Monday, August 4, 2014

First Monday with Characters

Edited by Morris Dean

The Rogers, going with the odds
Sorry I left you believing Janie had Parkinson's Disease. We were told a couple of months ago by our neurologist in Costa Rica that she didn't have PD, and we wanted to wait until we saw our doctor in the States and she had an MRI before sharing that happy news.

    Our happy moment turned to fear when the MRI came back showing she had an aneurysm in her brain. It was measured at 4.7 but if you are like us – what the hell does that mean? Big bomb or small bomb, all we wanted to know was whether it was going to blow.
    On July 24 we went to the hospital for an angiogram. We got there at 5:30 a.m. and left at 5:30 p.m. Plus a storm knocked the power out the night before and we hadn't gotten any sleep. They put the dye in the blood vessel at about 8 a.m. and got a good look at the size and placement of the aneurysm. We were told it was small and in a protected area. The doctor gave it a 1% chance of bursting if we do nothing, and a 3% chance if she has an operation to repair it.

    They wanted her to take it easy for a couple days but said that by the time we were ready to leave for Costa Rica on the 29th she would be okay to travel. 
    We have decided to wait until next July and have another MRI and decide then if she should have the operation or not. She now has the 1% chance of the aneurysm bursting, but the chance of its bursting goes up 1% each year, so next July the chance will be at 2%. The July after that we break even. Sometimes in life all you can do is play the odds.
    Thank all of you for your prayers and good thoughts.
                        –Pura Vida from Ed & Janie
Ralph Earle, in free verse

Language lessons on Skype

We speak half an hour in her language and the other
half in mine. She spent twenty years
teaching Spanish in Berlin and now it’s
German in Madrid. She improves every other
phrase in my contentious Spanish while I feed
her the occasional pronunciation like “exiting”
or “beneficiary.” Her paper coffee cup
approaches the screen like a drunken satellite
in the breaking up and reassembling
bitstream. The electronic window
between my study and her living room accents
her short hair, black glasses, and habit
of pulling her earlobe, Isabella skyping
with Columbus as he claims for her a new world.
Jim Rix, having fun
...piloting my boat through a thunderstorm on Lake Tahoe.
[Click to enlarge]
James Knudsen, camera in hand
Back in June, I reported on my adventures with a new camera. Hummingbirds were what I was learning to capture in the viewfinder. I have continued to shoot photos of the little creatures.
    I remember learning about the physiology of these tiniest of birds. My zoology professor informed the class that just being a hummingbird is extremely difficult. Their tiny size makes for a surface-to-mass ratio that puts them on the ragged edge of viability for an endothermic vertebrate. That means that they're barely big enough to survive. Just sleeping is a major endeavor, requiring the birds to enter a hibernation-like torpor to conserve energy. At any time, a hummingbird is mere hours from starving to death.
    Given this life cycle, lived at the extremes, why would such a creature make life even more difficult? Well, they do. They're mean. They're incredibly territorial. I observe them chasing each other more than feeding. I don't get it. They're as bad as...humans. I mean seriously, there are three feeders!
    In other news, it's hotter than Hades here in the Central Valley and Californians may soon be forced to drink their own urine on account of the drought.
    Like I said in June, "...interesting summer."
Tom Lowe, focusing
Ah, the hazy, lazy days of Summer...Because my parents were educators, I still tend to organize my year as if it were on an academic calendar. Which means from late May ’til early September life is concerned with books and music, and a little creative effort. Last July, I was in the hospital after foot surgery, this July has been the final stages of recovery and cleaning up details so that I can focus on doing some photography, writing, and drawing.
James T. Carney, then and now
I have sent my article on Robert E. Lee’s “Great Silence” off to another Civil War Journal. I am still doing general reading on the Roman Republic and its fall in preparation for redoing my biography of Catiline. This is a greater effort than the article on Lee – which I did from scratch – because I have been reading about the Civil War over the years and have been making a number of annual Civil War trips with my US Steel group and have learned a lot from them. So it did not take a lot of background reading to do the Lee article. On the other hand, I have not really read anything about the Roman Republic since the 1960’s and have forgotten most of my Latin, so that is a much harder gig.
    I am heading up to the cabin in the Adirondacks the second week in August. I will see the classmate there who I learned at the reunion has a place just a few miles away. Then, on my return, I will head to Toronto, where I have to meet with a witness in one of my law cases, and I will get together with another Yale classmate.
Geoffrey Dean, in  tribute to KMF
During the month of July I was in residence at the Killington Music Festival, an intensive 5-week summer program in central Vermont. Making his debut as Artistic Director this year is Daniel Andai, an internationally known violin virtuoso who also serves as concertmaster of the Miami Symphony and the Verbier Chamber Orchestra. Dr. Andai assembled an all-star line-up of classical musicians, led by French piano legend Philippe Entremont and former Boston Symphony concertmaster Joseph Silverstein, and the Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra.
    The first week was devoted to an orchestral program led by de la Parra and featuring Andai and Silverstein as soloists. I had the pleasure of observing the rehearsal process and was awed by the conductor’s seemingly limitless energy as she worked measure by measure, isolating problem spots and demanding corresponding energy and commitment from the young string players.
    The following four weeks of the festival were devoted to the preparation and performance of chamber music masterpieces in venues both on and off Killington mountain. The festival faculty also performed chamber music, on the Saturday concert series at Ramshead [ski] lodge. Under Andai’s leadership, the energy level at these concerts surged upward, due in large measure the infectious enthusiasm that Andai brings to every note he plays.
    I enjoyed working with Andai and KMF Executive Director Maria Fish in shaping a rewarding, music-filled summer learning experience for the festival participants.
André Duvall, in rain
The month of July continued to bring the unusual weather patterns observed earlier this summer in Memphis: lots of torrential rainstorms and stretches of mild highs (low 80's).
    There have been numerous days in the expected 90's, but the mildness this time of year is unheard of. I've enjoyed seeing how much all of the yards in my neighborhood and behind have enjoyed the rains. I think the hot weather is finally settling in.
nbsp;   I don't have a ton to report in July. I've taken advantage of this month when I have less commitments on my time to make some great progress towards completing my dissertation. In that regard, I've stayed quite busy.
    I look forward to performances of Bach with a cellist this month, visits from two friends from Greensboro, and a three-day vacation with family to a destination not yet determined.
[Not Kyle's books]
Kyle Garza, at his books
Just recently finished teaching a remedial summer school session for the first time in my life. It was challenging to say the least. Making up curriculum that works for six 9th-12th graders at the same time is difficult to configure. Keeping track of missing work is also challenging (especially when there is so much of it). I recently spent about $200 on my books for next semester’s MA courses though—not bad for 23 books! I need to start reading them before the semester actually begins. I also start teaching in about two weeks too. I’m looking forward to seeing all my colleagues again and working full-time in the middle school!
[Not Chuck's painting]
Chuck Smythe, in the doldrums
God, am I having a slow summer. The most interesting event in the last week has been a paper in Science (mentioned in the NY Times) revealing that most people can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts. So great is the horror that many will give themselves electric shocks to escape the experience. The NYT writer suggests this is because solitary thoughts often turn to all the bad things happening in one’s life.
    Not me. I enjoy an hour or three of solitary thought most every day. Comments, please?
    The other excitement was a performance of Figaro. Want an amateur opera review?
Allen Crowder, in victory
    Allen won his third professional fight at Saturday night's Battle in the South, in Wilmington, North Carolina, against Arnold Cali Adams. It went the full three rounds for a decision. Allen is undefeated as a Mixed Martial Arts professional.
Allen (L), Arnold (R), and their mutual MMA friend in black T-shirt,
with his fashionable son in the foreground [photo before fight]
The Midyetts, through the desert
We have started to move again. But first, to the right's a pic I took on the way east three years ago, off the road of the Great Australian Bight – the 12 Apostles Cliffs. This is the area we left about ten days ago. From Strathalbyn, we made our way north to meet up with the highway (Hwy 1) that heads west and back to Western Australia, whence we tarried three years ago.
    We stayed one night at Kimba, a town of about 600 people, and on the only paved road going across to Western Australia from the eastern states. Kimba is considered to be the halfway point between the east coast and the west coast – the vertical middle of the country in the south. A good site to visit for more info: "Kimba – Nullarbor Travel Guide Australia – Nullarbor Net."

The afternoon we arrived in Kimba

The morning was kind of foggy - that was a surprise!
The caravan park at Kimba is part of a motel, cafe, and Shell service station complex – always called a "roadhouse" in Australia, a place to buy fuel, eat, and stay the night. Kimba's had a really good shower! (Sometimes the water pressure, or shower head, or both, suck.)
    I went fishing before we left the southern coast of Australia, at what was said to be a hot spot for Whiting. Delicious eating. This was my only catch!

I pitched the poor little guy back and bought some Whiting for dinner from the supermarket.
    I don't know if we'll be able to, but we kinda sorta would like to arrive back in Bunbury the same day of the month we left – Sept 7th. We have a trek of over 3,000 miles to cover. And almost 1,000 of it is the Nullarbor desert. Joy, joy.
    Not only are we looking forward to our return to Bunbury, but so also are the Bunbury Men of Song, with whom I sang before we left three years ago. I still have the jacket!

    We stocked up with water in Ceduna before we hit the main part of the desert. Generally, folks in Australia carry more water then they do gasoline in these areas.

    I took the photo to the right while driving and didn't get a straight, level horizon. Exciting, huh?
    Hwy 1 in the Nullarbor desert has the world's longest golf course, over 1,200 km (about 720 miles). One of the holes is at The Nullarbor Roadhouse, where we spent our first night in the desert. From "tee" to "green" is over 500 m (about 600 yards) There is a level spot to tee from and an artificial green to putt on. Everything in between is rough as guts and desert bush. Below is a pic of Shirley, who only putted the green for the hole and got it in one shot with a borrowed putter!
Read more? "Nullarbor Links – The World's Longest Golf Course."
    I wasn't looking forward to the 1,000+ miles of nothing and extremely high gasoline and other prices they charge at the roadhouses. There are no towns, only the roadhouses. We came across the Nullarbor three years ago, but we were so hyped up about being on the road then that I don't remember very much. Other than a whole lot of nothin'!
    There are no poles taking electricity out to the roadhouses. The all have diesel generators, big ones – usually three, I was told. Without power they cannot sell fuel at twice the price as anywhere else. That's probably the main thing. But remember, they have to provide power 24/7 for large cafes, a restaurant, a bar, a minimum of 20 motel rooms, and a caravan park.
    They have to service a generator every ten days, and so as not to disrupt power to guests, they switch to another during servicing. The third generator serves for backup. I wish I had gotten permission to take photos of these whopper-size generators. They were always a few hundred feet away from everything, in sheds, but you could still hear them a little.
    Several roos bounded away from the road on one day's drive – the most live ones we'd seen the whole trip. Lots of carcasses. Didn't see any wild camels, though. I forgot to mention there are camels out there too. My super manly body is covering up the word "Next" in the photo below:

It was cool and windy.
    We made it across the Nullarbor to the coast quicker than I expected, out of pure determination. We turned what I thought would take a week into only four nights in the desert. Proud of myself. Gotta admit though, I was pooped every day.
    It's great to see the sunset over the water again. For three years we've been watching the sun rise over it.
Susan C. Price, selling her art stuff at

Paul Clark, aka motomynd, at his Eclectic World shop

The Neumanns, on Pineapple Girl's blog

Siegfried, waiting patiently
    Siegfried is about a month past his final two "killer" injections for the live heartworms, and his blood will be tested in a couple of weeks to see whether the treatment seems to have worked. He has been such a good boy during all of this time of enforced quiet stillness. He certainly deserves for it to have worked.

Morris Dean, in denial
    The heart monitor I reported last time fell off near the end of the twelfth day of the two-week period I was scheduled to wear it. When I called the device's 800 number, I was told that I had worn it sufficiently long, so I should ship it and the log book back to them.
    A week or so later, my doctor's nursing assistant called to let me know that the monitor showed some instances of my heart's racing, so my doctor wanted me to stop drinking coffee. I of course said, "Uh, what? Did you say to stop drinking coffee...entirely?" She was gracious enough to giggle at the audaciousness of that suggestion, but, yes, she said, I should stop drinking coffee.
    "But, but...," I said, "I went to the gym while I was wearing that thing, and I worked hard in the yard quite a few mornings. Of course my heart was 'racing.' But the directions didn't say I was supposed to record things like that, unless the odd-beat thing occurred at the time."
    Anyway, we agreed that I would go to the gym and get a printout of all the days and times I was there and bring it with me when I see my doctor again in two and a half weeks. In the meantime, I'm still drinking coffee.
     ...And enjoying my wife's flowers, including this distinctive green Kniphofia:

Photo taken July 20

Copyright © 2014 by Morris Dean


  1. What curious, active, traveling, investigating, competing, abiding characters! When is Parkinson's Disease not? Do you Skype? Do you pilot boats in thunderstorms? Why do Australian "roadhouses" have THREE big diesel-powered electricity generators? How long does it take to kill heartworms anyway? That and much, much more....[THANK YOU, MY VERY DEAR CHARACTERS!]

  2. Nice photo, Jim Rix. Who took it? Selfie doesn't seem to have been a possibility under the circumstance of your battling the storm.

    1. Heather took the pic. We had crossed the lake from the south shore for brunch in Incline Village. Our return (22 miles) which takes the better part of a hour was met half way with thunder, lightening and rain. Forecast for the week is more daily thunder storms.

    2. Were you and/or Heather scared to be out there in that thunder and lightning? What real danger were you in? Has lightning been known to strike boaters on the lake? What was the funniest death-defying joke that either of you made during the event (if you remember)? And, finally, did Heather perhaps do a selfie of herself, since her hands were not otherwise occupied? I'd like to see it if she did – it might register the level of her fright.
          By the way, I could think of a lot more questions, if you and Heather would like to be interviewed for our "Ask Wednesday" column. Might be fun.

  3. Chuck, you asked for comments on being alone with one's thoughts, or on your enjoying "an hour or three of solitary thought most every day." First, a question: Are you referring to a solid hour or three in which you literally find an isolated spot to engage in that thought, or is the 1-3 hours the sum of many instances of solitary thought during a day? I know myself well enough to know that I couldn't do the former – except when a half-hour or an hour's solitary thought is more or less forced on me during the night in bed when I can't go back to sleep. At times, as I've reported on this blog, these episodes are anything but enjoyable – when "the black dog" visits. However, the black dog doesn't visit me during the day, when I'm generally cheerful. (It has been a few weeks, though, since the black dog has visited, and my sleepless times have been pretty pleasant.) I guess I'm a bit surprised if the Science article reported that many people have black-dog episodes during the day.
        Does thinking while writing qualify as "thinking" in the sense you're talking about it? I do a LOT of solitary thinking that way, if that's included. I also do quite a bit of "writing in my head" – i.e., not involving actual writing in the sense of writing it down, keyboarding it, or whatever. Is that thinking as you conceive it?
        In fact, I now realize, I need for you to tell me a bit about your daily solitary thinking...However, before you do it at length in a reply comment, if you discover that you have an essay about to happen, please save it for submission as a "Tuesday Voice" column. As managing editor of this enterprise, I have to have one eye open to taking care of shop. Thanks!

    1. The researchers in Science didn't speculate about why people found the experience so unpleasant. That was suggested by a NYT columnist, no evidence cited.
      The subjects weren't told what to think about. Sit alone in a quiet room for fifteen minutes, thinking about whatever you want. Eerie that this was seriously unpleasant.
      What I think about is another matter. Nothing constructive, usually. How much better would the budget look if I sold the damn house? What are the three most important new technologies in the last century? How many times have I packed into the Wind River Mountans? (Pause to remember some of the best moments). Can I remember the lyrics to "Uncle John's Band"? How many impeachable offenses has Ted Cruz committed? Occasionally I'll try to quiet the idle chatter and just watch, Zen style. As if I knew how. Anyway. I do this crap for half an hour at a time, several times a day, especially when insomniac at midnight.
      Your Black Dog is vivid. So much more evocative than "depression". I used to entertain long, bitter visits from the bitch, never imagining that I should or could do otherwise. Then a psychologist suggested I could just refuse the visits. It worked, mirabile dictu.

    2. I didn't actually answer all your questions. I didn't try to define "thinking" carefully - though the researchers did. Writing in your head? Certainly. Writing on the computer? Probably, though the mechanics of the writing process are a distraction. Playing music? Good question. To me, a total distraction from the rest of reality, probably doesn't count.

    3. THANK YOU, Chuck! I suspect that I, too, wouldn't enjoy sitting in a research room and being directed to think of something (even "anything I wanted") for any period of time. I'd say the experiment was extremely poorly designed.
          Was the psychologist's suggestion explained not just as refusing, but as actively substituting something of your own choosing into the space your thought was trying to occupy? I have found that just trying to push "the bitch" away without pulling something else into its place doesn't work (or doesn't work very well).
          Have you ever consciously chosen to think of something utterly depraved or immoral? Have you tried to imagine killing someone? I did the latter in the context of "If someone invaded my house intent to do you-don't-know-what-but-it-could-be-very,-very-bad, would I have the will to take any action necessary to overcome the person?"
          I guess "thinking"as in that last example is more like doing a "thought experiment" than simply "thinking." I mean, you can learn things about yourself.

    4. Chuck, I only just saw the second part of your reply. It occurred to me that much of writing-thinking is in response to email, so I guess, technically, that wouldn't qualify as "solitary thinking." Nor would thinking while reading a book – a certain kind of reading has been described as conversing with the author....
          But, then, maybe if we get really technical, then, insofar as thinking is often talking to yourself, such thinking as that isn't solitary either!
          I wonder whether Zen thinking is aimed at banishing even yourself from the you have no one to talk with?

    5. I suspect I'd better see if Science will let me link the paper here, so you needn't depend on my memory.
      Being a subject in such an experiment wouldn't bother me at all. I can just play Bach in my head far longer than that.
      I find that, with The Dog at my door, I can just choose to think about something else - or nothing in particular. I suspect that for many people, especially those with clinical depression, this wouldn't work. I was surprised it works for me.
      Sure I have depraved thoughts. I'm a dirty old man, for one thing. Also, one of The Dog's habitual games is to imagine how I might have handled "military discipline" if they'd tried to send me to 'Nam. My imaginings often include bloodshed.
      A lot of these things are exactly thought experiments.

      I think there may be an important difference between free-floating thoughts and engagement with a book, a composition, a musical score. The latter will focus my thoughts far from myself, while the former tend to be all about me, and about my memories and feelings - fertile ground for The Dog.

      As I understand it, Zen meditation involves just observing everything, including your thoughts, without engaging them. Just note them without comment. But "the Tao of which one can speak is not the Tao." So I probably understand wrong.

  4. Paul, is that elegant, Eastern-looking dagger (?) still for sale? I just borrowed the first photo on your Eclectic World site that I saw that appealed to me (and on which I could right-click quickly enough to "save as" before the next photo rolled in).
        Not that I want to make an offer. I'm just curious, for I imagine that there might be a fair amount of web work involved to keep the site up-to-date with stock.

  5. James, your information about hummingbirds was both extremely interesting and alarming! What a dear, perilous creature!
        I too have marveled at the territoriality of birds on my thistle feeder. Mockingbirds are particularly so, and we had to stop putting out food that they like so they'd quit driving the other birds away.
        We especially enjoy birds drinking or bathing in our various "bird baths." My heart is deeply moved by the sight (and by my projecting my consciousness into their nimbus and feeling their experience of life with them).

    1. Ah, the mockingbird. Summer, 1983, Naval Air Station Memphis. I'm walking along a sidewalk that angles away from the post exchange and towards the barracks. From the corner of my right eye I see something coming toward me from slightly above. I look to my left to see a mockingbird, nearly eye-level with me, that has just buzzed the top of my head from right to left, executed a climbing 180 degree turn and his now initiating a second pass, mouth agape, talons extended. Okay, that last part about the talons was hyperbolic. But, this thing was pissed. And to this day I have no idea why.

  6. Susan, my happening to choose quite an abstract piece of "art stuff" for your entry raises the question (in my mind, anyway) how many abstract items you sell versus more representational items? And that's affected, of course, by how many abstract items you have in stock compared to representational ones. Care to inform us? Thanks!

    1. i really dont sell anything :-) its all free. rare is the person who has wall space or wants to live with the more abstract can appeal for their color and balance or to what most folks like on a mug...its my drawing of my painting teacher's dog...who always lies on a mat in front of the nude model :-)

    2. Did you not intend (hope) to sell stuff originally, though? Assuming so, I am sorry that sales have not happened as hoped. That's a bummer for sure. Like blogging in the hope that you'll have readers....

  7. Morris - Why go to doctors if you are not prepared to take their advice? That's one reason I rarely go to see doctors.

    1. Jim, on the contrary, I am prepared to take my doctor's advice, and I will – if she sticks with it after we review the monitor's findings in relation to my physical activities during the time I was wearing it.
          I realize that some readers might not be able to read my character update in the humorous light in which I wrote it. <smile>

    2. I am relieved that you find humor in the medical care you are receiving. Keep us posted.

  8. Ed, great to hear Janie's problem is not Parkinson's and glad to hear the aneurysm poses minimal risk. On that topic in particular, and doctors' advice in general (Jim, Morris) some 22 years ago I was felled by an allergic reaction to an allergy medication that left me with brain damage that doctors said "would very likely" kill me if I over-stressed my system by returning to demanding workouts. While I never returned to mountain climbing or national-level mountain bike racing, since the diagnosis I have done more than one million pushups and run more than 30,000 miles: Hasn't killed me yet. So Morris, maybe just cut back a bit on the coffee? And add a shot of Scotch at night to assure peaceful sleep and thin the blood a bit?

  9. Like the doctor told us, there are thousands of people walking around with bubbles in their head and never know it. Some live a full life never knowing, others feel a sharp pain and it is over. With Janie we can keep an eye on it. Cut back on coffee---are you joking Moto(smile)

    1. Moto
      I agree with your advice to Morris. I’m curious did your recovery from brain “damage coincide” with your going vegan?
      Indeed good to hear that the aneurysm is of minimal risk. I’m also curious if by chance your doctor mentioned that aneurysms are in the category of inflammatory artery diseases which are caused by eating animal products and prevented and in many cases reversed by going to a high starch plant-based diet? If interested I will provide you with Internet links that support this fact.
      FYI – here’s what my guru says about Atrial Fibrillation.

    2. Moto & Jim, thank you for the encouraging example, comments, and information. I've now read Dr. McDougall's column on atrial fibrillation and am relieved to know that minimal or no treatment is often indicated, especially with a healthy diet - which in my case might no longer include coffee. It's too soon to tell, but after two days in a row of taking no coffee, I seem to be having fewer occurrences of the presumed fibrillation (which I guess is what the "racing" was).
          I feel better prepared now to engage in the upcoming consultation with my doctor (two weeks from today).

    3. Moto while you maybe right about one of the causes of the aneurysm I don't see how changing one's diet would reverse it. It is like a garden hose that has a weak spot in it, once a bubble forms, you must reinforce the spot, remove it, or reduce the pressure and I'm not sure you can reduce the pressure low enough to do any good. A no meat diet may reduce the blood pressure but it can't do away with the weak spot that was formed. However, a change of diet could stop it from getting any larger and therefor less likely to burst---which id a good thing.

      Hope everything is going well on the home front.

  10. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I'm not sure which), I rarely drink more than a single cup of coffee a day. In other words, "cutting back" for me would pretty much amount to stopping drinking any.
        But I've experienced a growing number of "heart racing" incidents over the past couple of weeks – just sitting around or doing nothing particularly active. So I'm beginning to wonder whether I need to follow my doctor's advice immediately.
        I didn't have any coffee this morning, and I didn't feel much of a loss. I don't seem to be especially addicted to coffee, so going off it doesn't pose much of a loss.
        The main challenge is getting the measures of coffee grounds and water right for an acceptable cup for my wife (continuing to use our French press). She didn't complain about her cup this morning, so I apparently already have it about right on the very first try!