Imagining the Future: The Andromeda Strain

Is the future really this red?
Is the future really this red?

Imagine it’s 1971. The Apollo Program is wrapping up its missions that the public has come to regard as commonplace and expensive. Star Trek‘s three short seasons are done, and it is in reruns. Television has moved into the era of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and All in the Family.

Futurism is a tough nut to crack. Would we have flying cars by 1982? Would we be in space by 1999 like in the show Space 1999?

As I rewatch the 1971 drama The Andromeda Strain, I think of these things.

  1. Everything is clean. Even in actual NASA clean rooms, there is tape and clutter and more clutter. The real future remains untidy.
  2. Everything is austere. Despite the nature of people and the necessity of work, futurism seems to think we have room for huge rooms containing almost nothing at all.
  3. Everything is made of stainless steel.
  4. Clothing is all the same, usually a one-piece outfit in a bland color, or made of foil.
  5. Doors slide open and closed automatically.
  6. There are many unlabeled, seemingly similar lights and switches.
  7. Food is in pill form.
  8. There is a huge amount of chatter about technical things. (Unfortunately for The Andromeda Strain, literally all the chatter is nonsense.)
  9. All important information is shared by lazy, barefoot, overweight teenagers using small video monitors, and all that information is true to the viewer.   (Oh, wait, that’s the actual future. Never mind.)

I actually like the original 1971 film The Andromeda Strain, and I have read, and like, the book.

How does YOUR future look?
How does YOUR future look?

Midway vs Midway

Midway vs Midway
Midway vs Midway

For decades I have been hoping that a big Hollywood studio would remake a couple of my favorite, but achingly terrible, war movies, The Battle of the Bulge (1965) and Midway (1976).

In 2019, one big studio made one of my wishes come true: they remade Midway.

My first criticism is a big one: why does this film start long before the events it is depicting? Was it really necessary to bloat this picture with hash and rehash? Start at the beginning of … The Battle of Midway! The actual battle went on for three days, so why would you need to pad your runtime with other events?

The special effects work well in this piece, since all the effects in the 1976 version were practical effects, and not very effective, in many instances made using a technique known as back-projection, in which the performers and props are placed in a studio space with a film of the exterior projected onto a screen behind them. It was far cheaper than Star Wars’ inlaid matte paintings, and well before the time of motion capture and digital chroma key.

Midway’s showy special effects are fun and eye-pleasing, and even engage fans of war films, but remain an example of buying content rather than mastering it. $100,000,000 buys a lot of eye candy, but like all candy, it’s not very nourishing.

So how does Midway (2019) compare with Midway (1976) in terms of theatrical nourishment? I definitely prefer the new version, and though it isn’t brilliantly written, it tell its story.

The Heston version gets bogged down in a pointless sidebar story about Captain Garth’s son, a navy pilot, falling in love with a Japanese-American Hawaiian island resident, both so we can have some reason to care about him when he gets badly burned carrying out one of the attacks, but also to show us that Americans had outgrown anti-Japanese racism and resentment by the 1970s. “Don’t give me any of that racial bigot crap!” Heston growls.

Both films feature star-studded ensemble casts. Both films are too long.

The final insult from the 1976 version is the crass, obvious reuse of stunt crash scenes from 1970s far superior Tora! Tora! Tora!

So, finally, I am happy that big Hollywood remade Midway, and I have watched it several times. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and engaging. I recommend it.

It's hard to call this an "effect."
It’s hard to call this an “effect.”

Song Review: Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots

A song like Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots summons nice memories of an era of music that was a lot freer than more recent genres. They were free to scratch along a warbly guitar, free to write lyrics that mixed sleaze with perfection, free to go from quiet introspective to bridge to chorus without following – or even knowing – the rules of music.

That era was grunge/garage, started in the 1990s in the crucibles of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and even Smashing Pumpkins. Music was finally willing to chuck the bone at big record producers and just play and sing what they wanted to play and sing.

It was one brief, shining moment in music history, lasting just long enough for some oily record executive to figure out how to make money from this creative firestorm.

Orbiting the barycenter of this giant moment in music was Stone Temple Pilots.

Big Empty is a very involving song, one I never turn down or turn off, and one I enjoyed playing again and again as I thought about this moment in music. No synth. No drum machines. No “millennial whoop.” They just jammed.

Song Review: Mofo by U2

I was watching MTV in my rooming house in college in 1984. A U2 video, probably Sunday Bloody Sunday, came on. One of other roommates who happened to be in the room said, “They’re so concerned.”

U2 has done a pretty good job of reinventing themselves as the years have gone by. That’s pretty rare. Even rarer is when bandmates can stay together. Everyone from Pink Floyd to The Beatles parted ways with a fair amount of hostility. U2 seems to stay together with no hint of infighting or “creative differences,” and I wonder why?

But back to the review of Mofo. Or forward to the review. This is an odd song. I know it’s trying hard to be driving and edgy, but for one reason or another, every time I tried to listen to it all the way through, I found a distraction, usually another song in my library. I’m trying to like this song, I really am.

I hate to be one of those guys who thinks they know everything about music and what’s good and what’s bad, because hey, I’ve never sold a million copies of anything. But I give Mofo a thumbs down.

I miss The Unforgettable Fire.

I'm not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.
I’m not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.

Interesting Times

When I feel like I am getting into a creative rut, I sometimes turn to the rather large cadre of work I have created in my journals over the years. Just in the last few days, I picked up a journal from 2002 and read in it some, putting little Post-It® notes on the pages with notes like “Kay said she loved me on the phone,” or “OU practice light gun,” about getting the control tower in Norman to use the signal lights as I climbed out on my way back to Ada in the Cessna 172 I was renting all the time back then.

These notes are from 2001-2002, right around the time I tried to date Lisa, and about six months before I started dating Abby.

I love it when she says my life is better than hers. I could listen to her voice for hours, but not for days.

Misty told me, “We’ll never forget these endless nights on the balcony.” (We shared a balcony at my apartment.)

Balcony party, early 2000s.
Balcony party, early 2000s.

Laughed and laughed all night long with Kay online, both of us joking that we’d meet in Joplin tomorrow at midnight. Such tender feelings for her. I adore her.

Wayne is playing Quake III Arena on my computer and Misty is contemplating cutting her own hair.

In Norman, I decided on Thai food for lunch. It’s the anti-Ada. Excellent volleyball later on in a clear afternoon with Misty and two kids from across the street. We ended up on the balcony in the warm night air, trading stories.

I called Kay after her computer crashed, and listened to her go on about the stupidest stuff, captivated by the way her voice trails off and the way she pronounces her Ps.

Jamie called to tell me about getting run over and breaking her hand getting her friend’s car out of ditch.

Ten years ago was dirty and pure. It was just before Pam in the middle of the whole MP infatuation thing. In a way, I miss those times, and in a way, I know I never want to do that again.

I saw Anna (not the Norman one) at the store, and as I left, I thought, “I can’t believe I ever went out with her,” and I’m sure she was thinking the same thing.

Ostensibly for Cinco de Mayo, I took Wayne and Misty to Norman for dinner with the gang. Thea cooked and did a great job, and everyone laughed and had a great time.

Marilyn has been trying to set me up with someone named Amy. I called her today and asked her out, and she said, “I don’t even know you!” Why even try?

Instant message with Kay tonight…

K: I’m sorry, it’s not you. I’m just very mellow tonight.
R: If I were there, I would brush your hair.
K: I wonder why my husband never thinks of that.
R: Some guys are hair-brushers, and some guys aren’t. You are a great person and a great friend.
K: Thanks. I haven’t felt worthy of it in the last few days.
R: You have my permission to sleep well and wake up in a positive mood.
K: I’ll do my best. Thanks for cheering me up.
R: I love you. Good night.
K: I love you.

May 15: So much emotion arcing between Kay and me tonight. We admire each other. Today in an email, she said, “that’s why you’re my idol.” I’ve never felt closer to her.

Kay called to say she wouldn’t be online tonight. In some ways, she’s my defacto girlfriend. I probably talk to her as much as anyone, including her husband. Maybe it’s just as well that she lives 450 miles away. Or maybe if she lives close, this relationship wouldn’t exist. Sometimes I really hurt for her.

“It feels like I’m fighting God, that God hates me.” ~A

She wants her love life to be like a book, but it’s not a good book.

“When I wasn’t looking, you became my closest confidant.” ~Kay, May 29

She’s spending the evening with her husband, and it feels like she’s cheating on me.

“Have I said ‘I love you’ lately?” ~Kay, June 4. She called me four times today, and during the last one she said, “That’s why you’re my mentor, my hero.”

June 8: Jamie and I laid down together on my futon, where she slept for an hour while I read Quiet Days in Clichy. I could feel her body unwind as I held her. Afterwards, I could smell her on my clothes.

June 11: I had an excited message from Kay. I called her, and she was excited because she had processed her film from class. “I wanted to tell someone,” she said, “but no one cares but you.”

Women all around, all out of reach.

D told me that “kids suck.”

June 17: A told me she masturbated six times yesterday.

Kay isn’t who I think she is.

June 20: K and I just talked and talked and talked. She told me it was no accident that she calls all the time, and she really likes “talking to someone who has something intelligent to say.” I told her I hope I was a good listener. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” she added. “Maybe that’s why I like talking to you so much.”

I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne's send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.
I have a spotty acting career that included being in my next door neighbor Wayne’s send up of James Bond, Montana Max. In this March 2002 scene, Max is about to break my neck at the end of a fight scene.

Kay, why didn’t this happen to us nine years ago? She is so much on my mind. I seriously doubt she understands the depth of my feelings for her. After all, what woman ever has?

“Your scrapbooks?” I told Kay, “they’re your style!”
“Ugh,” she said. “Can I have your style instead?”

June 27: “Kay, you can’t dispute what I am about to say. You were adorable in junior high.” …followed by the sound of a frustrated sigh on the other end of the phone.

She called me later on the phone in a foul and furious mood, repeatedly referring to herself as “stupid.”

“And it would be better if I could just go home and go to sleep,” she said, “but my husband will be there, and I don’t want to explain to him why I had a bad day. So you’re getting it all. I’m really a bitch on days like these.”

July 23, 2002: “You know why I like being with you?” Jamie asked. “All my other friends are noisy. You’re quiet.”

I ran into Allison, another woman who I asked out but wouldn’t go out with me.

July 31, 2002: Looking at my logbook, I realize yet again what a shame it is that I’m not flying much any more. Years ago it was so easy: the keys to the Cessna 150 were in my pocket, and Vera sent me a bill every month at $30 an hour. I practically had no choice but to fly a couple of times a week. Now, though, scheduling is a pain, and it’s more than $60 an hour for the Skyhawk. My flight instructor and the airport manager both haven’t flown in years.

I was flying a fair amount during this period.
I was flying a fair amount during this period.

August 3, 2002: At last I got my biennial flight review in the T-34. I didn’t fly especially well, but it was only my second hour in the model. Its splendid handling and power are easily offset by its awkward control layout and ergonomics. Still, it was a joy to fly.

Kay called me “Sweetie” on the phone today. Later she was online only long enough to tell me she was pissed off at her husband and “wasn’t handling it very well.” I re-read her December 1994 letter about how much she is in love with her husband, but she never says that about him any more. For the first time, I heard her use the phrase “seven year itch” to describe her marriage.

Wayne and Misty decided to move out.

It was that week that I got an email from a mutual friend that Lisa, a long-time hard crush for me, was divorcing, and that became my primary focus.

Kay called and told me she felt “protective of” me.

“Lisa was in my arms tonight!” ~Journal, August 11, 2002

In the middle of an my emotional conflagration, in the middle of the night, there is a knock at the door. It’s Jamie, who is a mess. “I just needed a few minutes with somebody sane,” she tells me, and I am secretly amused by the irony.

Kay called and listened to my self-indulgence for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I don’t understand what she gets from “us.”

September 16, 2002: I certainly haven’t been a Buddha these last few weeks. My thoughts are allover the place, in other times and other’s hearts.

Great flirting with Kay on the phone. Very affectionate. At the end of the conversation, she said she loved me.

A called in her usual funk of dissatisfaction. Jamie called in a miasma of heartache. The comfort of tears, and the night.

When asked to pick one word to describe me, W said it was a tie between “intense” and “passionate.”

Kay on the phone, miserable with allergies. A on the phone, miserable with a toothache. Richard (me) on the phone, miserable with self-indulgence and ingratitude. Lame is too lame a word to describe it.

This chapter sort of ends in October 2002, when I took a trip to Caprock Canyons in Texas, then just a month later, a longer trip to Utah.

This was my apartment in 2002.
This was my apartment in 2002.

 

Song Review: Shades by Iggy Pop

Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.
Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.

Shades by Iggy Pop (whose actual name is James Newell Osterberg Jr.) shares a lot with the 1980s sound: primitive gated reverb drum tracks, that ringing rhythm guitar, the obvious and predictable bass line (blum, bluh-blum), and the exactly-in-1986 lyrics. And do I hear a keytar in there somewhere?

I guess there were certainly worse songs produced and performed in the mid-1980s, but this song hits almost every 80s point, right down to being produced by David Bowie. Once you learn that Bowie produced it, you can’t unhear his hand in it.

I really like the lead-in and lead-out guitar and the “whoo-hoo”s.

I know there is a place in the music salon for tunes like this, but checking another “no thanks” box for me is how instantly and vividly it brings back that time for me. In 1986, I was 23, and dating a tomboy named Kathy. Kathy and I spent late nights watching videos on TBS and MTV. She was a huge U2 fan. It was a very intense relationship, one I can almost still smell on me, and it didn’t end at all well.

If I can set aside those criticisms, though, I found myself enjoying this song. It’s a catchy tune, dressed up with just enough synth and glitz to keep it complex and interesting to the ear.

This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.
This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.

 

Reviews: Carnage Visors and Scentless Apprentice

See through.
See through.

I challenged my writer/blogger friend Dan Marsh to review a song, and he counter offered by suggesting an additional song for us both to review.

The song I suggested, Carnage Visors, is a 27 minute instrumental musical orgasm of darkness that was offered as a cassette-only b-side recording by The Cure in 1981.

The music is hypnotic and repetitive, but never boring, built not on lyrics, but on a grimly constructed bass line that keeps teasing us and tempting us to let go into an abyss.

It is entirely plausible to put this piece of music on an endless loop and play it in hell; not the seventh circle of hell, but the nicest parts of hell (Nine Inch Nails reference).

Carnage Visors is the opposite of the high school cheerleader, the opposite of the public relations spokesmodel, the opposite of the nuclear family. Carnage Visors elicits honest tears of loss, of fear, of humiliation, of regret.

How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?
How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?

If Carnage Visors is an orgy of blackened souls, Dan’s suggestion, Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, instantly sounds like the chaos Jewish children created when asked to draw pictures of their homes after World War II.

Musically, Scentless Apprentice hits hard.

For as acidic and oddly tuneless as it is, and with all the screamed lyrics, you might think this song is trying to get you to stop listening, but as I fired it up to play for the second time, the third time, the tenth time, I couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even turn the volume down. It was injecting some kind of musical drug into my ears. I found myself bobbing my head and shoulders to the driving rhythm, and almost getting chills during the dirtiest of the screams.

Yes, Kurt Cobain’s dirty screams hit my ears with a desperation that can’t be faked. Were these the sounds of a dying drug addict? No, not at all. The dying and drug addiction followed the downward spiral (Nine Inch Nails reference) Cobain had been building since he could talk, and this song is following it as well.

Much of this song is aimed at expressing chaos; chaos in a tortured soul, chaos in an unfair world, chaos of intimacy gone wrong.

In an odd way, Scentless Apprentice invites me to reinvent my past, only as a dirt poor roadie fan crashing as many Nirvana concerts and appearances as I could. It invites me to be a photographer at the gates, held back by security men, trying to get the truth of this mess, but at the same time, filled with the desire to be a part of the band.

Unlike the often sophisticated lyrics of Nine Inch Nails, Cobain keeps his words relatively simple… “Hey, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away…”

The downside to songs like this is that they invite you to go to a similar dark place, a place we all have inside us, filled with rage and fear, a perfect place where it all seems simple. I learned this lesson decades ago when I listened to too much Nine Inch Nails, and let it take me down with it.

On the other hand, it definitely washes the Sarah McLaughlin from your mouth.

You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?
You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?

The Comfort of Family

My readers recall that my wife Abby is not well, and remains in skilled nursing care.

I visit her every day, and try to bring her something  – photos, pillows, magazines, clothes – that hopefully will help her feel comfortable and restful.

One thing I recently brought her is a quilt her aunt Judy made.

After Abby’s father Hershel Shoffner died in April 2010, Abby got ahold of his blue jeans. At first she had no idea what to do with them, but then Judy offered to make them into a quilt. It turned out to be really beautiful.

Abby's aunt Judy Taff made this quilt for her out of Abby's father's blue jeans.
Abby’s aunt Judy Taff made this quilt for her out of Abby’s father’s blue jeans.

I brought it to Abby early in her stay. It is heavy and very warm, and reminds her of her father, who she thinks about and misses every day.

Including the flaws in Hershel's blue jeans in this quilt was a brilliant idea. It really is a beautiful piece.
Including the flaws in Hershel’s blue jeans in this quilt was a brilliant idea. It really is a beautiful piece.

Euphoria

Journal, March 1997…

“You sounded really euphoric on the phone,” she said.

Alone in the four-seat Cessna Skyhawk, I climbed quickly to 4500 feet to find a very special layered sunset. I did a couple of hard-breaking power-on stalls, and handled them perfectly, then headed back for my required three night full-stop landings to remain current.

I fly in the pursuit of perfection.

The sky awaits.
The sky awaits.

Why, Internet, Why?

Is this all that's left of self-perception?
Is this all that’s left of self-perception?

Lately the internet has been hocking wet loogies on my cupcake and telling me it’s frosting.

Most recently is the idea that every page … every page … had some kind of delayed pop-up, mostly intended to get me to sign up for updates. Usually there is no “No Thanks” button, just a tiny, hard-to-see “X” in the corner of the box.

The pages are mostly alike, too. Title, share buttons, long, lengthy, long YouTube video that restates what you are about to read, and a comments section in which nurds tell us what idiots we are.

Every time, the YouTube video takes 17 minutes to tell us 35 seconds worth of information.

This level of commercialized crap must be working or it would go away, so who is signing up for free updates at “How to Sit Down”?

No wonder you’re not getting my emails. You have 3400 unread emails from “The Best Way to Cut Up Cabbage.”

Even worse are the pages that claim they will teach you how to burp your baby. “Step one,” the article will say, but when you get to the end of the paragraph, it tells you to click to the second page, and so on.

Do these pages really need us to look at 400 ads for baby blankets? Can’t it just say, “Hold your baby on your shoulder, put gently on the back, wait for burp. You’re done.”?

No, website, I don't want to sign up. Also, I was reading when you popped up. If you'd done that in person, I would have smacked you.
No, website, I don’t want to sign up. Also, I was reading when you popped up. If you’d done that in person, I would have smacked you.

National Pickle Day

Robert wears a pickle suit and holds "The Pickle" in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.
Robert wears a pickle suit and holds “The Pickle” in downtown Ada, Oklahoma today.

Our long-time photographer friend Robert visited today, both to see Abby, and because today is National Pickle Day, and he brought The Pickle.

Wait, “The Pickle”?

Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.
Robert balances The Pickle on a rail of our front deck this afternoon.

Well, it’s a long story, and I haven’t talked about it much because really, it’s not my story. The Pickle has been on television and in newspapers, and, as pickles go, it is famous.

The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first "pickled" in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.
The Pickle wears the fifth iteration of a case. When it was first “pickled” in 1984, it wore a Seal-a-Meal bag, but as it became famous, it got a series of new enclosures.

Abby enjoyed her visit, for which Robert dressed in a pickle costume. He brought her flowers, and said she looked good.

Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.
Robert photographed me visiting Abby at Ballard Nursing Center, where coronavirus restrictions have forced us to visit through a window. Abby looked and sounded good.

As always, Robert and I did photography together.

Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.
Robert holds the pickle while we visit Abby today.

Abby and I were glad to see him.

Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.
Your humble host photographs Summer the Chihuahua this afternoon.

A New Home

A month ago, Abby and I attended her family reunion, and Abby, seen on the right side of the image, seemed fine, and had a great time.
A month ago, Abby and I attended her family reunion, and Abby, seen on the right side of the image, seemed fine, and had a great time.

I wish I had better to news to share with my readers, but my wife Abby has moved from Coal County Memorial Hospital in Coalgate, Oklahoma, to Ballard Nursing Center in Ada, near where we live.

She has shown inconsistent recovery, and a gradual regression in her physical health.

2021 was a very hard year for her, though, oddly, not at all connected to the ongoing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

In February, she collapsed during a difficult period of dehydration, followed by a slow recovery.

We were both happy to travel to New Mexico in June, but she struggled with travel and all that involved.

On August 7, Abby fell and broke the head of her left humerus, requiring an emergency room visit. On August 8, she was too weak to stand on her on own due to a urinary tract infection, requiring an ER visit, which resulted in a week’s stay at Mercy Hospital Ada, and about two weeks recovering at CCMH.

Abby came home the Friday before Labor Day, still weak but getting better. Home health care came to see her regularly.

As all this was happening to her physically,  her brother-in-law Larry died of COVID-19 in January, her former brother-in-law Tim died in July, and her former mother-in-law Dorothy and her sister Inez died in August.

Abby was excited about attending her family’s annual reunion October 9 and 10, and had a good time there.

She and I hoped to go out to eat for our anniversary October 12, but she was too weak. She got steadily worse as the week wore on, and was admitted to Mercy Hospital again on October 15 with a diagnosis of pneumonia. She was at CCGH from October 21 until today, November 10.

Realistically, I have no concrete expectations about the outcome of this.

Finally, a word about the professional health care providers who treated and cared for Abby. You are in a great and noble profession, despite the often difficult circumstances you face both in treated so many patients with COVID-19 infection, to the completely unforgivable abuse you might have faced by those ignorant of how medicine, and especially vaccines, work. You are heroes and hard workers, and deserve thanks.

I took Summer the Chihuahua, right, to visit Abby today at her new room at Ballard Nursing Center. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we had to visit through this window, but Abby was happy to see her dog. You can see she is wearing her "Yeti," a super-warm pullover her daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago.
I took Summer the Chihuahua, right, to visit Abby today at her new room at Ballard Nursing Center. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we had to visit through this window, but Abby was happy to see her dog. You can see she is wearing her “Yeti,” a super-warm pullover her daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago.

Another Non-Report on Abby

Abby has been hospitalized for 19 days, presently in a recovery-level of care in Coalgate, Oklahoma. It is the third time this year she’s been in hospital care.

I wish I could say she is doing cartwheels in the halls and coming home tomorrow, but she’s still just too weak to come home yet.

She is eating well, and is lucid, and wants to come home. She is receiving occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Abby and I certainly miss each other, and she wants to be in the comfort of her own home, but I doubt she misses anything more than the company of her Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane.
Abby and I certainly miss each other, and she wants to be in the comfort of her own home, but I doubt she misses anything more than the company of her Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane.

An Updated Update on Abby

Everyone around town has been asking about my wife Abby, who remains in a recovery bed at Mary Hurley Hospital in Coalgate.

She’s slowly recovering. She was really sagging hard last weekend, but has been making progress every day; good appetite, cooperating with physical therapists, moving more.

I don’t know when I can take her home. The standard for this would be if I can take care of her, and leave her alone for periods when I need to work.

This is one of the most recent images I have of Abby.
This is one of the most recent images I have of Abby.

Another Report on Abby

Readers recall that my wife Abby is having a rough health year. After a three-day hospital stay in February, August was pretty much taken up by a urinary tract infection and recovery.

She experienced what seemed to be a full recovery, and we were able to attend her family reunion October 9 and 10, and celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary October 12.

But later in that week, she got sicker and weaker, and Friday, October 16, EMS transported her to the Mercy Ada emergency room. After a week at Mercy being treated with intravenous antibiotics for pneumonia, we moved her to “swing bed” care (rehab) at the Coal County Memorial Hospital where we got such good care in August.

She is resting and receiving intravenous fluids and potassium, but at the moment isn’t showing much improvement.

Sorry this post isn’t optimistic. Many people ask about her every day, and I wrote this update so they will know.

The dogs and I miss her, and I know she wants to come home. We are on hold.

Abby watches as her sister Gail tries to play Abby's three-string cigar box guitar at the Shoffner Family Reunion October 9. Abby was doing well that weekend, but has been sagging since.
Abby watches as her sister Gail tries to play Abby’s three-string cigar box guitar at the Shoffner Family Reunion October 9. Abby was doing well that weekend, but has been sagging since.

Chapter Ideas / Titles (from the blue spiral notebook)

How can winter be coming again?

Everything in tenth grade was blue and grey.

“The pain comes in waves. Soon they will wash me away.” Did Anna write that in a letter from Puerto Rico in 1983? I want to know, but I don’t want to reread those letters because I was such an asshole to her.

Do you know where I am?

With Tomorrow / Last Goodbye

“Swirling toilet of despair.” I can still taste the despair.

Was I really standing here with her on her front porch, asking her to go steady with me? I can remember every detail from that day 47 years ago. But did it really even happen?

“I put out your hand just to touch your soft hair…”

With her covering the scene of a shallow grave

Saying goodbye in the snow

Old Land / Driving through Saint Louis

The Pain Unbearable

It’s broken and I don’t know if I can fix it.

You can’t have your hand back

The trust of a child

Movieland

“When the winds of forget-me-not blow…”

“As of this moment, I am a stranger. I never existed. I’m gone.” ~Love letter revised eight years later.

Ice

All we really have is ourselves

The Bridge / first hug / the moon

Vamoosa / power plant

Killing time

Flag Day

Ben Casey

Swing set talk as the storm approached

Heart of Glass / Single Wish

Forever

Mismatched socks

Still Return

Driving music

“Hey, you’re that girl!”

Moving away

October fight

“Cover the ground with ashes…”

“My love will keep you warm.”

“I didn’t think it could hurt this much,” ~K, journal, November 1983

I bought a super-cheap box of cassette tapes to send single songs to her.

Somewhere in the distance, so far and separate that it shouldn’t matter, the horn of a freight train sounds as it crosses slowly through the city. They go slower now, to stay away from limbs and things.* On nights like tonight, it’s nice to walk. All the words and images inside are the same, just twisted around in circles. But since there is no one here at all, I’ll have to make do with the materials on hand. So it won’t just do to walk on this night. You see, there’s nothing out there at all any more. And it isn’t that tonight I roll in teardrops, for it seems that freedom too has escaped me. And it doesn’t help to close my eyes, for I still see the the same things, since there’s nothing there to see anyway. My hand scratches silently along, the air gets colder, and the days get shorter.

“Whipping wind whispering songs of silent seclusion…”

There are those of us who spend their whole lives waxing rhapsodic about autumn.

“It never worked.” Holy, crap, did she really just reduce our two years together to three words?

I don’t want to write.
I don’t want to itch.
I don’t want to feel useless.
I don’t want to seem like a burden.
I don’t want my eyes to itch.
I don’t want to make anyone hurt.
I don’t want to forget.
I don’t want to lose myself.
I don’t want to throw up.
I don’t want to burn up.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t want to break a leg.
I don’t want arthritis.
I don’t want to bite my tongue.
I don’t want to shake.
I don’t want to be forgotten.
I don’t want to ache.
I don’t want disease.
I don’t want to be hungry.
I don’t want to be mentally ill.
I don’t want to be in an asylum.
I don’t want to cough.
I don’t want to be an asshole.
I don’t want to seem insensitive.
I don’t want to lose touch.
I don’t want to lose face.
And I don’t want to lose you.

* My college roommate’s brother lost his lower leg when he walked across the tracks and got caught on something as the train arrived.

A Different Kind of Intimacy

A beautiful woman with a pony tail and a camera in her beautiful hands? So very.
A beautiful woman with a pony tail and a camera in her beautiful hands? So very.

I feel sad for people who are incapable of genuine intimacy.

“Our communication is almost entirely physical, through looks and, mostly, through touch. What we say to each other seems incidental. Tonight I rubbed her back for a while, then brushed her silky blonde hair for half an hour. She fell asleep in my lap,” I said in my journal in January 1993 about a young woman with whom I had a friendship with limited benefits. She an had extraordinarily soft neck, and her hands were as soft as melted butter, though her heart was as hard as steel.

“I wish I had someone’s lap to fall asleep in.” ~The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t

Thinking about them summoned my thoughts about hands. I love women’s hands, and I love my wife’s hands most of all. Why do I love hands? Is it that hands are our first line of contact, and thus our first line of defense? Or is is that women’s hands are evolutionarily constructed to attract someone like me?

“Hold me tight.” ~Girlfriend from 2000. She had tiny, pretty, soft hands, but a shallow disposition.

The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t told me on a number of occasions that she didn’t like “being touched or tied down,” but she always held my hand. I don’t know if that was because she realized it meant something to me, or she liked it, or she imagined she would get something from it, or even that she was lying when she said she didn’t like being touched. Part of me thinks she only said this to guys like me because she considered us unattractive.

“I’m going through another, ‘I can’t deal with our life/work arrangement another minute longer!’ I feel like my life is wasting away and the next time I turn around, I’ll be turning 50 instead of 40, and I’ll be in the same situation.” ~The Girlfriend Who Wasn’t, who turns 58 in a few days.

I knew several women who had rough hands, and it always turned me off.

And yes, I know that the size and shape of fingers and hands are genetic, but at the same time, it is a mistake to dismiss genetics as a valid criteria for finding our way.

There have been women in my life who didn’t understand hugging, or why it’s good. I am a hugger. One long-ago girlfriend called me “the best” hugger. When I run into someone who appreciates this trait in me – most recently, Jamie – we fall into each other’s arms and soak it up.

Touching a woman's hands is, in my view, among the simplest, most intimate ways we can communicate. In this image by Mac Crosby, Abby and I hold hands.
Touching a woman’s hands is, in my view, among the simplest, most intimate ways we can communicate. In this image by Mac Crosby, Abby and I hold hands.

Unbelief Leads to Eternal Damnation

This item originally came to me as a letter to the editor, but we didn’t publish it. I share it here because, res ipsa loquitur… “the thing speaks for itself.”

Unbelief Leads to Eternal Damnation

Unbelief in God the Creator dooms an individual to going to Hell and later to the Lake of Fire.  Two horrific places where no one should want to go.

Yet too many people at this present time seem to be completely ignorant of the existence of such terrible places, and of the fact that unless they repent of their sins and seek God they will spend eternity there.  Under continuous torture!

We live in a time when information abounds, and the greatest communication facilities exist, and yet Humanity has failed to inform the masses about God Almighty, and of His kingdom and his authority over Heaven and Earth.

His command was that each generation was to teach each new generation about his creation of Heaven and Earth, and His giving life to Humanity, and all livings things.  And to remind us that “nothing is impossible to God” who has “absolute power” over everything.

God demonstrated this awesome power when He freed Israel, his chosen nation, from Egypt, drowned their Army, and then sustained the two million or so nation for forty years in the desert.

The world disobeyed and has failed to teach the new generations again and again.

America too has failed to teach the Holy Bible, “the Word of God.” The most important book in the world has been outlawed to teach in public schools by Supreme Court Judges who are in direct disobedience to God.

Just like they were disobedient when they approved of Same-Sex Marriage and other abominable acts which go against God’s just laws.    

Disobeying God has through the ages resulted in God finally punishing or judging individuals and nations.    

God has foretold that His creation will reject his ever-lasting love, and also His plan for salvation, and that He will destroy the wicked at a time which only He knows.  That time is called “The Tribulation.” 

Judging by how wicked humanity has become many now believe that time is near!

Man, for his sake, must realize that our mortal life is short, and that we all have an appointment with death, and then the “judgment.” And as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In other words, we cannot go to Heaven unless we have been “born again.”  When a person is “born again” he/or she receives the gift of “Eternal life” from God.  Then upon death angels will escort them instantly to Heaven.             

The “Word of God” tells us it is God’s will that “none should perish.”  But it also tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  God said, “without blood there is no remission of sin.”

Therefore, God’s plan for salvation included the Holy Ghost overshadowing the acquisitioning Mary, implanting the Word of God in Mary, and producing the holy thing (baby) to be born to be called the “Son of God.”  Because of “the will of God” “the Word was made flesh” and baby Jesus was born, “and “dwelt among us,” “and we beheld his glory.”

At the appointed time, Jesus, “the Son of God”, “the Son of Man,” demonstrated the “Powers of God” to show “God was with us” on earth.  He raised the dead, gave site to the blind, healed the sick, gave his life for our sins, by crucifixion, was buried, and on the third day was resurrected.  He was seen on earth forty days before returning to Heaven.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17).  THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO HEAVEN!

Take Care of Yourself

Abby's therapy included the intravenous antibiotic ceftriaxone, a powerful, broad-spectrum drug she has received many times over the years.
Abby’s therapy included the intravenous antibiotic ceftriaxone, a powerful, broad-spectrum drug she has received many times over the years.

My wife Abby is back in the hospital, this time for a bout of lower lobe pneumonia. The acute phase is over, but her recovery, like her difficult illness in August, is achingly slow.

It is stretching me thin.

One thing everybody tells me is “take care of yourself.” On paper, I know what that means, but I also know my duty to my wife, and that being true to that means I might not be able to always take care of myself.

Abby was well enough ten days ago to attend the annual Shoffner Family Reunion.
Abby was well enough ten days ago to attend the annual Shoffner Family Reunion.

So I’m eating and sleeping, but those activities are tainted by worry and frustration.

A bright spot in this otherwise cheerless entry is that longtime friend Ann Dicus baked us a pecan pie and sent it along with a kind, empathetic card today. Thank you, Ann.

Ann's pecan pie was a very kind, meaningful, caring gesture.
Ann’s pecan pie was a very kind, meaningful, caring gesture.

Thoughts about Dan Fogelberg

As the years have gone by, I have made a mental note of prominent people, many celebrities, who died at a younger age than I am now, 58 as I write this. Steve McQueen and Michael Jackson were 50. Frank Zappa and Christopher Reeve were 52. Jim Henson and John Denver were 53. John Ritter, Peter Sellers, and Michael Landon were 54. Steve Jobs and Linda McCartney were 56. Prince, Patrick Swayze, and Humphrey Bogart were 57. George Harrison and Andy Warhol were 58.

And Dan Fogelberg was 56.

Recently his widow Jean Fogelberg  shared “All the Time in the World,” a serial memoir, on their website, and I read each installment as she published it each week, curious both about the life of the man whose music I admired, especially when I was in college, but also about what it must have been like to get sick and die at the young age of 56. In the midst of reading this, I wrote her a short, frank email:

Feb. 2, 2021

Dear Jean,

My wife Abby and I love to travel. We got married in Moab, Utah, at Arches National Park. Between our home in Oklahoma and Moab, there is New Mexico, which we love, and Abby and I are especially fond of the Santa Fe area.

In October 2019, we drove up to Pagosa Springs for our 15th anniversary vacation, and in our conversation I said, “I think Dan Fogelberg lived around here somewhere.” It sent me down the path of talking about his music, how I discovered it, and where it took me.

This is one of my images from the San Juan Riverwalk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado in October 2019. In the distance is Squaretop Mountain, just north of the massive Ranch that was once home to musician Dan Fogelberg.
This is one of my images from the San Juan Riverwalk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado in October 2019. In the distance is Squaretop Mountain, just north of the massive Ranch that was once home to musician Dan Fogelberg.

My first experience with the music of Dan Fogelberg was in 1979 when I was in high school, when my first girlfriend Tina decided “Longer” would be “our song.” I didn’t care for it much, but she was young and sentimental, so it fit, as I expect that song did for a lot of kids of that era.

In January 1982, Tina and I saw Dan Fogelberg in concert at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma, when I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. The 11,000-seat facility was standing room only. The thing I most remember about the show was that Tina wanted to hear “Longer,” and when he did play it, he insisted on silence from the audience, so when someone would “woo-hoo” from the seats, he played around the intro again until everyone shut up.

This is my first girlfriend Tina, whose real name was Yvonne.
This is my first girlfriend Tina, whose real name was Yvonne.

Those days were so naive for me. I was learning so much, but it was uncontained, chaotic, sophomoric. I was building a philosophy, but at the same time I was devoting too many hours to hi-fi stereo, fast cars, staying up late and blowing off class. In April 1982, a close friend, Debbie, died in a car crash, and in May, my former college roommate Jeff shot himself in the head. Interesting times.

I listened to a lot more Fogelberg in college than I had in high school, and his work, especially the early work, had an influence on me. If I had to pin it down, I’d say 1977’s Nether Lands was his strongest album.

I was also a devoted Pink Floyd listener, and was discovering Kansas, Phil Keaggy, James Taylor, Todd Rundgren, Journey, Simon and Garfunkel, Alan Parsons, more.

It would be decades before I expanded into genius like Brian Eno, the Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, and years later I would follow the downward spiral of Nine Inch Nails. It all points to the powerful influence of music.

But back to Santa Fe. I got a big kick out of your description of living in and around the Plaza, and recognizing every landmark you mentioned. I even have a nice image of Abby and her Chihuahua Sierra in Burro Alley.

Abby walks her Chihuahua Sierra along Burro Alley in Santa Fe in 2016.
Abby walks her Chihuahua Sierra along Burro Alley in Santa Fe in 2016.

You may have been to Madrid south of Santa Fe on SH14. We always make time to stop there and eat at The Hollar. Abby always says she would love to live there.

Abby and her Chihuahua Summer enjoy lunch in the sunshine at The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico in 2019.
Abby and her Chihuahua Summer enjoy lunch in the sunshine at The Hollar in Madrid, New Mexico in 2019.

When Abby and I got home from Colorado in 2019, we bought “A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg,” and listened to it together in one sitting. Like his music in general, some of it was brilliant, and some of it missed the mark. That’s true for all musicians.

My favorite Dan Fogelberg cover isn’t on the Tribute, but the title track from Ashton, Becker and Dente’s 1994 cover album “Along the Road.”

Jean talks about Dan sailing alone in the last few months of his life, and while there is a certain romance about going off to sea and disappearing forever, I think this was a serious mistake: pilots aren’t allowed to fly on all the drugs he was taking, and I’m not sure driving is even safe in that situation. If the argument is that it was his business how he wanted to live and die at the end, fine, but search and rescue is costly and dangerous to all involved.

“Stress and physical wear and tear had begun wreaking havoc on my own body,” she writes in the chapter called Living with the Enemy, and I am certainly in synch with this feeling. When Abby is at her sickest, I stop eating and sleeping, lose weight, and my stomach hurts. You can argue that I should take care of myself, but it is a very fundamental reaction to that kind of stress.

Like a lot of artists, it would have been better for Fogelberg’s music to disappear without a trace rather than get drawn into the corporate music mill. As I wrote this, I listened to his entire catalog, and I remembered fondly his amazing early music, and cringed with embarrassment for us all when I got to 1987’s Exiles. This album sounded like the culture at the time, from the Entertainment Tonight-like soprano sax solos to the drum machines. He became the hair band of easy listening. Exiles is as derivative as any music I’ve ever experienced.

It didn’t have to be that way, of course. It wasn’t his sound. It was the sound (and bad advice) of some popped-collar producer who wanted to ride the industry tide.

In some ways, it’s tempting to forgive individual musicians for the dreck they pumped out during that time. 1987 was, after all, the year that gave us Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, I Want to Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) by Whitney Houston, Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car by Billy Ocean, and … oh, it hurts my brain to even type this … (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

Dan Fogelberg’s best songs, in my offbeat estimation, are the ones that take advantage of his amazing guitar skills and triharmonic vocals: Scarecrow’s DreamThe Last Nail, The Innocent Age, Sketches, Souvenirs, and Along the Road.

Same Old Lang Syne and Leader of the Band are often cited as great, but they don’t reach me like they do most people.

The chapters of Jean’s account drift off-course fairly often. I know it’s meant to be an intimate tale of their lives together, but I got really bored with the banal chit-chat about which wine they chose to go with which pasta.

Speaking of wine, there is a chapter in which she talks about their wine collection being ruined by a dehumidifier, and they would have to go to the wine shop the next day to replace their expensive Italian wines. Wow. Those poor little rich people had to replace their precious, pricey wine. Sometimes the wealthy can really lose sight of themselves.

I want to add that I thought very highly of Fogelberg’s music when he was really at the crest of his talent and popularity, from 1972’s Home Free through 1983’s Windows and Walls. It’s quite a musical achievement to have such a long run of great music, especially in a world of one-hit wonders.

I would have liked to meet and photograph the man, but I’ve never liked the paparazzi photography scene, and I’m not certain I would have been the photographer for him. Still, I feel I might have been able to express something about his amazing musical talent, and something about how his music and vision influenced me.

My first Dan Fogelberg albums were vinyl records, later replaced by CDs, later supplemented by MP3s.
My first Dan Fogelberg albums were vinyl records, later replaced by CDs, later supplemented by MP3s.

Review: The Journals of Kurt Cobain

I liked reading Cobain's journals in his own handwriting.
I liked reading Cobain’s journals in his own handwriting.

“I don’t think you’re going to come away from this ‘decoding’ knowing anything more about him than what is already commonly known. You may learn something about him you, personally, didn’t know before, but as for ‘decoding’ him? Not gonna happen. Not from photos of his journal pages alone.”

And so another dismissive, journalist wannabe tried to put me in my place.

When I inadvertently heard that Kurt Cobain kept a journal, I stopped what I was doing right then and found them on Amazon and ordered them. I have been re-reading them for two years since then.

I read some reviews of Kurt Cobain’s Journals in preparation for writing this review. They were all over the place, from praising Cobain’s rawness, candor and expressiveness, to ultra-unforgiving criticism of Cobain’s widow Courtney Love being a sellout for publishing it.

Cobain wasn’t the kind of kid who hung in my high school circles, and he wouldn’t have been comfortable for a minute with my adult friends. Nor was he the school bully or misfit, prom king or quarterback, trumpeter or debater.

That mostly just leaves one category: burners. Those guys were assholes in school, but they all ended up (or already were) in the throes of self-destruction. So sure, I can see Cobain behind a dumpster on a Saturday night when he was 12.

A teenage girl I knew on the day Cobain died told me, “Kurt Cobain was a genius.” At the time, I was very annoyed with her, since his suicide seemed so petulant and selfish, but today I might reconsider. Why? As my brilliant reviewer/journalist/social commentator friend Dan said in his review of Nevermind, “Nirvana was on the forefront of (a) change, a blast of hard rock that was totally different than the plastic, corporate-sanctioned music that had ended the Eighties.”

I know, I’m shifting all over the place, but so did Cobain’s journal.

In the end, I like Cobain’s journal because I can relate to them. I journal, and that journal can be dark, overly honest, contentious, jittery, and chaotic, although I also yearn for a sense of chaos that Cobain clearly mastered.

Here are a few phrases I circled or highlighted while I was reading it…

“I hope I die before I turn into Pete Townshend.”
“Smells like thirtysomething.”
“I’ve collaborated with one of my idols William Burroughs.”
“Television is the most evil thing on our planet.”
“Fuck now, suffer later.”
“I don’t want a granddaughter of mine changing my soiled rubber underwear while I suck on Ry-Krisp, clinging to existence just so I can reminisce about my life as a professional reminiscent.”
“I like passion. I like innocence.”
“Censorship is very American.”
“The king of words is everything.”
“God how I love playing live.”
“Thanks for the tragedy. I need it for my art.”
“Recycle, vote, question, or blow your head off.”
“The revolution will be televised.”
“Life isn’t nearly as sacred as the appreciation of passion.”
“If you think everything has been said and done, then how come nothing has been solved and resolved?”
“I hate myself and want to die.”

Cobain’s most common illustration in his journal is of rooftop snipers aiming at Nazis or Klansmen.

Cobain once wrote a letter to a congressman accidentally using a cigarette instead of a pen.

My sister pointed out that Cobain had terrible taste in woman, since he married one of humanity’s worst, Courtney Love.

For years and years, intimacy seemed to hover around my journals. Now I look back at them (more on that soon), and see how valuable that is, even when others dismantle and criticize them. They are real, raw, unpolished, unprotected, and vulnerable.

I recommend that you, too, read Kurt Cobain’s journals.

Writing something on paper summons a very different part of our minds than typing or texting.
Writing something on paper summons a very different part of our minds than typing or texting.

The Social Dilemma

When considering the "fake news" paradigm, consider this: this image is NOT a picture of the Statue of Liberty. It is a replica in Las Vegas.
When considering the “fake news” paradigm, consider this: this image is NOT a picture of the Statue of Liberty. It is a replica in Las Vegas.

I just watched the Netflix Original Documentary The Social Dilemma, and I have some thoughts on this rather chilling assessment of the current and future netscape.

  1. I have often been disappointed by my social media posts seeming to gather so much more attention than my blog posts here on this site, and I always have a sneaking suspicion that is due to the way social media stimulate rewards centers in the brain, while my blog posts are only well-written, thoughtful and true.
  2. The same concept applies to newspapers vs social media. One of the experts cited in this film asserts that fake news gets about six times as many shares as real news, “because real news is boring.”
  3. I recently turned down a better-paying job in corporate social media, and am feeling very vindicated for it after watching this show.
  4. Social media sharing and participation is easy for everyone, and requires little thought. In a post about my wife’s recent hospitalization, there were 318 “likes” and 108 comments, almost all of which were kind but empty, as in, “thoughts and payers.” You feel like you are contributing something, but nothing particularly valuable.
  5. A relative of ours recently claimed with unwavering certainty that ivermectin, “cures 97 percent of all COVID-19 cases,” and she couldn’t have gotten ahold of a lie like that anywhere else but social media.

So what could the answer be? Is it enough for us to vet and share the truth every day, or will it take action by the force of governments and armies to stop poisoning our minds? Are we, as one commenting in the show asserted, headed for a civil war?

We've all heard the analogy of the "frog in boiling water," in which the heat gets higher so slowly the frog doesn't realize it is being boiled.
We’ve all heard the analogy of the “frog in boiling water,” in which the heat gets higher so slowly the frog doesn’t realize it is being boiled. Are we being boiled?

My Name (jotted in journal, November 1990)

My name
Band names
Baby names
Baby lotion
Emotion lotion
Emotional rescue
Rescue helicopter
Attack helicopter
Heart attack
Heartburn
Sunburn
Sunstroke
Stroke of genius
Genius at work
Men at work
Hard work
Hardball
Softball
Soft sell
Sell your soul
Soul mate
Cell mate
Mating game
Dating game
Dating service
Service with a smile
Smile when you say that
When you say
My name

A Work in Progress

Readers know that my wife Abby has been struggling with a period of poor health that began in early August. Her recovery has been achingly slow, but today I am cautiously optimistic to report that she is legitimately better.

Abby and Summer
Abby and Summer

You can see that she’s still a little rough, but her optimism and success with PT and movement in general is a weight off of me. I am hopeful she will get better.

Blue 56

Over the last year and a half, I’ve made an effort to write more by hand in my journal.

When I first started keeping a journal, I married it to a rigid style: date and day at the top of the page, standard block paragraphs, at least a page a day.

I tried to break out of this mold in my 20s by allowing myself to draw, write poetry, and be more abstract, but the one thing I wish I’d done more is make notes about life.

During my recent push, I have done exactly that. I note everything in my journals these days, and use them as more than journals, but also as records of events, travels, media, vaccinations, gossip, weather, entertainment, notes for stories, photos, and columns, and even medication notes.

In the next day or two, the purple journal book, number 55, will be full, and I will start writing in number 56, which is blue.

Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.
Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.

The Golden Age of the Internet

No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can't make people put down their smartphones.
No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can’t make people put down their smartphones.

In the last 15 years, we have all witnessed the internet deteriorate. What at first seemed like a gleaming futurtopia of the “information superhighway” has become a place for intellectual and spiritual poison.

I’ve been getting nostalgic recently about that golden age: Nyan Cat, Amber Lamps, Double Rainbow All the Way, Badger Badger Badger, Salad Fingers, The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, Teen Girl Squad, and others have served to remind me that there was a time when the web could entertain us without the appalling obsession with money.

Black box warning: clicking on any of the above links may be preceded by, or contain, advertising.

A recent trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on various subjects brought me to this article: the digital dark age. I hate to say it, but I tend to be right about stuff a lot, and I was always right about this one. I tell my students to keep migrating their data to newer technologies, or they will lose them forever.

And of course, you know where I am going with this: it’s all about money. There’s no money in being brilliant. It’s not socially-piercing poetry that gets 10 million likes. The likes, and the money, go to intellectually numbing crap on sites like Tic-Toc.

Of particular annoyance is that so many (probably the majority of) websites have some kind of nagging beg for money. Pop-overs, pop-downs, ads that take forever to load, all make those pages insufferable. Even the Associated Press home page nags us every time with a pop-over that you can’t not see…

You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.
You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.

This web site, richardbarron.net, has been online since 2004, and I am keeping it up. A downside to that is that viewers gloss over links on social media, and seldom navigate to websites based on searches or bookmarks. I sometimes think that no one ever clicks on links when they browse social media because, to be kind, they are brainwashed into consuming their reality in tiny, salty, sugary, cheesy little bytes.

Part of what we web old-timers liked was the idea of flowing freely from one page to the next, following suggested links or search results, in a fashion that made the internet a bit like a scavenger hunt. In 2021, many, maybe most, users, follow only what one app offers them.

The most obvious solution to you and your digital footprint is to find a way to express it non-digitally. Write or type on paper. Print your photographs. Hold on to your phonograph records, audio tapes, and CDs. Yet I remain pessimistic when I see more powerful and complex smartphones used to create mediocre photos and video, open to one app, used for bottom-tier entertainment only.

In conclusion, if you sprinkle Ivermectin on your Tide pods, it works twice as well to prevent the Rona.

Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.
Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.

Two Decades Since 9/11

In some ways, the era before 9/11 was an age of innocence.

Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the "Traumahawk") that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.
Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the “Traumahawk”) that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.

I have written many times over the years about where I was when 9/11 happened. Since Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an entire generation of people, some my friends and relatives, have little to no memories of that day.

The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.
The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.

So today I’d like to share not where I was or what I was doing, but who I was on that day.

I was still flying all the time. I earned my pilot certificate in May 1993, and flew a lot in those years. There were a couple of nice, affordable airplanes to rent at the Ada and Norman airports, and I was building hours by flying and training. 9/11 had a chilling effect on this, since, only marginally related, the terrorists involved had a small amount of general aviation training.

I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.
I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.

I was unmarried and wasn’t dating anyone. This wasn’t for lack of trying, but more about how difficult it is to be in a good relationship or in a good marriage. From the moment of 9/11 to my first date with my wife Abby in January 2003, it seemed like an eternity, but of course it was just 16 months.

I lived in a very small downtown Ada apartment. Because it was near the college, my apartment tended to be more culturally diverse than most neighborhoods, and I really liked that.

I still had a darkroom at our newspaper, so I was still very active in film photography, especially black-and-white photography.

On September 12, after more than 24 hours of watching the news about the attacks, a friend told me on the phone that, “I’m really brain dead. I wonder if it’s information overload. I feel like the wheels are just whirring away inside my head.”

9/11 changed us all in some ways.

Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.