“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” ~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Loch Maree, UKby Tobias Richter
Loch Maree, UK
by Tobias Richter

                   

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and cold, 44 degrees.

Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, technology allows us to connect with people all over the world at any given our of any given day. We can share what is going on in a country at war with itself in real time. Consider the Arab Spring. We cam share a sunrise on the other side of the world via real-time posts of photographs on networks like tumblr or Facebook or Twitter.

Isle of Skye: Talisker Bayby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Talisker Bay
by Tobias Richter

Yet for all of its benefits, technology also serves to isolate us. I am speaking, of course, from personal experience.

It is so much easier for me to correspond with people in the various circle of my life via text or e-mail or comments sections than it is to get in the car, drive, and visit someone in person. For isolationists such as myself, this is not a boon. By making it so easy to maintain virtual relationships it has also become so easy to abandon real-life relationships.

What I am contending is not anything new or groundbreaking, but it does help to answer some questions that I’ve been pondering, namely, how is it easy for me to stay in the house for weeks at a time? That, and have I become boring?

Technology answers the first, and probably the second.

“I am infinitely strange to myself.” ~ John Fowles, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Bollhagen, Germanyby Tobias Richter
Bollhagen, Germany
by Tobias Richter

Perhaps I should have prefaced the former by saying that today is a bad day. I am now officially out of my antidepressant; my health insurance is in limbo awaiting reinstatement after we catch up on premiums; Corey is becoming more sullen with each passing day that he is not working or hearing from prospective employers. Granted, he is still officially employed, but he so wants to move to a position that does not take him away for 90 days at a time, so this time his hiatus is quite different from the last time.

Nevertheless, he worries, as do I, and both of us fretting makes for tension. Between my health insurance, the mortgage, and the utilities, our income is being eaten before it materializes. Neither of us wanted to be back in this position. It is far too stress-inducing. The term “financial cliff” is more than a metaphor for the nation’s current solvency, and that is unfortunate. At least we don’t have to have a super majority vote to rectify our personal cliff, which, I suppose, is somewhat of a comfort.

So yes, today is prickly. I’ve had Patty Griffin’s playlist running for the past couple hours, prompted in part by Izaak Mak’s posting of the song on NCIS last night (see below). I love her voice, but granted, her songs are not exactly happy feet music. Of course, I don’t really like happy feet music, do I?

“The unknown is an abstraction; the known, a desert; but what is half-known, half-seen, is the perfect breeding ground for desire and hallucination.” ~ Juan José Saer, from The Witness

I had my military dream last night; the difference was that I was not in the military, but I had been chosen to teach a class to a group of soldiers, all female. The strangeness began when we boarded a bus that then became a boat of sorts. It took us down this waterway that was a graveyard for vessels of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. I was wondering how the bus was maneuvering through all of this without hitting anything when I suddenly saw a pile of skulls out the bus window. The skulls were bleached white from the sun.

Cuckmere Bay, Seven Sisters, UKby Tobias Richter
Cuckmere Bay, Seven Sisters, UK
by Tobias Richter

As the bus continued through the water I saw more piles of skulls, some small and some so massive that they were cascading. I wondered how the military could allow its soldiers to come to their final resting place in wreckage, and it bothered me tremendously.

I realized that I had never seen a real human skull up close, only in film, and the starkness of the piles tore at me, but I could not show weakness in front of these female soldiers. I asked for a cup of strong coffee and tried to shake it off.

I awoke with a massive headache.

“To find is the thing.” ~ Pablo Picasso

So back to my opening statement.

My world has extended far beyond the borders of this house or this yard or this neighborhood. Beyond this city or this region or this country, and that is something I have always sought—to be a child of the universe, per se.

Each day I peruse pictures of nebulae, coastlines, ruins, architecture, pictures taken with satellites and phones. I see things that I wouldn’t have had easy access to even 20 years ago. I find this miraculous really. I mean, I know what’s going on in Namibia, Queensland, and Reykjavik. And if I am honest, I must admit that by expanding my horizons in this way I have also expanded my empathic circle.

Isle of Skye: Neist Pointby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Neist Point
by Tobias Richter

By that I mean, I care so much more. Let me back up for a moment. When I was young, a child only, I saw pictures of the war on the news and in newspapers. I saw suffering as it was presented to me through the filter of editors, publishers and producers. My first glimpse of a crystal blue sea was in a book.

Now, I access such information without anyone on the other side deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to put this image or that story out there for consumption. This is both good and bad. It is good as it allows us—all of us who care to—allows us to see what’s happening, but without the filter of an editor or a producer, we very often encounter those things that are extremely disturbing.

Without an authority figure out there to decide what is best for us, we can literally see everything. Is it too much?

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” ~ Lord Byron, from poem of same name (correction; previously attributed to Jon Krakauer)

I don’t think that this is the kind of discovery that Thoreau had in mind, and part of me yearns for simpler times, but isn’t that always the way that it is?

Regardless of how misguided you think Christopher McCandless was when he went into the wilds of Alaska, there is still something admirable about his vision quest when looked at simply: He wanted to be able to find his own truth without outside influences telling him what he should do or how he should think.

Isle of Skye: Trotternish Highlandsby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Trotternish Highlands
by Tobias Richter

I know that in many, many ways, that is the same thing that I have always wanted. Yet here I sit, allowing so very many outside influences into my life, pouring into my brain images of this or that or the other. I seek this deliberately, and in so doing, I contradict myself.

My friend on Titirangi Storyteller posted a beautiful image of a lighthouse on a craggy island. I was immediately drawn to this image much like the image in the section above, immediately understood what she meant about wanting to live there. But to live there would be, essentially, to live without all of the accoutrement of today’s technology. I am certain there is no wi-fi on that island, no cable, no BBC America, no tumblr, no Internet.

It’s starkness appeals to me, but could I do it? Could I abandon these tethers for that kind of freedom? And if I did something like this, would it actually be freedom?

I have no answers, only more questions.

More later. Peace.

(All images by Tobias Richter, used with permission.)

Music by Patty Griffin, “Not Alone” (from last night’s episode of NCIS)

youtube=http://youtu.be/chU5b7bgls4

                   

The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

~ Margaret Atwood

“I must learn to love the fool in me the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries” ~ Theodore Isaac Rubin

*Snow Bath by Corey Fickel

“All my life I have been on the brink of either a break down or a break through.” ~ Diane Ackerman

Saint Francis in the Snow

Our Internet has really been acting funky, which has made it hard to post. We have a wireless network in the house, and given that our house is not very big, there really shouldn’t be problems, but of course there are. My computer is farthest from the router, but that hasn’t seemed to make much of a difference until recently. The other computers in the house have Internet service, but I do not. It’s very frustrating, but we don’t really know why this is happening unless the router is going bad, which may be the case. I suspect the router because replacing it would cost money, and that’s how things work in this house. If it’s a simple, cheap fix, it doesn’t break; if it’s expensive, then it will break. 

Anyway, yesterday, I wasn’t even able to look at videos on YouTube, without my computer locking up, so I decided to abandon any hopes of posting. Today, things seems to be working fine, so I’ll take my chances. 

I think that I’ve decided to abandon Facebook. I don’t have much to report in the status bar, and my life isn’t so involved that I feel a need to update everyone on what isn’t happening. I think that Facebook can be fun for the people who participate in the games and polls, which I don’t. And it has been nice making contact with some people from my past, but after that initial contact, is there anything more to say? 

I think back to my old post on becoming a hermit, which I wrote sort of tongue in cheek, but I really think that a part of me is very much like a hermit: I don’t crave the company of lots of people, and the more time that I spend here in this little corner of my bedroom, the less I feel that I am connected to the outside world. I’m not bemoaning my fate, just making a statement. 

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always . . .  ~ Yann Martel, Life of Pi

"I love this stuff . . ."

The port security company called Corey to schedule an interview, which is great. But now he is anxious, worrying about impressing them. I told him that it’s normal to be anxious given that he hasn’t really interviewed for a job in a long time, but he is convinced that he is not qualified. He finished his port security training with the Coast Guard but did not graduate because of his injury; therefore, he doesn’t have any certifications. I told him that he just needs to explain what happened, but he is tying himself up in knots over this. 

He does have the qualifications for this type of job. I just hope that he can make it through the interview. If he can do well in the interview, he has a good shot at the job. 

Being unemployed for so long has insidious effects, which are now coming to the front. Unemployment strips your confidence, makes you feel inadequate, and the longer the unemployment continues, the more you begin to believe that you are a failure, not worthy of consideration. Having had my own bout with unemployment, I truly understand what Corey is feeling, and unfortunately, all of the loving supportive words in the world cannot erase that overwhelming feeling of insecurity. 

Here’s hoping . . . 

“You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.” ~ Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Snow Buddha

I’m back to not sleeping. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m at the point at which I don’t even try to ascertain reasons. Last night, for example, I fell asleep somewhere between 5:30 and 6 a.m. I got up at 7, 9:20, and 11 to let the dogs out. I don’t really think that they need to go out, but they get restless. I finally fell into a deep sleep after 11. 

This is so backwards. I did have a migraine for three days, so that probably contributed to things. Funnily enough, a representative from my long-term disability insurance called for an update a few days ago. I told her that absolutely nothing had changed. Still seeing the same doctors, still taking the same medicines . . . she asked about my days, as in what did I do. What could I tell her? I sit at the computer for a few hours, read, watch television. She wanted to know if I do any cleaning. I told her that I do some things but not others. 

Those periodic conversations really bring into focus how much my life has changed in the past two years, how I have gone from working a full day and then going to classes in Alexandria, how I have gone from cleaning my whole house to cleaning parts of my house, how I have gone from sleeping 6 hours to sleeping 10 hours. It is more depressing than I can begin to describe. 

I spend hours with ice packs on my head. I spend hours on the heating pad. I take my pills, and I look forward to small things: new episodes of NCIS, a good book, a movie, my favorite coffee. So while I have lost so much, I have also relearned the art of appreciating small things. I don’t exactly see it as a fair trade-off, but it is what it is for however long it stays this way. 

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. when you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~ Haruki Murakami

In the news: Ben Stein, commentator for CNN (why should anyone listen to the former Nixon speechwriter?) says that he knows why Republicans are not in favor of healthcare reform: “. . . The answer is much higher percentage of Republicans are taxpayers than Democrats and the Republicans are the people paying for it, and the Democrats are the people receiving it.” 

Surface of Frozen Pool (or Ben Stein's Brain)

Let me just pause here for a moment while I collect my breath . . . First, and probably most importantly, the IRS does not have a spot anywhere on its myriad of forms that asks taxpayers to indicate their political affiliation, if any, so how, pray tell, did Stein come up with that factoid? Second, and this is personal, we pay a boatload of taxes, always have. A January 2009 report by Forbes magazine stated the following: 

“The 400 highest-earning taxpayers in the U.S. reported a record $105 billion in total adjusted gross income in 2006, but they paid just $18 billion in tax, new Internal Revenue Service figures show. That works out to an average federal income tax bite of 17%—the lowest rate paid by the richest 400 during the 15-year period covered by the IRS statistics. The average federal tax bite on the top 400 was 30% in 1995 and 23% in 2002.” 

This report says nothing about political parties, just income levels. In my many years of paying taxes, I have never had a 17 percent rate. Never. Stick it Ben Stein, you blowhard. (Thank you Skyewriter for the heads up.) 

In other news, former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis only received $32,171 in compensation for 2009. Poor Lewis. Oh wait. I forgot to mention: Lewis also received $73 million in accumulated compensation and retirement benefits, which brings his net to $73,032,171, approximately . . . 

Fannie Mae wants another $15.3 Billion, yes with a B, in aid. Okeedokee.  Let’s take these things and compare them to the fact that unemployment benefits for millions of people expire this weekend, but lone Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is holding a temporary extension hostage over concerns about the deficit.  On Thursday, the House passed a bill temporarily extending the programs for a month until lawmakers can address the issues long-term. The Senate tried to follow suit, but the lone Republican Senator held out. 

Don’t get me wrong, I, too, have issues with the deficit. Perhaps we can ask Ken Lewis for a contribution, say $73 million or so? 

Enough financial news. It makes my eyes water and creates a sharp pain behind my right eye. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Imogen Heap, “The Moment I Said It” (heard it on “Criminal Minds,” which has a soundtrack almost as awesome as “NCIS.”) 

 

  

*Corey took all of the pictures featured the day after the snow storm we had here a few weeks ago.

 

“Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time.” ~ Thomas Carlyle

Key West Sunset by Janson Jones

“A person has three choices in life. You can swim against the tide and get exhausted, or you can tread water and let the tide sweep you away, or you can swim with the tide, and let it take you where it wants you to go.” ~ Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure

Wow. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. My head is ringing. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood . . . 

I sat down to post yesterday and realized that I didn’t have anything to say. I hate it when that happens. I will be so glad when this latest bout of whatever finally passes. It’s hard to label it as I don’t really know what it is. Not the blues. More a total lack of energy and constant head pressure. I have been good for absolutely nothing, and it grows weary. 

My cohort Janson Jones in Alaska has been posting some beautiful pictures of Florida on his blog Floridana v3.0, so I thought that I’d share a few with you. Lovely Florida Keys skies. Wish I was there. Actually, I really do wish that I was there as I’ve never been to the Florida Keys but have loved looking at pictures of that area for years. Warm weather, beautiful skies, umbrella drinks—I could do with a little of that right now. 

 

Neonic Blue by Janson Jones

“The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.” ~ Barbara De Angelis 

Let’s see. On the home front, Corey has applied for a few port security positions. His Coast Guard training makes him qualified to do that, so maybe he can pick up a job in port security until the tugboat industry gets back on its feet. Who knows when that will be. He hasn’t given up on Vane Brothers, but delivery of their new boat seems to be open-ended at this point. Unfortunately, bills are not open-ended. Hence, the temporary change in focus. 

Haven’t seen much of Alexis lately. I don’t really know what’s up with her. She could be in another one of her moods, or she could just be terribly busy with her life. I try not to read too much into it, having grown accustomed to my daughter’s mood swings. 

I do wish that things would even out for Brett, though. He is on new medication, and seems to be a bit better, but high school has become such an albatross for him that at this point, we are just counting down until graduation. It’s weird, really, how high school can be such a defining experience for some people and not others.  For Brett, it is nothing but something to be endured. For Eamonn, everyday was a party. My sons are so different in so many ways. I try to remind Brett that high school is really very small in the big scheme of things, just a blip on the radar, so to speak. But I know that it’s hard for him to see it that way until he has some distance. 

I’m still not sure if he is going to be ready to tackle college in the fall, but I’m thinking that maybe a bit of time off from academics might be what he needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life. No one ever tells you about this part of parenthood: having to stand by helpless while one of your children is suffering and being able to do little to nothing to make it better. Such a horrible feeling but nothing compared to what he is feeling. 

I just wish that it were somehow possible to absorb other’s pain, to take away the hurts and replace them with a sense of calm. If wishes were fishes . . . 

Dawn, Long Key State Park, Janson Jones

“I sleep and I unsleep. On the other side of me, beyond where I lie down, the silence of the house touches infinity. I hear time falling, drop by drop, and no falling drop is heard falling.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, A Factless Autobiography

I’m back to having violent dreams again. A couple of nights ago, my dream involved knives, lots of sharp knives, and trying to escape from someone in a tunnel that was filling with water. Before that I had a dream with guns again. Maybe it’s too much NCIS. I only know that I wake up exhausted from fighting bad guys. I suppose I should be thankful that I’m sleeping, given the alternative, but is it too much to ask for sleep with restful, pleasant dreams? Probably. 

The songbirds are beginning their pre-dawn canticles, so spring cannot be too far. Each morning around 4 a.m., if the house is silent, I can hear them. It’s such a lovely sound, yet I wish that I were actually sleeping rather than listening to them sing. 

I will be glad for spring, though. Using space heaters makes the house very, very dry, which I’m sure does not help the sinuses. And the space heaters, along with the electric water heater and all of the other electrical appliances are killing the power bill. At the moment, it’s more than a car payment, and if you’ve made a car payment in the last few years, you know how high that can be. 

Someday we’ll be able to install the whole-house gas-on-demand hot water heater that we have; it’s currently sitting in the box it came in, in the storage shed in the back yard. I hate the electric water heater. It’s not power efficient, and it’s small, which means no long showers unless your preference is for cold showers. But it was an electric water heater or no hot water at all until we make friends with Virginia Natural Gas again. 

Power companies are such ripoffs. In our area, Virginia Power and Virginia Natural Gas are monopolies. We have no alternative sources for electricity or natural gas. Bah. 

That’s just about all for now. I’ll leave you with this quote by Alexander Woollcott, which seems quite fitting since I’ve done a whole lot of wishing in this post: “Many of us spend half our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.” 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Australian trio Sick Puppies, “That Time of Year” (heard on an NCIS episode) 

 

  

  

That Time of Year 

Another Year
Has Come and Gone again
Look around
And think where have you been
Trace the Lines
On your face tonight
And don’t forget
That this will pass in time
It’s cold out this morning
You should be getting into bed
Can’t believe its that time
Of year again

  

Curled up tight
A darker shade of white
Thinking Back could be here for a while 
Its cold out this morning
And it’s getting harder to pretend
Can’t believe it’s that time of year again 
Can you believe the life you led?
Did you achieve the goals you set?
Did you lose your mind?
Well and then 
Is there a reason you own them
It is a season that won’t end
Can’t believe it That time of year again 

Another year
Has come and gone again
Look around
and wonder what happened