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Rumilluminations March 2014
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Sat, March 01 2014 - 4:00 pm

March 31, 2014                                                Madison, IN

News this year about the paralysis symptoms of children in California reminds me of my own mother's disability.

She wasn't badly paralyzed - that is, she didn't need a wheelchair or a cane.  She did have a limp, though, and her right hand didn't really function normally.  The doctors said she hadn't had polio - that her problem was "functional" meaning, I suppose either that they didn't know what the hell was wrong or that her symptoms were hysterical.  She spent some of her early years in California, though, and that makes me wonder if she had the same disease as these children.

I've been thinking about my father's mother, also.  She had a bad tremor, so bad that she couldn't "hold a teacup in a saucer."  They thought she might have Parkinson's and she had surgery for it.  Afterwards the tremor was gone but she never really thrived after that operation - and I heard an adult relative say the doctors had found she didn't have Parkinson's at all.

I seem to have inherited her tendency to jiggle handily - my joke about not being able to hold a cup in a saucer is "Who knows if I can?  I use a big mug!"

One thing I've noticed that might actually be helpful to others - why this is not just a personal reminiscence - is that, being more careful of my diet lately, I hardly notice my tremor anymore at all.

A couple of times recently when I have eaten more corn and chile in the form of very simple enchiladas or wheat bread, the next day I have noticed pronounced trembling of one of my hands.

It makes me wonder if the tremor is induced by inflammation in some part of my nervous system.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could, by keeping down my intake of corn, wheat, chile, and other inflammatory foods, avoid brain surgery in my seventies?

Maybe I'll start keeping a record of my own experience.  When does anecdotal and individual data rise to the level of scientific experimentation?  Would that be considered a kind of monograph?

March 29, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Last night we stayed up an hour or so later than usual, and we were pretty tired when we went to bed.  I didn't bother to read because I thought I was tired enough to fade right out.

I wasn't.  I had to pick up my Kindle (Joseph Conrad, in this case) in order to distract my mind enough to go to sleep.

Maybe it is a habit carried straight through from my infancy, when our parents read us bedtime stories.  Until I went to college, I think, I read myself to sleep (when a girl, after lights-out under the covers with a flashlight.  My parents always wondered why the batteries kept dying so soon - or maybe they really knew and just pretended.)  In college I studied myself to sleep - at least some of the time.

What on earth did people do to lull themselves to sleep before there were books?  Not everyone had to scrabble so hard just to survive that they were asleep before their heads hit the pillow.

Maybe it was the storytelling participated in by groups of people sharing the same living quarters.  But what about the last person standing - presumably the storytellers and the conversation leaders?  How did they get themselves to sleep?

Maybe by their own techniques:  distraction and dreams for the future.

March 28, 2014                                                Madison, IN

March is almost over and I have yet to see more than a peep of the promised lamb.

Yesterday I didn't see a single goose the quarter mile or so I walked along the river.  Have they flown north?  I thought they were here all year round.  Maybe a bunch of unemployed hungry people bagged them.  I did see a couple of ducks.

Maybe it is the phenomenon of rising expectations, but March hasn't delivered as promised.

Let's hope April isn't the cruelest month this year; we haven't had a kind one yet.

March 27, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Hmmm... the other day I was speculating that the ecstasies of the saints were partly escapism.

This book by Doniger about Hinduism I've been reading lately expresses a related idea.  She is talking about soma, a plant that was pressed for its juices which induced an intoxication used in a religious context.  (Maybe it was Amanita muscaria, maybe not.)

At some point it became difficult to obtain, and Doniger notes that it seems possible that it was around that time that other means of inducing altered psychological states (such as fasting and sleep deprivation) may have been experimented with and exercised.

It's interesting to me that the same intoxicants which are used as part of traditional ritual in some cultures are used as anti-establishment expressions of rebellion in others.

The people in my youth who tried to get others to use psychedelics always emphasized that you had to do it with people you trusted - you had to feel safe.

What could make you feel safer than to do it in the company of and with the sanction of your religious leaders?

Presumably in those societies, those who used mind-bending drugs were taken care of by their culture if their minds were broken by hallucinogens - sometimes even revered as being in touch with some other world.

In our society these folks are considered problematical at best.

Those who advocate legalized drugs (including alcohol) argue that it is human nature to want altered states of consciousness.

Okay, so which is the primary motive - a reaching for the infinite or an escaping of the immanent?

And does motive matter?

March 26, 2014                                                Madison, IN

People are having trouble understanding why debris from Flight 370 would be so hard to see from a boat floating on the ocean.

I understand it completely.

A few weeks ago I was taking out the trash to the dumpster at the edge of the apartment buildings relatively small parking area and I saw a pair of crushed eye-glasses a few feet away.  The lenses were still whole, so I thought they might be salvageable and decided to pick them up on my way back.

I couldn't find them, even though I was trying to retrace my thirty or so steps.  I came back to the stairs of our building and tried again.  In spite of all my peering and searching and calculating, I could not see the glasses.

Finally I started back up the stairs, hoping the sun would glint off the "wreckage."  It wasn't until I hit the landing or maybe even the balcony that I saw what I thought might be the glasses.

I took more note of the surrounding features (trash, gravel patterns, distance from the dumpster, etc. and finally managed to relocate the eyeglasses.

Even the lenses looked pretty bad, but I left them on the low wall between the grass and the sidewalk along the parking so that anyone who might be missing them could find them.

Okay, that was in a dry parking lot.  Now try the same experiment with debris, that sure, is much bigger, but is also in one massive churning environment (ocean water) and I think the parallels are evident.

Unfortunately sometimes the distant view is better, and what you gain in knowledge you lose in accessibility.

Hmmm... kind of like the perspective of our own experiences we earn through the distance of time.

March 24, 2014                                                Madison, IN

If it is true that some spirit or ghost of us passes into another realm at death, why do so many people talk about them (and in the case of mediums (I would say media, but confusion!) as if they know and understand everything that is going on?

Maybe they can get around easier in ways, and maybe they can understand more about the universe (or an alternative reality), but maybe they are pretty much as benighted as we are.

And how much do you remember from before you were born?

No, no, that was a rhetorical question!  I don't want to hear about it.


March 23, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

Getting news from all over the world is really a challenge to one's consciousness.  It brings home the fact that at the same time I am enjoying a meal, someone else is buried under a ton of mud or hitting the water in an errant aircraft.

How do you handle something like that?

The Inn of the Eight Happinesses (not at all to be confused with the derivative but unfaithful movie Inn of the Sixth Happiness) gave me a clue.

How much a disaster of any kind - be it war, earthquake, disease, or mob run amok - affects us depends very much on how close it has come.

Mass media brings it all closer to us than we would have been without it.  Some people, for that reason, just choose to close it out entirely.  Whole communities, often religious ones, make this choice.  Individuals do it who cannot bear the emotional burden of any suffering other than that of their own immediate experience.

Most of us are more moderate in our responses, but it is still part of our daily equation.  How much time are we going to spend meditating or pondering the misfortunes of those we cannot help?  How much of our personal resources do we allocate to help those we can?

How do we respond to daily stresses?  Do we have to balance the difficulties with escape?  (I could see some of the ecstasies of the Saints as being escapist.)

Ha, ha, these questions just reminded me of some of the "queries" we would from time to time hear on Sunday as part of Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) worship meetings.

Appropriate - must have been in my unconscious that today is Sunday.

My blessing?  May you all find your best balance between suffering and escape!

March 22, 2014
                                                 Madison, IN

This morning I saw the first rufous-sided towhee I have seen in years, if not decades.  Quite a treat (but not a tweet out of him.)  I did hear a rollicking Carolina wren, though.

Still no sign of the herons.

Last week I saw the little miniature daffodils, but they didn't really register for a day or so, I am so used to seeing artificial flowers poking around in people's gardens.

Today the sight of purple and white crocuses budding up caught my eye, though.  Finally!  My kids told me the trees were blooming all over Albuquerque a couple of weeks ago.

I am fully expecting NO MORE SNOW! which probably gives me a good head start towards being an April fool.

March 21, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

Sitting in the physical therapy room, talking to distract myself from the pain (I tell myself and the therapist) I could imagine any of my family members justifiably saying, "Esther is always either sleeping or talking - oh, except for when she is talking in her sleep!"

I had to laugh, but maybe talking is a way of easing pain - internal pain, the pain of boredom (also pain, perhaps, as itching is the first level of pain.)

Here's a word of advice, though:  if you get an injury that is limiting your motion, don't wait four months to have it seen to.  I'm making gains, thank goodness, in recovering my range of motion from my upper arm injury, but if I had sought help sooner I would have less ground to recover.

I realized today that if an injury this debilitating had happened to one of my legs, I wouldn't have tolerated it for more than three days without getting help.

Don't discriminate against your arms!  (Unless they are weapons - then disable them all you want!)

Ah, Spring has sprung, I am so grateful;  but don't except me to be as high-spirited as usual this April Fool's Day.  I'm scheduled for both physical therapy and a tooth filling.

Hope the tooth fairy doesn't play an April Fool's trick on me.

March 19, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

I don't understand what is going on at the airport in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.  Why are so many relatives of the people on board Flight 370 staying in the city for so long?

I could understand this in another century.  Everyone, lacking speedy communications, might well stay in another country for weeks or months or years awaiting news of loved ones (although how they managed to support themselves during those times I can hardly imagine.)

In this day and age, though, these relatives, by staying near a telephone or telegraph (or a TV set anywhere) could get word of what will eventually - we hope - be discovered.

Is the airport paying for their accommodations?  Isn't just hanging around powerless to do anything besides worry and obsess (and hatch conspiracy theories) unhealthy for everyone?

Is there really that much distrust of the Malaysian government on the part of all (not undeserved, perhaps)?   Don't these folks have work to do at home?

I am sympathetic to those who may have lost loved ones, and understand wanting to keep the pressure up.  This is a massive enough incident, however, that the incentive to find out what happened will remain strong, barring an earlier solution, for years.

Hopefully the answers will arise soon, but they aren't going to be found in Koala Lumpur.

Although the outcome might be bad, good news will find its way home.

March 18, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

Ha, ha!  I checked out my banned book Hindus: An Alternative History that I wrote about the other day.

When the young woman turned around from the "reserved" shelf with this huge tome in her hand I couldn't believe it.

It was much fatter than its photo!

When I got home I looked inside to see how much was left over after index, notes, and glossary, and it still comprises about 700 pages of reading.  The print is not very big, either.

Ha, ha!  Why did they ever bother to get upset about this book?  How many people are ever going to read it?

Of course, the people raising a fuss over this book are doing so in India (so successfully that the publisher has promised to pulp it).  It was easy enough to get hold of here, and so far (I have read forty-odd pages) I like it very much.

The pluralism of what we call "Hindu" is something I was only aware of in relation to the number of Gods that Hinduism seems to espouse.  Now, for the first time, I have been made aware of how nongeneric the term is.

The author is humorous and brings many different elements and analogies and stories into her discussion of her subjects.  I think she will manage to hold my interest very well.

March 16, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

I, yeah, I forgot to mention the handicapped privileged yesterday - as exemplified by Oscar Pistorius.

Is it possible to be both handicapped and privileged?  How could that be?  Pistorius seems to be both.

It is tempting, as a matter of fact, to call him a spoiled brat.

He is even handicapped in his name, though.  Don't you think his name is awfully evocative of the words "pistol" and "pissed-off?"

We like to think that those who are handicapped have greater empathy and compassion than other people simply by virtue of their disadvantages, when in fact the disability might just accustom the victims to using other people for their own needs.

Unlike the Law, I don't have to be sure of Pistorius' mental state when he pulled the trigger.  Homicidal or fearful, he is a man out of control of the softer emotions and society needs protection from him.

March 15, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Does the word "privileged" mean the same thing, basically, as the word "spoiled" as in "spoiled brat?"

Many people I would call privileged don't even think of themselves as privileged, let alone spoiled.  (Just as I have come to realize there are people who think, that if they had had my advantages of birth and uprearing they would have done more with it than I have.  (Well, maybe - and maybe not!)

Privilege is seemingly relative, in other words.

I would characterize the teenager who is suing her parents for $650 a week "expenses" - especially now that she is eighteen, as privileged at the very least.  Only a privileged person could expect that much.  In my less charitable moments, I would growl, "spoiled brat!"  My monthly social security check is comparable to that - before insurance deductions!

Others might say she is a victim of that terrible disease, affluenza.

What do you call a profession, that of airline pilots, say, who think that they should have protection against being videoed at work?  If truck drivers, bakers, big box store employees, and many others are routinely under on-the-job surveillance, why not pilots responsible for the safety of hundreds of people?

This morning on TV I heard a pilot say that they often have to work with complete strangers and need privacy to get to know one another so they can work well together in an emergency.

I say, make a paid "getting to know you" half-hour at the airport before the flight take care of that!  Why does that ice breaking ritual, if it is so important, have to take place in the cockpit?

The fact that they feel they don't have to submit to surveillance makes me think that the pilots have an attitude of privilege.

In fact, I would go so far as to say a pilot who invites unauthorized passengers into the cockpit of a big airplane in this day and age is spoiled!

Plus, in the case of an emergency, should personal knowledge of one another take precedence over the chain of command, which I would understand to be pilot calling the shots and copilot second in command?

To the teenager I say, "Grow up!"

To the pilots I exclaim, "Just do your jobs!"

Am I privileged to be able to sit here at a computer and spout off my (admittedly highly valuable!) opinions while other people have to cope for the first time with the struggles of adulthood or a dangerous job that can involve life-and-death decisions?


Boy!  I am one spoiled brat.


March 14, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Spring is coming, spring is coming, the light's returning and passion's burning!

March is marching, the winter's parching, the rainbow's arching, and glory be, the meadows are larking!

So enjoy it while you can.  I'm in the space right now between a root canal and the subsequent crash which I think I may undergo based on my previous experience.

Wouldn't it be nice if it didn't happen at all, other than the extreme zombiness I already suffered later in the day of the a.m. operation?

I have heard others don't necessarily have a crash at all.  Maybe I just had a coincidental flu.

At any rate, not only do different individuals have varying reactions to the "same" happening, but a single person can have different experiences at different times, even though the objective conditions would seem to be more or less the same.

Childbirth, for instance.  I had three very different experiences when my three children were born, even though every time I'm sure the medical practitioner who attended thought I had it easy.

(Well, when it comes to childbirth, you can have that "piece of cake.")

It is Spring, when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love - and mine turns (with the birds and the beasts) to thoughts of reproduction!

March 10, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Sometimes I think hatred is undervalued in our society.  Maybe hatred is the only thing that can keep a person alive for a short while during a very difficult time.

The problem enters, it seems to me, when the person experiencing the emotion feels obliged to return the favor by nursing his hatred along.

Then, of course, the question becomes whether anyone else is going to be allowed to survive.

March 9, 2014                                                 Madison, IN

We have all heard adages, old "sayings", "old saws," quoted to us by well-meaning seniors (many of whom, say in the case of my parents, would look like seniors, all right - in high school - to me now.)

"The early bird gets the worm."

"Waste not, want not."

"A penny saved is a penny earned."

They are all part of our conventional wisdom, or - as it may turn out - our lack of wisdom.

For one thing, our language changes.  What do you mean by "early?" for instance.  Do you mean early in the morning, or "before expected," or "first?"  Early in the morning isn't going to get you the worm if the worms retire before dawn.  Showing up "before expected" is often unappreciated if not downright dangerous.  (Hmmm... do owls have a taste for robins?)  If "first" is meant, well... duh.... by definition.  And are we talking about the robin or the owl?  And who likes worms, anyway?

Okay, okay.  Maybe I am being too literal.  But in a way that is my point.  A penny saved might be a penny earned in a hundred years or so if you save it in the bank.  If you save it by mending or fixing something old, then you stave off the time when the object must be replaced.  Is that real savings?

Plus, people who know money would say that "saving" money is not the way to increase your earnings.

"Waste not, want not."  Well, maybe, but it assumes you have so many resources you have something to waste.  Not a safe assumption, unfortunately, in the history of the human race.

No, these little bits of conventional wisdom are just so many bits of conventional folly if taken at face value - and worthlessly ignorant if not.

The worst, though - the absolute worst - pertain to ignorance.
"Ignorance is bliss."  "What they don't know won't hurt them."

Avoid people who spout this kind of stuff as if they had the plague.  These are the sayings of the most cynical members of our population, who I assure you, would never substitute the first person in that last "old saw" for the third.  People who believe that they are better off in a state of ignorance and that ignorance won't hurt them are using that old saw to cut down the branch of the reality tree that is supporting them.


March 8, 2014                                                Madison, IN

Aging has me absorbed these days.  Does it involve a diminution of powers or a diminution of Power?

Am I doing less writing, for instance, because I no longer have the ideas coming, or because I no longer have the desire to comment on every movie I see or every book I read?

Sometimes I wonder if aging is just a matter of self-indulgence.  No one and nothing, including my early childhood training, any longer has the power to make me do what I do not, in a given moment, feel like doing.

When I had three children, however, I was not doing much writing either.  Nor did I write much when I had forty-five hour workweeks.

Am I writing less now than I did three years ago because my life is in some ways more demanding?

You hear about writer's block.  Maybe Life is the big block to writers.  Family, ill health, and the emotional concerns that arise from these big important parts of life are enough to distract some of us from the focus needed for writing.

Excuses, excuses, some would say, and maybe they are right.  But it turns out that some of the eighteenth and nineteenth female writers you hear about who had children also had extended family and servants to assume a lot of the work.  The irony is that many of the proponents for women's lib were actually already liberated.

I can only really report my own experience.  I didn't write at all,  then I wrote a little more, then I expanded my writing although the nature of what I wrote continued to change.  Now I'm back to writing less.  Old age?  Self-indulgence?

What moves you - or fails to move you?  What makes you say, "Enough!" and put aside projects that you used to enjoy?

It is as if it doesn't matter how many hours there are in a day.  If challenging enough reality impinges on them, they are only good for escapism or just plain old hanging-on survival.



March 6, 2014                                              Madison, IN

Let me see.  I have the constitutional right to freedom of speech, but a corporation (or in my case almost twenty years ago a "non-profit organization") has the right to fire me if I divulge what I am being paid at my job.  (I wasn't fired - I was merely told by the person who had hired me that it was a firing offense.)

I have the constitutional right to freedom of speech, but in the last job I had (last year) one point that was brought home to us in orientation was that we should not say negative things about the corporation or about our co-workers on social media.  On Facebook when I am at home I am not free to say what I see as the truth!  (They actually, as I recall, had recourse to that old saw, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.")

You know, if I wanted to go back home and live with my mom and dad in the fifties, I couldn't.  Now one's employers think they have the right to control your behavior when you are not even at work.  (One of the four or five reasons I quit.)  Evidently, judging by how long businesses have been operating by these rules, they can.

Lately I have been hearing that businesses should have the right to support politicians without limit.  The argument is that spending money is a form of freedom of speech and people should be able to spend their money the way they want to.

So let me get this straight:  I have to give up my freedom of speech in order to work at wages little above the minimum wage, but if I have any money left over from my non-living wage I can spend it as I please.

Any amount of money I could give to any politician is insignificant compared to the huge amounts of money the very wealthy can give.

The conclusion I come to as the result of these two current conditions of American life is:  we may have the theoretical right to freedom of speech in this country, but some people have a hell of a lot more freedom of speech than I do!

March 4, 2014                                              Madison, IN

I want to read The Hindus:  An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger.  I only just heard about it because Penguin India "has agreed to pulp the book, partly out of fear for its employees' safety" to quote The Week for Feb. 28 of this year.

If the furor over its publication hadn't been so great, and the press hadn't been intimidated into scrapping the book, I probably never would have heard of it.

Some people who know me well know I have never read a previous history about the Hindus, not because I am not interested but because I would have talked about it to them.  I always talk about what I read.  Starting a learning program about India with an "alternative" look might be refreshing. 

So why am I on fire to read this book?  Because it has been banned, of course.

Just as I have been meaning to read Rushdie's Satanic Verses for decades now (although from what I have heard, Midnight's Children is wonderful.  Maybe I'll read that instead.)

Of course I read Huckleberry Finn and Peyton Place and Lady Chatterley's Lover when I was very young.

My point is, of course, that trying to suppress books is just dumb - makes for great publicity.

Want a good reading list?  Find a list of banned books.

March 3, 2014                                              Madison, IN

Foreign cultures and countries, maybe you had better look elsewhere for a country to emulate.

The United States is not what it used to be.  Hell, it didn't even use to be what we all wished it were.

For instance, equality.  We never have managed to really consider ourselves as equals to all others.  Take away race as a basis for discrimination (and many Americans haven't) and most people must, seemingly substitute something else.

Those things, as I see it from my present lower middle income (if not poverty) level, are:

Education:  Nothing new about this - part of any major discrimination effort involves keeping people from acquiring useful knowledge and the degrees to prove their expertise.  The nineteen-sixties and -seventies, when the attainment of a college degree became common - those days are long gone, in the States.  Look to a country with free higher education for your model in this.

Income:  There are more than half a dozen countries whose ratio between the highest earners and common wage-earners is more egalitarian than ours.  People who have more money and who can "live large" look down on people with less money - for no other reason than that.  This misplaced value is on the face of it almost silly, but it is also a truism.

Consideration:  Respect and disrespect have been so commonly talked about that the words are becoming meaningless.  (Besides, everybody is more concerned about getting respect than affording it to others.)  My parents taught me a degree of consideration that seems to strike many as almost sycophantic.  Safe, it has been - so far.  Even if you can't summon up RESPECT for others, how about practising a little (insincere, if necessary!) CONSIDERATION?  Turning down music to oblige another does not get you killed.  Removing yourself physically or by distracting yourself with a book (or, lacking everything else, your imagination) from sources of irritation does not get you killed.  Consideration might possibly be inconvenient at times, but it is a smart way to be.

Of course, I think that treating everyone as an equal is a smart way to be.  Just because I can't always achieve it doesn't mean it isn't a good goal.

Do we any longer in the United States have that insight and inspiration to offer to other nations?

I don't think so.  Except from lowly people like me.

And who should listen to me?  I spend most of my time whining about the weather.


March 1, 2014                                              Madison, IN

Well, finally the March snow leopard has arrived and just for a change is tickling our cheeks with its whiskers before pouncing on us and freezing us so that at some later date it can devour us at its leisure.

Hopefully the end-of-March lamb appears first - then, who knows, we might be able to escape devouring until the end of next winter.

I have been making a stab at paying my taxes.  If I understand correctly, I owe no Federal taxes.  I'm not sure about the State of Indiana.

I have been twice to the local library, once coming out empty-handed and once coming home with a veritable booklet which I find, upon perusing, is not what I need, I hope.  I hope I need the EZ form, if that.

So it is back to the library again tomorrow, to pick up another Tax Form (if they have it) and to return the book called, Button-holed, which turned out to be as big a mistake as the tax-form, except that at least I haven't ruined the book for a more forgiving reader by writing my social security number on it.

At least I had a "Eureka" moment when I finally realized why the IRS calls it a Tax Code:  it is supposed to be hard to crack by your enemies.  And God knows, the IRS is definitely my enemy!

As anyone would be, who tried to set me to cracking codes.

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