Reflections on Books

I haven’t written a post about a 2021 Reading Challenge or a non-Challenge yet this year. The reason is that I haven’t been reading much this year. I have yet to finish ten books and it is already May. This doesn’t bode well. It isn’t that I don’t want to read, it is just because I can’t seem to focus my attention, there are too many distractions. I have actually been worrying about this. And then this morning I saw this cartoon on Instagram.

I follow Harry Bliss on Instagram because his sense of humor matches mine. I forwarded the cartoon to a few people whom I knew would appreciate it. My friend, Anju, sent a response asking me which twenty-five I would choose. That’s a tough question. How could anyone limit themselves that way? I suppose it is an exercise in focusing your mind and deciding on what is truly important.

Of course, my first thought was to list the books I had already decided to read, or finish reading this year. But if I could only choose twenty-five, would those be on my list? I might keep Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, William Styron’s My Generation: Collected Nonfiction, and perhaps Lawrence Durrell’s Clea because I want to complete rereading his Alexandrian quartet. That would leave only twenty-two books to read. Should I fill those slots with feel good fiction, some of the “Great Books,” political polemics, or spiritual writings? It is a quandary.

I’ll tell you right now that I shan’t be reading anything spiritual if it has been written by any of today’s mega-church pastor’s or television preachers. They seem so shallow to me. And, I doubt if they have anything new to say.

The chances are that I wouldn’t add any graphic novels to my list even if I like reading them. There are too many longer forms that I would hate to miss out on. I have a copy of John Updike’s first three Rabbit Angstrom novels collected in one volume; would that count as one book or three? If I reread that book I would feel compelled to read the fourth novel. I have to think about that.

I’m going to put together a list of 25 books to read before I die, but since I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, I’ll go ahead and read other things as well. After all, I have a bookcase full of books that I plan to read. Some of the books I mentioned might end up on my list of twenty-five.

I only know for sure one book that will be on my list of twenty-five, so here goes: 1. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I shall post more titles in the future as I add them to my list.

Do you have a list of books that you feel you should read before you die? If so, I would love to see it. You might give me ideas for my list. Send me comment, or if you’re shy, send me an email. I can be reached at houseman@comcast.net.

Thanks for reading. Please stay safe.

Disturbing Dream

On the road to the B&B

I took this picture two months ago as we were driving to a B&B. Our friends, Mary and George, treated us to a long weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversaries. We both were married in the same year, a few months apart. This is the second time we have had a joint celebration. It was a fun time.

***

Last night, or rather this morning, I had a dream that bothered me. In the dream I am back in the army, stationed somewhere in Europe (Germany?). I am part of a squad that is working in a bullpen in an office building. We are working with computers, doing something that is secret. I don’t know the rest of my squad very well, but we get along.

One day a new commanding officer comes in to address us. He tells us that our operation is going to be moved to a new location back in the U.S. We have two weeks to pack up all of our paper printouts, files, equipment, and personal belongings for the move. So, we start the process of packing everything.

First, we start dismantling the computer equipment and peripherals. A crew from somewhere else comes in to pack up the hardware and prepare it for shipping. We start packing up all of the accumulated printouts, manuals, and other paperwork that the army accumulates. All of this is packed in banker boxes and sealed.

Meanwhile, we are told that we have to move out of our barracks. We each have one cardboard box in which to pack our clothes and personal effects. We will move into our near empty bullpen where we will be issued a blanket and will sleep on the floor among all of the boxes that are awaiting shipment. A few of us build a cubicle of boxes in which we sleep.

One day, when everything had been packed, we are marched out into the countryside where we are put to work clearing brush from drainage ditches. When we returned to our office at the end of the day, we showered and went to sleep on the floor immediately.

My sleep was restless. I thought that I heard people moving around, stepping over us, and things being moved, but I was too tired to fully wake up.

When I woke up the next morning all of the boxes and all of the people with whom I worked were gone. My box of clothes and belongings were gone; even my blanket was gone. I was just there in my skivvies. I left the empty bullpen area and went down a hall that had offices on each side. One door was open, so I looked in. There was a middle-aged woman in there, so I asked her where everything and everybody had gone. She appeared to only partially understand what I was saying and waved vaguely towards outside and said, “Gone.”

That’s when I woke up. Usually, after a dream that I remember, I reflect upon it and laugh. After all, those dreams are almost always absurd. But this time it was different. This morning I woke up feeling alone, abandoned, and sad.

Cindy, of course, is elated that I had feelings and was able to express them. She has always asked me what I felt, not what I thought. That’s her training as a counselor. But I quickly got past the feelings and started analyzing the dream. 

For once I wasn’t befuddled by the dream. I am sure that is a metaphor for what is going on in the world, especially here in the U.S.A. The pandemic is forcing us to interact with, at best, small groups of people. We may not know them well because most of our interaction is through electronic methods. If we are actually with them, we are wearing masks. We may soon have a new leader who will give us new directions. What we do is simplistic in that we don’t do our tasks as we normally would, and we do fewer things, e.g. eat, sleep, perform tasks in limited ways. And some sad times we look around and the people we are in contact with get sick, are kept from us by quarantine, or die. Alone, abandoned, and sad.

Other things are going on as well. Race relations are getting worse; political campaigns are becoming more divisive; and relationships among countries are strained. You can probably come up with your own similarities, but it is my dream…and I wanted to share it.

Stay safe.

2020 Reading non-challenge, update #1

Reading Challenge Books 11 through 25

I planned on publishing this post almost a month ago, but things came up, I procrastinated, and frankly I forgot about it for days on end. But today I promised myself that I would publish this before I went on to do anything else.

You are probably asking yourself why I didn’t just whip this out. It is only a list of books read in the time of Covid. No big deal. And yet…and yet many things in life seem like a bigger a deal than they used to. For example: lately when I read somebody’s blog post and they are talking about their life, I find that I want to comment. I want to say to them this will eventually pass. Politically more so than pandemically (which may actually be a word), I hope. I find that I care about some people whom I only know through their writing. In most cases I defeat the desire to comment and offer my excellent, though unwanted and usually ignored, advice.

I suppose it boils down to me feeling more emotions and caring than is normal for me. What does that have to do with my reading non-challenge? Nothing yet, but maybe I’ll come up with something with the next update.

Stay safe!

 

What is happening?

I try, and for the most part succeed, in writing things here that will not upset the casual reader. I had a topic picked out to write about that would offend nobody. But I can’t post it now. There are elephants in the room, in this country, that needs to be addressed.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Here in Indiana the governor has decided that things are improving, so he is allowing businesses to open up slowly. This is despite the fact that cases and deaths continue to increase. I admit that I have taken advantage of some of the loosening. Cindy and I went to a partially reopened restaurant on our wedding anniversary, and I shopped in a partially reopened bookstore. I don’t believe I did anything to spread the virus, but I suppose time will tell. Other parts of the country that are reopening quicker are experiencing increased cases and deaths. It feels like we are sacrificing lives for the sake of commerce. I’m waiting to hear an explanation of the economic benefits derived from unneeded deaths. I am sure it will be a fascinating discussion.

But that is not the only terrible thing that is happening in this country. On May 25th, George Floyd, a man of color, was cruelly murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He was aided and abetted by three other police officers. As of this writing, only one of these men has been arrested, though all four have been fired. I am sure you have seen the pictures, if not the video, of Mr. Floyd lying handcuffed on the ground, on his stomach, as the police officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck until minutes after Mr. Floyd stopped breathing. 

In the aftermath of the killing, there have been demonstrations, peaceful and otherwise. The demonstrations have taken place not only in Minneapolis, but all over the country and all over the world. Mr. Floyd is the symbol for the unrest, but, of course, his was only the most recent death. People are also remembering the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and so many others. To many others.

Prejudice, racism, and bigotry are all present around the world, including the U.S.A. We just seem to be more in denial and more tolerant of it. Witness our President and the party he leads. If you are like me, you know many people who believe they are not prejudiced, racist, or bigoted. And yet their actions and their words belie their protestations. 

I have been surprised at some of the people I know who are arguing that we never hear about black people killing white people. Really? Do you never watch or read the news? I have heard it argued that police kill more white people than black people. That is true, by a few hundred. But what they don’t follow up with is that white people outnumber blacks by around 6 to 1. So per capita, black are killed at a much greater rate than whites. Are white police representational of the entire country, or are they, as a group, more prejudiced, racist, and bigoted? I don’t know. I am just an observer.

Finally I am more worried now for our country than since Richard Nixon was our President. Donald Trump has all of Nixon’s faults along with his own failings. At least Nixon was intelligent, could speak in complete sentences, and had the decency to resign when he was caught out. I fear where we are as a country, and where we are headed.

Maybe I will return to bland posts after this.

This is why I haven’t been writing…I think.

Birds on a wire

I took this picture from our car window (Cindy was driving). And when I saw the birds I immediately thought of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On The Wire. Yes, I know there is more than one bird up there, but I thought of the song rather than Hitchcock’s bloody film.

***

If you have been reading this blog with any regularity, you know that I haven’t posted anything truly original in long time, which makes it difficult to read with regularity. But if you had read it in the past you probably noticed that I have attempted to keep my posts somewhat lighthearted. Sometimes I fail, and that bothers me.

It is difficult for me to find the humor in events around me when there is so little humor or good cheer in current events. Yes, the late night comics can me me smile, but the underlying events are too somber. I can’t sustain an upbeat mood. When I’m not upbeat I cannot write worth damn.

I have at least half a dozen posts that I’ve started but haven’t been able to finish. I started one of them two years ago and haven’t been able to frame it properly. I know that I’ve scrapped it and restarted it at least four times. Others I’ve started, gotten about half way through, but have been unable to finish. 

Today or tomorrow the U.S. House of Representatives will be voting on articles of impeachment for President Trump. No matter how you feel about his possible impeachment, it is not a day to be happy. I find that this is just one drop in an overflowing bucket of sadness. School shootings have become common; environmental change proceeds with little or nothing being done to halt the damage; hate crimes are on the rise; and these are just a few of the problems we are facing. 

These topics make me angry. So until I can find a way to address these issues with balance, I won’t be writing much. Oh, I’ll occasionally post about non-controversial things like my reading non-challenge, or N-N-1 (anybody want to volunteer to host it?), but nothing heavy. I just can’t do it.

And that’s the reason I haven’t been writing, and I shan’t be writing much in the foreseeable future.

Little bits and pieces

Macey & Della

I took this picture at my granddaughter Maely’s baseball game Friday. My older granddaughter, Macey, found it hard to be as somber as her mother and grandmother because she was holding the adorable Della.

***

A few days ago I tore one of my thumbnails to the quick. Yes I know, “Boohoo, Boohoo.” After staunching the meager blood flow, I put a band-aid (copyright erosion?) on my thumb to protect it. Due to diabetes I have lost some sensitivity in my fingertips. With this problem and the band-aid, it took me more than double the normal amount of time to button my shirt yesterday. I believe my thumb has been protected enough. The band-aid is coming off soon, because eventually I’ll be getting dressed for another baseball game.

***

Our President’s talk about his beautiful wall at his political rallies, reminds me of Gallagher’s sales pitch for the Sledge-O-Matic. I do miss our dear President’s tag line that Mexico will pay for the wall. What happened? Unlike Gallagher’s show, the crowd doesn’t need to bring plastic sheets for protection. You may have to look that up on YouTube if you are under a certain age.

***

For those of you on WordPress, you know that you can compose either in the classic format or in block format. I prefer the classic format. I was surprised to see that the spell and grammar check function had disappeared from my tools. Has anyone else experienced that as well? I want it back.

***

I was looking through my list of notes for possible blog posts before starting this draft. One of my notes reads “Eyes as big as half dollars.” I wish I could remember what I was planning to write because, because it sounds like it would have been fun.

Mornings & other things

April 2017

I took this picture a couple of years ago. I believe that I took it one day while I was out driving north of Lafayette. But since my memory isn’t what it used to be, it might have been south of Lafayette.

***

I’ve mentioned a number of times before how I abandoned Facebook a long time ago. I got tired of the endless political debates, and the thinly veiled bigotry that was appearing for my “reading pleasure” by people who should know better, and whom I thought I knew. It got to be too much. In the past six or seven months I’ve started to feel the same way about Twitter. The Tweets have become too mean-spirited on both sides of stories. I haven’t given up on Twitter entirely, but I only check in on it once or twice a week at most. I feel like there should be more happiness in the world. I noticed how much this disheartening aspect of modern life was getting to me this morning when I realized how much I was yearning for a road trip to get away from the daily negativity. Vacation can’t come soon enough this year.

Speaking of this morning, I woke up this morning with a wisp of the dream I had evidently been having. It was a bit of a song titled My Toodleoops and I. Toodleoops seemed to be a nickname for a non-existent former girlfriend. Though, upon reflection, perhaps it was Toodle Loops, a fictional brand of boxed cereal. I’ll never know because I can’t remember anything about the dream.

And while I’m writing about waking up in the morning, what is normally your first thought upon awakening? My first thought is almost always the question “What time is it?” The second thing is usually the question “Do I need to put my pants on before I go downstairs to start the coffee.” The answer to that one depends on whether or not we have house guests. Two days ago, however, my day started in my mind with Linda Ronstadt singing I Can’t Let Go. Catchy but distracting.

That morning start was not nearly as strange as one I experienced two and a half weeks ago when I woke up thinking about the opening of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another …” and I wondered what might have I been dreaming. But before I could truly form that thought, I started remembering the novel A Hall of Mirrors which was the basis of the movie W.U.S.A. which starred Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. I must have had one heck of a dream!

Early morning thoughts. Wow.

What I learned

Boxcar #2

Here is another photo of a tagged boxcar.

***

One of my prescribed medications was recalled a few weeks ago. I called my doctor’s office when I got a notification from the pharmacy I use. The call I made to the doctor seemed to come as a surprise to those medical folks. They decided to research the situation and called me back a couple of days later. My prescription was changed to a different med. Today I had to go in for blood work to see how the new med was affecting me.

I learned that I should never go to the lab on a Monday. The waiting area was packed. So I checked in and then settled into a seat and waited my turn. I looked around the room and saw the normal things, such as most of the people staring at their smart phones as they played games or checked their Facebook or their Twitter feed. There were a few people who were actually talking on their phones loud enough so that the rest of us could hear their end of the (boring) conversation. As always I marveled at the number of people who go out in public dressed in a manner that seems to shout “bad judgement.” And I also once more understood why they say obesity is an epidemic here in the U.S. Judgmental you say? Yes, I agree that I am. I also agree that I am one of the obese.

I sat there for a long time. One of the Phlebotomists seemed to be having problems with the volume of people who were waiting. At one point she came to the door and called “Mary.” Two women stood up and the Phlebotomist asked the nearer what her name was. The woman said “Mary B_____.” “You’re the one I want,” said the Phlebotomist and escorted her into the inner sanctum.

Mary B_____ was drained of her blood and left. The Phlebotomist called and dealt with Fred and John. She then called Mary and the other lady went in for her blood to be drawn. The Phlebotomist came out and called “Michelle” and once again two women stood up. She asked the nearer of the two what her name was and was told “Michelle J_____.” The Phlebotomist turned to the other woman and asked what her name was. “Michelle F_____,” she was told. The Phlebotomist looked at her and said “I’ve called your name twice in the past twenty minutes. I’ll take this lady and then come back for you.”

Let me interject and say that I don’t believe she was telling the truth. I had been setting there for half an hour at that point and had never heard the name Michelle called.

Having disposed of the two Michelles, the Phlebotomist came again to the door and called, “Mary B_____.” Remember Mary B_____? She had come and gone a while back. But when the name was called a young man who appeared to be in his 20’s stood up and strode to the Phlebotomist. She said to him, “You’re Mary B_____?” He admitted that he wasn’t Mary B_____, but he thought that since no Mary had approached her, he might be able to take her place. “No” was her response. I wondered if Mary B_____’s blood was going to be tested for the right things.

Three or four people later a different Phlebotomist came to the door and called my name. Luckily I was the only Norman in the waiting area. I was in, had my blood drawn, and was out of there in under 5 minutes. On second thought perhaps I’ll continue going to the lab on Mondays just for the show.

Estate Sale

Wall Art #16

I don’t know how long this mural has been on this wall. I noticed it for the first time a few weeks back when Cindy and I were driving home from an art sale in West Lafayette. I finally got around to driving back to get this picture last week.

***

Back in 2014 I wrote about a day trip to visit a number of graveyards that I took with my friend Mary. Well, This weekend she invited me accompany her to an estate sale. She thought I would be interested because they advertised that there were jazz paintings included. I had never been to an estate sale, and since I had nothing else planned, I accepted the invitation. That and I enjoy her company.

We met Saturday morning at a Starbucks near the site of the sale. I’m not much of a fan of Starbucks, but also I’m not so snobbish that I would refuse to meet there. I arrived early, entered the establishment, and stood in a short line to order and get my coffee. I hadn’t brought my laptop, so I pulled out my smart phone and stared at it to better blend in with the other customers. I sipped my over-priced bad coffee while waiting for Mary to arrive.

I had ordered a plain black coffee and then understood why so many people get the more exotic drinks. They needed to overpower the flavor of the black coffee. Oh well; too each his own.

Mary arrived right on time. We sat and chatted for a bit. We talked about family, mutual friends, and Christmas plans. Then it was time to set out for the sale.

The sale was in a neighborhood filled with expensive homes. I thought there might be some interesting things on sale for prices I couldn’t afford. The house was a a two story house with a finished basement. It sat on the shore of a pond. It was a nice setting. We started in the garage where there was absolutely nothing that interested me. We moved on to the kitchen where I had my first surprise. The cabinets were open, displaying jars of all types of spices that had been opened and partially used. There was no way to tell how fresh, or how stale the spices were.

Mary explained to me that anything we bought would be for the marked price, but at 1:00 p.m. the prices would be cut by 50%, and the next day any remaining items would by cut by 75%. I doubted that there would be much left. We moved into a small room that appeared to have been a den. There was a wet bar in the room. There were also built in bookshelves that held some books ($2 each). One full shelf of the books contained cook books, except for a Weight Watcher’s Guide stuck amidst the cookbooks. It seemed out of place to me.

There were a lot of bookcases in the house. With the exception of the built-ins, which were high quality, most of them looked pretty cheap. In fact, most of the furniture looked low quality considering the house and its location.

I decided that I wanted to check out the basement next, because I saw a fellow carrying a jazz painting from there. We went down, and sure enough there were jazz paintings and prints, as well as other items that were of no interest to me. Most of the jazz themed items didn’t appeal to me, but there was one print that I liked. I had two reasons for not buying it. First, I thought it was too expensive, and second I had no place to hang it. I considered coming back in the afternoon when the price would be lower, but then the fellow I had seen earlier came back down and took another painting. I decided the print I liked would be gone before I could come back.

When it was time to leave we walked into a room where Mary could pay for the items she wanted. There was also a man with a carton full of knick-knacks that he wanted to purchase for 50% off. A woman explained to him that he would have to wait until 1:00 p.m. but he was having none of that. The woman went off to find someone else who would talk to him. I looked around the room and saw a row of liquor bottles to be sold. About half of them were open and partially consumed. Who in the world would buy an opened bottle of booze? Maybe an alcoholic would; but even when I was drinking at my heaviest I wouldn’t have done that. While I was driving home I started to wonder if selling booze without a liquor license was legal in those circumstances.

It was an interesting experience. That said, I don’t think I’ll do it  again anytime soon.

I’ve been thinking

Quality Control takes a vacation

I opened a pack of ankle length socks a few days ago. I don’t wear them often. Normally I wear them when I’m doing yard work, or if I’m on vacation and wearing shorts. So I was somewhat surprised when I found this pair upon opening the pack. At first I wondered if Cindy had bought them for me, and had purposely looked for unequal lengths because of the toe that had been amputated some years ago. I looked at the package, and, no, they were supposed to be the same length. If I wear them, it will be in the back yard, behind the fence.

***

As I’ve written previously, I just can’t get enthused about writing. I had hoped that it would pass, but it hasn’t. The only thing that gets me fired up to put things on paper, or in Classical Gasbag, is the situation in this country. I don’t want to do that.

When I consider what is happening in the U.S. I get depressed and I get angry. Those are not emotions that I want to exhibit. I talk to Cindy and one or two close friends about current events, but I want to limit it to that. And so, I remain silent.

Perhaps I should change the direction of this blog since my standby options no longer bring forth words. I’ve changed before, though on a gradual basis. But I don’t know where to turn focus. I would appreciate any ideas. I’ll give them strong consideration.