Thursday, July 22, 2021

Mental Floss

            Sometimes our most routine activities have unintended benefits. See how you do on my multiple choice quiz. Which of the following is true?


            I just read about research that shows:


a)     standing near a microwave when re-heating coffee may help protect against skin cancer, but only if the door is shut.


b)    vacuuming rugs and floors once a week using an upright style vacuum helps protect against arthritis, and in some cases, helps relieve symptoms – unless you vacuum up the aspirin you dropped. Using a cannister vacuum, however, does not confer the same benefits.


c)     flossing your teeth may protect against cognitive decline. 


            The correct answer is c, flossing (though I’m not sure whether the other suggestions have been fully tested). Think of the plaque removal as “mental floss.” This may appear to be a trick that dentists are using to get old people, like me, to finally make a habit out of an act that was only a faint rumor when we were growing up. When you were twelve (for me, in 1955), did you really ever know anyone who flossed? Flossing, however, might be better than other ways to protect against cognitive decline. For example, it might be easier than learning Ancient Greek, mastering quantum physics, or learning how to program your television remote. I make it a point, while flossing, to practice counting backward from 100 by sevens, for I’ve learned that if I can do that, my cognitive is not declining. I am a committed Stringer.


            Furthermore, we flossers know that it sometimes involves some physical dexterity, especially if you are dealing with bridges and other such dental architecture. And it just may be that nimble flossing will protect against physical decline. Soon you may be able to open jars and bottles that are “protected” by layers of plastic, cardboard, foil and/or cotton – even the most difficult ones, which usually are labeled “E-Z Open.” You may get better at picking your nose or getting your front door key into the keyhole at night. Nimble fingers might help you use tweezers to remove ticks, splinters and unwanted facial hair. Maybe even write text messages using only your thumbs. If plaque can get into your brain, it can also get into your finger joints.


            What’s more, flossing improves your mental and physical discipline, which I define as rigidly and regularly doing something that you don’t like to do. You have to be careful, though, because it’s sometimes a faint line between discipline and an annoying habit. Flossing requires discipline. Making my bed in the morning requires discipline. Shining my shoes requires discipline, and I do it every five years – although the fact that Kim has to remind me may disqualify my shoe-shining as my discipline. Doing this blog is a discipline – every Thursday for six years – though my enjoyment may disqualify it as a discipline. On the other hand, it’s not always easy to come up with a subject, as today’s entry illustrates. (If Jerry Seinfeld can do a show about nothing, I can do a blog about nothing.) If you become a more disciplined person, you will find more joy and meaning in your life. Right? No? Start with regular flossing, and evaluate your life’s joy and meaning.


            Anything else? Well, flossing is also said to be good for your teeth and gums.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

My American Lady

            I know, I know, I know. Some people just think it’s wrong. But I can assure you that we never meant for this to happen – at least, I never did.


            It started innocently enough, as these things often do. She touched my clothing, very gently. And the next thing I knew, she was touching the skin of my hand, and perhaps you could even say she was kissing me. After that, things became even more intense, face touching face, and then her long, sensitive tongue sampling the flavors she found there, kissing me (there is no other word for it) for minutes. It was enough to make me very uneasy, but I did not dare break the spell.


            “It didn’t mean anything,” I told Kim, knowing that this is not true. She was great about it all, and surprisingly understanding. She even took photographs, one included here, though she may use them against me at a later date.


            “It’s an American Lady,” she said. “All the American Ladies love David.”


            Yes, it was and is romantic. The conservative among you may object because we are just too different, and I know that our appearance, especially the size difference, can lead you to feel that way. But it’s a new world now. People can choose who they want to be with, and apparently, so can butterflies.


            What about our future? I admit that it’s a bit uncertain, especially given the lifespan of a butterfly. But I don’t care, and I suspect that my American Lady doesn’t care either. When she finally flew away, I felt a lightness in my heart. We will always have this special moment together.


Thursday, July 8, 2021

Love, Attention, and Butterflies

             Our friend, the poet and essayist Fleda Brown, writes about love in her latest blog posting (


Sunday I was reading Maria Popova’s Brain PickingsShe’s writing about how who and what we love reveals who we are. First, she defines love as the attention we give things, and being “in love” as enhanced, directed attention. Which may blind us to what actually is there, which she describes as broader and airier. When we’re “in love,” the world glows, but only a narrow band.


Fleda goes on to discuss the attention paid in poetry as an act of love, but . . ..


            Kim loves the world we live in – not all of it, of course, but much. And lately she’s been in love with butterflies, giving them "enhanced, directed attention" on almost a daily basis as we make time to go out and chase them with cameras. She, however, refuses to be blind to what actually is there, as she pours over her photos to see if that was a Great Spangled Fritillary or a Regal Fritillary, a European Skipper or a Least Skipper. You might think that such knowledge is unimportant, much the way my ability to recite the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English is unimportant. Perhaps so, but that’s saying that love is unimportant. Don’t we experience a lack of attention from our partner as a lack of love?


            My love of butterflies trails Kim’s a bit. She learns their names and gently quizzes me from time to time, quizzes I fail. I can be dazzled by the beauty of a Pink-bordered Sulphur without knowing its name. And yes, that probably means I love it less than Kim does, but the world still glows.

            Identifying butterflies is very difficult, often involving counting and locating spots, smudges, and subtle patches of color on the wings. In fact, we are sure that after sending out this post we will hear corrections from some of our readers. That's part of the fun!

Silver-bordered Fritillary

It is often helpful to study the dorsal (open) and ventral (closed) views.

Silver-bordered Fritillary

Atlantis Fritillary - Can you see the difference between it and the Silver-bordered Fritillary above?

Atlantis Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Now that you have mastered the Fritillaries, let's move on to the Sulphurs:

Cabbage White

Cabbage White (yes, white)

Clouded Sulphur

Pink-edged Sulphur. Can you see how it is different from the Clouded, above?

West Virginia White

Southern Dogface - Doesn't look like a dogface, you say?

Southern Dogface

Orange Sulphur - not at all like the Pink-edged Sulphur above. What's important is that they can tell the difference, so they mate with the right species.

Pale Orange Sulphur

You should know that we have mis-identified some of these butterflies on purpose, just to see if you are paying attention.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Sounds of Summer

·      gentle hush of waves on the beach

·      beep of refrigerator when the door is left open too long while I remember why I opened it

·      machines mowing and trimming our neighbor’s large lawn

·      roar of Coast Guard helicopter overhead

·      hummingbird hum near my ear when we are on the back porch

·      Kim’s humming her “doing chores” tune

·      our commercial-grade coffee pot groaning to keep water hot and at the ready

·      whirr-ding of microwave reheating coffee for late afternoon pick-up

·      beep of my car when I stray over white edging lines – too many, and the car suggests I rest

·      distinctive call of a faraway loon

·      rustle of squirrel’s feet running along our bark siding

·      loud drumming of pileated woodpecker on our siding

·      sharp hand-clapping I use to chase woodpeckers away

·      distant hand-clapping that our neighbor uses to call his dog

·      distant laughter carrying across the water from a boat

·      welcome patter of rain on the roof

·      chimes of doorbell ringing on my phone

·      Cookie Monster voice when Kim receives a text or phone call

·      distant beep as I use my car key to try to find my car in the parking lot

·      whining roar of jet-skis disturbing a peaceful afternoon

·      low rasp as Kim falls asleep watching television

·      two thumps as I dump my outdoor shoes in the metal tray and put on slippers

·      faint white noise in my ear when everything else is silent

·      grinding of Kitchen-Aid mixer, signaling that Kim is baking something for me

·      “thunk” from the computer when we ask it to do something it’s not inclined to do

·      faint groan when either one of us stands up or sits down

·      Kim’s laughter when she is on the phone, most likely with Beth, Sandy, or Heidi

·      the music of Mackinac Bridge, changing pitch every few seconds when we drive over the metal grades on our way to the UP.

·      the silence of an early morning fishing boat in the mist


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Communing with Nature

            Kim and I were out photographing butterflies. We’d stopped for coffee before arriving at the bog, and I had to pee, so I found a secluded spot and got started. I was about mid-way through when a dragonfly appeared, landed briefly on my penis, and quickly departed. 

            I zipped up and caught up with Kim, grateful that her camera was pointed elsewhere. I told her briefly what happened.


            “I think it was after the minerals,” she said, laughing. I recalled one of her girlfriends who used to pee onto a dirt road to attract butterflies.


            “No,” I theorized, “I think she wanted to mate with me.” Two competing theories.


            The next night I told my step-daughter, Genne’, what had happened. She sent me a text message: “Dragonflies represent good fortune, so I think you’re going to get laid tonight.”


            Just in case, I slept with the window open.

Thursday, June 17, 2021


            I like the word “veer.” It means, simply, to change the direction of movement, and the suggestion, to me, anyway, is that it happens without noticeable change in velocity. And it’s not a reversal of direction, like a bouncing ball, but rather a going off at an angle. Think of a car’s changing lanes on the expressway, or of a sailboat’s shift to adjust to the wind.

            But I’m not talking about physics.


            You can veer in the direction of your life – something I have not done often or easily, teaching English at the same high school for 32 years. I probably would have stayed in my first marriage had my wife not seen that it was time to end it. And I probably would not have thrown out my old blue jeans without Kim’s encouragement. I am reminded of something that my friend Mark said about attitudes toward change when I worked with him to implement some changes at Pfizer’s Ann Arbor facility: “I’m in favor of change, as long as I don’t have to do anything differently.” Amen.


            In fact, Kim is responsible for much of the veering in my life, mainly because her restless creativity has led us to move nine times since we’ve been married – unless I’m missing a move or two. The moves have been to different situations – house in the woods, apartment in the city, downtown in a small town, condo in an old mental institution, etc. – and each situation meant a veering into a new role. Now, in the woods we are enhancing on the shore of a lake, I have become yard-man, dealing with mulch and weeds, raking the beach, watering our new trees, bushes and flowers. I’m still far from a gardener – that change would require more than a simple veering – but I sense the difference. It’s like using new muscles, which I also am doing. Kim is also helping me veer into a world where I actually notice things outside my head. I, in turn, are helping her veer into a world where it is OK to fart.


            “Veering” usually connotes an element of risk, as in the familiar phrase, “veering off course.” This, of course, conveniently ignores the risk of staying on course, as with the Titanic or, perhaps, my first marriage. On the more mundane level, the risk is going stale. My solution is to marry Kim, who keeps me off-balance.


            In other words, when Kim says, “I have an idea,” I say, “I’d better sit down to hear it.”


            Veering can be deliberate, or not. People decide to quit a job, sell a business, end a marriage, smoke pot, go on a “health kick” through diet and exercise, marry a friend, take a class, or move to a place where you’ve always wanted to live. Your life veers off in a new direction. You have veered off course. I recall a student who was, with encouragement from his father, on course for law school. He veered off that course when he realized that he really wanted to be a writer, a career which has become a great success for him.


            Veering can also play a part in writing. When I was teaching, many of my students came to me having learned to write following the formula of “The Five-Paragraph Theme.” You know, introduction and conclusion with three paragraphs of development sandwiched in between. As my college English professor wrote on several of my efforts, “Ho-hum.” I tried to teach my students to veer, to include some surprises that somehow fit. Readers of this blog may notice that I practice this veering from time to time.


            But sometimes the veering is forced upon you, as with a diagnosis of cancer. A friend recently veered away from his planned retirement trip out west in a camper with his dog when he received the diagnosis. And as I write this, Kim and I are awaiting Friday’s appointment with the oncologist to discuss the results of last week’s CT scan, bone scan, and blood tests. More veering ahead?


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Longer Life?

    David Brooks recently wrote (June 3 NY Times) about the possibility that, if current research pans out, we will be able to live much longer lives. No, this is not about finding a cure for heart disease or a vaccination for cancer. Without going into the details Brooks summarizes, it’s about intervening to dramatically slow the aging process itself. He quotes a researcher who says, “. . . We are on the verge of a breakthrough.” We may soon be able to live longer, healthier lives – at least, if we live long enough for the research to be completed, approvals made, etc. It’s more likely that our kids and grandkids will be the beneficiaries.

    What interests me the most is not the research, but rather the question of whether this intervention is a good idea. Do we want it to happen? 

    The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course! Who would not want to live a longer, healthier life?” That question is rhetorical – or maybe not.


    Let’s begin by considering possible objections – a process called “critical thinking” that I learned about in college.

    We are clearly heading into a horror show, so let’s avoid what we can’t prevent. Climate change is causing damaging weather, disrupted farming resulting in food shortages and massive migration, rising sea levels, etc., etc. Wouldn’t it be easier to avoid all this – by dying? We do what we can on our way out the back door – recycle, eat less meat, drive an electric car (if we are still able to drive) – but mainly, wish the youngsters good luck, and leave as gracefully as possible. 

    At the same time, political acrimony is increasing, nationally and internationally. People are getting bombed or shot, and folks are predicting the end of American democracy. Fifteen percent of Americans think our government is controlled by Satanists who kidnap children and drink their blood. What will replace democracy? Do you really want to stick around and find out, even if you have the energy to go for a bike ride after dinner with a possible blood-drinker?

    Furthermore, dramatically longer lifespans most likely mean an increase in population, which would worsen global warming. And even if our birth rate is shrinking, our aging population would mean we are surrounded by old people. It will be like living in The Villages in Florida, but without enough young people to serve us in restaurants, fix our plumbing, or pay into our Social Security.

    And besides, being freed from normal aging does not mean we would be free from diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Few people want to extend life with dementia, in yourself or a loved one. Freeing oneself from diseases might mean giving up certain pleasures – think of smokers who know the risks, or people like me who enjoy our bourbon nightcap. Better, perhaps, to succumb?

    Kim describes the natural arc or curve of life, featuring the awkward teen years, screwing around (for many but not me), career and family building, menopause (male and female), career peak, kids gone, retirement, and death. The period between retirement and death usually means less sex – less screwing, perhaps, but more hugging and affectionate touching and whatever that may or may not lead to. 

    Finally, doesn’t the prospect of death sharpen our appreciation of life? Why delay that appreciation? Do you want to be that geezer sitting on the beach muttering, “Another goddamn sunrise!”?


    How do I answer these objections? After some serious thought, I applied critical thinking to my critical thinking, and I decided that I want the new treatment, and soon, please. We can use the extra time for more affectionate touching. And the life-affirming prospect of death will still be with us, and it would be best to be alive to enjoy it.


I can send you the Brooks piece, upon request.