Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stay Safe


            “Stay safe” seems to be the go-to expression these days. You see it at the end of email messages, you say it when you part from friends and, to show “we are in this together” solidarity, when you depart from strangers. And you hear it at the conclusion of national news broadcasts.

            Can’t we do better than “Stay safe”?

            The expression has, in a way, replaced “goodbye” as a way to wish folks good fortune when we part from them. “Goodbye,” of course, is a shortened form of “God be with ye,” an injunction that we probably don’t have in mind when we say it, but most goodbye-sayers would probably agree with the wish to have God as someone’s companion. But “stay safe” has a much narrower scope. First of all, the word “stay” seems rather passive and joyless, unless you are in a state of blissful meditation. The implication is that any change that might happen will be a change for the worse, so it’s best to stay the way you are. And “safe” implies a world full of threats, when being safe is the best we can hope for. “Goodbye” at the very least suggests that God might be with one, presumably helping, on the next adventure. “Stay safe” does not carry that more active implication.

Do you hear that sound? It’s my readers dropping away . . ..

            And what about written salutations? I was taught to conclude both what was called “the friendly letter” and “the business letter” with “Sincerely,” which seems a bit lame. Do you really need to assure your reader that you actually mean what you said? “Yours truly” carries the same implication, and in most cases the word “yours” is dubious at best – “yours” in what way? But “stay safe” as a sign-off to written text just seems a bit defeatist, no matter the good intentions.

            So, what’s a better way to end a personal or written connection? The field is wide open. I remember reading that Alexander Graham Bell wanted the people using the telephone to begin with “Ahoy!” (which I am rather fond of), but eventually Edison’s choice, “Hello,” won the day, except for “Hi” in email, which could be a shortened form of “Ahoy.”  (I’m going to start using “Ahoy,” though I’m tempted to go with “Wassup” or “Sup.”) The point is, we can make a choice here. We are not stuck with “Stay safe.” Make a great choice, and watch it catch on!

            I kinda like “Later,” short for “I’ll see you later,” which could mean, realistically, “I hope to see you later.” Some optimism there, but we can do better. Let’s try for some originality.

            How about “Vax” – short for “vaccine,” thus a hopeful look into the future. “Moo” works the same way (if you are into etymology), and both have the advantage of making no sense to the uninitiated, which will help to convert young people.

More readers stopping here.

            How about “Skin”? This could be short for “asking,” which, unlike “stay safe,” suggests an open anticipation of response. “Skin” also acknowledges an end to social distancing. When did a friendly hug or handshake ever seem so appealing?

            And yet, and yet . . . “Stay safe” has a warm appeal. It’s what your mom wished for you when you parted, and what you wished for your vulnerable kids. It’s more than a gentle reminder to wear a mask and keep your social distance. It may express a magical wish, like some people’s concept of prayer, to place a soft protective bubble around the person being addressed. Who wouldn’t want that? Maybe some sort of macho asshole who sees safety as an affront to his constitutional right to be a macho asshole – that person might object. But for the rest of us,

            Stay safe.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Unasked Questions

The ongoing pandemic has left us with a number of unanswered questions, many of which will be answered as the months roll by. But it strikes me that there are a number of questions that have not yet been asked – at least in the stuff I read online. I know that many of my readers are quite intelligent – your reading my blog to the contrary – and you may have answers to my questions.

Here goes:

1.     Are we going to have a surge in babies born nine months or so after “shelter in place” was first in place? I suspect there will be fewer teen-age pregnancies, but how about the rest of us?

2.     Does “shelter in place” mean that guys like me will learn how to cook? Why?

3.     I have long believed that time does not move at a steady pace – that clock time is an illusion caused by the steady movement of a second hand (or the digital equivalent). So, is time moving slower or faster than it moved before the pandemic? For whom?

4.     Is a virus alive? I’ve read that it’s not. So, not to sound to philosophical, what does it mean to be alive?

5.     What does bat taste like? How is it prepared?

6.     What does Dr. Fauci do for fun?

7.     How is it that the internet is still working?

8.     If I am not on Facebook, do I exist?

9.     If I am on Facebook, do I exist? Just askin’.

10.  If those alien beings the Air Force recently observed are looking down on our struggles with the pandemic, what are they thinking? (Hard not to write this one as multiple-choice.)

11.  How can we ever go back to normal if “normal” wasn’t normal?

12.  After washing your hands for 20 seconds, is it OK to dry them on your pants?

13.  Once the schools re-open, how many parents will choose to continue home-schooling?

14.  Why won’t President Trump wear a mask? What’s the real reason? (Again, tempting to make this multiple-choice.)

15.  With the prevalence of masks, what are kids going to wear on their faces at Hallowe’en?

16.  Now that we know that “flattening the curve” does not mean the pandemic is over, what catch-phrase will replace “flattening the curve”?

17.  With people getting a bit careless about 6 feet of social distance, how can we design clothing to make it easy to enforce the rule? Hoop skirts?

18.  What is the stupidest thing that has been said about the virus (this writer’s work excepted)?

19.  Who should we be thanking in addition to health care workers, meat packers, postal workers, grocery store employees, plasma donors, etc.? Who are we missing?

20.  What does not seem as important to us as Americans as it did in January?


Thursday, May 14, 2020


            Sheltering in Place is not quite the same as nesting. As a guy, I’ve never really experienced the nesting instinct – which is the burst of energy many women experience in the last weeks of pregnancy, leading them to reorganize closets and search under the beds for dust bunnies. Doing these tasks out of boredom, or because you discovered an old to-do list. I a few days ago I oiled the squeaking hinges of a couple of our doors, but that was not my nesting instinct. It was, I think, my deep need to feel competent after pouring my morning raisin bran onto a plate sitting beside my bowl.

            Kim has been experiencing a nesting instinct. She’s always been working on our nest – decorating, cleaning, reorganizing, etc. (the old-fashioned word “homemaker” comes to mind), activities for which I am deeply grateful, but her recent burst of energy is something different. Also, thankfully, it is somewhat different from the nesting instinct experienced by pregnant women. Kim’s instinct is an artist’s instinct – to build birds’ nests.

            I blogged about Kim’s building bird nests about five years ago ( ), but this is a bit different. She is now operating as an artist, not as a charmingly deranged birder. A local gallery owner wants to carry about a dozen of her creations when his gallery finally opens, we hope in a month or so. Meanwhile, Kim is busy in her studio, and we take breaks every once in a while to go for walks where we gather nesting material – roots, lichen, grass, moss – supplemented with dryer lint and gray fur from when she trimmed my beard.

            One of the (many) things I learned from Kim is that "framing" the nest is an important part of the creative process. You can't just let the nest lie there on the shelf.  We have also been accumulating old boxes, frames, pieces of driftwood, and molds for making bricks, all of which she uses to provide a creative context for the nests. 

Above is a can we found in an abandoned stretch of New Mexico desert.

Several of her pieces include her photographs.

This is one of our favorites. Kim is not selling it.

Kim makes all the eggs she uses in her nests.

The "frame" here is a container formerly used to make bricks.

It's Kim's hummingbird photo. She used lichen on the next, just as the hummingbirds do.

This hangs on a wall in our enclosed porch, which we call the Nest.

The photo and text here are from an old birding guidebook.

This is a blue jay's nest.

Also from our Nest room.

She has several under glass domes, but they are hard to photograph.

            If this is a nesting instinct, then Kim is really delivering.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Staying Safe: Modest Proposals

With the pandemic predicted to last into the foreseeable future, we are getting lots of information and advice about how to keep ourselves and those we love safe. You know – social distancing, face masks, handwashing, etc. It strikes me that, lethal as this virus is proving to be, these measures don’t go far enough. So as my contribution to “We are all in this together,” I am passing along some additional suggestions, modest proposals that Kim and I have put into practice.

Stand or sit 6 feet from your phone or computer. Your computer can get a virus, and who knows how lethal it can be. And wear a face mask when using your “devices” (an unfortunate term).

Put masks on your pets. We know that dogs, cats and tigers can get Covid-19. If your pet is a tiger, best to get someone else to put on the mask.

Put masks on your plants. We know they exhale oxygen . . ..

Wash your feet, too. We have learned that the virus frequently goes to the floor in small droplets, so shoes can be a carrier when we return home. Of course, leave them outside or store them near the door. But if your shoes can carry the virus, so can your feet. So when you wash your hands, also wash your feet. If you are old, you might have to get someone else to do it for you.

Don’t use knives, forks and spoons – or your hands. Eating utensils are typically made of hard surfaces where the virus can lurk for days. And we have been repeatedly cautioned about touching our faces with our hands. So the best technique is to lower your face to your plate. I have tried this with a bowl of popcorn, and it works great.

Keep your hands away from your mouth when you floss your teeth. Obviously.

Have sexual relations, but not with another person.

Don’t wear a white mask that comes with a hood.

Buy lottery tickets. Your state needs the money.

Stay out of prison.

Practice social distancing. I know – you think you’re already doing this, but you’re not. If you are truly socially distant, you don’t share your thoughts and feelings, and you don’t care about the thoughts and feelings of other people. The masks help. Not sure how this is supposed to help with the virus, but everyone appears to be in favor of it.

Stop hugging strangers. This trend had gone too far even pre-virus. Especially in an election year.

When you wash your car, use bleach. This is especially important if you are one of those guys who fondles his car.

If you need elective surgery, do it yourself, or ask your spouse or partner to do it. Best to check on your insurance first.

If the Girl Scouts come to your door to sell cookies, scare them away. Scare everyone away except UPS and the pizza guy

If you order a pizza, let it sit on your front porch for three days before bringing the box into your house. You may need to take it straight to the garbage can.

When shopping for groceries, hold your breath. This may take some practice, but groceries stores are petri dishes for viruses, and you don’t want to breathe them in.

Drink Corona beer. Your body will then develop anti-bodies to Corona, which may allow you not to care so much about the above recommendations.

Try vodka therapy. I found online a formula to make sanitizer using vodka. Really. But why stop there? You attack the virus on a second front by drinking it, either after you wash with it, or instead of washing with it. Might work!

If you have any additional suggestions, please pass them along.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Movie Time

Stuck at home? Families can be difficult. Might be a good time to watch a movie. I’ve made a couple of previous posts listing some of our favorites, and many of you have responded with yours, for which we thank you. Now it’s time for an update.

Our list includes only titles that we streamed through Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu (thank you, Beth), plus an occasional sampling through 30-day free trials. Some we paid a few bucks to see. We gravitated toward series because it’s comforting to know what we are getting next and who the characters are. Some have a soap opera feel, but who cares? You can enjoy it while feeling superior to it at the same time.

So – here’s our updated list:


Greenleaf (Netflix) Follows the unscrupulous world of the Greenleaf family with scandalous secrets and lies, their palatial family mansion compound, and their sprawling Memphis megachurch with predominantly African-American members. Even wealthy and successful families can be difficult. We watched more than 50 episodes, with more to come this summer. 

Bonfire of Destiny (Netflix) Set in 1897 Paris, we see the consequences of a devastating fire that killed 125 people. This series suggests, among other things, that families can be difficult.

3 action/mysteries by Harlan Coben, all set in England:
            The Five
            The Stranger

Big Little Lies (Amazon Prime) Tells the story of five women in Monterey, California, who become embroiled in a murder investigation despite some family difficulties. Powerful acting performances make this work. There are rumors of a sequel, which we plan to watch.

The Restaurant (Amazon Prime) Swedish soap opera dealing with the class distinctions of owners and employees of a Stockholm restaurant, starting with the end of World War II. We are still watching it – currently in the 1970s. Comparable to Downton Abby. In this series you will again learn that families can be difficult.

The Cry (Amazon Prime) A powerful Australian who-done-it drama about a couple whose baby, apparently, disappears. This one keeps you guessing. A good guess will be that families, even small ones, can be difficult.

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu) We just finished watching this intense and beautifully-acted study of the interactions between two dysfunctional families as they deal with social issues of race, privilege and adoption. Need I say . . .?


Love, Wedding, Repeat (Netflix) Very funny British comedy as we watch well-mannered eccentrics at a wedding. Kim and I laughed frequently and hard. It reminded me of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Rachael Getting Married (Netflix) A woman is released from drug rehab to attend her sister’s wedding, resulting in some difficulties for the family as the past rises to the surface. Nevertheless, the wedding is really cool, especially some of the toasts. Takes place near where I grew up in Connecticut, but I didn’t know people like those in the movie. Or I didn’t realize they were like that.

The Beautiful Fantastic (Amazon Prime) A quirky but charming story of the relationship between a curmudgeon and the eccentric young librarian. Sweet movie – reminds us of Amelie. No families involved.

Jojo Rabbit (Amazon Prime) An amazing film that includes a comedic portrait of Nazis through the tale of a Hitler Youth member who discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish woman.

Edie (Netflix) An 80-year-old Scottish woman decides, when her husband dies, to climb a mountain. The movie is a great character study, inspirational without being corny.

The One I Love (Netflix) A couple escapes to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to save their difficult marriage. What begins as a romantic and fun retreat soon becomes surreal.

Dean (Netflix) Deadpan comedy starring Demetri Martin and Kevin Kline. A New Yorker moves to California to try to get over the death of his mother. Sound funny? It is. We love the cartoons the main character creates, so we bought a book of cartoons by writer/director Martin.

That should be enough to keep you busy and to keep your family out of difficulties. You’re welcome. Please send along suggestions, either new stuff or rediscovered oldies, to or

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Basic Emotions

When I worked at Starbucks in Ann Arbor, I would post a trivia question each day – something for people to do as they waited in line. Some of them involved lists:

·      Name the Seven Dwarfs.
·      Name the Seven Deadly Sins.
·      Name the Great Lakes.

I recently read that we human beings all share 6 basic emotions. Can you name them? To discourage cheating, I will post the list at the end of this article. Make your guesses.

I tried to come up with my own list of my basic emotions by looking into my own heart. Surprise – there was a bit of overlap with the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth). You might want to come up with a list of your own Basic Personal Emotions. Feel free to share this list with the people with whom you have been confined for a few weeks. They may be able to add a few items to your list. (Asshole is not an emotion.)

Here's my list:
·      bewilderment
·      amusement
·      lust
·      disgust (I promised myself not be political here.)
·      comfortable numbness
·      gratitude
·      worry

I know, I know – some of these are not emotions. But as a guy of Canadian ancestry, they are what I substitute for emotions.

The writer who pointed out the Basic Six went on to explain that there are also what he calls “secondary emotions dependent on culture.” He mentioned a few examples:
·      shame
·      pity
·      regret
·      pride
I don’t indulge in any of these to a significant extent, though I don’t know how I avoided them with my Puritan New England upbringing along with some Jewish chords my soul sometimes plays (thank you, Peter).

So, here are the 6 Basic Emotions:
·      happiness
·      fear
·      anger
·      sadness
·      disgust
·      surprise

What makes them “basic”? I suppose that means they are universal, not dependent on culture. I’m sure a lot of research went into making that list, and I’m equally sure that I’m not going to locate and read the research. I’m more than a little curious why Love is not listed as a basic emotion, though it’s not on my list because I see love as a verb – something wedo, rather than an emotion – something we feel. (This goes back to a conversation I had with Kim when we were dating. I told her I loved her, and she said, “Prove it.”)

I do suspect, based on no research, that most emotions, as experienced in the real world, are combinations – happiness and fear, anger and regret, lust and shame, gratitude and guilt. We live in a rich stew.

                        *     *     *     *     *

After Kim read a draft of this piece, she asked me to come up with a list of her Personal Basic Emotions. Sensing a trap, I was reluctant, but I was eventually persuaded to do her Six. Here’s what I came up with for Kim:
·      joy
·      love
·      disgust
·      gratitude
·      frustration
·      determination

Kim was delighted that I got her right. I think she was delighted that her husband is not totally self-absorbed.

                        *     *     *     *     *

So, how successful were you in coming up with the universal Six Basic Emotions? Did you even try? How do you feel about not trying?

And if you’d like to share your list of your own basic emotions, send me a note ( or , along with permission (or not) to post your list, with our without your name.

John Bayerl wrote:
Anger, fear, joy, delight, excitement, contentment

You have permission to publish this.  In all likelihood, as soon as I send this I'll have a new list. 

Peter Rubinstein wrote:

In short I would add "empathy" to my personal list, maybe along with "anxiety". Peter, not to be too picky, but isn't "empathy" experiencing someone else's emotions? -DS