The Consolations of Solitude (Apologies to Boethius)

I wrote a post to family members recently that said, “I don’t have to practice social distancing, I’m good at it.”

It was tongue in cheek, but almost three months later, and still quarantined, it has become a truth carved in stone and placed on an altar. Solitude seems to be have become my natural element.

My quarantine was well timed, as when it began I was recovering from radiation treatment, and would not have been gallivanting much in any case. It was easy for me to settle in and accept what to most people is a dramatic hardship.

Also, I am retired and, like most people, much of my social life and interactions were based on my job. I have been at least somewhat isolated for a few years now.

And, like Boethius, I am in frequent contact with a semi-divine entity who eases my sense of isolation and regularly re-orients my world view. In his case it was the phantasm Philosophy and in my case it is my wife. Semi-divine, you ask? Yes, I answer with my chin stuck out, and I will fight anyone who disagrees.

I have a comfortable place to read and write; in Archimedes phrase, ‘a place to stand that I may move the earth’, although I have no intention of doing so. Not of moving it, coloring it, denting it, inflating, or deflating it. Nor like Arlo Guthrie, do I wish to be “injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.”

I have people bringing groceries to my house, a thing I never expected since I gave up Domino’s Pizza. (They may deliver it in a hurry, but it isn’t that good.) They leave the bags outside the garage, and I just smile and wave goodbye. How weird is that?

I can order food from a restaurant and fully expect that someone with a mask and a pleasant attitude will place it carefully in my trunk. Smiles and waves are, again, the rule of the day. That Philosophy chick never did this for Boethius.

I am in communication with the people that matter to me, those not semi-divine, and actually feel closer to them than prior to the pandemic. That’s an odd thing, or is it?

•••

This all will end eventually, in spite of our national management strategy, or more accurately, lack of national management strategy, and things will go back to what I suppose is something approaching normal.  Schools, restaurants, barber shops, bookstores will all turn on their lights again and try to make up for lost time.

I will rejoice with all the others, but in some small corner of my Psyche, (another Greek goddess that may be a first cousin to Philosophy) I will lament.

Stay safe, please. This is not over.

Rehab

My name is Gene and I am a Twitter addict. (Hi Gene!)

I have, in the past four or five days, gone cold turkey. I logged out, and as I am intimidated by my password phobia, have not caved in and tried to log in again. I did the same with my Facebook account, but I was much less attached to that. Puppies and babies are fine, but only up to a point.

At the height of my obsession, I found myself checking my Twitter feed fifteen or twenty times a day, and that may be an underestimate. In the middle of some other activity, e.g., reading the Bhagavad Gita in original Sanskrit or writing the history of the Andromeda Galaxy from the Bzwinkoly Rebellion to the Glorious Ascension of the Grand Platitudinous Emperor Flem, I would stop and check my Twitter feed. I convinced myself that I was staying informed with current affairs, but I really wasn’t. Twitter doesn’t do that. I usually scrolled past all the real news, and focused on the snarky, the contentious, the cartoons and The Onion.

And what a change these few days have brought about. I can still read. I can still write. I can still fill each half hour with thirty minutes of focused attention.

And, I stay better informed with current affairs through this new innovation called  ‘a newspaper’. Tangible, foldable, made of paper as the name suggests, purchasable in many venues, and inexpensive. Who knew?

Since going cold turkey, I tremble at night sometimes, and my dreams have become much more vivid and eerie, but I am determined to stay the course.

On the plus side, I can report that the Bhagavad Gita has gotten very tedious, but the Grand Platitudinous Emperor Flem is really earning his reputation.

Aftermath

After all the horrible, pounding math of the past few months, I have some questions to be explored after we are finished being buffeted by that math.

Will there be a memorial for people like John Prine? I’m sure there are other notables and luminaries whose death was untimely, and preventable by some even modicum of intelligent leadership. John is the only one that stands out for me right now. Well, Ellis Marsalis, father of Winton and Branford, also comes to mind.

Will some legal group with some juice seriously look at the horrible decision making by some governors in southern and ‘fly-over’ states? I don’t want to single out GOP governors, but yes, GOP GOVERNORS. I now am certain that GOP stands for Gelded Obtuse Phools.

Will someone look objectively at what Bill Barr did, if he did it, ordering tear gas and rubber bullets directed at peaceful protestors outside the White House to clear a path for a pointless, ineffective and even counter- productive photo opportunity for Trump?

Will someone with some clout look at whether PPE was distributed in lopsided amounts to states favored by the, supposedly, President of all the people?

Will someone examine the manipulation of data charts of death rates in, particularly, Florida?

I know it will take years for the books to come out, and then they will flow like spring water and be argued about ad nauseam, but, you know … inquiring minds …

A Few Things

“There are a few things you need to know before we start. 

First, the writing is the easy part.  Of course you’ll have to keep sharpening your verbal skills, and by that I don’t mean just where to place the ‘f bombs’.  I mean you will need to use precise vocabulary, and be so careful in the use of grammar and syntax that your sentences could force a “Wow” from the lips of John Keats himself.  Not an easy thing to do since he’s been dead for almost two hundred years.

Part of the writing, of course, is having something interesting to say, that is, having a good story to tell.  Genre is unimportant.  It can be about anything, but it has to be new and fresh.  So, no vampires or werewolves or zombies.  Unless they are suddenly infiltrating nineteenth century romantic classics.  That seems to be acceptable.”

A beep and a flash interrupted him.  “Uh, sir?”     

“Yes.  You over there in Idaho behind the laptop.”

“Is there a word limit?”

“If you have to ask that question, then you don’t know what you’re doing.  Any other questions?”

Nothing blinked or beeped or buzzed or flashed or rang.

“Good.  Stupid questions are for amateurs.  You people are supposed to be freelance writers.  That’s why you were chosen to enter this contest.”

A beep and a flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“Is that Idaho again?  Oh, no.  Okay, the blonde in Orlando with the sweatband on.”

“We weren’t chosen to enter this contest.  We chose to enter it.”

“Well, maybe, but think about it for a minute.  In the larger world of publishing, and that is a really, really large world, does it matter?  If you’re looking to do more than post something that will get sucked down into the bottomless blogsphere, you need us.”

“’Bottomless blogsphere’,” the blonde in Orlando mumbles.  “I like that.”

Beep, flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“Yes, Idaho.  I knew you would have another question.”

“Not actually a question, but a comment.  You said there are a few things we need to know before we begin, but so far you have only mentioned one.”

“Right.  First is that the writing is the easy part, and next is that getting read is a lot more difficult.  We’ll move on later to actually getting published, but let’s take one thing at a time.”

Beep.  Flash.  “Sorry I’m late.  This is the section on Literary Awards, Contests and Prizes, isn’t it?”

“Yes, New Bedford, it is.  And if you can all settle down and just cool your keyboards for a few minutes we can get through the preliminaries.”

“Right, sorry,” said New Bedford, and he added a .

“That’s one of the things we’re going to cover.  No cutesy emoticons.   Okay let’s get back to it.  Getting read is not complicated.  It’s just a matter of following the submission instructions.  If the instructions say “no horror story submissions”, then it is safe to assume that horror story submissions will not be read.  If it says the topic is travel and leisure in South America, then a short story about a dying adventurer in Africa will not be read, even if it is submitted by Earnest Hemingway.  Also not an easy thing to do since he has been dead for fifty years.  If the instructions say maximum of 1500 words and you submit 5,000, guess what?  Won’t be read.  This is not rocket surgery folks.  Oh, and those emoticons I mentioned before?  Don’t use them.  And don’t use flowery, curlicue fonts, or charming backgrounds.  Editors read hundreds of submissions and queries a day, and prettied up documents produce headaches as sure as a product curve can be produced by drawing a vector from the origin to various points on the total product curve and plotting the slopes of each of the vectors.”

Beep. Flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“Yes, You with the CRT monitor in Toronto.”

“I didn’t understand a word of that last part.  And what does it have to do with writing and publishing?”

“Oh.  Sorry.  I have a degree in economics, and sometimes it just overwhelms me.  Anyway, that’s pretty much the long and short of it.  Read the submission requirements, and follow them.  Now, as to getting published, I am going to try very hard to discuss this without using the phrase “fat chance”.  But I may use a euphemism, for example, “miniscule possibility” or perhaps “extremely dubious prospect”.  Being wordsmiths, and well acquainted with the subtleties of language, you will understand what I mean. 

“Extremely dubious prospect,” mumbled the blonde in Orlando.  “I don’t think I like that.”

“There are three computers for every adult in the United States, and everyone in the U.S., except Woody Allen, uses his computer to write with.”

Beep.  Flash.  Beep.  Flash.  Beep.  Flash.  Beep.  Flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“Ah, that woke some of us up.  Let’s see, someone we haven’t heard from.  How about the naked guy in Seattle.  You have a question sir?”

“Is that right?  Three computers for every adult in the U.S?”

“No.  I made that statistic up.  But the thing about Woody Allen is true.  He still uses a typewriter.  That has to be true, I saw it on PBS.  The point is that everyone writes these days, and everyone submits.  Which means two things germane to this discussion.  One, that your odds of convincing an editor to actually put your work in print are longer than a giraffe’s neck in a Salvador Dali painting.  Two, that editors, those myopic Morlocks, are increasingly overworked and, hence, understandably grumpy.   Which brings us on a short detour back to ‘things you need to know number two’, “Read the submission requirements and follow them.”

Beep.  Flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“Topeka, what can I do for you?  BTW, love the nose ring, just don’t sneeze.”

“Who is Salvador Dali, and why does he paint long giraffe necks?”
“As to the first part of your question, Google it.  As to the second part, no one knows.  What is important for you is that he won’t be submitting anytime soon, since he has been dead for twenty years.”

Beep.  Flash.  “Uh, sir.”

“London.  Nice to see a foreigner take an interest.  What can I help you with?

“I’ve been noting the progression of year of death of the various people you have referenced so far, and we are coming very close to our artistic contemporaries.”

“That’s very statistical of you, London, but it has no bearing.  But it reminds me to remind you that when you are writing, you need to be concise, and keep irrelevant numbers, statistics and analyses separate.  Maybe you can sell them as a sidebar.  Waste not want not.”

Beep.  Flash.

“Someone with a question?”

“Oops, sorry.  Hit return by mistake.”

“Great, so back to the third of the few things you need to know before we start. You need to know that you only need three things to get published, the three ‘nce’s’. 

Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash.

“Wait, wait, wait.  I shall elucidate.  I hate acronyms.  And  I hate the kind of mnemonics like ‘the three w’s’ or Roy G. Biv”.

Beep. Flash.  “Uh, sir?”

“The guy with the wire rims eating cereal in Detroit.”

“My name is Roy G. Bivona.” 

“You have my deepest sympathy Roy.  But back to what I was saying. I hate acronyms and standard mnemonics, so I use the the three ‘nce’s’: Competence, Arrogance and Persistence.  Competence should be obvious, although often with writers it is not.  By arrogance I mean the mental set that lets you believe that what you write is worth reading.  Persistence should also be obvious, although in all probability the extent of persistence necessary usually comes as a surprise.”

Beep. Flash. “Uh, sir?”

“Beep. Flash, Uh, sir, yourself.  Time’s up.  Now, I try to end every session with a quote from a famous author that will motivate and inspire. More than that, a quote that will express the exquisite joy of producing a well written and publishable piece. And every time I try, I fail.”

Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash. Beep. Flash.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gene Murray lives in upstate New York, and is constantly amazed at the wonders of his family.  He is retired, happily, and currently hunkers down with his innamorata and laughs the days away.

But That’s Just Me

I live in an area that has proven to be a wrinkle in the fabric of death from the Coronavirus. Between Saratoga and Schenectady there have only been about forty deaths since the disaster began. All forty are, of course, regrettable and painful for family and friends, but worlds apart from those areas that report thousands or tens of thousands of deaths.

I ‘shelter-in-place’ with my wife of forty-four years, a woman I have loved since before I knew her name. I find myself, often, singing an old song, ‘I love you more than I can say’, and I understand why that lyric pirouettes in my brain. And we keep getting closer, somehow.

I have a sister, ‘than whom there is no whomer’, who has managed to remain both friend and family through all of her ups and downs, and all of mine. No small thing. In this shrinking world, my respect and affection for her still grow.

I think sometimes of family that have passed away, parents, aunts, uncles, brother, and wonder how they would react to this global bedlam. Sadness at their loss is tinged with gratitude that they will never experience this particular horror. I do think that they, who navigated through depression and world wars, would have managed the current challenge better than our entitled and thoughtless cohort. None would be so arrogant as to wear the red dunce cap.

This treatise will not be read by many, and will soon swirl down the bottomless blogosphere into oblivion. That’s fine.

That it is read is less important than that it has been written.

Stay safe.

Words and Phrases to Retire from Political Discourse

“Let me be clear …”

“Standing shoulder to shoulder with …”

“…gate”; as in Russiagate, Monicagate, Ukrainegate, ad nauseum.

“The American People have a right to know.”

“Let’s do this.

“Let’s get this straight.”

“Let’s be honest”

“ … moving forward.”

“With all due respect…”

“It is what it is…”

“Not for nothing …”

“Many people are saying” …

“…Mark my words”

“I’m old enough to remember …”

“Not gonna lie, …”

“…Believe me”

“…I can tell you that”

“That being said …”

“Can you imagine if …”

Pluto

No, not Mickey’s dog, much as I like him. He, or maybe she, is wonderful. Adventurous, unworldly, gangly, relatable; an Ichabod Crane venturing out to experience the world in childlike fascination. But as was said about Lyndon Johnson, ‘He ain’t got no charisma’.

And no again, not that huge rock, the disgraced planet, orbiting at the far rim of our solar system. On one side, constantly, the receding but still visible glow of the sun. On the other, only darkness and unfathomed distance. This wanderer has little gravity, and even less gravitas.

•••

Rather Pluto, the old, old deity from classical Greek mythology who ruled the underworld. He had two brothers; Zeus was given dominion over the heavens, Poseidon over the seas. Pluto, outbid and resentful, was given the shadowy and barren realm of the underworld.

Did Pluto complain? Perhaps, but where are the conversations of the gods recorded? A silent card catalogue, a spinning disk from Google, a ‘does not exist’ from Wikipedia. Confirmation resides only in the minds of those fatuous enough to wonder.

Did he rebel? Not really, but in his wrath, he stooped to narrow and contrary pursuits. He stole the daughter of Demeter, condemning humankind to hunger, the ravages of winter, and the tedious logistics of food storage.

•••

As the world revolved and devolved, the Greeks captured and were captured by Rome, Barbarians captured Rome, Christians captured the Barbarians, and capitalism despoiled them all. Pluto changed his name to Hades, and retired to live a quiet life, removed from the glare of semi-divinity.

Retirement for the semi-divine is not just lounging  in the Elysian Fields, drinking ambrosia and laughing at mortals. Michael Jordan tried to retire, and failed, Sinatra and Streisand tried, and failed. Cher, bless her, is still working at it.

Hades, who often answered to just ‘Hay’, took odd jobs to fill the time, and the simpler the better. He was a dog walker in Amarillo, a crab cracker in Baltimore, and a summer snow shoveler in Boston, Massachusetts. None of these occupations satisfied his need for solitude and anonymity.

Toward the end, he found a job as a bargain book bin spotter at Murray’s Bargain Book Bin in Brooklyn, N.Y. His only job was to stare down any passerby who looked like he was planning to steal a book. One afternoon, soon after a nearby mass-murder, business was slow. Hay found himself bored and reading a biography of Friedrich Nietzsche. Incredibly, he learned that he, and all deities from the dawn of time, were actually dead.

He thought, ‘I have to tell Hermes about this, he’ll get a real kick’, and kept reading. By page twelve of the biography, he felt an odd tingling in his lower legs. By page thirty it had reach his hips, and by chapter four, there was nothing left but a puddle of glowing ichor dripping off his chair. Murray came out later and sponged it off.

•••

Hermes, as it happened, had expired some months earlier. He suffered a fit of laughter during a Marvel superhero movie, and never recovered.

Portrait

I am weary of thinking and writing about Covid-19, quarantine, and the drooling BS between reality and the government version of reality.

This badly mangled pandemic is not an ‘era’. It won’t last that long, It will have deep effect, certainly, but we can use a little perspective. History is constructed of disasters that the sweep of time, well, sweeps. That is what time does, it sweeps. Even Einstein could not explain what time is, only what it does.

Although not scientific, my definition of time is simple; time is that force that keeps things from happening all at once and sweeps away everything else. Quid id est. (Don’t you hate it when someone throws in a Latin or French phrase and then doesn’t translate it. I know I do),

My life is not made up of, or illuminated by this horrible period of my life, or the Hieronymus Bosh portraits it has painted of our time and the inhabitants of our time. My portrait is much more complicated than that.

Portraits are complicated, nuanced, shaded with light and darkness. My good memories; body surfing in Jersey, the birth of my children, laughing with my wife, all blend and swirl and bang into the darker ones. Deaths, disappointments, the realization of my role in those disappointments. These are not something as formal and forgettable as data points. They are pixels in the larger construction of the portrait of my life.

Nothing goes in a straight line, very little in life is sequential. It’s all a portrait splashed together of independent parts. This pandemic, fated to be one piece of the portrait, is no exception.

***

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on

Nor all your piety nor wit

Will lure it back to cancel one line.

Nor all your tears wash away a word of it

                                              Omar Kahyam

 

But then on the other hand:

 

With all of its sham, drudgery and broken dreams

It’s still a beautiful world

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

                             Desiderata by Max Ehrman

The Eighteenth of April

Tis the 18th of April in twenty twenty

And although we dwell in a land of plenty

Gloom fills the air, as does Corona

From Maine to Seatle, on down to Arizona

It’s easy right now to be satirical

At the dopes in the beltway posing political

And the people all over, carrying signs

‘Don’t worry’, they say, ‘everything’s fine’

 

Isolation and Quarantine take  a deep toll

But New Zealand, they say, has it under control

And Antartica’s nice this time of year

Where you can still shake hands without any fear

 

So I’ll pack a bag with hand sanitizer

And head somewhere with an environment nicer

But I’ll look back in anger and frustration

At what greed and ignorance can do to a nation.

Stoicism In The Age Of Covid-19

I have lately, since the quarantine, been reading and listening to information about Stoicism, the misunderstood and much maligned philosophy from classical Greece and Rome. If you are interested in history, look up Epictetus, or Seneca, or Marcus Aurelius. But read about them, don’t read them. Reading them will make your eyes rotate and your hair straighten.

It is not advice on how to be aloof, or impervious to pain, or life without emotion.  It is not about how to get to heaven or avoid hell.

It is about living a full and honest and joyful life here, on this spinning, confusing vale of tears. The advice is simple and practical.

For example;

—You can’t always control what happens. But you can always control your reactions to what happens.

—Accept that life happens, and that you will often be confronted by unfair situations and ignorant, rude and aggressive people. Sometimes you gotta just sing ‘Let It Be.’ Or as someone who was maybe Churchill said, ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going.

Good examples are people like John McCain when he was a POW, or even George Washington when he was outnumbered, out gunned and out generaled.

•••

The world we currently inhabit is full of horrors, both seen and unseen, as well as those ignorant, rude and aggressive types who see it as an opportunity to take advantage. It seems to me that Stoicism was meant for times like this. We cannot control the virus, it is a life (?) form that follows its own rules. All we can do is we control our reactions to it. All the hype poured into our collective ears lately is the appropriate reaction. Quarantine, social distance, hand washing, masks, gloves. Those are rational, stoical responses to something that we cannot control.

As Churchill said, during a global catastrophe even worse than this, KBO— Keep Buggering On.

For a good resource on Stoicism try:

dailystoic.com

or a nice YouTube introduction at