Thursday, November 30, 2023



            I’m not sure why I decided to write about patience this week. It may be that a lot of patience seems to be required these days. But why?


            You may have heard it said that “Patience is a virtue.” True, I suppose, especially when you see it grouped with what the Christian tradition sees as the Seven Capital Virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility) as opposed to, or remedies for, the better-known Seven Deadly Sins.


An aside here: When I was working at Starbucks I would bring in a daily trivia question – get it right, and you get 25 cents off on your drink. (It was a way to deal with the long lines.) My favorite was to ask customers to name the Seven Deadly Sins. Few got them all right, but almost everyone mentioned lust. Whatever ones they named, I’d comment that the those are the ones they are currently dealing with. They did a bit better naming The Seven Dwarfs.


            Anyway, I’m wondering about why Patience made the top seven. It seems rather passive to be a virtue, don’t you think? The word does not mean patiently working to solve a problem or achieve a goal, because “Diligence,” also on the list, covers that sort of thing. It’s more like “patiently waiting” for a desired outcome, a practice that occasionally works for me, but not very often. And Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. How is Sloth different from Patience? If I am waiting for the snow to melt rather than going out to shovel it off the driveway, am I practicing Patience or Sloth? Hard to tell from where you are sitting.


            Perhaps patience is not a practice that you can observe, but rather an internal state of mind. You know when you are experiencing something that feels like Patience, even though an outside observer might conclude that it’s my Sloth. I can feel it when I am being patient, especially when the alternative is doing something stupid-in-a-hurry. I like the saying, “I can be patient, but not for very long.”


            “Patience” is also a name sometimes given to girls. I’ve never known a Patience, but I imagine that a male, probably the father, thought it would be a good idea to emphasize this quality in a female. Some men want their women to be Patient, I suppose. I’ve never known a girl named “Lust,” though I think I met a Chastity or two.


            So, you are probably (not really) wondering when I actually practice Patience. Not many examples come to mind, but here are a few:


·      Waiting on hold. I am usually able to amuse myself while waiting, if the hold music isn’t too bad, but I do manage to congratulate myself for being patient. My patience evaporates, however, when the call is dropped after my long wait.

·      Waiting for our condo purchase to be approved. Still has not happened. We tried to deal with the delay by impatiently buying a lot of stuff for the new condo, which provided some distracting amusement but did not move the process along. We have now run out of patience and withdrawn our offer. But the real issue is not impatience/patience, but rather some red flags about the whole process. Stay tuned. And be patient.


            I could probably come up with some more examples, but a voice in my head says to stop sitting around waiting for examples to come to me. It’s annoying to wait, and I should be doing something else.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

My Life as a Series


            O.K. – so we watch a lot of television. Probably too much. We use television as an hour of background for our occasional afternoon nap – so I try to pick something boring enough that we can sleep through it without missing anything. And then we watch something at night, when the day’s chores are done.


            That’s a lot. It is my job to research and select what we watch. With that in mind, I prefer to select a series, as that means I can ride along the choice for a while without having to struggle to come up with what we watch next.


            But here’s the problem. You know how some movies have a resemblance to real life? Well, watching a series can have too much resemblance.


            If it’s a series that comes on once a week, that gives us a whole week to forget who the characters are and what happened to them a week ago. So, we have conversations like: “Is that his wife or his sister?” or “I thought she was dead,” or “I thought that guy was in the other series.” The problem is compounded when we get into time-jumps, where the only clue that we’ve gone back 20 years is the character’s different hairstyle. So: “Is that his son, or is that him 20 years ago?” or “Looks like she’s not dead yet.” Sorry, but I have too many problems remembering names and what happened yesterday in my real (non-movie) life. I don’t want watching a movie to recreate how this makes me feel.


            Just this week, for example: we were shopping at a little market called Nine Bean Rows. A lady came up to me, said hello, asked how we were doing. I did not recognize her, but we chatted for a while, and she let me know that her husband was named Bill, but she did not remember our names. I told her, she mentioned she read my blog, and we vowed to find a way to get together soon. When she left, I turned to Kim and asked, “Who was that?” She said she didn’t know. We ran through people we associated with “Bill” and “Kate,” and we came up empty. We knew that we liked them and knew them, but how? So it goes. People should wear name tags with a few details about family, work, or something. (Finally, a day later, with some help from the internet, we figured out who Bill and Kate are. Good friends!)


            Which brings me to another problem. Sometimes we are watching a series, and we get to the end of a season, often with a cliff-hanger ending, and then we learn that the series has not been renewed, or it won’t continue for a year or so. Fans of Yellowstone know what I mean. But there are many others that have disappointed in the same way: Gypsy was great, until it stopped. And there is Giovanna’s Journey, but her journey was never completed. It’s especially annoying when there is another season of the series, probably somewhere in Europe, but it has not been picked up here. Sorry, but I like things wrapped up. Let’s have the big kiss at the end of a rom-com, or the bad guys arrested. Little Bird and The Necessities of Life had perfect endings – satisfying because hard-earned. Don’t leave someone alive and screaming in the trunk of a car. (See these two series if you have any interest in the treatment of indigenous people in Canada.)


            I like reasonably tidy endings in movies because that is a welcome change from real life, where stuff is often not resolved. (Here’s where I could supply examples, but I won’t, except to mention that we have not yet closed on our Stone School Condo.) Suffice it to say there are always questions about the future, for ourselves and for friends and family members. Whenever I say to myself, “Well, that’s settled,” part of me prepares for the next surprise. And no, I don’t see our inevitable deaths as “tidy endings,” though I suppose they are.


            Of course, I do sometimes manage to get my revenge by bailing out on a series, sometimes after one lame episode, sometimes only ten minutes in – leaving the characters stranded, bewildered, and wondering what was supposed to happen to them next. This is a feeling I sometimes share. They may talk quietly among themselves, before fading away.

Thursday, November 16, 2023




            My grandfather, Arthur Stringer, was a successful and prolific writer of novels, poems and plays. There is too much to summarize here, but he is known as the first Canadian poet to use free verse. I have always felt a connection with him, mainly on a spiritual level. Thus, my poem, which includes indented quotations from his Open Water, published in 1914:




                         for Arthur Stringer (1874-1950)


To-day I am sick of it all,

This silent and orderly empty life,

And I feel savage again!


Arthur speaks from the stern portrait

in my father's den: profile, white hair,

pipe, curling smoke against muted

leather bound books. Swaths of paint,

patches of canvas texture his skin.

He does not look at me.


I want to sit down with my soul and talk straight out,

I want to make peace with myself,

And say what I have to say,

While there is still time!


Reaches across that gulf, my silent father

a remote echo of his father, from his books:

mysteries, sleepless men wandering the city,

spies exposing spies, a woman loving rough

life on the Canadian prairie, gun runners.

Irish dialect poems. Bold for him in 1914,

Open Water:


God knows that I've tinkled and jingled and strummed,

That I've piped it and jigged it until I'm fair sick of the game . . ..


I cannot remember his voice telling stories

when I sat, six years old, at his tobacco

leather chair. Only the pauses as he hung

details in the plot and pipe smell:

the bear, the fire, the little boy lost

in the woods. Arthur speaks from just

behind my shoulder as I poise at my desk

to take it all down. David, he says,

and that is all I need. Remember me.


His voice flexes, surprising:


And deep beneath my music,

There's a strong man stirs in me;

There's a ghost of blood and granite

Coffined in this madness . . ..


Arthur. You

place your pipe in the polished stone ashtray,

rise from the canvas, turn to me. David.

Let's head north. Take our legs, lungs,

a pen. Into the steadfast North, the North

that is dark and tender. You clasp my shoulder.

Our shadows leave the room, get our gear

together, and head out. Desk bound,

we make for open water.



            And now, Kim and I are again heading for open water . . ..


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Elation Creation

            I wrote last week about the benefits of having a low elation threshold – the little things that can give our lives a lift. Now it’s time to explore how to contribute to the amount of low threshold elation in the world – again, through some little things. I’ve only a few suggestions.


·      Give your neighbor a ride to the airport. Did that. Felt good.

·      Pick up that piece of garbage you see when on a walk – in the woods or in town.

·      When you finally get through to so-called Customer Support, have a kind word for the person you are speaking with. Attempt to connect on a human level. My son has a job manning the phones at a hospital, and he has done similar things elsewhere. It’s not an easy job when most of the callers are pissed off about something. I’ve learned from Kim how to do this. Become a human being, not just an angry impatient voice. It’s not their fault you had to wait on hold so long, with annoying music. I learned from Kim’s example, and I could tell it was appreciated on the other end.

·      I was at our local market. They guy ahead of me learned that his credit card had lapsed, and he had $30 worth of groceries. I was about to offer to pay for his order, when the cashier told him not to worry, and she reached in her purse, took out her card, and paid. He said he’d pay her back tomorrow – he comes in several times a week. I told them both that I was about to pay, but I doubt they believe me. In any case, I scored some “good guy” credit – at no cost.

·      I occasionally stop for pedestrians when I see them at crosswalks. They usually look grateful (though elated is too strong a word) and wave thanks to me. I feel good about creating this almost-elation. I also feel good about not getting a ticket or running someone over.

·      Call people up on the phone from time to time. Kim does this now. I don’t – yet. I’m not sure that recipients of my calls are more surprised than elated – hard to tell the difference sometimes.


One benefit I’ve noticed is that when I stimulate some elation, it gives back to me.


            I should note here that Kim and I just watched a couple of videos about how we are destroying our planet. Chasing Coral is about how global warming is destroying Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs around the world – and the enormous global consequences of that destruction. And David Attenborough in Breaking Boundaries laments a number of planetary disaster tipping points that we are going beyond – if we don’t make some serious changes. So, I’m looking on a micro low threshold level for ways to make our planet a bit more elated.


·      Turn down your thermostat in the winter. Wear a sweater. It’s a micro-change, and I don’t think it creates anything called “elation,” but it’s a step.

·      Don’t use plastic water bottles. And maybe persuade someone else not to use them. In our experience our suggestion does not create any elation – maybe the opposite. But the planet feels elated.

·      Speak to our neighbors about their toxic lawn. All that chemical crap washes into our lake. We actually have spoken to them, and they know better, but pushing them harder won’t get anywhere. They also blow some of their leaves into the lake, despite our request. Again, I have not noted any moments of elation from our conversation, but still, maybe the planet felt some.

·      I don’t need clean clothes every day. Or every week. Hey – we live alone in the woods.

·      Eat better – more plant-based food, less red meat. We have pledged ourselves to vegetarian vodka and bourbon, and less of each.

·      I am calling our electric co-op to see how they are reducing their/our carbon footprint.

·      Unplug. Lots of appliances and devices use electricity even when they are off. And you don’t want Alexa listening in . . ..

·      Vote the right way. I would say to donate to a candidate, but that leads to so much mail, snail or email, and it’s so unpleasant and a waste of paper and/or electricity.


Doing any of this stuff, in addition to helping the world, will help you feel better about yourself – a big plus. I realize there’s a fine line between “feeling better about yourself” and “being a self-righteous asshole.” Mind the difference. 

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Low Elation Threshold

 Because of what’s in the news lately, I thought hard about making today’s post a copy of W. H. Auden’s very moving poem, “September 1, 1939.” I decided, instead, to simply suggest that you look it up and read it – very appropriate, I think, but heavier than I like to go here.


So, here’s my post:


Low Elation Threshold


            I experienced a success last week. One of our toilets was plugged, probably a consequence of my not drinking enough water, and I worked feverishly with a plunger before giving up. I went to the internet and found a number of strategies to help me avoid calling a plumber (and who knows when he would show up, or even answer the phone). While I was doing the research, Kim poured some vinegar into the toilet and told me to let it sit for an hour or so. I did what I was told, and lo and behold, it worked! It’s hard to describe the elation I experienced watching stuff surge down the drain. I have a low threshold of elation. This comes in handy after reading the news.


            One of the things I love about Kim is that she is capable of a low elation threshold. If she finds a really cool mushroom, or sees early morning hoarfrost, she’s there. Her photos, which I have shared in this blog, illustrate this elation. For some reason she finds butterfly photography more exciting than watching shit go down a drain.


            I’ve found it makes sense to seek these small moments of elation rather than waiting for, say, peace in the Middle East or success in fighting global warming. Hey – I get excited when my car starts – for an English major, that’s a minor miracle. Or when our toaster delivers two perfect golden-brown pieces of toast. And sometimes I am elated when, late at night, my head settles onto our pillow. Or when I get the “Guide” function on our television to work, an elation I am, at this point, looking forward to.


            We moved into the Bark House on November 1, 2018. We had fantasized enjoying a glass of wine on our 4-season “porch” as we watched the snow fall, with perhaps a deer checking out the newcomers. Well, that’s exactly what happened. And it has happened every November 1 since then. When it happened this week (minus the deer), it was utterly beautiful – a cause of elation, once again. Elated by snow in Northern Michigan? That’s our low elation threshold. Of course, the champagne helped.


            And sometimes I am elated when I find that something I am reading – or writing – is, in fact, shorter than I thought it would be, so I can go about the rest of my life.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Stone School

            We are finally getting close to shifting to the next phase of our housing. It has not been easy. As I have written before, as much as we love our Bark House, it’s a bit remote, especially in the winter when our neighbors all flee to warmer climates – the last few heading out this week. We don’t mind being alone together, and if we want company we can always order something on Amazon so the UPS guy will come to our house. But it’s an hour’s drive to the Cancer Center for Kim’s scans and chemo, and that’s not always easy in the winter.


            So, what we have found is a condo in the small town of Sutton’s Bay, about 15 miles from Traverse City and the hospital. How small? Population: 613 – but more in the summer. Our plan is to keep the house, buy the condo with a mortgage, and see how it goes living there during the winter months (up here there are about six of them). By “how it goes” I mean how well we are able to keep up with the work on our acre of woods, garden and beach, and whether we can get any help there. “How it goes” also depends on our health, which does not seem to be improving. It also depends on how we like the condo – neighbors, surprises, etc.


            If you know Kim at all, even if only through these writings, you know this is not an ordinary condo. It’s part of an old stone school, built in 1906, and the walls are three feet thick. The room that will be our bedroom has two exposed stone walls. The condo is not big enough to hold all our stuff, but we will worry about that when we have to leave the Bark House. This might be when it’s too much for us. It also might be when one of us dies – an event that we are almost certain will happen.


            In an attempt to be rational, I identified the factors that entered into the decision about our next home:

·      Location – We like the small-town feel, and the main street, with its shops and restaurants, is only a block away, and it’s close enough to Traverse City without being too close.

·      Livability – Some work is needed. We really dislike the television-over-the-fireplace look, and the stacked washer-dryer in a small closet. True, there are stairs down to the bedrooms, but exercise is good, right? And there is no garage – not ideal in winter months.

·      Affordability – It will be a stretch. We asked our financial advisor to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and he said he would.

·      Coolness – This is, of course, what sealed the deal. We have already started in on the schoolhouse theme. We bought a small chalkboard, we will use our library table for my desk, we picked up an old student desk we bought on eBay, and I am on the lookout for a Dunce cap that’s in my size. We may have some pictures later, but if you have any google skills, you can find the listing . . ..


            Of course, we don’t own it yet. The state hasn’t quite approved the conversion into condos – that is expected in late November, but we have a “Reservation Agreement” and have paid our earnest money. We were involved in one of those “escalation clause” bidding wars, but in this case, it had a good outcome. We were actually outbid, but the seller, who we met during an Open House, sold it to us because “she likes us” according to our realtor. It probably helped that we wrote her a letter explaining why we liked our Stone School Condominium so much. (Thanks, Rand, for the idea.) When we do sell our beloved Bark House, we may ask prospective buyers to write us a note saying why they want to live here.


            Of course, things could still go wrong before our expected early December closing, but meanwhile, Kim has furnished and decorated our place at least two different ways, and she decorated the condo across the hall, which we are not going to buy, as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2023


(Note: You may be surprised to learn that I am not a doctor. Nor am I a researcher. I don’t read much research, beyond the Cliff’s Notes version in the Abstract. So, don’t trust what I’m telling you here.)


            We may have found the secret: mushrooms. After watching “Fantastic Fungi” and “How to Change Your Mind” on Netflix, we decided to give them a try.


            We found a source for psilocybin from a good friend who experienced what is called a “journey” by taking a significant dose, which she says changed her life in totally positive ways. She had this experience with two people, one a health care professional, at her side. We decided to “micro-dose” our psilocybin, which we can do without professional support at our side. The suggested schedule is 4 days with one tablet a day, then 3 days off. Or maybe the other way around.


            To provide some context, I will provide you with a brief summary of my experience with recreational drugs: zilch. The closest I came was walking around the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in the 60s, and getting what I imagined to be a “contact high,” though it might have been the music. I discovered coffee about the same time, and bourbon shortly after. That’s it. One more thing: I enjoy listening to Bob Dylan “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”


            I was a little nervous because of my late brother John’s unfortunate experience with drugs and mental illness, but I was reassured by the “micro” part of “micro-dose.” Besides, I usually keep my lid screwed on pretty tight, and the psilocybin might help me open up a bit. Kim said that this was her hope for me. She was looking for some pain and inflammation relief, along with mood enhancement, plus whatever surprises came her way.


            We are now about three weeks in, and the results have been good in a “micro” sort of way. We have not experienced anything like euphoria, which is fine, but Kim says I have loosened up and talk more openly – but only a little. In fact, we both talk more than we used to, which is often a good thing. We’ve both experienced a general sense of well-being, though we usually felt that way before the pills. But now it comes as we are flooded with news about war and politics along with some promising news about our housing quest. So, it’s hard to know what to attribute to the micro-dose, and what is a product of life itself. We have been energetically decorating and redecorating a condo that we don’t (yet) own.


            You know how some drugs become “gateway drugs”? Well, we learned that a mushroom called lion’s mane is good for cognition and memory, and it can help prevent dementia and help the brain recover from a stroke. (See my Note above.) It also helps with mood – though this may be because a successful fight against dementia is enough to improve any person’s mood. (I do recall an interview with an old Frenchman who was asked his secret for living so long. “Poor memory. I forget about all those people who wronged me in the past.”) So, we ordered some lion’s mane and started taking it daily about a week ago. I can’t really tell if it’s working, but I did remember all the words to some songs I haven’t heard for years, and I remember the name of the movie we watched last night. I take mine by adding ½ teaspoon of the powder to a glass of water. The only problem here is that I can’t remember where I put the little ½ teaspoon thing, to measure the right amount. But I do remember what we had for breakfast.


Now, if any of you are medical professionals or researchers, please correct any misinformation.