis. Sonny said that as a retired EMS driver he recommended against it as a misuse of the ER.

 

            Sonny said he was late for his lunch break but promised to call back later in the afternoon with news about the third doctor. He called an hour later with an appointment next Monday. We were very thankful. We appreciated having a human connection rather than a reader of a script.

 

            Kim’s pain has persisted over the weekend, but as I write this draft one day before Kim’s appointment, I at least feel that we are taking a step toward diagnosis and, hopefully, treatment. We’ll see. We are discussing our housing options in the event that Kim’s pain, fatigue and mobility issues don’t improve, but simply taking a step is so encouraging.

 

            I have made it a goal to be more like Sonny. Listen with an open heart, and let people know you are listening. Collaborate in working toward a solution to whatever issue or problem is on the table. We can do this.

 

            Meanwhile, Kim was able to hobble into our yard in pursuit of a butterfly. Here’s what she got:


 

American Lady

                        *          *          *

 

            As it turned out, Sonny sent us to the wrong doctor. He was unable or unwilling to attempt a diagnosis, insisting that he was a surgeon who only does surgery. Kim and I left his office frustrated and disappointed, which in no way lessens our appreciation for Sonny’s efforts in our behalf.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Memory Tips


            I recently read about techniques to help sharpen our memory. The basic message is to exercise our mind, especially our memory. What follows is a combination of ideas from brain doctors and some of my own techniques.

 

Don’t use your GPS. Use your memory and visual cues to get where you want to go. Be sure you have a full tank of gas before you leave home, and leave an hour or so early.

 

Don’t rely on your shopping list when you shop for groceries. Put it in your pocket and rely on your memory of what you need. What this probably means is that you walk down every aisle in the store, impulsively grabbing what strikes your fancy. An added benefit is that you will walk a pretty good distance without the targeting that a shopping list creates, so it provides good exercise. (Keep in mind here that when I run a grocery errand, if there are more than two items, I need a list.)

 

When putting away groceries, dishes or kitchen equipment, put them in a different place every time. That way, you get to exercise your memory as you try to find them. Sound like fun? An added benefit is that you might learn some new vocabulary words when your spouse is looking for what you put away.

 

Put your car keys away in a different place every time you come home. That way, you get to exercise your memory each time you try to find them. Just in case, you might want to keep a spare on a hook near the back door.

 

List the names of your ten best friends, starting with the oldest. This should make you feel better, unless you can’t come up with ten.

 

Change a few of your computer passwords – and don’t write them down. Ever do that accidentally?

 

Several times a day, walk into another room and try to remember why you did it.

 

Each night at dinner, try to remember what you had for breakfast. I have learned this is especially important when Kim had made me a special breakfast. I remember yesterday’s, but at the moment I can’t remember the name of the vegetable she spread on toast with tomato and a hard-boiled egg on top. Ahhh . . . avocado!

 

I had some other techniques, but . . ..

 

And here’s a poem that I may have posted on my blog before. Maybe not. It’s by Billy Collins, though I had trouble remembering his name until I looked through my library and found his books.

 

                        Forgetfulness

 

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

 

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

 

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

 

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

 

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember

is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

 

It has floated away down some dark mythological river

whose name begins with L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

 

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem you used to know by heart.

 

 

 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Pain


            I suspect that many of you have experienced some version of what I describe here.          

 

            Our neighbor, Karen, mentioned that some friends and family were just in a conversation where they all shared the various aches and pains they were suffering. She mentioned that this is an “old person conversation.” I agreed, noting to myself that Kim and I are at least ten years older than she is.

 

            These age-appropriate aches and pains have reached a new level for Kim. Without going into all the details, she is experiencing serious and, so far, undiagnosed pain in her knees, legs and feet, and some days the pain extends all over her body. She has trouble walking, using a cane her father made and, sometimes, a deluxe walker that generous neighbors loaned us. She can go up and down stairs, but only one step at a time, with both hands grabbing the bannister. In fact, I have become a combination bannister and grab-bar, helping her along when she falters and, much of the time, helping her up off the couch or chair by linking elbows and rocking up. On the plus side, we are holding hands a lot.

 

            This has led me to a strange mixture of feelings. At times I am overwhelmed by sympathy and helplessness because of Kim’s suffering. I can’t ease her pain except for the back rub while the toaster is doing its thing at breakfast. There is no way I can take her pain into my pain-free body, even partially. Helpless. Various pain remedies, including one narcotic, have not helped, though she does take Tylenol regularly, and the Celebrex appears to have reduced the swelling in her ankles.

 

            But I’m not entirely helpless. I have stepped up my game in looking after the house and yard, and I feel really good about doing this. I like to feel useful, and I experience it as an expression of love. So, in the yard I pull weeds (after Kim has given clear instructions about which ones are weeds – usually, but not always, the healthy ones). I do the dinner dishes. I make the bed. Kim still does the laundry, but she is instructing me about her own variations on the simple “put the clothes in and push the right button” guy approach. Kim still does most of the cooking, but I help her (recently, grating a pile of apples and carrots for muffins), and I reach for things because she is not mobile or agile enough to reach them herself. I’m learning – slowly. I am learning to get carry-out from the Torch Lake CafĂ© or the Eastport market, just a mile from our home – though nothing beats Kim’s cooking. Kim has shown me details about cleaning off the sink and counters – it would not have occurred to me to clean the underside of the rubber sleeve at the top of the drain in the kitchen sink. Again – I experience this as an expression of love. It’s good to feel part of a team.

 

            We hope to move beyond simply coping with the pain. We hope to get a diagnosis, which does not yet seem a priority among the doctors she has seen. Genne’, with her physical therapy background, and Barbara, a nurse, agree that we should insist on one, though it’s much easier to offer painkillers. Genne’ and Barbara both think there are probably several factors causing the pain. I’ll spare you my ignorant version of the details, but we hope something can be done – the right medicine, ice, rest, stretching, exercise, maybe even surgery. (My usual remedies – coffee and alcohol – are unlikely candidates.) Kim treated her pain at breakfast by moving quickly to grab her camera when she saw a dragonfly on our window screen, eating a bug. 

 

The dragonfly was nearly transparent in the early morning, but it completely changed colors after drying.


And we returned to one of our favorite butterfly paths for a brief exploration over uneven ground. Seeing and photographing nature takes her away from her pain, at least for a while. We are looking optimistically into a future where Kim can chase butterflies freely and get in and out of the bathtub.

 

            At the same time that we feel this hope, we also are contemplating what is next if Kim’s health does not improve, and if taking care of this home that we love becomes too much. We are getting help with the cleaning, we are still hoping for help with weeding and other yardwork (though I can do much of it), and we are looking into how we can get in-home nursing care. But we may have to sell our home and start over. Kim has always been more comfortable with change than I am, but undertaking a move, with her levels of pain, fatigue and immobility, is daunting even to contemplate.

 

            We’ll see . . .. 

 

            But again, being engaged with Kim in this enterprise only deepens the love we share.

 

  

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Road Trip


            Kim and I haven’t taken a road trip for a while – long winter, the pandemic, some mobility problems, etc. But our good friend Barbara was flying up from Florida to see us and to seek butterflies in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Part of the fun was introducing Barbara to Yooper culture. It was also a good road test for my new Jeep.

 

            One of the highlights of the trip was when I got stuck in deep sand on a back road where there were supposed to be butterflies. I was able to shift into 4-wheel drive and easily continue down this difficult road. I was in charge of logistics, and anything I could do to get us and our stuff from Point A to Point B was counted as a success, and it did not matter whether or not we had a good time at Point B.

 

            My success was, at best, mixed. After butterflying (that’s what it’s called) through much of the afternoon, we set out on our 100-mile journey west to the motel, which meant 100 miles of trees with the occasional bar or gas station, spotty cell service, and no Starbucks. The drive looked simple enough on the map, but just to be sure, I entered our destination in the Jeep’s new GPS. No problem. The map said to turn south as we approached Munising, and the GPS lady (we named ours Gertrude) told me to turn a bit sooner than I thought, but I figured I’d remembered the map wrong, and besides, Gertrude sounded very confident. So, I turned.

 

            About a quarter of a mile later, she told me to turn west, and I did so. I was mildly concerned that I was turning onto a narrow bumpy two-track with overgrown branches scraping against my new car. I was also concerned when Kim told me I was making a mistake, that I should turn around. There was, of course, no place to turn around, and I reasoned that maybe Gertrude knew a short cut. So, I continued. After a few miles, Gertrude told me I would be turning south in a mile. Great, I thought – this would no doubt be the road on my map. Nope. It was an even narrower two-track, marked by deep ruts and some sand traps - I was happy to be driving my Jeep.


             Kim said we should look for a place to turn around. I said there isn't one, and I'm not backing up for ten miles in the woods. Barbara said to keep going, that she and Mark do this all the time. On purpose.


             The forest, I should note here, was beautiful, and not many tourists get to experience it.

 

            We continued, following Gertrude’s orders, zig-zagging through another half-dozen pavement-free turns, until Gertrude announced that we had reached our destination. I stopped the car and looked around: Nothing but trees and our narrow what-passes-for-a-road.

 

            We decided to continue south until we reached civilization, by which I meant pavement. That took us another five miles or so, but then we had to decide which way to turn. Barbara’s Google Map had stopped working because of lack of signal, so we guessed south. Five miles later we reached Buckhorn Road – also paved. We were elated because the restaurant next door to our motel was named The Buckhorn Inn, so that increased the odds that we would reach our destination. (By the way, in the U.P., “next door” means a mile or two away.) Again, we didn’t know which way to turn, so I guessed (wrongly, again), but where the road ended at another paved road, there was a sign pointing to The Buckhorn Inn back the way we came. We rejoiced. It’s not quite the same thrill as photographing a rare butterfly, but close.

 

            When we arrived at The Buckhorn Inn, the waitress asked if we would like anything to drink. I was the first to answer. The wine was not great, but I told her that it was the best can of wine that I’d ever tasted.

 

            In addition to mastering navigational challenges, we were, of course, looking for butterflies. Here are a few photos that we captured.


Bog Fritillary


Common Ringlet on Hawkweed




Northern Pearly-eye. To get this shot we had to put up with Black Flies and Wood Ticks.


Blue Flag Iris with Skipper, who crawls up the stem to reach the flower.


Canadian Tiger Swallowtail - found in Northern Michigan


European Skipper. We saw many thousands of these.


Spider eating a European Skipper


Puddling Canadian Swallowtails. 

Many butterflies engage in puddling, where they visit wet places such as mud, dung, fermenting fruit, carrion or urine – looking for salts, amino acids and other minerals. Blood, sweat and tears are also attractive. Males do most of the puddling, sometimes taking minerals to waiting females as a gift when mating.


Puddling European Skippers

            We did a fairly good job of introducing Barbara to Yooper culture, though she did not try a pasty or cheese curds. Though we did eat some good fresh whitefish and walleye from the Great Lakes, we also had coleslaw and applesauce served to us in plastic Gordon Food Services containers. We had breakfast twice at The Dogpatch, featuring renditions of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner cartoons on the walls. We stayed at a motel that was 80 years old and in need of remodeling. She made friends with ticks and black flies – or, rather, they made friends with her. We saw deer and some clear and very large moose tracks. The people were unfailingly friendly, possibly because we chose not to discuss politics with them.

             

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Paint Colors 2

            In celebration of my four hundredth blog post, I am presenting this week one of the very early posts, after which my blog was named: “How to Discuss Paint Colors with your Wife.” Some of you may not have seen it before. More of you may have read it and forgotten it. Whatever. Here it is:

 

How to Discuss Paint Colors with Your Wife

 

            I’m like most men—comfortable discussing colors using one-syllable words like red, blue, green, or brown. Orange and yellow make me a little nervous, and anything that sounds French, even monosyllabic French, brings on a queasiness of stomach, a rolling of eyes, and a desire to go outside and chase something. Try it and see: taupe, beige, mauve, or (shudder)—ecru.

            I was recently in a paint store with my wife. While she was pouring over the 3,000 shades of yellow to find the right one for our bathroom (“the color of butter, but fresh butter, straight from the farm”), I noticed a young couple doing the same thing. The wife was studying 40 tabs of off-white, placing them next to one another as if that would reveal some profound truth, while her husband sat with arms crossed and a scowl on his face. “Just pick one,” he said, “and I’ll tell you if I hate it.”

            Now, as a man enjoying my second marriage, I could tell that he was going about this in entirely the wrong way. For his benefit, and men like him, here are my seven secrets for discussing paint colors that you don’t see or care about:

 

Take it outside. This is what the experts do. Natural light is very different from indoor light, and even indoors, incandescent light bulbs are different from fluorescent. Trust me on this one. So when your wife asks your opinion on 2 or 3 colors, repeat what I just told you about light and take it outside. You probably won’t notice any difference except that everything will appear brighter if the sun is shining. But at least you get to go outside for a while.

 

Use the plural. When your wife asks you what color you think the television room should be, don’t say, “tan” or “green” or “I don’t care.” Say something like, “I was thinking of greens.” Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t—it doesn’t matter, since we all know that she is going to pick the color anyway. But answering in the plural marks you as a sensitive guy who is aware that there is more than one shade of green. This will be worth some points down the road, though I have yet to discover where.

 

“There’s X in it.” Here’s one that took me years to figure out: No paint color is what it is. There’s a base color, and then a bunch of other colors are added and the result is blue or red or whatever. The discriminating eye—my wife—can look at a brown and conclude, “There’s red in it,” and other women will nod in agreement. Well, you can learn to nod just as wisely. And you can also pronounce, when looking at a blue wall, “There’s green in it.” Here’s the funny part: You may start doing this randomly to appear sensitive and discriminating, but if you stay with it, you’ll start getting it right more and more often. In fact, I’m starting to believe that my wife is correct—there really is green in that yellow wall in our dining room.

 

Tapdance. This strategy is based on two assumptions: 1) Your wife will eventually choose the color anyway, and 2) You don’t want to suggest that you “don’t care.” Some fancy footwork might help you through this minefield. Sigh and explain how the light is different depending on the time of day, or that the color changes depending on what is next to it (as in that green couch, which has some blue in it), or that it depends on whether it’s drywall or plaster, the size of the paint sample, the nap on the roller, etc. Hold something up to it—a pillow, a piece of curtain, whatever—and turn your head about 30 degrees to the side as you stare and frown. Warning: Most women catch on to this one fairly quickly, as they don’t like being made fun of. If you sense that she is staring at you rather than the paint samples, take it outside.

 

The name game. If you ever actually look at those color tabs that your wife brings home from the paint store, you’ll be surprised to learn that all those colors actually have names. You might want to pick your color based on which one has the coolest name—much the way I pick horses at the racetrack, and probably with the same results. Anyway, one way to discuss colors with your wife is to toss around those color names as if they were real. When she asks what color you would like the bathroom to be, say something like “morning rose,” “peppermint,” or “summer evening.” (OK—I confess I’ve never dared to try this strategy, but I enjoy imagining the look on my wife’s face if I actually said “summer evening.”) You can have fun with this one. The color for your living room? How about “putting green” (a real color name I saw), or “light lager,” or “nice pear.”

 

“It Works.” This is an important phrase. I know this because they use it a lot on HGTV. As in, “That couch works in the living room,” or “This color works on this wall.” The nearest I can figure out, “works” falls somewhere between “is the same as” and “clashes with.” The meaning is close to “blends,” but “blend” is too much like “bland.” I suggest you think of a color “working” in a room the way you think of your relationship with your wife. You certainly aren’t the same, but you don’t go together as badly as the clothes you wore before your wife started dressing you. No, you “work” as a couple because you are just different enough to keep things interesting.