4/3/02-Wed.-A puzzle I pose to myself: "What was my pre-singularity form?" I have no idea if this will prove fruitful long-term. However, for the present, this question is meaningful for me and helpful with my meditation efforts, a kind of koan. It follows from my musings earlier, that only that which is universal survives the annihilation of the body, that, though it would seem hardly likely, there may yet be some universal aspect of a being. If so, and if it is more than merely a ripple in the spaceless and timeless primordial "ether" or nothingness, it would perhaps be the same as that which Zen meditators seek to express in answer to a koan such as: "Show me your face before your parents conceived." This led me to consider if there might be any form in which we could be said to exist apart from our corporeal existences. But from this I "saw" that, for those of us who find it reasonable that everything follows from everything else in a sequence of deterministic cause and effect relationships down through the eons since a hypothetical big bang, it really was like asking what is our form before such a beginning of our universe, if any. From this, the question I ask above was obvious. Of course, on one level, the common sense, ordinary reality level of understanding things, it is a "stupid" question, one that makes no sense. How could there be anything at all before the cosmos, much less any pre-genesis existence of an evolved until finally barely conscious being of the 21st Century, in the time record of one of many million species, on a rather inconsequential planet of a mediocre sun, in a nondescript galaxy, among many billions of such, lost in the vastness of expanding time and space, in this one of perhaps innumerable universes? Nonetheless, there are answers to equally nonsensical puzzles in the Zazen tradition, among others. So, this is my focus for now.
Fran went in for an emergency appointment with a dentist yesterday, after part of a filling fell out of a molar, expecting to just have it replaced. Instead, the dentist found a new cavity, took it and the rest of the old filling out, put in a temporary filling, and said she must go to a specialist for a root canal and then come back for a crown, with a total cost, even with insurance, of nearly $1100. The procedure would take several weeks and extend past the time she'll have left on her trip up north to visit her sister and brother-in-law and their family.
She was rather upset about the whole thing. I agreed to do some calling around to help her better assess her options. Possibilities ranged from a low of about $750 if we switch to a different dentist on our insurance plan, who would see her once she's back and can do the root canal himself, to $1750 if she wants it taken care of right away, before her trip.
However, a couple of the dental offices said that if there were no infection before (and the dentist did not cause an infection of the tooth pulp with her probing yesterday), there may not actually be any need for a root canal, potentially saving time and about $700 (if a specialist were required). They recommended a second opinion.
It occurs to me that if the dentist were wrong about the need for the root canal, it was even possible a more skilled dentist could fix the tooth without it requiring a crown. In any case, a new dentist exam seems appropriate.
One of the dental staffs with whom I talked today also said the temporary filling should last at least a couple months so that, if Frances prefers, she can likely wait till she gets back to have the situation resolved one way or another.
I thought, because of needing to make those calls, today would be exasperating and perhaps largely a waste of time. As it has turned out, though, I may have saved us several hundred or even a thousand dollars plus prevented a lot of frustration for Fran. We'll see. But, for now, I've been satisfyingly productive, to an extent that I usually only feel after finding and buying a good investment.
This afternoon I went for videotapes rentals, a haircut, and a light, heart-healthy lunch, then, back home, did some meditation before Fran got back from her teaching. She has only about twenty-five on-the-job days left before time to celebrate her retirement.
4/5/02-Fri.-While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I have this week very much enjoyed the movie "A Family Thing," about a sixty year old "white red-neck" in Arkansas who learns shortly after the death of his "mother" that he really was the child of a black girl, who died giving him birth. He sets out to learn his true history, discovering his Chicago black family, and a broader identity, in the process.
As our country seeks to spread its influence worldwide, intending to remake the earth in its image, yet creating resistances and even ardent enemies along the way, the words of Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, who died one hundred years ago, may be worth considering, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
On Wednesday, I watched part of "Commanding Heights," a superb PBS documentary series on the most important political and particularly economic forces of our modern history and very recent past. I can heartily recommend these programs for those interested in some of the major underpinnings of our diverse, dynamic global village.
Today Terminex is scheduled to do a termite inspection of our place. In the last ten years we've had three infestations. We started with a conscientious local extermination company. However, they were bought out last year by the big name corporation. We can but hope the latter will do as good a job as the original folks did.
The Baltic Buzzards are rehearsing here once again this evening.
4/7/02-Sun.-Daylight Savings Time began early this morning. I regret losing the hour. But it will be good that our morning walks will be slightly cooler, the sun not yet up or not as high, as we head into the hot months.
The weather has been cool and then fairly balmy, but windy and wet, the last couple days. We got a good downpour this evening.
Fran and I were up till nearly three AM watching an interesting PBS "American Masters" special on Gene Kelly, one of Frances' favorite entertainers and, in her eyes, "a real hunk!"
I've been, in the last couple weeks, reluctantly heading up the coordination among her children and in-laws concerning what we'll do to honor my mom, who turns eighty this year.
Ours is often a rather dysfunctional extended family. Though we all want to do something nice for her, we often work at cross-purposes to one another, and are at least as competitive as cooperative. So, not surprisingly, it is an extremely frustrating business. I wish I could just celebrate the occasion between her, Frances, and me, and let the others do their own thing. But that would not be right. She should have a big gathering, surrounded by as many children, in-laws, and grandchildren as possible, and with participation by any of her many Waco friends who wish to attend as well.
The difficulty of the task is not lessened by the fact that we are a diverse and far-flung group of personalities, each with his or her own complicated life and busy schedule.
In trying to get some cohesion and consensus with this motley crew, I feel as out of place and incompetent as a vegetarian in a butcher shop. Yet the rest are not taking much initiative, though actual preparations for some kind of family reunion, combined with her celebration, needs to commence soon. It is time for me to back off a bit from my compulsion to assure everything is perfect. I need to try for doing less, not more, for awhile, till my involvement can be based on something other than feeling driven into it. Life is too short to take stuff so seriously!
4/12/02-Fri.-This is an historic day. On 4/12/61 the first shot of The U. S. Civil War was fired.
Since the last entry, my family has been amazingly helpful, with tons of positive e-mails and phone calls about our proposed celebration, later this year, of Mom's 80th birthday, resulting in my being able this weekend to sum up a collection of decisions we have made together and reservations that have already begun. For the first time, I am now enthused and sanguine about our ability to pull off this event in a way that is fun and low in stress for all concerned. Alright!
On Wednesday, my friends Sandy and Maria and I met for lunch, this time at a TexMex restaurant, and had another good visit. They suggest we get together again early next month.
Earlier that same day, I bit my gum and chipped one of my teeth badly. Then, that evening, while dumping a wheelbarrow, I strained my back, which has been acutely painful ever since. Oh well!
Fran has been sweet, giving me several great mini-massages of the sore areas, to aid my back situation. She is off an extra day or two a week now due to the mandated T.A.A.S. testing at the schools where she teaches, cutting down further the number of days of teaching she has before the end of her regular work career. (By the way, though she appreciates the days off, she and many other teachers think the required T.A.A.S. testing program is at the expense of good education, and, as a national policy, a big mistake.)
What with such distractions as nearly full-time spent on the efforts to coordinate and complete decisions for my mother's birthday, plus the back and dental concerns, both my meditation and exercise regimens have suffered. On average, only about 2/3 the requisite exercise and 1/3 the indicated meditation has been accomplished in the last few days. Hopefully, after this weekend, I'll be getting back to a more normal schedule.
Tomorrow, Frances and I are heading up to Woodway/Waco for an overnight stay with Mom.
The weather lately here has been gorgeous, with beautiful days and nights. Pepper, though, is a hairy mop that collects a matting of reproductive debris from our live oak trees, every time she goes outside. Groan!
4/15/02-Mon.-We had a good visit over the weekend in Woodway, Waco, Mother Neff State Park, and Crawford, TX.
My brother, Pete, was there, taking a break from his work projects to do five loads of laundry using Mom's machines, a habit that, at age forty, he's not given up since his youth. He half-joked about a call from his marital prospect number seventy-three. There is always something wrong with his women, so that, one after another, they do not measure up to the perfection he feels he must have (though, with herpes, middle-aged spread, neuroses, etc., it would seem he does not have it to offer either) before any relationship can for him become serious. Not realizing for awhile "the nature of his game," many females, however, have succumbed to his questionable attractions and attempted lasting involvements. Whether they are underage adolescents, like Molly, or mature ladies of some experience themselves, Pete is happy to delude them, so long as they are happy being deluded, then moves on, his quest never finished.
I was extremely tired throughout the last several days but, nonetheless, enjoyed our time away and, with Fran's help with the typing, last night completed a several page summary e-mail, for my siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, of the progress we've made and decisions we've taken for Mom's 80th birthday celebration.
My back is much less sore. Pepper and I went for a two-mile walk this morning while Fran was teaching. Then I did some work in the yard.
While we were exploring the Mother Neff park with Mom and Leila, as well as my niece, Virginia, and my nephews, Keith and Charley, I went in search of some bushes behind which to take a leak and, near a little waterfall, in an area of rich, natural compost, tall grasses, fallen, rotting branches, cacti, and wildflowers, at the base of a tree, and over about a ten square foot area, discovered a miniature "herd" of at least five or six armadillos, most just babies, only one-third the size of the adults of this species! They were snuffling and snorting about, at first completely unaware of my presence, contentedly burrowing their feet and snouts into the dark earth and roots, like so many tiny rhinos, and were extremely cute.
Virginia was having an early birthday party over at her grandparents', Kenneth and Rose's, and we'd been invited, sharing ice cream and cake with the youngsters during the cards and gifts openings, while Ken, in spite of his terminal cancer, was entertaining us with apocryphal stories, as about his World War II experiences in Alaska, when he was on one of the Aleutian Islands invaded by the Japanese, or his full-blooded Choctaw Indian mother, who spoke and sang Choctaw to him when he was little. Though Leila assures us none of his imaginative tales are true and that she's heard many conflicting variations of them over the years (once his mother had been Cherokee, another time Sioux), I can't help hoping that, if and when I know my end is imminent, I'll still retain as much grace and charm as he.
My mom had some interesting mishaps over the past couple days, backing into Pete's truck (damaging her van), cutting off and nearly hitting another vehicle after she'd gotten into the wrong lane at an intersection, and then, at the colorful Coffee Station cafe, in Crawford, TX, receiving the chicken and egg salad she'd ordered but which, unfortunately, was delivered by our waitperson with neither any chicken or egg. (The question of which came first is moot when neither arrive at all.) After more than half our dinner was finished without the waitress stopping by, we tracked her down and asked for the missing ingredients. She provided them but in some disarray. The egg, for instance, was still in its shell and half-frozen. Mom got so tickled she laughed until she'd peed in her pants.
The Coffee Station is like a shrine for the current First Family, who now have a big ranch just outside Crawford, with lots of photos and documents autographed by Laura and George W. There's an amazingly lifelike, cardboard replica of our president, next to the table where we were seated, standing there with his special grin and seeming to be overseeing the vintage brand of food they provide at this eatery. The entire rest of my extended family, certainly including Mom and Leila, are big Bush fans, as, indeed, apparently are about 80% of the rest of our nation since September 11th of last year.
4/17/02-Wed.-Have had one of those seemingly inevitable brouhahas that seem to occur with any dysfunctional extended family, and particularly so when money is involved.
After many years of difficulties at one time or another in dealings with my sister-in-law, Leila, I am not surprised by the latest flare-up. My own intense anger, however, demonstrates that I had not really gone into the situation without expectations.
Clearly, more meditation is called for! At the moment, though, when I try to meditate I simply dwell more on how mad I am!
Leila has a way of being unreliable and then, when called on it, of turning things around, as if the person questioning her has been an aggressor. Indeed, she seems to thrive on stirring up skirmishes among family members and is almost always seeing herself in one or another variation of top dog or underdog, the game never ended. Classic transactional analysis. My attempts to relate to her from an "adult" perspective are almost always eventually sabotaged by her intention to say and do things that push others' "not OK" buttons, resulting in their (my) wounded or defensive "not OK" response in reaction, etc.
The issue in this case was a misunderstanding over the uses of a deposit for which I reimbursed Leila, in connection with the celebration of my mom's birthday later this year. She was not completely upfront with me about their need for the deposit money, such that I had to pay them to get them to put the deposit down, even though the reservation of the facility was their idea and would be in their name. I also misinterpreted how long it would be tied up.
Then, when it became evident things were not quite as I'd believed, remembering incidents in the past when they have not completely leveled with me, seeking ways to use others' money for their own purposes, and putting their own family's money needs ahead of scrupulous honesty or of taking responsibility for financial obligations in business with relatives (for instance, not letting any of the rest of their partners know they were facing bankruptcy, a matter we could have worked around had we known, until our entire family partnership was caught up in their financial and legal proceedings, with much greater complication and likely money losses, from having to take an offer immediately, whereas we might have gotten a better price if we could have waited without being embroiled in their bankruptcy hassles), I indicated I thought the financial arrangements now should be strictly within the official budget for the birthday bash, rather than keeping the deposit business completely between she and me (which circumstance, I felt, encouraged her to continue to stretch the truth and manipulate things to suit her not always above-board interests, with possible delays, or worse, in my getting a full refund later).
In the process, though, I probably came across as rather suspicious, or at least less than completely "adult" and neutral. Thus I may have seemed "the critical parent" to her "not OK child."
She, in turn, has, naturally enough, reacted with the great huffiness of a wronged and therefore definitely "not OK child" to the implication that there could be any need whatever for greater oversight. Typically, she is involving others in her sense of being insulted and in what a mean, unreasonable person I am.
Meanwhile, I felt I had "only" been trying to get something done for the good of the group and to facilitate the event for Mom, a stereotypical "rescuer" position. Round and round it goes. Where it stops nobody knows.
Meanwhile, I'm still quite irate. Best to go do something for awhile, and to get over it! After all, life goes on. This really is a terribly tiny part of it. (And, in future, I'll still need to relate to Leila with something approaching "adult" interaction and politeness, however wary of such further negative entanglements with her I remain.)
4/19/02-Fri.-It's a little after 2 AM. Can't sleep. Gas on the tummy. Anger. High anxiety.
Also high humidity, so the bod will not cooperate in resting but keeps toss-turning as the temperature feels alternately too stuffy and too cool.
Ordinarily when up and feeling like this in the wee hours of morning I'd have some light snack and drink a low-cal. soda, to settle my stomach. But later this morning I have my general physical and new lab. testing, so am not to eat or drink anything but water.
Have seldom felt this badly since I retired. Upset over clashes with the likes of my sister-in-law, Leila, and her husband, my brother, Horace, who of course backs her up all the way.
Lately am also having angst over renewed creativity by the neighborhood landscape artists. This time the little shits have broken off most of our yucca plant stems, just before they would have dramatically blossomed. Gotta love it!
Meanwhile, the guts are in a turmoil as well over the doctor appointment itself, as this is when I finally expect to have the confrontation with him over the colonoscopy he has directed me to have, but which I have refused as unnecessary, with no symptoms, clinical signs, or family history to support the need for it at this stage in my life. I do agree, though, that a repeat of the sigmoidoscopy he ordered five years ago (at which time he'd said I'd need it again five years later) is probably in order.
All in all, feeling a bit miserable and not having a whole lot of fun tonight. Where now is the wit and humor on which I used to be able to rely in such emotional predicaments?
Later-I broke my fast about 10:40 AM, at Trudy's, after I finished with the general physical appointment and lab. Things went relatively well (except that the doctor was an hour late!).
Dr. Robert Berger, my primary care physician, agreed to giving me the referral I was seeking for prostate microwave treatment. He also referred me for a cardiac stress test, after hearing the news that my maternal aunts, Mildred and Sarah, had both had chest pains and heart procedures (open heart and/or stint surgeries). He also was not insistent I get a colonoscopy, merely trying to sell me on the idea, but said he could reluctantly accept it if I'd at least have a sigmoidoscopy.
He said there's a new colon diagnostic procedure that I might prefer and which we might consider later, a "virtual colonoscopy," that relies on modern x-ray technology and is not invasive, but might have to be followed with an invasive technique if there are suspicious findings with the virtual approach. The virtual option may also be more costly.
All things considered, since he is helpful with needed referrals and prescriptions, I suppose I'll stick with him, despite the perennial problem of his tardiness for appointments (though, of course, there's a terrific double standard; and the patient gets charged for lateness and then must usually also reschedule).
I think I'll wait awhile and then go with the colonoscopy if the lab. finds "occult blood" in stool samples and, otherwise, stick with the periodic sigmoidoscopy, at least through this and the next time. Starting in about another decade, I should probably have either the regular or virtual colonoscopy at regular intervals, since I understand that, by age seventy, there's a good chance one will have developed polyps, if not also colon cancer.
4/22/02-Mon.-We are catching up on rest, after an intense weekend of visiting with relatives here, completing and publishing our latest newsletter issue, giving/receiving a long massage for Fran, sharing some passionate intimacy, and so on.
I was encouraged to learn of the recent rally in support of "justice and liberty for all," as documented in the article "We Are All Palestinians Today." Though propaganda can be too easily slopped about by any group, I find much of merit in the ends of the rally's spokespersons. It is great to find that at least a few moderate and establishment folks seem to be joining such pursuits, that the simplistic, "cowboy" mentally, so prevalent in the Administration's responses to terrorism so far, is no longer as comprehensively accepted.
I was distressed to observe, however, that a number of leading Democrats have tried to even outdo George W. in public advocacy of Israeli military efforts (apparently right or wrong) in the current, one-sided conflict with Palestinians. To me this represents the worst kind of political corruption. I note that Jewish contributors have apparently given more to Democrats than Republicans. Coincidence then that Democrats are outspoken in Israel's behalf? I think not. It won't surprise me if both major parties fall over themselves in giving Israel significant additional financial and military aid. The Palestinian, Islamic, and Arab world sees the USA and Israel wedded at the hip (or at least the pocketbook) and may implement strategies, toward its own interests, that take this into account.
While neither side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict looks pure, it is hypocritical in the extreme to claim to be against terrorism while supporting what is (from its questionable origins on) arguably the leading terrorist nation in the Middle East, Israel. Lack of fair treatment of a people can come back to haunt one. We should not be surprised if the ultimate, unintended consequences of such dumbed-down politics are more equivalent to what happened (in the Indian wars) to Custer, in the far West, than to the success experienced (at the end of the Second World War) by MacArthur, in the far East.
How many more hundreds or thousands must die or be wounded, or how many other nations become involved in the fighting, before international organizations insist on both sides standing down and send in sufficient peacekeepers to enforce that approach?
Why did we support the peaceful resolution of apartheid in South Africa, yet reinforce apartheid tactics in Israel and the occupied territories?
Why did we finally insist, with U.N. forces, on rival cultures in former Yugoslavia interacting in peaceful ways, yet support one culture or race against the other in similar conflicts in the Middle East?
Some have suggested that the Palestinians should adopt non-violent ways of securing their goals. This implies that their enemies would be as sensitive to public opinion as were the British in India, rather than, for instance, the Nazis in Poland. I have no optimism about that region whatever. But if there is eventually to be a positive solution, it must come with international cooperation to assist the primary parties avoid further expressions of enmity.
Though I did not feel at all good about the outcome in our country's last presidential election, on this issue I am not a Democrat, but independent. Even if I absolutely do not applaud any violent means to ends, Palestinian or otherwise, with many others here and around the globe, I can say, "we are all Palestinians today."
Changing the subject, I heartily recommend a gem of a little movie, seen on video in the last couple days, "The Dish."
4/26/02-Fri.-It's National Arbor Day, one of my favorite occasions, as I value trees almost more than people. At the link site one can join the Arbor Day Foundation for $10 and get ten trees (otherwise free). Check it out. Not sure if these do alright in other countries or, indeed, if the shipping and handling is reasonable outside the U.S. But it might be worth looking into it. It's a neat site in any case. Fran and I own but one-third acre here but, between us and the squirrels, have planted at least a hundred fifty trees, totally transforming the setting.
More trees are definitely better than fewer. We had just three when we moved in, almost seventeen years ago. Most of the yard was baking hot much of the year. Our air conditioning bill was also higher. There were few other creatures or plants around either. Now, we have the occasional opossum, the rare porcupine, snakes every now and then, lots and lots of birds, several squirrels, an owl or two, toads, fish, many, many anole and gecko lizards, plus two ponds, abundant vegetation, and, at least ten months a year, something flowering almost all the time. As one of my nicer T-shirts says, "To be happy for a year, plant a garden; to be happy for a lifetime, plant a tree!"
Fran and I have had a tiring few days, but made it through another of the last few weeks of regular work for her. We're trying to figure out how we'll celebrate her retirement. She'll still be performing with the Austin Lyric Opera and occasionally subbing with one orchestra or another or playing with the Baltic Buzzards. By comparison, though, these activities are more like recreation.
Am concerned just how the finances will work out. We shall be on a tight budget for awhile, yet still need to keep our equity portfolio fairly well intact to assure its growth at least keeps up with inflation. Unexpected expenses keep coming up. I never anticipated just how precarious it would feel to be on a relatively fixed income, the retirement annuity modest and the stock market not really going anywhere for months or years at a time. Knowing intellectually how to handle this is different than the reality.
We had more excitement today than I could have wished, our computer system having been attacked by a worm virus. Fran was able to use HouseCall to solve the new problems in a couple hours once she'd gotten home. I had recorded the type infection and which files I'd had to delete. But before it came under control, the infection had apparently sent copies of itself out to several of our e-mail addressees. From the feedback we've gotten, most of them seem to have dealt with it alright or did not have their anti-virus barriers breached.
While I've been keeping up a good exercise regimen, with usually early morning walks plus yard work, the meditation has been suffering of late, varying from at times only about a half-hour to two hours a day.
A rather different, flawed, though bizarrely entertaining film I've seen on video in the past few days was "The Green Mile." Have read two reviews of it and must agree at least as much with the negative as the positive commentary. A few of the images are moving, some disturbing, still others simply trite. While not a well done movie or story, it has a few things going for it.
4/29/02-Mon.-The weekend did not progress too auspiciously, though there was opportunity for a modicum of exercise, some meditation, yard work, a great buffet lunch and even a romantic interlude. Pepper chased a rabbit, during one of our walks, and got a big thrill from this.
The main problems were renewed and successful virus attacks on our computer, plus primadonna reactions.
My sister-in-law, Mary, continues her exaggerated concern over privacy, insisting, though they are by far the most efficient method of communication, especially within a group of individuals, that we significantly limit information included in family e-mails (about my mom's 80th birthday celebration) lest someone might do something bad with such data. I think if she'd lived in the 19th Century, she would have thought the telephone too new and unsafe a technology, that the entire community was listening in on her calls, when in fact neither she nor any of us are that important. It seems there is at least one (neurotic?) person in our best of all possible dysfunctional families who will find something wrong with virtually anything Fran and I try to do toward making Mom's birthday event a pleasant reality.
While the scale is of course entirely different, I imagine I know a little bit how Eisenhower must have felt, trying to hold the likes of Churchill, Montgomery, and Patton together for a common purpose.
Meanwhile, by my count, so far in just the last four days, we've already had six successful viral attacks on our computer, one of which (before we had deleted e-mails from our address book) also spread itself to several others, though, fortunately, most of them apparently had good defenses.
I feel we ought to be among the most responsible e-mail neighbors, not the least, and should certainly have safeguards always in place that can deal effectively with most of the kinds of viral contagion which we are likely to have to confront.
Fran, though, is often content to go at a slower pace and to do sometimes only the minimum to prevent destruction to our files, while others' systems are considered their concern. Hmm.
Also, without the use of our address book, a significant portion of Outlook Express function is lost, so that e-mail communications have become far more complicated and cumbersome, particularly when several addressees, and the contents of their messages, are involved.
Nonetheless, if between our two approaches, we can evolve a comprehensive strategy that is successful, convenient, safe, and free, well and good!
Later - Fran is home from work (having but seven days left in her private teaching career) and brings good news. Her colleagues told her they receive and check their e-mails first at a remote location, such as Yahoo! or Juno, and only download desired e-mails to a personal computer, once they've been previewed (and deleted if appropriate), to assure they do not contain viruses or unwanted junk.
We should be able to do the same thing using the AT&T site. Great!
Still Later - As it turned out, we cannot preview e-mails at the AT&T site and receive them at Outlook Express without the extra step of forwarding them from AT&T to our Outlook Express address. However, this seems a small price to pay for protection against the significant virus menace.