My 69th Year

It was my 69th year to heaven, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas. It started with a broken leg and ended with a restored heart rhythm, two young dogs and a retirement plan. Meanwhile, my country slides toward…what? Beneath the bubbles and burbles of everyday life there is a current of anxiety that cannot be turned off, not completely.

Today is the last day of 2017. This morning it was -23 F with a wind chill in the -40+ range. It has not been above zero for a week. Cars are not starting and we are developing the early signs of cabin fever: crankiness, sleepiness, boredom, restless legs. I’ve put on a few pounds in the past month so that my heavy wool pants are just a bit too snug. Going outdoors for a few minutes is no problem, but an hours-long outdoor adventure is just too much!

I’ve spent much of the holidays setting up a couple of new computers. It feels like indulgence, but I replaced my early 2009 iMac with a 2017 model, and added a MacBook Pro to my toolkit. I purchased a wireless multi-function copier, printer, scanner as well. That’s not all I’ve been doing. Debby and I have started clearing stuff out, making room, cleaning. All of this in preparation for the Big Change in June, 2018. Then another phase of my life will begin.

In the meantime, the Vikings play the Bears at noon in their last regular-season game. Too bad the Packers aren’t there at the finish line with them. One bad hit, one broken collarbone, one player out and the Packer’s season was over. There is a lesson in that.

Fear and Change

The American people elected President Obama twice. We chose hope over change; Mr. Obama provided the hope, but consistently said it was up to us to make change happen. He clearly understood the ways in which he embodied hope, but likely also knew he, as an African-American, would never be allowed to make the kinds of changes an FDR was able to make.

We are by nature a hopeful people, but naturally resist change. The traditional conservative view is suspicion of utopian notions of change, based on the premise that humans really don’t change. We remain greedy, selfish, ignorant and lazy sinners.

I get that. Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth by using a simple real-world observation and applying mathematics. Except for a small error in his calculation, his estimate was within less than 2/10 of 1% of the current measurement. He did this 2,200 years ago. So though I would not hold the most negative view of human nature, it is pretty clear that we haven’t gotten smarter.

So now we have elevated a dunce to power who offers something different: fear and change. Big change, big fear. But here is the thing – when we are forced into it, no country can change with the speed and totality that we can. This has been a mistake repeated by our real-world enemies over and over again. They see us as weak, self-indulgent, simple-minded and backward. I believe the dunce believe that too.

He will see change, but it is not likely to be the change he expects.


When think about what activity outside of work has occupied the most hours of the alone time in my life, there is no question about it: reading. I estimate that I have on average read a book a week for pleasure for at least 50 years. That is about 2,600 books. I am not counting half-read books, books required for my education, reading for work and so forth.

Of course, I am not always alone when I read. In fact, I find I can read with concentration and enjoyment almost anywhere, anytime. When I read, as when I think, it is difficult to distract me. Although this focus might make reading appear to be an obsession, but I believe it would be more accurate to describe it as a compulsion. I always start looking for and gathering the next book before I finish the one I’m reading, and it is rare that if I get past the first 50 pages of any book, I will finish it.


There is a thrill about starting a new book that has never diminished over time. In fiction, I am entering a tiny world created entirely by another mind, populated by characters created to tell a story, to reveal themselves in ways that turn reality inside out. With non-fiction it is an imagined space that can contain the thoughts, ideas, concepts, opinions, arguments – all analogues of the writers version of the world.

I’m not a reading snob; I read broadly and if I try to pin down the genre, it is far easier to identify what I do not read than what I do. I don’t read westerns, romance novels, explicitly religious fiction – those I can say off the top of my head. But I love crime novels, spy novels, historical fiction novels, science fiction, literary novels, speculative fiction, classics, translated fiction, poetry and so on. I am an adventurous reader, but not undemanding – it must be well-written. Like Martin Amis, I deplore cliché.

When I talk to people about reading, I always hear, “I should read more.” My response is always the same. “You don’t understand” I say, “reading is my escape, my enjoyment – not an effort.” I sometimes like to roughly quote Emerson: “It is as easy for a strong man to be strong as a weak to be weak.” It is wrong to take pride in something you do that would require an effort NOT to do!

Jeremy James Olson 6/11/70 – 6/1/09

June 1, 2016

Today is a day of remembrance. My plan was to take the day to myself, but my indecision forced me to work. I was doing my job and that by itself can feel like a way to honor my son who worked for everything he got in life and still remain true to his deepest self despite the voluntary suffering that entailed. I also “fasted.”

I lit a candle atop Jeremy’s ashes when I got home, and cooked the small meal within the calorie limitation of an intermittent fast. It is the only time I bother counting calories. I listened to some classical music while I cooked: chicken puttanesca swedish version. It bakes in a big green enabled cast iron pot from Wal-Mart, which is why I believe that Le Creuset is good stuff.

Relaxing after dinner I got an urgent text from work. A very nasty problem has emerged that will require very delicate handling. The spirit of the evening seemed broken. It was starting to rain, with the intensity forecast to increase as the evening ends. I asked Debby if she wanted to take a walk with Nigel and me. As we were leaving, she asked if she should put in her ear buds and listen to her music. This is how we ride bikes together – almost 2,000 miles last year.

I walk a lot faster than I used to, as set a fast pace, controlling my only recently leash-trained Rhodesian Ridgeback – Pit until he settles in. He stops to poop. I have a bag. The rain is lightly falling. The smells of the blooming of all the trees, bushes, shrubs, grass and other vegetable things fill my nose. When I finally start breathing deep breathes, all of my breathing passages open up.

Later in the walk, the rain coming more steadily, I spotted a rusty metal object on the street. I stooped to pick it up and examine it as I walked. It was two sheets of metal screwed tightly together with machine screws, still bound although departed from a much larger sheet. Only a brittle, rusty, ragged toenail of metal protruded from the two identical parts held together by the screws. I resisted an impulse to bend the protrusion back and forth until it broke off. I might have then smelled the end to see if any unusual fumes issued forth.

As we reach home, I showed Debby the piece of rusty metal I’d carried along with Nigel’s bag of poop. She asked, “What is it?”

“A message,” I said.




First blog post

Why start another blog when a couple of others lie scrambled in cyberspace? The fact is that this was a suggestion regarding journaling. An easy way to jot down thoughts from anywhere at anytime. I always seem to have something on my mind, and I love talking or writing about what that is.