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July, 2004: 4 8 13 20 26 28 31

7/4/04-Sun.-Still getting settled after recent travels and visiting up in the north country. In fact, I feel I still need to catch up too on a great deal of missed sleep from those few weeks. And I'm even now not yet completely unpacked. Some of my stuff from the trip is sitting around the master bedroom and bathroom waiting for me to finish sorting and stowing it.

Perfectionist that I am, I've given a number of other things priority in the last few days, and they are being slowly checked off my must do items, one at a time. Each day I feel I'm falling further behind. Everything seems to take longer than it ever did before, except sex of course. It seems to be both an age thing and that my capacities are a little reduced. At this rate, I won't be ready when they tell me it's my time to die. Death will just have to sit out there in the TRIAGE waiting room with all the other less than absolutely crucial priorities on my lists.

By the way, speaking of things taking a long time (besides my plumbing), I'm very pleased and impressed with the successful arrival, photography, and functioning, as it begins its Saturn planet and Titan moon missions, of the Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft. Fabulous images. Way to go, NASA!

As you may imagine from comments above, the past few days have been particularly busy ones here. This was especially so for our now 27-week-old pup, Puff. She had an appointment with a scalpel on Friday, July 2nd, and had her ovaries removed. The beast was quite groggy the evening before last and just wanted to sleep most of the time. She came through the traumatic time quite well, though, and, after about a day to recover much of her usual vim and vigor following anesthesia and surgery, is all but her normal uncontrollable self again, just not quite as athletic, for leaping about and doing cartwheels tends to pull on her stitches and cause her a little pain. We expect she'll be fully restored (except for the missing ovaries, at least) in just a few more days.

Frances was searching around the dog lineage web sites recently and discovered that Puff has a quite impressive pedigree on her mother's side. We had never wanted to breed her, but it's nice to know she comes from such good stock. Apparently a maternal grandfather of hers has won tons of awards at shows. Her heritage from her papa is not so good, but not terrible either. Evidently there are some champions in his line as well.

Besides jungle-like conditions in the yard on our return, with thick, high grass, millions of mosquitoes, vines and spider webs helter-skelter here and there, and so on, the recent inundations have brought out mold spores by the quadrillions, and all of them went right into my mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. I'm having the worst sinus flare-up, sore throat, and chest congestion in years. This morning I also have irrepressible sneezing plus laryngitis. Bother!

As a result, for the past couple nights I haven't been able to sleep much, and when I do the mucous flows down my windpipe, causing all kinds of havoc in the bronchial tubes and points south. Perhaps the less said of all this the better.

But I'm taking Contac for the sinus symptoms and drinking coffee (am all out of regular pulmonary medicine) for the asthma, reactive airway disease, or whatever. These plus the sleeplessness have me in a rather weird state. I'm high, but it's not all that pleasant. I'm staying most of the nocturnal periods on the sofa in the front room, to avoid constantly waking the others up with coughing, sneezing, snorting, blowing, and other obnoxious noises, while Frances and Puff have the master bedroom accommodations to themselves, just as it should be, according to our princess pup. All in all, I'm enjoying a bang-up 4th of July Weekend.

My brother, Allen, still a devotee of Lifestream Way, is in town, along with his wife, Nina, and daughter, Sharon, for a big Spirit Fest. He called yesterday to see if we might get together, and we're going out to eat after his group's festivities end about noon today.

Later. As it happens, while I'm not leaping back into the LW fold, I am lately inspired to significantly increase my meditation, seeking at least an existential journey of discovery and of confronting fundamental issues. The trip to IL and WI may have shaken something loose in this regard. Though they have to work too hard at it, Scott and Trudy seem to really have their act together. Yet theirs is definitely not my way. Fran is also content with how her life is going, now that our finances, at least for awhile, permit her to be retired from a career of music teaching.

I as yet have not found my "place." There is reason to believe that genuine meaning may yet lie through intense, deep meditation. Till now I have always stopped short of full commitment to a program of meditation that would be transformative. I've known this option was there and been putting it off, just as Carlos Castaneda delayed as long as possible the first serious steps toward becoming a sorcerer. I have no such romantic, dramatic, or idealistic notions currently for myself. I just know that a path with heart can enrich my life, and I feel it is at last time to really walk that path. I may not have much of existence left, but whether I do or not, this is now the best thing I know to do. Or maybe I'm merely spacey from too many mold spores and home remedies, too little oxygen to the brain, and too little sleep.

In any case, I'll begin with a series of daily mini-meditations, generally alternating sitting techniques with walking methods.

I commend to the reader an intriguing article on "Meditation," by Roger Walsh, in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Winter, 1983, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 18-50. If you are ever inclined to do meditation, or more meditation, or you're simply curious about the subject, this little gem of a work has much to offer. Walsh wrote a great introduction to the topic, complete with a bit of history, some philosophy, and plenty of anecdotes from personal experience.

Yesterday we went to Trudy's South for breakfast, and I had the leftovers for supper that evening: mixed fruit and soft whole wheat breakfast tacos (with potatoes and refried beans). Mmm, good!

But then today, Allen and his wife and daughter went with us to Golden Corral too, for a buffet lunch. Even though I tried to contain my normal gluttony on such occasions, I had more than would be most fitting for someone on a reducing diet. We'd intended going to another restaurant entirely, one where I could have ordered a healthy entree and then taken most of it home. As luck would have it, though, they were closed for Independence Day, even after I'd called yesterday to be sure they'd be open today! About that, all I can figure is that, with my nearly complete loss of voice, my speech cracking on just about every syllable, and his being Chinese, with English, at best, being his second language, the restaurant worker must not have understood my question and just answered what he'd thought I'd asked.

Around 3 PM, by coincidence, while Fran and I were still slumberous and trying to digest our large lunches, we got a surprise call from Matt. I'd sent him an e-mail suggesting we get together in the next few days to celebrate his upcoming 50th birthday with an "over the hill" dinner at a restaurant of his choice. We were hoping he, his wife, Glenda, and our mutual Baltic Buzzards friend, Sam, would all join us. Well, his call was to say today was the last day he could manage to do the 50th dinner and that the others could fit it in today too, so how about our getting together at 5:30 this evening, at Buffet Palace for an all-you-can-eat feast plus a nice house wine? He said he has to be out of town soon, and besides he needs to get his high cholesterol eating in right away, because tomorrow he goes for his annual physical and the doctor will tell him to cut way back on such foods. (Note there was no thought of actually keeping the cholesterol low all the time for good health!) Besides, he was about to have a neuroma removed from one foot, which might mean he'd have limited function in it for awhile, and he needed the fun of the outing tonight to help him deal with that.

So, after all that, we did not tell him, sorry, but we just had another buffet earlier today and, besides, you shouldn't be eating vast quantities yourself. Instead, we just said "Sure we'll be there. See you then!"

Now it's a few hours after the dinner party, which was fun. Fran and I had to laugh, though, at ourselves for our good, but today completely unrealized, intentions to eat less (especially so for me), and then winding up having two all-you-can-eat stuffing-it-in sessions within only about four hours! Needless to say, I'll be pacing myself at the trough for the next few days or weeks.

A lot of shearing went on around here today. I completed the mowing of our foot-deep carpet of lawn, and Frances gave Puff a good trim. The beast is quite cute, and a great deal cooler, with the fresh coiffure.

I found a turtle wandering in the road during one of the rainstorms the other day and brought it home. Fran took his picture, and we let him go in our big pond. He seemed quite at home there. He probably won't stick around, but for now he is doing much better than while exposed to traffic.

Tonight by tradition is a time when a huge amount of illegal fireworks will be going off in the neighborhood. After Puff's reaction several nights ago, at the farm in WI, we're on guard against a new panic attack and hope to keep her occupied enough with playing that she won't notice the outside bangs or screams of rockets and cherry bombs too much.

I spent nearly an hour this morning cleaning the infested tree of its blanket of scale insects, as far up its trunk as I can reach. But this only takes care of about half the affected area. We don't have a ladder high enough to get to the topmost contaminated branches and trunk portions. Not sure what else to do, but want to come up with some good solution and soon. Perhaps spraying poison into the upper part of the tree would be worthwhile. The problem warrants further thought and some research.

7/8/04-Thurs.-The mold allergy, asthma exacerbation, or whatever I'm experiencing is on the wane but as yet keeps me up part of the night with coughing and mild wheezing.

Fran and I got up close to 8 AM, but I'd also been awake for awhile around 6.

My better half this morning went over to visit, play practice duets, and have lunch with her friend, Sarah. She later commented they'd tried out a great Persian restaurant buffet, in NW Austin at Anderson and Mopac.

I took the dog for a walk before 9. Am now back up to the daily walking exercise distance (four miles) I'd been used to before reinjuring the left plantar tendon a couple months ago, but I'm cautiously taking those constitutionals more slowly, perhaps at around 2½ miles an hour instead of 3½. And I never do the entire total at one time, but manage it in two sessions a day.

About mid-morning I drove over to Chick-fil-A. The young folks there seem to be really into their religion and are all smiling, friendly, cooperative, and super-nice, not in a commercial way but just as if they (naively?) believe the light rock Christian songs that are constantly playing from the overhead speakers there.

I took them a coupon to get a free "New Chargrilled Club Sandwich" and asked if they have "senior coffee." Yes, I was told. It was free too! I could learn to live with this brand of Christianity.

My own spirituality, such as it is, is now expressed almost exclusively in generic meditation practice. I had several meditation periods yesterday. The most satisfactory of those lasted about half an hour and followed an afternoon nap. I had sat on a thick pillow with legs crossed, back erect, and eyes closed and merely repeated silently "just sitting," but noted and labeled the distractions that kept arising, as "feeling," "thinking," or "sensing." For this purpose, "thinking" covered a lot of ground and included every observed ordinary mentation not clearly an emotional response or a sensation.

I've continued with several more meditation sessions again today. As before, the best time was when sitting on the pillow with no back rest, using "just sitting" as a silent repetition, and noting/labeling distractions. I believe I can, from time to time, as when Fran is occasionally away, have my own private, intensive meditation workshop by doing a minimum of 25 minutes of such sitting, or sitting-plus-walking, meditation exercises per two hours, ten times daily, for a few days at a stretch. This would work out to at least four hours of meditation a day, not as Herculean a feat as at a Zazen workshop, but perhaps fairly realistic in view of certain age-related health difficulties.

7/13/04-Tues.-Over the past several days, I'd gotten myself rather exercised over the high mosquito population in our backyard, particularly as I needed to be helping get the dog to do her business out there every few hours, since she had not so far proven to be all that well housebroken on her own. Most every time I'd go out with her, I'd fall victim to a cloud of the insect vampires.

During one of my meditation sessions, as if a proverbial light had gone off in my head, I had a vivid image of mosquito larvae in the smaller of our ponds, which has gotten quite grown in over the last several months, giving plenty of swamp-like places for mosquitoes to safely develop undeterred by natural enemies. It should have been obvious right off the bat, of course. That I'd not thought of this before must just be an indication of how sick, sleep-deprived, and/or addled I've been of late.

So, that evening I went out with a flashlight and a jar and took a sample of the little pond's water. Sure enough, there, on the first scoop, were dozens of wriggling mosquito larvae. No wonder we were enduring a plague of the adults!

I explained to Frances (who tends not to take as seriously as I a variety of imaginary nuisances or real hazards) that we must not be cultivating the pests in this fashion but instead doing all we can to eradicate them.

This has been the worst disagreement about such things since she had been keeping stagnant water in big buckets on our back deck, to feed her fish with the larvae that then would accumulate. Fran takes quite lightly risks of mosquito-borne encephalitis, malaria, and so forth. For her, the glass seems to always be half-full and the odds of misfortune slight. Perhaps in this she is correct, but I prefer to neither tempt fate nor encourage it.

Not long ago, with concerns over West Nile Virus widely expressed, there was talk of making mosquito breeding ponds in peoples yards illegal. Don't know what came of that, but I'd prefer to be setting a good example, not just adding to the problem.

I told Fran if a natural way cannot be found to eliminate the mosquitoes from the small pond fairly soon, I'll need to put vegetable oil on its surface.

Fortunately, the big pond already is free of mosquitoes. But it has relatively larger spaces at the surface, so that dragonflies have a chance to drop their eggs in, during long "bombing runs." Their larvae gobble up mosquito larvae with great efficiency. Besides, in that pond there are a special kind of minnows, Gambusia, which are such ferocious mosquito eaters it is as if they were sharks fighting over tender seal flesh.

Fran took some of the Gambusia out of the bigger pond and put them in the little one. I think before the efforts are going to be successful, though, we'll need to clear out some of the vegetation that's clogging the smaller body of water and also put in a greater supply of the fish. The first Gambusia were transferred about three days ago, but many of the mosquito larvae remain.

So, once I return from a trip to Waco this coming weekend to see some relations, including three young folks who will be in a local production of "Bye, Bye Birdie," I'll be pushing for a reduction of more of the plants from the smaller pond and for a trip to a nearby river to acquire many more mosquito fish!

Meanwhile, our pooch is getting better than before about going when it seems the right time for her to do so, which is happily at last relieving us of so much burden, as we had before, in monitoring her all the time.

Got my June trip pictures back from developing today. Many turned out rather well. Good!

Another "revelation" from recent meditating was what to get Fran for our anniversary, as yet not celebrated since we'd been putting that off till after our trip, and then were rather busy (or sick) since.

At first Frances had thought she just wanted to forget about the occasion this year, in view of our being away on the big day. But she detected some dissatisfaction from me with such a casual attitude and so, instead, planned to get me a present, which turned out to be a quite nice one, a digital camera, though we have yet to settle on just the right type. (I've not had one before, but she's been enjoying hers for nearly a year now and, in fact, has already taken over 40,000 images with it!)

Learning of this surprising but neat intention, I began again to ponder a good gift for her as well, something besides the usual dinner out at a nice restaurant, good movie, and nice card combination she can usually count on from me.

Then I hit on it and, accordingly, Saturday drove her out to a nearby outlet for natural stone, where, from the many kinds, she picked out a pile of honeycomb limestone typical of this central Texas region, a full ton of which I had delivered today, for her to use as a border on the current project in progress, the latest of several island gardens that dot our 1/3 acre landscape. She seems well pleased with this unconventional present. We were both rather tired this evening after moving all those rocks, from where they were left in the front, to an appropriate location in our "back forty."

7/20/04-Tues.-In another meditation revelation, it dawned on me that if Fran and I were being intimate less often due to feeling under extra stress, we might try physically expressing affection more frequently, just to see where it would lead, and in the hope that the increased touching, and possibly also sex, could themselves reduce stress. (Duh!)

In any case, happily this approach seems to work out quite well for us, and we both agree with its advantages over simply waiting till all significant stress is removed (if ever!) from our lives.

Since the last entry, I've been reading The Essential T. E. Lawrence, which I find really interesting.

Am intrigued too about a title new to me, a work published last year, I understand, Our Final Century. The author, Martin Rees, a well reputed scientist of some note, suggests that by A.D. 2100 there's a 50/50 chance our species will have ceased to exist and points out a number of challenging means by which our demise may occur. I suspect his odds are somewhat off, and that we've a somewhat better chance of making it through the present century than that, but that there are, indeed, a number of possible catastrophes looming and many in which we ourselves might be directly implicated. (I hear that my USA fellow countrymen, perhaps having shorter attention spans, are more comfortable with an altered title for the same work: Our Final Hour.)

Over the long weekend of 7/16-7/18, I drove up to Waco for a visit with my mom and several other relatives, three of whom were in the children's theatre production of "Bye Bye, Birdie," an amusing musical. Those in the production did a really nice job.

Overall, I had a good time, though there were some concerns and bad moments, as when the Motel 6 desk clerk refused to provide the non-smoking room I had reserved, claiming they had only smoking rooms available.

Another surprise was that my car battery was completely dead when I tried to return to the motel from Mom's place late Friday evening. Both situations, however, were ultimately resolved without undo hardship.

Mom's place again also was quite warm, her air conditioner not being able to reduce the inside temperature below 82°(F). I'm not sure why she doesn't replace her AC system. It's hardly working at all, and, inefficient as it is, the compressor and fan must run almost constantly. Her electric bills are sky-high.

Mom has also already gotten off the wagon again and is drinking significant quantities of alcohol "to help sleep" each evening.

She is now thinking of canceling the Yellowstone trip, feeling she may not be up to it, and says she's been having a lot of pain in one of her feet, as well as in other lower extremity joints. She admits that part of the problem is that she's continued to do extra aerobics classes, even though she'd been saying for years that the added exertion aggravates her conditions. Hmm.

Fortunately, my own foot difficulty is better lately. I'm bothered by a toothache, though, and may require a new crown soon. (And so it goes.)

Fran made a trip to the San Marcos River with our dog while I was away and let Puff play in the water as she used a net to collect close to a hundred mosquito fish. She brought them back and put them in our main backyard water sources. Some mosquito larvae remain in the smaller pond, but the situation is definitely improved.

Sunday evening Fran was in an ensemble performing one of the free summer concerts at Symphony Square downtown. Folks seemed to appreciate the group's musical efforts.

Yesterday I gave Frances her long massage, and we watched the movie "About Schmidt" as background entertainment. I'd been under the impression this was a comedy, from what a brother of mine had said. It was instead a depressing and disturbing film in which the audience could probably not empathize much with any of the characters. I kept wanting Warren to break out of the mental and emotional hell in which he found himself, but he seemingly lacked the inner resources to manage it and so remained locked in lonely despair, aware of his state but ultimately unable to change it.

I hope my own situation could not reasonably be seen by others in the same light. However, the brother who'd told me of the movie said he thought the Jack Nicholson character was a lot like me in some ways. After seeing the film, though, I'm wondering if Ernie really just hardly knows me at all and simply sees his own projections when looking at my lifestyle. Hope I'm not missing something and in denial. It's true that I still haven't gotten my feet solidly on the ground again after my own retirement.

7/26/04-Mon.-Considering that I am still hoping in September to be going to Yellowstone Park, and that the room I have reserved for my time there is next to Lake Yellowstone, it is interesting to note in a recent "Smithsonian" magazine article, "Yellowstone Grumbles," that there's mounting pressure under that lake bed, such that scientists anticipate an eruption (and tsunami), perhaps the largest one in the area in about 3000 years, though nothing like the mammoth caldera explosion of 640,000 years ago, which left dust and ash over a huge swath of what is now the lower 48 USA states.

In the news lately, we hear that there are over two million U.S. citizens in prison, five times as many per population unit as is true in Europe. Yet the crime rate is lower in Europe. Hmm. It would seem our higher level of imprisonment is not effective in reducing criminal activity. In fact, perhaps our system is really leading to more, not less, serious infractions.

If one includes all in this country who are behind bars, on parole, or on probation, one in every thirty-two individuals in this country is currently on the receiving end of our criminal justice system's attentions.

The above stats do not even count those thousands of non-citizens officially or unofficially in detention by this country's forces or those of our satellite surrogates.

When one thinks of the many soldiers, veterans, border guards, politicians, parole officers and other related government bureaucrats, police, sheriffs, deputies, trustees, judges, juries, lawyers, legal aides, legal clerks, legal secretaries, corporations that manage our prisons, local government-run or state-run jails and prisons (with all their employees), managers and employees of so-called defense companies, and so forth, all involved in our wide-ranging judicial and military industrial complex industries, in addition to the large number of those who are presently caught up in, or in the past have been processed through, our legal system, it seems we have a huge security "Gulag."

Of course, our record is far better than that of certain developing countries, like an Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but, among modern nations, it makes one wonder if this is not what it really means to be a "police state." Certainly, such a vast set of industries, all to assure punishment and/or the threatened or actual use of martial power, implies a great inertial momentum in favor of our continuing on in just the way we are, an enormous vested interest in the sustenance of this ugly cancer on our democratic body.

But perhaps this is only fitting. We are, after all by common understanding the world's policeman, heading an arsenal of military might more powerful than that of the rest of the orb's nations combined. Given so much strength at our disposal, naturally we must practice at home before unleashing it. We don't want to release on the globe a Commander in Chief like George W. Bush, for instance, with no security experience. His National Guard duty hardly counts.

So, George W. did his internship as the Governor of TX. He cut his "security" teeth as the head man in the TX penal system, itself barely a few steps outside the Middle Ages. Several score people appealed for clemency from execution in TX while Bush was in our governor's mansion. He turned down every single one. Indeed, I think he holds the new record for the most people having been killed (by one of our states) during his watch.

It didn't much matter whether they'd been badly retarded, insane, had poor defense representation, had witnesses who could give them alibis not correctly considered by the jury, and so on. In TX, the votes are almost always a little more on the side of killing folks on death row, so that's the way George W. decided each last minute appeal.

Anyone aware of Bush's record in Texas would hardly have been surprised at his foreign policy or his desire (until it later became unpopular) after 9/11 to be regarded as a war president, even if it meant going it nearly alone and exaggerating the available intelligence information, to suit his prior intention to invade the apparently easiest target he could find, Iraq.

On another concern, I've learned of an interesting nonprofit web site, Foresight Institute, that presents and discusses issues pertinent to the new field of nanotechnology, by means of which scientists may efficiently remold vital parts of the world of the terribly small, one atom at a time. Research and advances here would seem to have tremendous potential for good, but errors in this realm may have far-reaching consequences too. To date, though, except perhaps in science fiction, few have even heard of the topic. In this century, for better or worse, we shall be learning much more of nanotechnology as, willy-nilly, it comes into prevalent utility.

Meanwhile, back in the ordinary day to day world in which Fran and I really live, the weather has recently been kind to us. We've continued to have adequate rain, and last night there was even a mild cool front blowing through. When I took the beast for an evening walk, the wind was blowing pleasantly, and our temperature was quite comfortable for a change. This morning's constitutional too felt more spring like than what one might expect for central TX in mid-summer.

Our precious Puff has now happily gone about a month without a urinary or fecal accident. We are not convinced she is really housebroken, for we still must monitor her to make sure she gets outside periodically. But this is certainly a big improvement!

We discovered today, however, that she has definitely not given up all her vulgar ways. This AM she found some fresh cat doo-doo in the backyard and proceeded to roll in it from head to tail. Yuck! Three washings with soap and water later, she remained stinky.

There is some good news re my weight reduction efforts. Over the past couple weeks, I've accomplished 1/3 of the loss intended. I need to drop another eight pounds by yearend.

7/28/04-Wed.-My meditation sessions lately have been relaxed and productive of significant memories and mild insights, even if nothing particularly remarkable.

A calico cat crossed my path on the way back to my car from the bank.

Fantasies during the morning walk of gardening again. I'd just passed a magnificent yard, about half the lot devoted to great clumps of attractive herbs and succulents, all appearing to be quite healthy. This had inspired me.

But a number of years ago the combination of my skin cancer (susceptibility to the sun's rays), our poor soil, the hot, humid central TX weather, and an accident, many gallons of liquid poison (treatment for termites in the house) having seeped out and contaminated the raised bed vegetable garden, discouraged me in this formerly satisfying hobby.

Then Frances, like a creature taking over the niche of a newly extinct species, acquired her own even greener thumb and transformed our landscape with an abundance of gardens strewn about our 1/3 acre lot. Typically with her hobbies, the results have been fantastic.

As was true of my earlier, mild interest in photography (twenty years ago), using at first just a simple, instamatic camera, a pastime not then shared with my spouse, each time Fran has taken up a fresh interest, it was with such notable success (whether photography, gardening/landscaping, music, drawing, computers, web design, and so forth) that my own relatively pedestrian efforts were put to shame. My later film camera work, for instance, has been at best tolerable compared with her film and then digital efforts.

So now, with respect to any ongoing interests in working with plants outdoors, I wait for our next property, perhaps following a major move to a new clime and our purchasing a significant associated acreage, before an anticipated new foray into my former dirty-hands occupations.

Recently I've been experimenting with Fran's digital camera, trying to take halfway decent pictures. This is not a rewarding venture! Indeed, after each episode, having taken several shots, I look at the results and am so frustrated and disappointed I feel badly afterward for hours.

Frances wonders why I don't have more enthusiasm for her offered gift of a digital camera. Well, I realize it would be nice to make the transition to digital, or at least to be versatile enough to use either film or digital, whichever is best at the moment, but the breaking-in phase for me with almost any new technology (or a new house, new car, etc.) is so traumatic that I become extremely sad, as now.

The situation is not improved by the knowledge that Frances, with the same piece of equipment, can take absolutely stunning photographs. I'll never be able to do anything like her images, and my attempts are a charade, a cruel mockery, next to just her everyday, ordinary pictures.

The fact is, if I didn't feel I ought to learn to use a good digital camera, I'd have nothing to do with them at all. Life's too short to make oneself this miserable over shortcomings.

I understand that an often overwhelming lack of self-confidence, as I'm feeling each day with this photographic toy, derives from the kind of childhood I had, when every little attempt at accomplishment was fraught with failure, not merely because new things are often tough for a kid but also because my dad would demand immediate perfection and impatiently make life hell whenever, inevitably, the results of initial efforts did not measure up to that standard. How could they!? Mom too tended to be but conditionally loving, ruled by her anxieties and transmitting them to her offspring.

But such realizations, about what went on over half a century ago, do not lessen the anguish I still experience from trying things anew now, a feeling that even today is reinforced by the seemingly "horrible" products of my latest learning experiences.

Perhaps such moods may spur me to further meditation efforts. Though the Buddhists are emphatic that existence is suffering, they find too that by means of their methods it can have an end short of suicide.

Those who follow an Insight Meditation approach also report being able to get beyond their inner demons' emotional storms and then into calmer, more pleasant seas.

Ironically, the initial stages of an intense meditation path often involve a lot of negativity, as what one has suppressed or repressed over a lifetime comes to the fore. In fact, this factor is probably one reason the difficulty with trying Fran's camera has been such a "downer," exaggerating a merely frustrating venture into one that seems almost like a life and death ordeal!

It is at this level that so many give up on meditating, for it throws up before us our worst fears and rages, not easy to confront! I must just persevere.

Meanwhile, though, it may be best if I do not get a digital camera at this time. I don't seem to have enough going for me mentally and emotionally right now to be able to deal with this new stressor with equanimity. And it really is not essential that I learn how to use a sophisticated new camera. Nor is it something that I wish for because of all the fun I'm likely to have with it, the sort of motivation that Frances had, in eager anticipation of getting hers.

Rather, the point-and-shoot camera I've used for more than fifteen years, and that still takes good pictures for me, is all I need. It is disappointing not to be nearly as skilled with starting new things as is my spouse. Yet that is the reality. And wisdom begins, at least, with facing and accepting the truth.

7/31/04-Sat.-The latest noted meditation insight seems almost trivial, but was worthwhile, solving a minor quandary. My brother, Ron, who lives here in Austin has often been fairly difficult to pin down for visits and get-togethers, clearly not having such socializing high on his agenda and, even after repeated overtures, tending to frequently ignore them or to only belatedly make arrangements and then ones mainly for his convenience.

He seldom if ever initiates these contacts. It is not as though there is any antipathy between us, just that he is wrapped up in his own life and cares little for associations with me, though he is warm and polite enough once meetings finally occur. For the sake of brotherly relations, as well as in the interest of more interaction with my nephews and nieces, his four kids, I've persisted over the years, however, in attempts to have us see each other from time to time.

But my last efforts in this direction have led to nothing since we were together in connection with my nephew, Joel's, graduation in May. Once again, I've repeatedly indicated a desire for us to get together, to no avail. The birthday of his oldest daughter, Esther, for instance, has come and gone with no invitation for me, such as I used to receive in the past (thus assuring at least every few months we'd all be in touch). Ron, who is 48 now, has a birthday anniversary coming up soon as well.

His schedule has become even more problematic. He left the U.S. Postal Service, where he'd been employed for nearly twenty years, having convinced himself (without evidence) that he could get disability if he just got a doctor to say his job had been too stressful. After trying with a variety of ailments and doctors, he finally got this "magic" documentation into his personnel file and then formally claimed he could no longer work (and so must be supported by the government the rest of his life).

At the time, about a year ago, he did not even know the terms of such disability rulings, in case the decision should be in his favor. He thereby gave up a job that had fairly regular hours and good pay, plus excellent medical benefits, on the mere chance, which turned out not to be correct, he could retire with pay and medical care solely based on a physician's statement and his own wish to do so.

The Post Office appears, instead, to have responded as I might have were I deciding the claim, in my prior capacity as a disability examiner, that he can at least do some work, but that, since he insists he is no longer competent to do the job for which he was hired, he'll just have to be let go.

His disability claim to the Postal Service having come to naught, his latest job has turned out to be one as a sales clerk for Sears, selling men's clothing. It is not full-time, he's not on commission, and there are no benefits, just an hourly wage for standing around and dealing with customers for the many hours each day he's there. He earns only about one-third what he was receiving before. He nonetheless says he likes it better than his Postal Service job, but he's now complaining that the long hours on his feet are aggravating his arthritis. So he has put in another claim, this time for disability based on the lower extremity joint malady. As he's not even a regular employee for Sears, I think it unlikely he'll do any better with this than he did with initial claims about his back, or with later allegations of mental incapacity.

Meanwhile, though, his late shift at Sears precludes even most of the merely occasional contacts we would occasionally have earlier. During a short meditation session it occurred to me - as usual not a profound light flashing in my brain - that I could just take him his card and gift and drop them off there at his Sears Men's Wear Department job site. Indeed, unless I get an invite otherwise, for which I'm not holding my breath, that's what I'll do.

Frances and I are once again exasperated with our pooch, and to a degree also with each other, over the state of Puff's training or lack thereof. Last night she peed in the house again, making no effort at all to let us know she needed to go out, just suddenly squatting down on the dining room carpet and taking a whiz. She also still has other irritating behavior problems, as mentioned here before.

Fran rather regularly is lenient toward her, though, alternately minimizing the problems and acting as though there is nothing we can do. When I try to have us follow consistent, strict procedures with Puff, Fran sometimes takes a different approach, letting her have the run of the house, for instance, while not assuring she gets out to do her business often enough.

Nor does Fran want us to go ahead with the obedience classes we'd talked about before, though Puff's now seven months old, and Fran, whose dog she officially is, had previously said we should put the classes off till the beast were six months old, because till then she would not be trainable. Hmm.

Somehow I doubt that my methods alone, without Frances' cooperation, will be very effective, just as they have not been so far. It seems something must change for the better soon, or I'll be wanting to insist on putting Puff up for adoption through the Wirehair Fox Terrier Rescue organization, hoping the beast can go to a good home where the owners are willing to pay more reasonable attention to her training needs.

Fran may not appreciate this, but the current situation is unacceptable. I cannot see that anything positive is being done about it. Things have already gone on this way for five months. I don't want us to wade through another five months before appropriate action is taken!

Later. By her choice, Fran has begun a fresh regimen for the dog's housebreaking training, one I think will be helpful. Meanwhile, I've begun looking for a convenient, not too expensive obedience class in which we can enroll the dog in the near future.

This morning, after my walk and while Frances was at a cactus and succulents open house, I enjoyed listening to the local radio program, "Film Score Focus," on KMFA. This week the emphasis was on the pioneering giant in film score composition, Jerry Goldsmith. He died about a week ago at age 75.

Today I also began a fresh viewing of and listen to the excellent documentary/film score (Richard Rodgers) classic, "Victory at Sea."

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