“Everything Richard Eats is Healthy”

A really good meal starts with color.
A really good meal starts with color.

I was at a public gathering recently, and someone in the group said she’d lost 30 pounds recently, 30 pounds she said she’d gained during the lockdowns associated with coronavirus. She told us she lost the weight using the Optavia diet. I was impressed by her achievement, but that diet involves lots of cabbage and broccoli, and she said she had run out of ideas about how to cook them.

“Those are two of the most nutritious foods you can eat,” I said.

“Everything Richard eats is healthy,” she said to the group. I wish that were true. What is true is that I try to be aware of the nutritional content of everything I eat.

I have really been enjoying oranges lately.
I have really been enjoying oranges lately.

When my wife Abby wants a baked ziti from our favorite Italian place, for example, I usually get a veggie pizza while I am there. The fact that it’s a “veggie” pizza doesn’t change its nutritional content much. It’s an indulgence, but I always make sure not to overeat. Pizza keeps well and reheats easily, so I usually make three meals out of it.

I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.
I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.

Here are some additional thoughts about diet and health…

  • Refined sugar isn’t really a nutrient. How I feel when I eat sugar? Since I eat refined sugar so infrequently, its effect is very evident: rising heart rate, a subtle feeling of anxiety, marked mood elevation followed by a classic “sugar crash.”
  • I stopped drinking sugar drinks like soda decades ago, and if I have a sip of one now, it doesn’t taste appealing in any way.
  • Why do I like what I like? I never get tired of broccoli and cabbage, beans and rice, fresh fruit and whole grains. I admit that some of this is by choice, and some of it is how I am constituted genetically.
  • Counting carbs is off base; that’s how we got here in the first place. I believe the answer lies in a more fundamental behavior: eating less, eating real food, and moving more. The minute you look at a real food like a peach or a cantaloupe and assign a number to it, you’ve lost your way.
  • I ponder this one all the time: nobody wants to be obese or diabetic, so why is it so prevalent? Is it that the machinery of industry makes too much money too easily selling sugar and fat to us, or is it that we are too easily tempted by these things?
  • Stop thinking of food as a reward, and start thinking of food as a choice.
  • On weekends or other days off, the next thing I do after a meal is walk our dogs.
  • One trick that works for me: if I don’t think it should be in my diet, I won’t bring it into my house. When I have a desire for a mid-afternoon snack and look in the pantry, I find what I brought home from the grocery store. Is it apples and steel cut oats, or snack cakes and doughnuts?

I want to end this on a positive note: everyone and anyone can eat a healthier diet, it’s easier than you might imagine, and it has the potential to turn your health and your life completely around.

This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik'n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.
This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik’n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.

MIracle on Main Street, or The Mystery of Lake Milligan

One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.
One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.

For the past few years I have observed a mysterious puddle come and go near my orchard south of the house. I suspected it was a leak in the main water line leading from the water meter to our house, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem to be getting worse, and would sometimes disappear entirely.

Then in February, we had the worst winter storm in recent memory. A foot of snow covered the ground, and temperatures dipped below zero on two nights. We were careful to open the cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around our water pipes, and, unlike hundreds of area residents, we avoided a messy and expensive plumbing problem.

The extreme weather was not without consequence, however. The mysterious puddle at first shrank to insignificance, but in the last few days, it got much large, and I dubbed it “Lake Milligan,” after George Milligan, Abby’s first father-in-law, who installed the water line when Abby moved back to Byng in 1993.

It grew so quickly this week that it was apparent that the water line would have to be repaired, and Abby and I were certain it would take forever, and cost a fortune.

Enter Nickerson Plumbing. They were able to send out a friendly pair of young plumbers, one of whom remembered me from when I covered his Ada Cougar basketball games, and the other recalled being bitten by our neighbor’s dog last year.

The two determined that we did have a growing leak, and set out to find it. At this point, Abby and I were sure we would be leasing a backhoe for days, and this repair would completely consume our income tax refund.

Then, the Miracle on Main Street.

“We found your leak,” one of the plumbers announced after a 20-minute search. It was right where the puddle had come and gone over the years, and at this point, the leak had gotten large enough to see and hear. One of them showed me the joint that had cracked and leaked very slowly, but had, in the last few days, turned into a pinhole, then a larger hole.

They patched it up and buried it, and turned on the water. One of them had a billing app, and added it up: $204. Wow.

This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.
This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.

Early Girls and Big Boys

Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.
Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.

I know it seems a little early to be getting the garden in the ground, as in years past I have frequently dealt with mid-April frosts and freezes, but if you can get plants in the ground early, then have a little luck with the weather, you get a longer growing season, and a better yield.

I might have to replant some if we do get a freeze, but it’s only about $20 worth of plants.

My soil has gotten depleted over the years, so prior to planting, I tilled in a large bag of organic tomato/vegetable garden fertilizer.

Yesterday I planted…

  • Ten Early Girl tomato plants
  • Three Big Boy tomato plants
  • Five red bell pepper plants
  • One green bell pepper plant
  • One orange bell pepper plant
  • Three Sun Sugar cherry tomato plants

My variety selection was based entirely on what was available at the garden center Sunday.

That leaves cucumber, radish, and marigold seeds to plant, hopefully tonight.

One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.
One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.

Nature Fighting Back

I got my second coronavirus vaccination this week. My arm is very sore and I have some muscle aches, but that tells me it’s working.

My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.
My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.

I posted on social media this week that my peach trees had gone straight to leaves this year, and did not appear to be making blossoms, which, according to my photos from previous years, almost always happened before the first day of spring. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have peaches, though I was encouraged to see that I did have plum blossoms.

A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.
A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.

Then today, as I walked Hawken, I caught sight of a few peach blossoms on a couple of my trees, and I felt encouraged, both because I might actually get peaches, but also that it seemed to me that nature, after years of cruelty to it by humans, seemed, in the last 15 months or so, to be fighting back.

I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.
I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.

First Day of Spring

Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.
Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.

I have been on vacation all week, and Abby and I have really enjoyed being together all the time.

The weather turned warm, and for the first day of spring, I chased down a few images of our redbud tree.

Also of note, my plum trees are putting on blossoms, but my peaches are going straight to leaves, which might mean I won’t get peaches this year.

Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.
Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.

Tyler the Tiller

Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.
Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.

My readers might be aware that I previously owned two small gasoline-powered tillers, also known as cultivators. The second one, Tilly, was purchased exactly eight years ago, worked properly most recently three years ago, meaning its useful life was five years. I consider that a complete rip-off, since that boils down to about ten hours of actual garden tilling, since I only need it once a year.

I thought about last year, when I dug the garden by hand. Not only was it slow, back-breaking work, it didn’t get the soil really chopped up like a tiller could. I am all about working hard, but I was not looking forward to another five-hour hands-and-knees session.

Local retailers had that exact model for an insulting $300, so I poked around on the interwebs and found an electric tiller for just $133, minus a small discount from rewards points. “Buy Now.”

My Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator arrived in just two days. It was easy to assemble and ready in minutes. The question would be one of electric vs gasoline, which is why I opted for the more robust 13.5 AMP plug-in model.

At the first turn of dirt, Tyler dug like a champ, including some very rough areas that had gone to grass several years ago. We’ll see how long it will live, but so far, the newest tiller in the family is working well.

I asked Abby what I should name it, and she said, “Tyler.”

One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.
One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.

Home, Well, and Back to Work

I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.
I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.
Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger's state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982. She took my photography class some years ago.
Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger’s state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982. She took my photography class some years ago.

My social media followers know that Abby was released from the hospital last week, and while she was sketchy for a day or two, it seems like she is fine now.

It was nice to return to work, and a normal life. The stress of missing Abby and not knowing the outcome of her illness was overwhelming.

From social media…

Also also, thank you technology! Abby lost her iPhone on her way to the hospital in the ambulance, which I didn’t know until today. I went to iCloud and the Find My iPhone feature, put it in lost mode, pinged it, found it at another hospital, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, where it was in lost and found. My guess is that she dropped it in the ambulance, and someone found it and turned it in on a later EMS run.

Abby and I are watching the Bourne film series. We think the sixth installment should be, “Bourne in the USA,” followed by “Bourne on the Fourth of July,” “Bourne Free,” and “Bourne to Run.” The final installment? “Natural Bourne Killers.”

Dream: we had a house full of teenagers, some of them drunk, when I discover a bloodhound has scattered hundreds of pounds of popcorn through the house over a period of weeks, and everyone was simply pushing paths through it like plowing snow. We decide to make pizza, then decide it would be easier to order pizza, but every time I lift my phone and look at it, it is a different brand or ever from a different era.

For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.
For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.

I’ve Been Vaxed!

Good news: today I got my first coronavirus vaccination. I received it at a vaccination event sponsored by The Clinic and the Pontotoc Technology Center where I teach photography. It was the Moderna brand. So far, the only side effect has been the most common: soreness at the injection site.

I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.
I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.

Abby is still in the hospital, but fortunately got vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer brand weeks ago, so hopefully she is protected in her situation. She sounded much better on the phone, and might be able to come home in a day or two.

In the meantime, her Chihuahua, Summer, is still moping.

Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby's afghans yesterday. I tell her she's a good girl, but she still misses Abby.
Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby’s afghans yesterday. I tell her she’s a good girl, but she still misses Abby.

My Turn to Wait

Abby is in the hospital, and she and I are both very stressed by the fact that I can’t join her. Like people across the globe, including Abby’s daughter just two weeks ago, hospital stays are in isolation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (a phrase I have learned to type in my sleep.)

I'd like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby's afghans all day.
I’d like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby’s afghans all day.

Abby is not in any immediate danger. It became necessary to call EMS this morning when, after several days of difficulty, she was unable to walk or even stand on her own. The initial diagnosis is hypercalcaemia (link)

The Wikipedia article says, “The neuromuscular symptoms of hypercalcaemia are caused by a negative bathmotropic effect due to the increased interaction of calcium with sodium channels. Since calcium blocks sodium channels and inhibits depolarization of nerve and muscle fibers, increased calcium raises the threshold for depolarization. This results in diminished deep tendon reflexes (hyporeflexia), and skeletal muscle weakness.”

She was tested for coronavirus and flu, and does not have them.

As she got sicker, she experienced some cognitive difficulty, but, as is often the case with her, intravenous fluids bring her right around, and on the phone just down she sounded clearer-headed, and aggravated with the situation, which I take as a good sign.

I’m not really eating or sleeping, which is what I do when I am stressed, though as I wrote this I made myself eat a bowl of soup.

She said a doctor said she might be there three days, so that tired clichéd Tom Petty song lyric, “the waiting is the hardest part,” is mine today.

That Dark Winter

Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.
Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.

Today’s bleak winter weather is bringing back a dark winter for me, 1979.

I was a tenth grader, writing in my embryonic journal, making embryonic images.

The two images I posted with this entry are very much like the images I made back then, in part because I dug out the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens that came with the Fujica ST-605n I bought in the summer of 1978 with some of my allowance and a $100 gift from my paternal grandmother.

I sold the Fujica decades ago, but a couple of years ago I found an identical one on eBay and got it. The lens is mostly plastic, with a five-bladed aperture, but it is remarkable sharp, and gives a look, today mounted on my Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera, identical to the film images I made all those decades ago.

Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.
Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.

In the Midst of the Rona, I Got My Shingles Vaccination

Great news today: my wife Abby was able to receive her second dose of Pfizer-made coronavirus vaccine Friday.

Across the country, health departments, hospitals and clinics have been struggling to meet demand for vaccines to address the historic coronavirus pandemic. I know that I am grateful for every effort they have made, and I am aware that something on such a scale is sure to be difficult, but we as a nation are on our way to taking our lives back from this disease.

Abby is a little older than I am, so she was eligible to receive her vaccine in the first phase of Governor Stitt’s four-phase plan for vaccinating Oklahomans. But I am in phrase three, so I won’t be eligible for some time yet, and while I wait, I remain aware that there are many other health issues that didn’t go away just because “the Rona” is here. For example, Abby and I both got influenza vaccinations last fall.

So it was that a television ad caught my eye: Shingrix, a vaccine against shingles, is now recommended for adults 50 and older who had chicken pox when they were young, which is most of us.

I’ve known people who have suffered through shingles, an awful, painful illness, and even someone whose shingles damaged her vision, so when I heard it was available, I couldn’t wait to get Shingrix in my arm.

Social media informed me that this vaccine would rough me up a little bit, and they weren’t wrong: just 24 hours from the first of two shots, my side effects were pretty textbook: my arm is super sore, and I even had a little bit of fever, both of which made it difficult to sleep, but which responded to Tylenol.

I am a proponent of vaccines, since I am old enough to know people who had diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and smallpox, just to mention a few, which plagued humanity for centuries until being brought under control, and in the case of smallpox, eliminated by vaccines.

I would also encourage my readers to have some common sense when it comes to vaccines and the absurd conspiracy theories surrounding them.

When I become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, I will take it, and hopefully one fine day this year, we can reclaim our lives and routines, thanks to the science of vaccines.

Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.
Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.

A Legacy of Dignity

What if, after your political career, you could depart the landscape of history with dignity?

What if you could be known as someone who learned from the First World War and brokered a brilliant solution at the end of the Second World War?

What if you left with a spotless record of dignified speeches, a humble social servant and family man, whose administration remained unstained by scandal?

What if your legacy was to challenge America to a difficult and complex task that seemed insurmountable, but one to which America rose?

What if, despite an unimpressive political career, you went on to a long legacy of statesmanlike service to your nation and humanity?

But instead…

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.”

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.”

“They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part)…”

And what if, instead of standing tall and speaking to the people of the world, from University pulpits and hallowed hall of mighty nations, you did it all from Twitter at four in the morning?

Is our flag fading?
Is our flag fading?

Short Story: Breakfast

I wrote this after challenging someone to write a story in which nothing actually happens.

Short Story: Breakfast

” … but she just drops her pearl-black eyes
and prays to hear him say
‘I love you’
but he tells no more lies … “
-Robert Smith

They sat in total silence. With the windows closed, no sounds of the morning outside could get in. Breakfast was already on the table. A moment ago it sizzled, but now was quiet. Even the radio, usually blaring rock and roll from her favorite station, was soundless.

She simply sat, staring at her bacon and eggs. She made them over-easy because he liked them that way. She didn’t care how they were cooked; she didn’t like eggs at all. She had lifelessly gnawed on a piece of bacon which turned out to be overdone, the way he liked it.

He read the newspaper. About midway through the sports page, he discovered that the Blue Jays had beaten the Royals again.

He took a breath, the kind one takes just before he speaks, but then had nothing to say, and let it out. She heard him breathe and waited for his words, but was filled with the sorest disappointment when he said nothing. She felt angry … no, mad as hell when he did that. What was that supposed to mean? she wondered. Why doesn’t he ever talk to me?

She tightened and took the same kind of breath into her own lungs, but then held it for a protracted moment as she realized she had nothing to say either. Maybe it had all been said. Maybe he wouldn’t understand. Maybe he didn’t care.

After another tense moment, she relaxed her breath in such a way as to be totally silent. She didn’t want to give away her secret. She didn’t want him to think she was doing what she thought he was doing.

Over his newspaper she could see the stove and sink, all covered with the by-product of making breakfast. Skillet, empty egg carton, half-empty bacon wrapper, uncapped milk jug, and spatula all had to be cleaned up, in addition to the dishes on the table.

She’d have to do it. Somehow he was always out the door one second before it was time to do dishes.

She felt the same as she had the night before, when she’d gone out of her way to make his favorite dinner: Swedish meatballs. He piled them on his plate and disappeared into the living room to watch professional wrestling. She was furious.

He found the comics page, and read them in the same order as he always did. When he got to Garfield, he felt like laughing, but instead he just heaved his head slightly, the hint of a grin on his face behind the paper.

She didn’t see it, though. Her gaze was locked on an unoccupied area of the table about six inches to the right of her plate.

Her eyes were glued to that spot as her thoughts slowed down.

Finally they crept to a halt. To her there was for a moment only that dusty brown empty area on the table. It felt good to her for it to all go away like that.

In her head there soon came a song…

” … I dreamed you had left my side
No warmth, not even pride remained
And even though you needed me
It was clear that I could not do a thing for you…”

She took in another breath so she could hum a bar or two of it, but again her voice was silent. If he heard her, he might recognize it, and put with it the same significance she did.

She sat motionless, locked in an embrace with the lover she had made of silence.

He didn’t notice any of this, for he wasn’t watching. Even if he had been, he wouldn’t have seen it. The drama was all going on in her heart.

At last, after her sight had begun to fade, she slowly let out the breath that would have sung. She looked up. Without her even noticing, he had left, and it was time for her to do the dishes.

The Times We Have Made

The most difficult year since 9/11 is over, but the world seems to continue to deliver a steady stream of gut punches. The most recent of these is the unfathomably violent, vulgar and seditious actions by pro-Trump supporters in our nation’s capital.

There is good news, however…

  • Abby received her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine along with 1000 others in her age group yesterday at the Pontotoc County Agri-Plex. For most of 2020, my biggest worry about the pandemic has been bringing it home to her and her fragile immune system.
  • I am teaching photography again.
  • The protests appear to be over, and congress certified the Electoral College votes.

I and many around me were deeply troubled by the protests in Washington. I can’t speak for others, but for me the most disturbing notion is how eager some people are to throw out the constitution in the name of Trump. It resonates so closely with the events in Germany in 1933, and it sounds like a cliché to compare anyone to Hitler, but the parallels are too real to ignore.

In defense of the Right, the vice president and the senate majority leader, both Republicans, stood against the mob and the president to certify the election results. Even a very right-wing acquaintance of mine posted on social media to the mob: “At easy, assholes!”

Is this really the world we have made? Have we built this glistening tower of technology just to descend into ignorance and bloodshed? Imagine what we could do with the internet and global connectivity if we applied it to exploration, science, health, and medicine.

My thoughts on this are incomplete, so I will just leave this hear and see if anyone comments.

Abby receives her first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, an mRNA vaccine from Moderna. Despite the appalling rumors and conspiracy theories, mostly from the right, about the vaccine being evil, it really is the only way we can get our world back to normal.
Abby receives her first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, an mRNA vaccine from Moderna. Despite the appalling rumors and conspiracy theories, mostly from the right, about the vaccine being evil, it really is the only way we can get our world back to normal.

The Journal Unplugged, or, uh, Replugged

This item was originally penned in 2011, but I updated it January 2021.

The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?
The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?

The reason we spent all those dark hours scratching our thoughts onto Mead notebooks are as individual as we are, but at the core is this: we recorded our intimate thoughts.

98% of the creative process creates useless, self-indulgent drivel. Only through that creative process can we cull diamonds from our fires, cut statues from our mountains.

My journal started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade…

Fantasy. There is a great enemy in my spirit. That enemy lingers on forever, never ceasing to attack and condemn. I am my enemy.

I had just turned 15, and I was the kind of kid who listened to instructions and obeyed them. Our teacher told us to write half a page three times a week, which at the start I did assiduously. Within a few weeks, though, I discovered that I had more to say, or at least wanted to have more to say. By the end of the semester I’d given myself a standard of writing one whole spiral-bound notebook page each day.

In 1982, I went through a period of intellectual and creative silence. I wasn’t ready to admit I wasn’t writing as much as I expected from myself, so I left pages blank in my notebooks, and filled them in later with memories of those days. I can tell where because the ink is different.

These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.
These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.

By 1998, I was beginning to travel more, and wanted more portable books, so on my journal’s twentieth anniversary, September 5, 1998, I switched to smaller journal notebooks that were popular at bookstores at the time.

In high school Michael and my then-girlfriend Tina and I named my journal Lord Byron O’Malley, though the name never really stuck. For a while in the summer of 1980, we imagined I would publish my eleventh grade journal and get rich, so we typed up a few dozen pages. (I say “we,” but I didn’t know how to type, so Michael and Tina did the actual work.)

In college, I went through a period when I thought my old journal entries were an ocean of self-pity, which they were, and almost threw them all out. I’m glad I didn’t.

When I was 24, I became nearly obsessed with my journal from when I was 15, imagining it held the key to filling the emptiness that stood before me.

As I started blogging (which as we know is slang for web log, which itself is slang for an online journal) and expressed myself online more and more (including private entries only I can read), I wrote on paper less and less. However, I have recently made a concerted effort to write more by hand.

I still have more than enough hardbound volumes that are blank, and I guess I am saving them for the end times when the internet is no longer available and I need somewhere to write. Their potential is inspiring. All those blank pages are waiting to be filled.

Lately I’ve been feeling at least a little regret at not writing the right things in my journal. For example, if I had it to do again, I would write down every movie and television show I ever watched. I’m sure the list would be frighteningly long and boring, and there would be a lesson in that.

I will always write.

Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?
Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?

Diet Notes

This was my meal of Alaskan pollock last night. Abby had shrimp scampi.
This was my meal of Alaskan pollock last night. Abby had shrimp scampi.

I recently elected to add some fish to my diet in hopes of getting my wife Abby to eat healthier, or in some cases at all. Important caveats include the idea that the fish is noted as nutritious on its own merits, is caught in a sustainable fashion, and is prepared in a healthy manner (as in not deep fried.)

Note: there is no such thing as a vegetarian who eats fish. Therefore, I am no long a vegetarian. Need to call me something? How about dynamic healthitarian?

With the stress of the Rona on Abby, who is already somewhat isolated, she tends to turn down my offers of food, saying she’ll just eat some crackers or that she isn’t hungry at all, but if I prepare a big meal with something she loves – recently it was Alaskan salmon, saffron rice, and steamed Brussels sprouts – it makes her smile and appreciate it, and, of course, eat it.

A new social media friend of mine, who showed up in my feed by posting a picture I took of her as a first grader in December 1988, says she wants to lose 50 pounds, and, “has been making excuses and displacing the blame from myself this whole time. But this time is different.”

I wish I had some genius to share with her, but I think my success with diet and weight discipline is more about who I am than it is about any tricks up my sleeve. It’s easy, for example, for me to stop eating when I’m full. I seldom desire foods that are outright bad for me, like candy, doughnuts, or soft drinks. But I know plenty of people, maybe even most people, who pass by the fruit tray at the sports watch party and dig in to the Doritos.

I am also very, very lucky that my current level of health allows me to move, work on my feet, walk dogs miles a day, and feel like it energizes me. Part of it is luck that I don’t have arthritis or bad feet, but part of it is that my choices lead to better outcomes. I don’t have type II diabetes because I eat right and exercise, and I am able to eat right and exercise because I don’t have type II diabetes.

I friended the person who is trying to lose weight after she posted a snapshot of this newspaper, The Ada Evening News from December 11, 1988. I had been at The News for just six weeks when I made those photos.
I friended the person who is trying to lose weight after she posted a snapshot of this newspaper, The Ada Evening News from December 11, 1988. I had been at The News for just six weeks when I made those photos.

Hate It to Death

I saw a meme on social media recently that read, “Make racists afraid again.” You are so in love with hating racists that you don’t realize that they are already afraid. They would have to be to be racists. Maybe I’m asking too much to say, “Make racists realize that we are all human beings,” or even better, “Love racists and help them becomes better people, and eventually not racists at all.”

And if they did, could you forgive them? Your hate goes pretty deep. You are eager to hate non-racists even for single moments of racism they showed 40 years ago.

I know most of the people who hate racists are supposed to be on my side, but hating something never made it better. Even “hate racism” misses the point. What if we tried to understand racism? Maybe if we got a handle on its causes, we could make strides toward ending it.

If you could change humanity tomorrow, would you burn it to the ground, or nurture it into beauty?
If you could change humanity tomorrow, would you burn it to the ground, or nurture it into beauty?

 

Open Mic Nyte Revisited

An Open Mic Nyte participant reads from a book in August 2017 at Mojo's Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.
An Open Mic Nyte participant reads from a book in August 2017 at Mojo’s Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.

This was a story I wrote for my newspaper two years ago, before Open Mic Nyte disbanded. I found the files when I was cleaning out some folders on my laptop, and wanted to preserve it here.

Open Mic Nyte

by Richard R. Barron, Chief Photographer

The scent of coffee drifts through the air as Steve Brogdon gives the microphone a tug to make it a little taller. “There,” he says to me, “is that good?”

I thank him, then awkwardly clear my throat. Though I am not nervous, since I among friends, I still want to sound prepared and professional.

“Three strings walk into a coffee shop,” I say, and I can see eyes rolling from the crowd seated before me. I like to open with a joke before getting to my more serious material, and my “three strings” joke is, well, a great joke.

I pause and make eye contact. Not only do I consider uniform eye contact the mark of a good public speaker, I am happy to look at the people around me, as I have, in the past year, forged friendships with them, thanks to Open Nic Nyte.

Originally organized by Rhonda Ragsdale, who goes by the pen name Lisa M. Pyre, Open Mic is now largely run by Brogdon and Sterling Jacobs, who is a long-time area artist, poet, and, if he will accept that I am calling him this in the most flattering way, eccentric. I think I can get away with calling him that, since I feel a fair amount of eccentricity myself, and I own that and let it feed my artistic expression.

We are all eccentrics when we stand before the microphone.

Open Mic Nyte takes place on the last Monday of most months (breaking for the holidays) at Mojo’s Coffee. It is sponsored by the Happyland Music Alliance, and always has a featured artist.

You might be surprised how many painters, sculptors, charcoal drawers, graphic designers, actors, performance artists, fine art photographers, singers, dancers, conceptual artists, poets, novelists, and musicians live in the Ada area.

I feel happy to be in their midst as I tell my jokes, read from my notebooks, and show off some of my photographs. I finish and say, “Thank you. Thank you very much,” in my best Elvis impersonation voice. The crowd, sometimes just 12 or 15 of us, but sometimes nearly 30, applauds.

Jacobs takes the microphone and thanks me again. We’ve been friends for years, but Open Mic has taken that to the next level.

He next introduces my next door neighbor Jenn Nipps, who reads the next chapter in her newest novel. We all listen as she spins her story.

Since my younger days of reading Henry Miller, Albert Camus, Anaîs Nin, and Jack Kerouac, I’ve dreamed of being part of a café culture, of having a venue to share our ideas, feelings, and creations.

Timothy, who did not wish me to use his last name, is next, and to our amusement has crafted for himself a tinfoil (actually aluminum) hat. He smiles as he dons it, telling us what many of us already know, that he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist. He talks about the moon landings or the shape of the Universe. He shows us his codexes, small notebooks he’s been curating for most of his life. I can relate, since my own Open Mic kit includes some very similar notebooks.

He is welcome among us. The Vietnam veteran and his poetry are welcome among us. The guitar-playing college kid is welcome among us. The middle-aged novelist and the geriatric poet and the awkward teenage author and the pottery-making recluse and the young actor are all welcome among us. You are even welcome among us if you just want to watch and listen.

By the end of the night, nearly everyone has taken a turn at the mic.

So. Three strings walk into Mojo’s Coffee.

The first string says, “I’ll get us some coffee.”

He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please.”

“Sorry, but we don’t serve strings.”

Stunned into silence, the string sits down.

The second string sees this, and defiantly approaches the barista.

Without hesitation, the barista says, “Look, I told your friend, we don’t serve strings!”

The third string is having none of this, so he bends himself into a loop, then takes out a comb and teases and rats his end.

He approaches the barista and says, “Three coffees, please!”

“Look, I told your friends, we don’t serve strings. You’re a string!”

“I’m a frayed not!”

Your host takes his turn at the microphone in April, 2018, during an Open Mic Nyte session at Mojo's Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.
Your host takes his turn at the microphone in April, 2018, during an Open Mic Nyte session at Mojo’s Coffee in Ada, Oklahoma.

Your Hatred of Science

“Why is NASA spending $1.1 million* to send a probe to Jupiter when all they have to do is open up their Bible to see how all that was created.” ~Citizen at town hall meeting, Ada, Oklahoma, August 2011

A frightening aspect of the recent political landscape is the idea that science and the educated people who wield it are an enemy of truth. At the core of this distrust is the whirlwind of climate change and all the deception it is said to involve.

You hate science, but depend on it every moment of your life. You wouldn’t be reading this sentence without science. Listening to radio without science. Television? Science. The internet? Science. Telephones? Science. Cars and trucks? Science. Food? Science. Medicine? Science. Firearms? Science. Entertainment? Science.

Finally, finally, after almost a year of rudderless leadership about the coronavirus pandemic by the current administration, President-elect Joe Biden announced a task force to fight the virus, headed by scientists.

So why do you hate science? Is it that science disagrees with your entire core of beliefs? If so, do your ever question your beliefs? To do so is incredibly difficult, but to not do so is to remain stagnant, ignorant, even a slave. A great question to honestly answer is: who told you to hate science?

*This actually cost $1.1 billion, not million.

How many of us enjoy the spoils of science every moment of our lives, but claim to hate science only when it disagrees with us?
How many of us enjoy the spoils of science every moment of our lives, but claim to hate science only when it disagrees with us?

My Name at the Top, or “Amazing and So Real!”

Alternate title: Unsigned, Sealed, Delivered

This item was updated November 2020.

I use social media, including Facebook,  to stimulate interest in this web site, richardbarron.net.

The biggest reason social media is popular in the first place is that it gives Everyman a web presence, while at the same time preventing him from ruining it with his terrible taste and lack of creative talent (vis-à-vis MySpace in 2006).

Facebook also seems, it appears, to be the place for vapid, childish idiocy…

To me and those who understand reality, an obvious trick of reflection in camera, but to others...
To me and those who understand reality, an obvious trick of reflection in camera, but to others…

Here are some actual comments about this image…

  •  Woah!!!!
  •  That gives me chills all over!!!!
  •  Wow!
  •  Lord trying to say get ready to do his work here in Eureka Springs AR.
  •  That’s awesome
  •  Amazing
  •  Wow that is great! How exciting! Things are fixing to change!!!!!!
  •  Amen It gets you thinking, could have been an angel watching
  •  Awesome!!!
  •  Amazing
  •  That is beautiful I love that it is so amazing what Jesus Christ can do for his children
  •  Amazing…
  •  We were just talking about this today. Planning to come see it real soon.
  •  I think everyone needs to share this. Let’s let this go viral!!!
  •  I just got chills. Amazing. Amazing!!!!
  •  Wow!!!
  •  Amazing
  •  I’m sharing
  •  these things happen.
  •  wonderful!
  •  Wow! Signs & Wonders
  •  Wow that is awesome. I work at the play and enjoy every moment of it. I wasn’t on set for this part but that is truly amazing.
  •  Wow!!!!
  •  Awesome!
  •  This is wonderful! What a beautiful sight, I wish I was there to see that! I have a pic of myself with several other Ladies with me, and there is an angel covering   hovering over us. When I asked the Lord about it when I picked the pics up at Walgreens. He told me it was my guardian angel! I was brought to tears and awe!
  •  Pretty neat. I shared your post.
  •  That’s amazing and so wonderful!!
  •  Awesome
  •  GLORY BUMPS FROM HEAD TO TOE!!
  •  Beautiful
  •  Wow…
  •  God knew we needed to see this & be reminded that he loves us & is with us !! Thank you Lord 
  •  Awesome
  •  Wonderfull
  •  It’s amazing and so real! I Believe
  •  Even the real GOD loves the Great Passion Play. You should come see it for yourself. You never know you might just see the real GOD there. I know you will feel HIS Spirit there.
  •  Nothing is impossible with God in our life
  •  But wait is that satin in the lower corner of the picture??
  •  Whoa!
  •  Amazing I wish I had been there.

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed for them being so stupid, angry at them for being so manipulative, or admire them for turning a brilliant false flag.

Look! A ghostly image appeared near a very bright compact fluorescent bulb! It must be a miracle! Praise Bulb!
Look! A ghostly image appeared near a very bright compact fluorescent bulb! It must be a miracle! Praise Bulb!

I can’t make up this stuff.

Christians, it makes you look so ignorant and silly when you believe and assert that simple optics is, “amazing and so real!” This isn’t a sophisticated extract of the possible nature of the Universe. It’s a bunch of hillbillies who think a cell phone camera captured a miracle. They are the overwhelming resonant voice of the faith.

So let’s run some stuff up the flag pole and see who salutes it…

Do Christians think that hating me will change me? Do they think hating gays will make them straight, or hating Muslims will end terrorism?

Do the Christians who commented on that photo think I will change my wicked ways when I see its testimony? That anyone will?

Answer me this: if god is real, why do you have to argue for it? Why would you even need to teach your children about god, for if god is real, would he not be completely self-evident?

So, anyway, I got an unsigned letter from a Christian. From my chair, any unsigned letter just looks like stalking. And for what it’s worth, when you send an unsigned letter, I can cherry pick and quote mine all I want.

Dear Richard:

As a blogger and reader of blogs, I was thrilled to find the “photographer of my youth” at richardbarron.net. I began reading, observing, watching, and viewing. Then, I was saddened. I suppose in Oklahoma, we assume the friendly neighborhood photographer is a believer in God, a believer in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and heaven-bound like “the rest of us.” After all, it is Ada, America. Lesson Learned.

Yes, lesson learned. It is sad that we have religious freedom and diversity in Ada, Oklahoma.

“The rest of us” is thrown in there as part of the “appeal to popularity” logical fallacy.

Seeing many of your posts tainted with the opposite of my assumption, I knew what I had to do. After all (again), if someone had good news for me, promises that were true, and a bright future but failed to tell me, well, that would be just plain rude. I’m not rude. But I am skeptical. I’m skeptical to the extent that I sought out God. I researched for myself. I read for myself. I bypassed Sunday School lessons to figure out on my own what God said, did, promised, was, is, etc. Here’s what I found.

The use of the word “research” here is an interesting misnomer. “Research” implies looking at a number of sources for information that can be verified in some kind of an independent, scientific and logical way. Our anonymous author did none of that, of course, though we in the world of logic never find this surprising.

God sent his son, Jesus, to die for me. Why? Well, years (and I mean YEARS) ago, people of Israel had to sacrifice a lamb for their sins. Pretty brutal. Ugly. Angry. Jesus was the ultimate and final “lamb.” And, just to prove that He didn’t just die for our sin, He came back to life so we could LIVE.

Ah, yes. This silly children’s story is still with us in the 21st Century. As decades of ponderance have sharpened my thoughts on this, I see more and more how so many, too many, adults think is this very troublingly childish way. Magic story. Sky daddy. Happy place for me and my kids and my dogs, unspeakable horror for everyone else. We are lambs. We are sheep.

I devoted another blog entry to addressing The Sacrifice of Jesus (link).

Live with promises from Him. He’s “got our back.”

Let me just add that the Bible never says, “He’s got our back.” That, too, is updating and upgrading god.

I’ve no doubt you have a Bible. You’re an educated man, so… here’s a few verses from a former “prove it to me” researcher to you:, 2 Peter 1:4Jeremiah 29:11Isaiah 40:29-31Matthew 11:28-29Romans 8:37-39Proverbs 1:33.

I love this part, because, as you can see if you look up the Bible verses, none of these items is any kind of proof of anything. I find it odd that in a world of ever-increasing certainty of the nature of the world, theists still seem to cling to the thinnest fallacies, these “believe it because it sounds comforting” ideas.

Don’t take my word. Click the links, read the verse, then copy and paste the part of the verse that proves something in the comments section here.

“…but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm…” Proves. Nothing.

But, if you don’t believe in the Bible, then that does you no good, right? So let me say this. I’ve experienced these promises first hand. I’ve been healed. I’ve seen others healed. I’ve seen marriages saved, jobs restored, diseases cured, joy returned, and the impossible become possible. Not because I go to church (which I do) and not because every day is sunny with Barney singing a theme song.

Experience isn’t evidence. Testimony isn’t evidence. Incredulity isn’t evidence. Feelings aren’t evidence.

No, it’s because I trust in the God who loved me so much that He went to a lot of trouble to prove it.

Actually, it’s quite apparent that god has gone out of his way to hide it, not prove it.

I have personally witnessed the failure of prayer: man prays with all his might for his wife, who is trapped in a vehicle after a crash. She died right then. Christians have brilliant rationalizations for when this happens: god’s will, her time, god needed another angel, blah blah. It’s so thin.

If this hits home at all, if you want to accept these promises, it’s as easy as believing & confessing something like… “Jesus, I believe you died on a cross. I believe you rose again. I believe in You and want to make you ‘King’ of my life. From this point on. Forgive the life I’ve lived without you. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

As always, the faithful seem to think that it’s possible to believe something that is not true or believable by simply deciding to believe it. “…it’s as easy as believing…” This might be the most damning thing of all about theists. They don’t believe things because those things are true. They believe them because they believe them. Their logic is a brilliant mirror of, “The Bible is true because The Bible says it’s true.”

Signed, well, you know I’m not going to sign it. You wouldn’t know me from Adam (ha!)

That’s the punch line, really. No signature. What is this? Ashamed of your beliefs? Afraid of them. Embarrassed by them? Afraid of me? This all points to what I think is a terrifying perception: the religious can’t actually believe what they claim. It’s too silly, too absurd, too shallow, and too fictional. Unicorns. Hobbits. Demons. Dragons.

“I truly believe” doesn’t make any of it true. The “why” of it, though, resonates repeatedly with me. Is the answer really as simple as fear? Fear of emptiness, loneliness, meaninglessness, eternity, death? Or is that too deep? Fear of not fitting in, not obeying?

So thus the name of today’s entry. That’s my name at the top of this entry, at the top of every entry. I am Richard R. Barron, and I am not afraid for you to know who I am and what I think.

Oh, meme, how well you know me and my intentions.
Oh, meme, how well you know me and my intentions.

Autumn 2020

Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.
Red and yellow leaves cling to the fence in our front yard.

2020 has been a difficult year, for reasons I don’t need to rehash because we’ve all been through it.

Abby and I have been lucky; we haven’t been exposed as far as we know, and we haven’t been sick.

The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.
The leaves along the driveway are ankle-deep in spots.

Mother nature is somehow responding to 2020. It might be a coincidence, or it may be in response to a reduction in atmospheric, noise, and light pollution because of the pandemic, but this summer was pretty and green, and this fall ranks as among the most beautiful I can remember on our patch of green in southeastern Oklahoma.

This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
This image only partly captures the beauty of this morning scene last week.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
The last of a Virginia creeper vine clings to the fence in the back yard.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Morning glory vines mix with crepe myrtle branches at sunset.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
Maple leaves are set against a perfect blue sky last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.
I photographed this sunset while I was walking the dogs last week.

Scanning in 2020

This was my column for October 10, 2020

Journalists are a nosy bunch, and one of my earliest nosy journalist experiences was listening to the police scanner in the newsroom. I wrote a bit about it previously, but today there are a couple of wrinkles in it.

Some of the agencies in our area have moved to digital communications, while others haven’t. Some tried it and didn’t like it, so they have returned to analog/FM communications.

I am in possession of a digital scanner, one that a previous employee had and used without much success, the Uniden BCD436HP. This radio is an interesting exercise in successful failure: it scans the bazillion services it promises, but that very feature causes the radio to miss almost all the radio communications it was meant to receive.

Public safety communications are brief and to the point, so when a local firefighter picks up a microphone and says, “I’m en route to that address,” this Uniden radio is listening to Hughes County, the State Medical Examiner, the Wildlife Service, the railroads… you get the idea.

Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.
Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.

The next step to improve use of this radio is to build a “favorites list,” which will just listen to only the services I tell it to.

The BCD436HP is meant to be the radio scanner for the digital age, but is set up in such a haphazard way, it’s hard to configure it in any useful way. Worse, the “best” way to program this box is with a Windows-based personal computer, which I don’t own, though this week I was able to borrow one.

Former Ada News intern and current Stillwater News-Press crime reporter Ashlynd Elizabeth Huffman told me recently that the purchase of a police scanner was one of the best piece of kit she bought since she’s been in Stillwater. Most Payne County communications are analog, and easily monitored with any scanner.

Finally, I am a bit of an old/vintage scanner collector, and sometimes prowl eBay to see what’s out there. An oddity in the last few months is that prices for scanners of all types have skyrocketed, and the only explanation that makes any sense is panic associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunny Sixteen

A young photojournalist friend of ours, Mac Crosby, came to our home in early March 2020 to interview us for her writing class, and made some amazing pictures of us together.
A young photojournalist friend of ours, Mac Crosby, came to our home in early March 2020 to interview us for her writing class, and made some amazing pictures of us together.

Film photographers might be familiar with a handy rule from the days without automation or exposure meters: the “sunny 16” rule. It gives a rough suggestion for exposure, f/16 at the reciprocal of the film speed, which with 100-ISO film would be 1/100th of a second.

I like the idea of “sunny sixteen” much better than the notion of “sweet sixteen” to describe our sixteenth wedding anniversary, as it seems much less of a cliché, and more positive. Sunny.

Abby and I were married on October 12, 2004 at Arches National Park. It was only one day, a beautiful, sunny one, that marked the start of this wonderful marriage.

You can see the story of our wedding day with dozens of images on our adventure blog here (link).

Abby and I pose for a photo on the Devil's Garden trail at Arches National Park the day before we got married.
Abby and I pose for a photo on the Devil’s Garden trail at Arches National Park the day before we got married.

A Good Rainy Day Project

I have a zillion words on paper in my life, and I have a zillion words online. I think it’s a good idea to keep both of these vectors for expression updated and complete, and I happen to think that the printed word and printed pictures are more engaging and meaningful than anything online.

This is part of why I think being a print journalist is so significant. When was the last time, for example, you walked into a home or a business and saw an Instagram post stuck to a file cabinet or refrigerator? Everywhere I go in this town, I see my name under photos that people have kept and displayed. The web is fun and fast, but it vanishes as fast as it appears.

Thus, a recent project: transcribing entries from our adventure blog into a hardback book. In addition, I have allowed myself the liberty to make extra notes, thoughts, additional memories (like Abby sneezing her glassed into a plate of sautéd sprouts in Albuquerque in 2003), and ideas as I go.

Think about it: in 20 years, do you think your Facebook photo albums will still be around? Do you think you’ll be able to go right to that that Tumblr post about your trip to Great Smokey Mountains? Do you think you can bring up that Vine video from 2012? (Ooops!) But 20 years from now, you will be able to pick up a book of photos from Abby’s family’s annual Shoffner Reunion (which I just sent to the printer today,) open it up, and remember.

I’ve been chewing on this for some months, and it will get finished one day soon. The sound of my pen on the page is comforting.

We've gone on a lot of adventures over the years, and even as I write it, this adventure book is fun to visit.
We’ve gone on a lot of adventures over the years, and even as I write it, this adventure book is fun to visit.

The Fragile

Come rain, shine, or pandemic, our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken remains loyal and affectionate. Sometimes when it all seems too much, he listens better than anyone.
Come rain, shine, or pandemic, our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken remains loyal and affectionate. Sometimes when it all seems too much, he listens better than anyone.

Most of my work as a journalist has returned. School is back in session, as are athletics, though both have faced fits and starts as the pandemic spreads.

Our young photographer/writer friend Mac came by my office last week after I offered to lend her my copies of Ansel Adams’ The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, which I have been reading since I was her age.

I told her that one thing I really admire and aspire to in her writing and photography is her ability – or is it her nature? – to embrace chaos. My work seems too orderly and safe sometimes.

“It’s like you take a glass sphere,” I told her, “and throw it on the ground, then pick up the shards, while I’m in the corner polishing mine.”

“My life is like that shattered sphere,” she laughed.

Later in the week, I found this at a flower shop and bought it for my wife Abby…

A rainbow rose is preserved inside a fluid-filled glass sphere. I bought this for Abby at a flower shop when I photographed their business for our newspaper's Readers Choice awards.
A rainbow rose is preserved inside a fluid-filled glass sphere. I bought this for Abby at a flower shop when I photographed their business for our newspaper’s Readers Choice awards.

In some ways, life has always been that shattered sphere, yet we felt too secure, too arrogant, too orderly.

Someone I have known for 40 years is currently dealing with her mother having Alzheimer’s disease. It’s terrifying to imagine losing your mind, but it is a reminder that all life is fleeting, that we are all going in the same direction, and that the only thing any of us has for certain is our next breath and our next thought.

I photographed these dry wheat grass seeds reaching into a hazy evening sky last night. They represent my thoughts these days: vanishing, fleeting, fragile.
I photographed these dry wheat grass seeds reaching into a hazy evening sky last night. They represent my thoughts these days: vanishing, fleeting, fragile.

 

“Men are so insecure”

Note: I have sat on this piece for nearly a year now, and in that time the entire social and romantic scene has change fundamentally because of the coronavirus pandemic. If I were single, I would have no idea how to attempt to hook up, since I don’t want to spread The Rona. Maybe The Rona just gave us the push we needed to become a society of impotent thumb-twiddlers.

Correction: to finish becoming a society of impotent thumb-twiddlers.

I was talking with a couple of friends recently. We chatted for nearly 30 minutes, and it was really fun. The topic of dating came up somehow, and the not-married one of the three of us talked about her bad experience with single men.

“Men are so insecure,” she told us.

It seemed like a valid assessment despite its obvious blunt generalization, one I was in no position to dispute, since I have have only dated my own wife since 2003, and have no idea what it’s like to court men.

I can also positively say that in my days of dating, I might have seemed insecure, since I was the butt of rejection time and again, often in favor of far lesser men. It seemed like an adjudication of my entire identity, and after a while, it wore me down.

I also really love women, and when I was single, there was nothing I wanted more, which filled me with a hunger that was hard to distinguish from insecurity.

It wish it were easier to love each other. I wish people didn’t hate other people for who they love or what they want.

I know. I wish, I wish. Whatever.

More recently, an attractive, single, female friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that married men sometimes leer at her. I told her without hesitation that my wedding ring means something to me, that it is an outward symbol of my devotion to my marriage, and something I wear proudly every day.

Connecting some of these dots for me, a good friend of mine recently told me that her best friend ghosted her, adding that this best friend who ghosted her “has a lot of insecurities.” I’d already surmised that based on her facial expressions, inability to feel empathy, and attention-seeking attire that always featured her large breasts.

So, my friends, are men and women just as insecure and in just as much turmoil as you are? It’s an odd dichotomy that we fight this fight together, but alone.

I made this gloomy image earlier this summer, but it remains something of a visual representation of the world right now.
I made this gloomy image earlier this summer, but it remains something of a visual representation of the world right now.

Her Quiet

The road rumbles around us. Brilliant New Mexico sun shines through the windshield. Brilliant October blue sky surrounds us.

In the seat next to me, she sleeps. On the truck’s MP3 player is this song, Piercing Quiet by Tritonal. It resonates in me. Listen here as you read…

“The world’s in constant motion
And so are all of us.
You love the glow of sunrise.
My stars come out at night.
Your quiet pierces through me,
There’s freedom renewed.
It takes me to a place where
The solace drops right through…”

I reach over and push my fingers under her blanket to find her hand, her willowy, soft, pale hand. I take it, and as she sleeps, she takes my hand. In a second, she turns her head without opening her eyes.

“Where are we?” she asks, almost whispering.

“About an hour from Cuervo,” I say. She smiles, remembering in her half-sleep state a place we once visited, Cuervo, New Mexico.

She goes back to sleep. I find myself blinking back a tear. This moment together is so perfect in its intimacy, its simplicity, it’s identity. I cherish it, breathe it in, memorize it. I don’t know, after all, if it might be our last chance, our last dance. There is nothing I want more than her soft hand in mine, in a quiet moment in eastern New Mexico, with the wild road in front of us, and I don’t want it to end. Ever.

I see that she is asleep again. I look over my shoulder to see our Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra, are also asleep.

All morning long we chatted happily as home fell farther behind us. By noon we were in the Texas panhandle. By 2 p.m., we were in the mesalands of New Mexico. By sunset, we hoped to be in Santa Fe for the night.

I shift in my seat as another 400 miles of trucks and blowing sand and black coffee await. She shifts in response, and I watch as she pulls her newly-bought cowboy hat down to the bridge of her nose to keep out the sunlight streaming through the windshield. I lift my hand and place it on top of her blanket, and feel how warm the sun has made it.

45 minutes later, I hear her say, “Hi.” She stretches and yawns and looks back at the dogs.

“Are you hungry?” I ask.

“Yes, what do you want?” she asks back.

“A veggie burger sounds good,” I tell her. “Honey, do you remember your first veggie burger?”

She smiles. I knew she would. On our first vacation together, The High Road, we rode the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the landing on the crest of the mountain, then hiked for another mile to the restaurant at the very top. She only revealed to me very recently that by the time we got to the restaurant, she was famished. We both got veggie burgers, fries and iced tea.

Some memories never fade.

By the time we rolled into Santa Fe after dark, tired and dusty from the road, we stopped in the breezeway of our hotel and paused. We looked at each other. When everything else is busy and rough and noisy, she is quiet. She is the quiet at the end of every day. She is the quiet at the end of every road.

Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014
Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014

Know What? Chicken Butt?

This chicken wasn't at all shy about me being in the pen with her.
This chicken wasn’t at all shy about me being in the pen with her.

Our next door neighbor’s efforts to corner the chicken market seem to be coming along nicely. In addition to his 32 chickens, he recently added five guineas and a puppy that he says will grow up to guard the henhouse. They’re all fun and fun to photograph.

These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
This chicken's feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.
This chicken’s feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.

Don’t Change for the Better

A disturbing trend in the news and on social media is to crucify someone for their long-ago misdeeds, especially if those deeds were in the bullseye of whatever is trendy to take offense about.

The message is clear: you have never been allowed to make mistakes, you are not allowed to grow and mature, and “Now I’ve got you, you son a bitch.”

How dare you have been imperfect 30 years ago. How dare you be young and foolish. How dare you fit in. How. Dare. You.

Of course, there will always be some know-it-all in the comments who will explain how wrong it was, so wrong that there can be no redemption, and their friends will rally around them.

This is all part of a bigger constellation of taking offense to everything, all the time. It comes from an angry, empty, spiritually bankrupt society. It reflects a culture of moral supremacy populated by the immoral. It is entirely one-dimensional on all fronts: you’re a sexist! You’re a racist! You’re a liberal! You’re a bully! You’re a label!

There is no redemption or forgiveness. There is only punishment.

Choke on this all of you, from the social justice warrior to the most strident Reaganist:   I am all those things. I have done all those things. I made all those mistakes. I blundered through my youth, my young adulthood, my middle age, making and repeating mistakes, saying things that were cruel and petty and selfish.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Go ahead. Cast it. Where? There is a mirror in the next room.

"They did it without judgement, because it's judgement that defeats us."
“They did it without judgement, because it’s judgement that defeats us.”

The Delicate Arch Paradox

It’s not exactly a paradox, and it’s not exactly ironic, but it is frustrating.

How do I justify my love of exploration and photography in spectacular places like Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, Yosemite, and White Sands, yet still feel contempt for the way these places have become desperately overcrowded?

You can't elope with an antelope's cantaloupe, and you can't really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.
You can’t elope with an antelope’s cantaloupe, and you can’t really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.

Part of my problem with this issue is that I feel oddly outmatched by the crowds photographically, not because they have more talent, but because they have diluted the landscape so much with geotags and armchair photographers, squeezing professional photographers and naturalists into an empty corner.

On the third hand, shouldn’t Abby and I have special Delicate Arch creds, since, after all, we got married there?

Am I being whiney because I don’t want to share its specialness, or has it been made universally unspecial by its discovery and overpopulation by the Instagram crowd?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a month, yet can’t quite solidify it. Help me work this out.

I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.
I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.