By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Fri, October 01 2010 - 9:19 pm
October 31, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
On the way to the gym Friday we saw a young hawk darting back and forth right next to a parked car.
We slowed down so as not to startle it off, but it had stilled - because it had caught its prey!
We moved from the sidewalk to the street to give the hawk space, but it flew off anyway. It flew low, and I concentrated on what might be in its talons. His capture was a skinny-tailed light-bellied small rodent. I'm not sure of its species.
It being a Sunday, I am moved to philosophize about the words pray and prey.
Could they be causing some confusion in the religious mind?
Could there be some unconscious linking of the two words: He who prays, preys?
Why are warhawks often Christian?
Why is a Praying Mantis also a preying Mantis?
What really is the genesis of our major religions?
October 30, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
This is the time of year when crappy things happen to me.
I didn't feel that way when I was a child. I loved Halloween! Yay! Candy in big shopping bags! Running around the neighborhood in the dark without (in those days) parents!
Then I went to college, cut off from any participation in Halloween rituals.
Now I am beginning to see Halloween for what it is: a distraction from the fact that school has started - small, feeble recompense.
It is an acknowledgement that the dark is coming way too early - hence, even little kids can run around in it for hours before bedtime.
And its worst aspect: It is the last, feeble attempt to be merry during the last, feeble attempts of the trees and the outdoors to resist the inevitable onslaught of the winter freezes.
No, I just thought of the worst: it is the night before All Saints Day, the Day of the Dead, and if you live in this climate the only way you are going to escape the winter is to enter a deeper one.
And a Happy Halloween to you, too! Come on by! We have plenty of candy to rot your teeth!
(I am, obviously, going to come to my door, sans costume and with a smiling face, as the Wicked Witch!)
October 28, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
One of Sue Grafton's characters in U is for Undertow (I think Kinsey) comments in passing that some of her relatives would stoop to pick up a nickel, as if she wouldn't.
What the hell? I still stoop to pick up a penny! I figured that is the equivalent of making $17 an hour. By that calculation, the time spent picking up a nickel (which I did just yesterday - and a clean shiny one it was, too!) is worth $85.00 an hour.
I guess the stigma is that it should be beneath us. We are too high and mighty to bother with small change.
Or is it that coins picked up off the street are dirty? (Dirtier than paper money is known to be anyway? I think that rationale would be very hypocritical.)
I have a plan to flatten all my non-negotiable change under the trains on the railroad track, drill holes in the pretty copper disks that result, and sew them to my pink jeans jacket so when I sell stuff in the flea market I will glitter in the sun!
Well, a fantasy, true. Maybe I will never be a flea market regular and maybe I won't really want to be.
But while I am not a depression baby, I am the daughter of a pair of them.
I have a strong feeling that if I am willing to bend down to the pavement to pick up a penny, I will never be poor again.
And I will, incidentally, turn off any snobs who believe they are too good to touch the ground!
October 26, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
Every once in a while we hear about how provincial we Americans (really U.S. citizens) are.
"You guys don't get any world news" is one comment I have heard more than once.
Are you kidding? We don't even get any national news, I sometimes think!
How about World War II? Did you think it was mostly British and U.S. citizens who won the war with Germany?
I have been reading a book called The Post American World that talks about even such high-level, sophisticated, creative people as Steven Ambrose and Ken Burns as being very U.S. oriented in dealting with the subject of World War II.
Did you know that 70% of the German troops killed in the second World War were killed by non-Western forces?
Well, neither did I, and the older I get the more I get irritated by the U.S.-centricity of our national outlook.
Maybe I should be grateful that people even know that World War II happened in the twentieth century, but I'm not.
I'm too busy being constantly angered by the extent of my own culturally-biased ignorance based on well, really, lies.
Why do we, who still consider ourselves the greatest nation in the world, have to be so ungenerous in giving credit where it is due - if it cannot be claimed here in the U.S. for one of our own?
Even Bob Dylan, when he sang, "The times they are a'changin'," had no idea how right he was!
And not just in the U.S. (which does, if you think about it, look a lot like the word "us!" US! Is that why we are so self-obsessed?)
October 24, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I'm going to start an article at the end of the month called Elderquette (my son's suggestion for a name, which I love.)
I will be going through the alphabet, one day at a time, making suggestions for the elders who will probably never read it and for folks younger on how to make life easier for everyone else when it is getting unbearably hard for you.
I can hear you saying already that this subject has absolutely no appeal. Who wants to make life easier for everyone else?
Well, grownups. Supposedly.
Well, everyone over thirty knows that grown-up is a relative term truly applicable to no one but oneself, but everyone has room for improvement, especially from everyone else's point of view.
Part of being grown up is making choices that might seem childish to others.
So, why am I, a consummate child evidently, presuming to give others suggestions for their old age?
To vent, I suppose. And to try to convince you that life really can be more pleasant for everyone.
And once I have gone A to Z I might just begin all over again.
Elder care requires a lot of ventilation.
And when I'm older, if I am still lucky or unlucky enough to be around, I give my children or anyone else stuck with my company permission to teach me my ABCs!
October 23, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I've got to stop playing Bookworm.
I actually forgot about it for months. I guess with the going of the light, my escapist tendencies spread from book-reading habits to computer games. Primitive ancient computer games by twenty-first century standards, but still escapist.
But this time around, I am getting more irritated. For one thing, I again have to recognize that while I am playing Bookworm, I am not reading anything.
For another thing, I am spelling strings of words waking and sleeping. D-R-E-A-D. This I recognize as compulsive behavior, not to be E-N-C-O-U-R-A - Dang! There aren't enough letters to finish the word! And now more tiles are burning!
Aaaah! I just realized that the fire at the end does not symbolize an accidental fire in the library - it symbolizes book-burning - a process by which everyone (except as observed by others, book publishers!) loses.
And I have never heard of anyone winning Bookworm. Even my daughter who was attain levels in the fifty-something range hasn't won.
And what is that weird little voice saying while your letters burn to the floor? I have never been able to hear it, and now I have gone from thinking he's saying, "Better luck next time!" to something more like, "Burn, idiot, burn!"
This game shouldn't teach us anything but to stop playing it!
So I'll never play it again.
Except just one more time - they actually changed some of the bonus words so it is a little more interesting. And I have learned to look for certain letter combos which will allow me to lengthen words, like A-G-E...
But no. While I am looking, I burn out.
There is no winning this game!
But still, maybe if I....
October 22, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
If you had to write every day (I don't have to, I pretty much want to) would you rather have assignments, or would you rather think up your own subjects?
It is hard for me to believe people when they say it is hard to speak and hard to write.
I am always amazed when people in drama who could set the situation right with a few words are struck dumb and cannot say a thing.
Are people really like that in real life? Does it really take so long to set the record straight?
Then I remember the times I have been astounded by people's responses to me - the (very few!) times my jaw has dropped down to my knees and someone has gone off after going off on me before I could spit out a word.
Yup, writing is better than speaking and debating.
It is just shadow-boxing and talking to myself, really.
No wonder so many people would rather play video games than write.
"Take that! ...and that! I win! Over virtual you!"
October 21, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
When I looked at the title of the article I chose to edit, Rumilluminations Now, this time I saw it as "Humiliations Now."
Where did that come from?
Well, actually, I can imagine a multitude of recent experiences that might have come from.
Which leads me to wonder. Can you be humiliated without your consent?
Can it catch you off guard, the way embarrassment does?
As in, "Oops, I shouldn't be humiliated, but I am!"
Does humiliation inspire shame or embarrassment, or both?
If a clothes designer designs something called the Freudian slip which is just the coolest slip ever made (are they even made any more?) would that give a Freudian slip of mind or tongue a new cool vogue?
One thing is certain - a Freudian slip would have to show!
If I write about a Freudian slip about humiliation Rumilluminations, is it snowing down south?
October 20, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
In all the literature and viewing about gay issues I have been exposed to, the chief concern has been with, for, or against the sexuality of the individual who is considered the aberrant one.
Many consider their sexual inclinations a crime, to be hidden and belied by attempting to live a "normal" life.
What about the poor husband or wife of such an individual? How would you like to be married to someone who is not really turned on by you? How would you like your children to grow up within a family group that doesn't have a genuinely loving couple as the example of marital relations?
And don't yap to me about compassion. Of course some (many?) marriages may come to that in the end, but the institution (and subsequent attempted consecration) of marriage came about as an attempt to regulate sexual behavior and create stability for the children. When the marriage and the children are young, it would be nice if everybody could be in a genuine family setting with parents who really love each other. That internal reality seems to me more important than the physical sex of everyone involved.
If a woman marries someone who really does not care for her or does not really have a physical attraction to her in ignorance of that fact, she will suffer.
It would be interesting to conduct a survey of women who married gay men without knowing they were doing so, and conversely, men who innocently married lesbian women. What were their experiences and feelings? What were the consequences to them?
I have only anecdotal evidence. I've spoken with a couple such women, though.
It might have taken them years for them to find out what, but they knew something was wrong.
Turns out it was society. Why can't we just admit it and move on?
You know, the way we will move on when 2013 comes and the world doesn't come to an end after all?
October 19, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
I wonder how much the old hymns will influence Chicago's people while they are deciding whom to choose for mayor?
That question has been on my mind for a while, and in conjunction with thoughts about richly ornamented televangelists and royalty, has brought me to wondering about Advent.
What does explain the magic of the Christmas season?
The time of year, for one. People in the temperate zones feel keenly the loss of light in the fall and the plunge into darkness that happens right about now. (Hence Halloween?)
What better way to compensate for a depressing situation than to try to celebrate - whether it is Saturnalia or Hanukkah or Christmas? (Would psychologists call this part of the mechanism of denial? Is that why the holidays are so hard on so many? All the preparations help distract us from the bald fact that winter is the most dismal time of year, and maybe less healthily, from the disfunction of our families.)
But why is the Christmas story so positively magical?
I think it is because there is humility and lowliness in the stable, which helps us appreciate our own creature comforts or consoles us for our lack of them. The story of Jesus' birth also has other elements of nature, in depicting the shepherds and the wonder of the fact that hills and the big skies outside contain miracles of their own.
But finally - the Christmas story ends with a big bang when glitzy kings sparkling with all kinds of earthly wealth and riches arrive, showing us that we never know when we might be blessed with a special time and special favors, no matter how humble our circumstances.
Yes, the Christmas story has everything, and not all-knowing as I am about its universal truth, its universal appeal still consoles me for the fact that we won't really begin to see the return of the light until fucking February!
October 18, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
The other day my partner was scanning channels and saw a televangelist who had so many rings on his fingers my partner was amazed he didn't have carpel tunnel syndrome from the weight of them.
"Even the Pope only wears one big ring," he commented.
Then he started asking, "Are you washed in the blood of Jesus?"
What an awful image, anyway! I've hated it ever since reading Vachel Lindsay's "Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?" in public school.
But added to the rings, the language can't help make the viewer wonder what all that blood would do to the sparkle on all those showy gems!
Why are people moved to give to those who obviously already have too much?
It seems obvious his main mission is himself.
October 17, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I used to go birding. I think hunters used to do that, but many folks today are hunting only for a glimpse of bird.
Now I'm wondering if I need to go wording. A few words seem to be taking over the literary landscape like sparrows and pigeons take over cities and towns.
When I met my partner, he didn't have me at "hello." (Even if he had been Tom Cruise, he wouldn't have, either. Because the first time we said, "Hello!" it was too dark to see.)
But it could be said he had me when he uttered the word "linger." (Please, no crude free association with a certain sexual term. Didn't cross my mind. Honest! Ah, but did it cross his? Hmmm...)
The word "linger" really grabbed my attention. How many people ever linger any more?
And if they do, do they call it that? Or do they just hang out?
It seems to me I haven't heard some of our verbal exotics for some time. I encounter "brash" about as often as I encounter a thrasher. Does anybody "flounder" besides me and seabirds in the shallows?
Nobody will admit to being wistful anymore. I think it is too unfashionable - both the word and the emotion.
"Chastisement" is as rarely heard these days as "chastity," a fact which I do not "rue" (a word seldom heard but frequently seen trapped in crossword puzzles.)
If I'm looking for birds, I need binoculars and steady hands. My hands aren't so steady any more.
All I require to go a-wording are my ears.
Er, what's that you say?
Pardon? I didn't quite catch that - could you please repeat it?
Say what again?
(Oh, hell. I'm just gonna go home and read!)
October 15, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
Last night I woke up, as usual lately, at about 3:30 a.m. I fumbled around for my Kindle and started to read.
It was nice, being able to read in bed again. I know lights in the night are not supposed to be good for you, but neither is gnashing your night-guarded teeth in frustration!
I read all of sixteen pages. I refuse to think of how much this has cost me per page so far. (Umm, I'm complusive - about $215 divided by sixteen. $13.43. Aaaaa! Gulp!)
Well, the big outlay is over, and now I can just enjoy my wonderful investment and whittle down the cost.
After all, my $621 TV I bought in 1991 seemed expensive at the time of purchase, but in the end it only cost me about $60 a year. (Not counting cable costs, which put the total expense up to - aargh! I could have gone to a big screen movie twice a week (matinees three times) for that!
No, you simply cannot think that way. Mustn't have regrets. My family and I enjoyed that TV very much.
And so we will the Kindle. Er, so will I enjoy the Kindle. And my partner didn't mind the light.
Admittedly, I kind of woke him up when I was fumbling around the side of my bed and dropped it, but he's good natured.
And I'm sure I will improve in time!
October 14, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I had a bad night last night. I lay in bed without sleeping for what seemed like hours, on and off. I resolved: not for another night.
Yesterday I bought a classy case for my Kindle that has a pull-out light. Not good for much without books to read, so today I bought some inexpensive books: a Rex Stout novel, a book of Henry James chock-full of stories and novellas, and a book by Charles D DeVet and Dick Francis - for a grand total about nine dollars. Of course my initial outlay for Kindle and case was not insignificant, but the idea of having a whole library in one little case and a reading light that won't wake up my partner was just irresistable.
I think Malcolm Gladwell is publishing another book soon - maybe I will have it downloaded to my Kindle, too.
It's not that I don't want to share. I am happy to spread my reading literature far and wide. I'm just not so sure others are happy to get my reading "assignments."
In the meantime it doesn't have to be either/or. Today I got Thurber's Carnival and a couple of mysteries and a book of stereograms (whatever they are) from a used book sale for about the same amount.
I now have reading for the day and night for months to come (if you count what I bought at the recent Valparaiso Friends of the Library Book Sale.)
And no matter if I don't get any of the books read. Our physical paper books are on a constant flow in the front door and out the back. My virtual books can sit on their virtual shelves until the battery runs out.
Hmmm... I wonder how much a Kindle battery costs?
October 13, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
It is hard to be a giver and an environmentalist. If you give, you are inundated with mailed paper requests from a myriad of other worthy causes.
An acquaintance of mine says he is tempted to never give again!
I've instituted electronic giving as my minimum, but it is hard to resist other pleas for help.
Save the trees! Don't send out multiple requests for donations. (The Democratic Party sent me two envelopes requesting money on the same day!)
My Dad bankrupted himself by donating to mailed requests.
I won't do the same thing. Save your postage.
October 12, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
The hoarding shows have inspired us to get rid of junk. What are hoarders really hoarding? I know it is an emotional hang-up, but what obsesses them?
Are they holding onto regrets?
Are the ones who think they are going to fix, clean or repair something (many somethings) savior types? Or are they just unrealistic about what they can accomplish?
Are hoarders projecting their own feelings onto their often worthless stuff and telling that stuff, "Others may say you are valueless, but I appreciate you," basically telling themselves the same thing? "Others don't value me, but I do!"
If they can't they give themselves the affirmation directly, is it because they themselves think they have no value?
One hoarder got his sense of self-worth from his possessions. Sure, he had too much stuff, but at least it was organized and he got pleasure from it. It seems to me the folks "helping" him unload persuaded him to get rid of too much stuff. A person who surrounds himself with (in his eyes) beauty is not going to be happy in a barren home, just as people who enjoy green woodlands are not going to be happy in a desert.
Other hoarders seem to have big boundary problems. No one else in the household has the right to space of his or her own, seemingly. Everyone is buried beneath the weight of the stashing obsession.
It is often said that change has to come from within, and these hoarding shows would seem to support that view. Those who agreed to unload under pressure do not seem likely to change for good.
October 11, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I feel as if I have fallen off the edge of the earth. Well, I have. It is one way to escape, perhaps. The tension of the midterm elections, the disappointment and despair about the political swing right of the nation (which I keep hearing about but not sure I should believe), my mother's failing health and uncertainty about personal as well as the nation's future -well, it all sounds terribly melodramatic, doesn't it? But look at it!
Here we are, in a economic big hole that doesn't look very fillable.
And it is all our own (collectively our own) fault.
So, I go outside and enjoy the fabulous weather. A friend went swimming in Lake Michigan yesterday. The water is actually warmer in October than it is in May around here.
The weather is warm, but the trees keep turning and dropping leaves on the lawns. I thought freezes, not false springs, made leaves turn and fall! It's kind of a mystery.
And mysteries are what I am reading. Gorgeous weather and the need to escape aren't going to last forever. Sooner or later I will even want to buckle down.
Until then, goodbye politics and study! Hello, squirrels and migrating birds!
October 8, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
I was enjoying squirrels today and thought about those who just consider them rodents, on a par with rats and mice.
Would those people rather not have squirrels and chipmunks around? My sister once called squirrels "just rats with bushy tails."
I watched them jumping around today and thought, "No. I must mount a defense of squirrels."
Squirrels have bushy tails. Never underestimate the power of bushy tails! Coontail hats exist and have enjoyed some popularity. Possumtail hats do not and have not. Even chipmunks have hairy tails.
Rats and mice have baby-pink naked tails. Bald is not attractive on mammalian tails. Too like snakes and earthworms! Note: fashionable ladies do not trail behind them earthworm-like appendages. Nor do bald boas exist. (No, I am not talking about boa constrictors!)
Squirrels skip, leap and bound. They climb trees and perform highwire acrobatics. Even chipmunks give a celebratory hop now and then and can make weightless lifts onto surfaces several times their height.
I do not want to say rats cannot do this, but I don't think so. A mouse once whizzed past my ear, but it was from the surface of the stove (I am embarrassed to admit. I would be more embarrassed, but the stove had a clean porcelein top, so it is not as if the mouse were hanging out there, yummying up all the spilled stuff.)
Mouse rhymes with louse (okay also house.) Rats rhyme with bats and slats and tats and mats and splats and spats. (Okay also cats, which are okay.)
Squirrels rhyme with curls and girls and whirls and twirls.
Who can say squirrels and chipmunks are just rodents? They have pretty coats!
It would be like saying that Joseph was just one of his brothers!
And most important: Squirrels aren't much interested in our garbage - unless it is nuts! They like nuts and buds and foodstuffs like that. Hip little chipmunks may forage for our garbage ouside a little, but not like mice and rats invading our larders and our parlors.
When squirrels come inside, they come to store! Once I found a walnut in our parents' bookcase.
If we are what we eat, rats are garbage. Squirrels are nuts!
October 7, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
My spell-check is my partner. When I don't read him my stuff, I am often too tired or lazy to read it myself. Then, when I read it the next day just to orient (or disorient!) myself I see all sorts of errors.
Ah well, I just look at them as unconscious (but still sometimes amusing) puns.
You can look at mistakes and regret them, or you can just figure you did it accidentally on purpose.
Note I said "mistakes" and not "misdeeds." These two are often confused lately. A misdeed is called a mistake, often by the Defense.
No, I am not talking about the guy who kills someone and then decides that it was just his way of getting back into prison, where, after all, he is more comfortable and happy. And if you have a safe situation in prison (they do exist) it can come to feel more secure than the big bad world outside.
No, I'm not talking about misdeeds.
I'm talking about spelling out the wrong word that even spell check would not catch.
I just hope I mean the word "mistake" and not the word, "Alzheimers."
October 6, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
Why aren't red-bellied woodpeckers really red-bellied? Their bellies look like they are faintly blushing. And unless a bird is flying directly over you, the belly is the last part of its anatomy you will see.
Are the people who name these critters intentionally trying to frustrate and confuse the rest of us?
I can just see a police description of a brown man with a shock of straight red hair and a tattoo of a rose above his belly button beginning with the rose tattoo. It certainly wouldn't make much sense. Distinguishing characteristic, yes. But the beginning of a description?
And did you ever hear of snipe-hunting? It is supposed to be a wild goose chase for something that doesn't even exist. But snipes exist! Is it the difficulty of finding one what has made it seem like a complete myth? Or is someone trying to bamboozle us?
I just remembered snipes were supposed to be bagged with a burlap sack. Truly on a par with catching a songbird by putting salt on its tale (er, tail)!
Amazing to think that all art, literature, song and dance just developed as a way to wile (while?) away time while hanging out in forest or cave.
Practical jokes and tall tales probably head the list.
October 5, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
My, stomachs do like to express opinions too. Maybe I should write something called rumbleilluminations. Only trouble is, I wouldn't know how to translate the gastric messages.
Or would rumbleilluminations be sociological studies about why gangs fight?
I've had people tell me my pieces are more like complaining - grumbilluminations, perhaps.
Well, I'm not seeing the humor in much lately, but these aren't called chuckleluminations either.
Halloween is coming, maybe pumkilluminations are in order. Or spookilluminations.
To tell the truth, these ramblings often seem like fluke-illuminations, or, since my specialty is (theoretically, er, most of the time) supposed to be an examination of what is all too often the interior darkness, perhaps ruminobfuscations is more appropriate.
Blarneyobfuscations. Flakyobfuscations. Phantasmaforagingobfuscations.
Or just plain old darkness of the spirit.
October 4, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
Why do people come down so hard on other people they consider "superstitious?"
Religions are commonly regarded as spiritual, while belief in other unseeable forces is considered superstition.
I'm not sure any undue reliance on the unseen is really helpful. If we have to rely on something we cannot see, how about relying on our own internal selves, or "God within us?"
The idea of God as love is helpful, the idea of God caring about justice and righteousness (in the sense of trying to do the right thing, not believing that anything - anything - we want to do is right, that is) is helpful.
If you have to be superstitious, I suppose belief in God is as good a way as any to go.
But superstition it is.
October 2, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
We have been inconsistent about going to the gym lately, so I'm compensating by letting the leg exercises go for now.
It's my upper body that I'm working on, or that is working me!
I've taken the plunge. Every exercise I'm doing is at a weight of at least 20 pounds per arm, and since I've done them more this week, I actually seem to be improving.
Where I used to do three sets of fifteen reps, I am now doing three sets of only ten reps at five pounds more per arm.
For those of you who want to lose weight, though, moving the thigh muscles is really supposed to burn a lot of fuel. ( I learned that from my mother's physical therapist at the rehab unit of the nursing home. I learn the most helpful things from random encounters!)
But where do you pick up exercises to improve your powers of persuasion? How charm a mom determined not to follow doctor's into taking the exercise and, conversely, the resting positions she needs?
Anybody have classes in that? I need them.
October 1, 2010 Valparaiso, IN
The trees are beginning to turn.
Every squirrel we see has a nut in its mouth, and we see lots of them.
The chipmunks have the squirrels beat for cuteness, though. They do comical little leaps while they dash from one safe spot to another. One chipmunk's stuffed cheeks were as big as his round Fall tummy.
We have moved the hibiscus onto the porch, and I'm keeping an eye on the night temperatures so I don't lose the basil.
Time to start wondering which of the plants will winter over well inside, and which to regretfully let go.
The temperature on the porch we furnished with scavenged wicker furniture was comfortable the other day, and it was a light, green place to occupy for a change of ambiance.
These are our last precious days of warm weather, soon to be spooked away by Halloween!
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