As I’m writing this, it’s 4:30 AM Saturday morning. This is a rather late point in the week to start writing anything that is going to publish at 10:30 AM on Sunday, especially given that I also have to select and submit images for two major art shows by 8:00 PM tomorrow. Oh, and it’s also the Saturday two weeks before that wild and crazy holiday and it’s up to me to take the kids to choose gifts for other family members. The prevailing theory is that they need to see this as a season of giving, not getting and you already know that, at ages 9 and 11, what they get is the only thing on their minds.
On Monday of this week, I started an article on greed. I’m over 3,400 words into that article. However, I forgot to plug in my Chromebook, which is where I do all my writing and ended up taking a forced break yesterday. That gave me a chance to go back yesterday afternoon and re-read what I’d written. I nearly fell asleep. Too much talk about economic theory.
So, here we are, you and I. It’s too late to do research on another article and get much past 400-500 words. I don’t consider it worth my time or yours to publish anything smaller than 2,000 words. We both have better things to do. I have from this moment until 6:00 AM when I have to go get gas so I can take Big Gabe to work this morning. I’ll probably have another hour or so when I get back, but everyone will be up and making noise by then so I need to have set a pretty strong premise by then or this just isn’t going to work.
Here’s what’s going to happen: We’re going to have a conversation, you and I. I’m going to play the part of me and you are going to play the part of the voice in my head that keeps bugging me endlessly with questions I can’t answer. I’ll feed you the questions so you don’t have to think too hard about it. I’ll be designated by the letter M and you’ll be designated by the letter Y. We’ll see how accurately I am able to read your mind. I would say that if you disagree with the words I put in your mouth, let me know in the comments but the only people who ever leave comments are Chinese bots and I have to delete those. So, we’re just going to go with this and see what happens. It’s now 4:50 AM.
Conversation WIth A Mad Man
Y: I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s too damn early.
M: Sorry, but this is the only time available. I don’t need you tagging along all day trying to get this done. We have limited time. Deal with it. Would you like coffee?
Y: Yes, please. WIth cream and two things of sugar.
M: (shaking head) Putting cream and sugar in coffee is one of the many things that’s wrong with this country. We’ve lost the fortitude to drink our coffee black, the way the gods intended.
Y: Yeah, well, it tastes like crap without the cream and sugar, so if you don’t mind, stop being an asshole and put the cream and sugar in my coffee.
M: The creamer we use is already sweetened. Taste it before I add anything.
Y: (taking a sip of the coffee) Yeah, that’ll do. Why are we doing this so early, again?
M: Because it’s the only time this house is quiet, and even then, “quiet” is a comparative state. Dogs are in and out, cats are… sigh, bouncing off the furniture one minute and then sleeping in the middle of the floor so that I don’t see them when I go to get dressed.
Y: Wait, you’re not dressed? I really didn’t need or want that mental image in my head.
M: Get over it. I’m wearing a t-shirt and boxers. The light bulbs in the kitchen emit a yellow light so my pasty white legs don’t blind anyone. Chances are, you may not be wearing pants, either.
Y: Well… even if I wasn’t I wouldn’t tell you, you pervert.
M: Hey, watch the name-calling. We’re not Republican Congresspersons here.
Y: You’re not going to make this whole conversation about politics, are you? If you are, I’m leaving.
M: Do what you want. Politics are responsible for roughly 90% of what’s wrong with this planet in the first place, though. It’s rather difficult to have a constructive conversation without coming back to how woefully inept our elected representatives are. We didn’t read all the way through Plato’s Republic before we started this experiment and it shows.
Y: (Blank stare)
M: You’ve not read Plato’s Republic, have you?
Y: (Blank stare)
M: See, that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make and what Plato warned about. The people doing the voting, ostensibly you and me, need to have a deep understanding of how the system works or else they elect people to office who fuck it up.
Y: Must you curse? I really don’t like it when you curse.
M: I’ll try to keep a lid on it, but the F word is such an ingrained part of my vocabulary that it just comes out. Most mornings, it’s the first word I utter when the alarm goes off.
Y: You’re probably not alone but I don’t think most people actually say it out loud, they just think it.
M: That’s an option? My mouth is open before I have a chance to hit the button. The morning F-bomb is instinctive at this point.
Y: That’s disappointing. You know your mother wouldn’t approve. She’d be very disappointed.
M: My mother would be disappointed with very large sections of my life the past 17 or so years. Don’t worry, she still haunts my dreams and reminds me of how inadequate I am and that if I had practiced harder I could have been an out-of-work musician at this point in my life.
Y: That’s a rather cynical viewpoint. Your mother was a very sweet person and supported you in pretty much everything you did.
M: Yes, mother was a very sweet person unless you crossed her and did something of which she didn’t approve. Then, she could be very biting in the most deliciously passive-aggressive sort of way. It was wonderful watching her do it to other people, especially pastors she considered inept, but it really stung to be on the receiving end.
Y: Sounds judgemental.
M: It was, but one needs to understand it came from a perspective of wanting people to do better. She wanted everyone to be better educated, to think smarter and behave in an appropriate manner and when someone didn’t do that, especially when their actions affected other people negatively, she felt an obligation to say something to someone. Poppa was usually that someone and that was usually enough. She knew that saying anything publicly was as bad if not worse than whatever had offended her in the first place.
Y: She wouldn’t have done well with Facebook.
M: Are you kidding? Mother wouldn’t be on Facebook. She would have hated Facebook. She didn’t even learn how to use email until Poppa died. She hated the computer. She only learned to use it at all so she could see pictures of her grandsons. Otherwise, if there was something you needed to say to her, your options were to either call, write a letter, or drop by and talk.
Y: Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad way to handle things.
M: It wasn’t and we would probably do a lot better if we wrote more letters and communicated directly. I think too much of the time we get into a contest online, whether it’s Facebook or any other social media, as to who can be the most outrageous, or silly, or provocative. If we were forced to sit down and write letters, by hand, with a fountain pen, we would say a lot less and think a lot more.
Y: Why a fountain pen? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually use one.
M: They’re wonderful, elegant writing tools that prohibit writing too fast. The nib of the pen has to hit the paper at just the right angle or you end up with a mess or nothing at all. There’s also no going back and applying spellcheck to what, you write. One has to stop and think before applying ink to paper. The result is inevitably more thoughtful and considered communication.
Y: But it’s not convenient.
M: No, it’s not, but a lot of our communication shouldn’t be built upon convenience. Convenience allows us to be sloppy, to not consider all the facts and subtleties in play. The only chance convenience has of working is if everyone in the conversation is well-read and of equal intelligence. Otherwise, there’s going to be a misunderstanding.
Y: You underestimate people.
M: Do I?
Y: Yes, I think so. I think the average person is a lot more intelligent than you give them credit for being.
M. Says the person who hasn’t read Republic.
Y: I don’t think people have to all read the same things and think the same way to be intelligent. You’re setting a very narrow standard where everyone thinks the same as you do or else you consider this less intelligent.
M. No, what I’m saying is that there has to be a base level of education to which we all have been sufficiently exposed or the whole system doesn’t work. The very phrase, “my tax dollars” if proof of that. If one understands how taxation works in a representational democracy you’re not going to say things like that because you know that money no longer belongs to you in any form. Those are not “my tax dollars” being spent on that fucking ridiculous border wall (sorry). Those are government funds being misdirected from other Congressionally-approved allocations resulting in a deficit of funds available for expenditures that were appropriated through legal means. The president is, in fact, stealing.
Y: That’s one way of looking at it. Or you could say that the liberals in Congress were never going to approve funding through normal channels so he diverted discretional funds to pay for a much-needed project.
M: That’s bull… Sorry, that’s a load of crap. Those are not “discretionary funds” being diverted. Those were specifically earmarked for named projects, projects that are not getting done because they no longer have the funds necessary because of a 100 percent useless wall.
Y: What do you mean useless?
M: They’re already scaling and/or cutting through the damn thing. It is, at best, a minor delay. It’s not stopping anyone. The wall is a waste of money, in addition to being a physical example of racism that paints the whole country in a bad light. Remember how negatively Americans considered Germans after WWII? That’s how the rest of the world looks at the US now.
Y: That’s not true and I wasn’t alive back then so no, I don’t know any of those Cold War emotions, Boomer.
M: Nevermind. If you’re not from Oklahoma you wouldn’t understand.
Y: Look, my point is that you claim to be all accepting and supportive of alternative lifestyles and opinions but you’re really judgy when it comes to people who disagree with you.
M: No, I’m judgy about people who demonstrate a severe amount of ignorance that I consider unnecessary.
Y: Right, people who disagree with you.
M: That is not accurate. One might hold the same viewpoints that I do but for inadequate reasons, such as wanting to go along with all their other friends. That’s why we see thousands of people sharing the same things on social media. We’re not sharing our own thoughtful opinions, we’re co-opting the opinions of others in hopes that it makes us look smart, or cool, or in-the-know. I’m just as guilty of it as you are.[pause while I take Gabe to work]
M: Sorry, that was a longer delay than I expected. Things needed to be done.
Y: That’s okay, I took the opportunity to snoop through your stuff and steal all your passwords and credit card numbers.
M: Jokes on you, I don’t have any credit cards.
Y: None? Not even a bank card?
M: I have the requisite ATM card but that’s it. If I can’t pay cash for something, I don’t get it. It’s that simple.
Y: You realize you are like the ONLY person on the planet who lives that way.
M: No, I’m not. A lot of people are in that situation. Some because they choose to be, like me, and others because they’ve no choice. The fact that our society expects everyone to have multiple credit cards is problematic and one of the reasons our economy is not nearly as strong as we think it is.
Y: Yeah, yeah, you do realize even the government runs a tab…
M: And that’s going to get us into trouble eventually as well. We piss China off the wrong way, and tariffs start looking like child’s play. They could literally foreclose on the country. Our debt is $22 TRILLION, the largest it’s EVER been, and there’s no plan to pay it down and no motivation on the part of Congress or the President to reduce it.
Y: I think you’re over-reacting.
M: I think I’ll be dead before anything dramatic happens, but it WILL happen. Trust me.
Y: Why? What makes you think you’re an authority on anything.
M: I never said I’m an authority. What I am is educated and well-informed, someone who doesn’t trust a single source and verifies the information before speaking. Therefore, when I do make a statement it sounds authoritative because, unlike most of what one sees on the Internet, it tends to be accurate.
Y: No mistakes?
M: Meh, I’d give me about an 88% accuracy rating. Things occasionally slip past me.
Y: And sometimes, I’ve noticed, you don’t say anything.
M: That’s been a more recent development. I’m finding that with many issues now there’s so much noise that adding another voice doesn’t solve anything. If I’m going to be ignored then I might as well stay quiet.
Y: Sooooo, why do you keep writing things that no one reads? Like, the stuff here?
M: Ouch. That hurt. You’re right, but it still hurts. I write what no one reads for the same reason I create art no one buys. I can’t make people listen or appreciate what I have to say, there may be no one who understands, but it is better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all.
Y: Okay, that makes sense up to a point. You KEEP doing it.
M: Because I still have things to say. In my mind, there will come a day, maybe 200-300 years from now, some digital archeologist digging through this strange mix of nonsense called the Internet is going to come across this stuff, read it in the context of what is for them, history, and see from that vantage point what no one is seeing now. At least, that’s the scenario that plays in my head on a daily basis.
Y: So, you’re delusional.
M: Probably, with grandiose visions of self-importance if we’re being clinical about it.
Y: And that doesn’t bother you.
M: Oh, it bothers me a lot but the alternative, living in a world where I’m a singular, largely unidentifiable pinpoint in a world that has known over 15 quintillion pins, is too dark and too hopeless to keep me alive. I would have taken a dirt nap a long time ago if I weren’t my own biggest fan.
Y: That’s… troubling.
M: The only thing I find troubling is that more people aren’t in exactly the same position. Or, perhaps, more people are not admitting they’re in the same position. Self-delusion can be a wonderful thing and there are plenty of institutions such as religion to help facilitate those delusions. Did I tell you I was approached by a Jehovah’s Witness while pumping gas this morning?
Y: No, you did not. That seems like a strange place to be approached.
M: It was just after 6:00 this morning, so no one else around. I’m not sure the gas station attendant was even awake. So, it’s just the two of us out there, pumping gas. He’s a reasonable-looking gentleman in a camel-colored dress coat and a sock cap. I’m standing there in my boots and cowboy hat with a car coat on. He comes up and says something to the effect that I look like I read a lot and hands me this brochure, says that if I go to this website, which to me was easily recognizable as religion’s website, I can find six “modern” translations of the Bible and if I don’t speak English they have it in 96 other languages.
Y: What’d you say?
M: Thank you, and then returned to pumping my gas.
Y: You didn’t engage him?
M: Why would I? People of faith are not easily convinced by any reasonable argument under the best of circumstances and standing in freezing winds at a gas pump at 6:00 in the morning is far from ideal circumstances. There’s no point in wasting one’s breath arguing matters of faith because those who believe, and mind you, I’m not picking on one more than the other, but those who are committed to identifying with their belief system are already delusional. They don’t want to see the holes in the logic, nor the evidence of its fallacies, nor the massive gaps in its logic and reasoning. Faith, of necessity, transcends all of that.
Y: So, you’re saying people of faith are ignorant?
M: No, don’t put words in my mouth.
Y: You’re the one typing.
M: (rolling eyes) There are many people of faith who are intelligent and many who even realize that the things they believe are out of sync with matters of logic and reason but still choose to believe. There are many people who are of the opinion that matters of faith transcend everything else. When one chooses such a belief system it is very difficult, perhaps impossible to convince them otherwise.
Y: That doesn’t stop you from complaining about them.
M: Only because they have this nasty habit of trying to impose their belief system on everyone and everything else. Belief systems are fine on a personal level—believe in whoever or whatever you want—but they are just that, personal, and to impose them on anyone or anything else is morally wrong on a more universal level.
Y: Shouldn’t a belief system affect one’s lifestyle?
M: Perhaps, but if it does, it is your life it should affect, not mine. No one has the right to legislate a belief system. Theocracy is wrong and, interestingly enough, goes against the tenents of every major religion! There is no deity that desires to be in the government business.
Y: People of faith don’t seem to see it that way.
M: Yes, I’ve noticed. That’s because their organizations have been politically motivated for thousands of years, mistranslating their holy scriptures to meet their political needs, and claiming heresy when someone tries to point out what the scriptures originally said. It’s an underhanded and shameful way of manipulating people to get them to do what you want and if their deities do exist and there is an afterlife, both of which I question, then those deities are likely to punish those severely who have bastardized the belief and taken advantage of people.
Y: Strange to hear you say that. You were raised differently. You even worked in churches, went to a religious university and everything. What happened? How did you get so contrary?
M: A number of things. One was being exposed to all the people my traditional belief system was labeling as “wrong.” Maintaining a belief system is easy when cocooned within a community of like minds. When one steps outside that community and begins to relate with others, one is likely to find the horrible things said about those “others” is largely untrue and bigoted.
Y: Bigoted? That’s a rather strong accusation.
M: Yes, but it’s accurate. There is an intentional lack of understanding within religious groups for those who exist external to them. They say they don’t want to be “polluted” with the heresy and “sin.” The truth is, it’s the only way to keep people inside the religion. When they find out that the “bad” people aren’t so bad after all, everything else starts to fall apart.
Y: So, if we all started hanging out with each other and understanding each other, religion would die away?
M: Probably not, as there is a need within a lot of people to believe in something and religions offer a well-packaged something. However, religious participation is declining across the board and most dramatically among younger people. The Washington Post did an opinion piece back in October about that very topic, and there have been several other observational pieces as well [click here to read the WaPo article]. Religious institutions are not the authoritative source they were even ten years ago. People are tired of feeling manipulated.
Y: Is this why you’re so grumpy all the time? You do realize no one ever sees you smile.
M: Okay, let’s get some things straight. First, I’m not grumpy all the time. Most times, inside my head I’m quite pleasant. That’s in part because most of my day is spent alone and there’s no one around to upset me except the animals. Conversations with Kat and Gabe are usually pleasant. It’s when I look at the news that my mood goes sour. If people external to me weren’t such assholes I’d be a much better person to get along with. I’d probably be a lot more quiet, too.
Y: You’re telling me it’s all everyone else’s fault you’re an old grouch?
M: For the most part, yes. I mean, sure, I’m rather short on patience at this point in my life. Not that I’ve ever had much. A lack of patience has been a problem going all the way back to college and probably further. I set what I think are reasonable expectations and when those expectations are not met I tend to get frustrated, especially when what is delayed effects something or someone else. The computer is the worst offender. I expect it to work. Always. Efficiently.
Y: Computers are inanimate objects, though.
M: Are they, really? AI is growing by leaps and bounds and I’m not so sure but what there isn’t already a small, limited amount of sentience in every electronic device created at this point. Just enough to know when to slow down or turn off an app right at that critical point where hours of work are lost.
Y: You’re smiling. Please tell me you’re not serious.
M: Probably not, but, maybe.
Y: You’re nuts.
M: I thought that was a given.
Y: So, dramatically changing the subject, what do you do for fun?
M: I don’t.
Y: You don’t have fun?
M: As an explicit act, no, and that’s a failing on my part.
Y: There’s nothing you enjoy?
M: That’s a different question. There are plenty of things that I enjoy. I enjoy taking pictures. I enjoy spending time with Kat. I enjoy conversations with my sons. I enjoy intimacy and sex. I enjoy intelligent conversations with the few people who don’t mind associating with me. I enjoy good food. But I don’t view any of those things as recreational. Fun, in my mind, implies a recreational aspect on some level, and recreation isn’t something I’ve allowed on my schedule. I should, I know I should, I would be a lot closer to something sane if I did, but I don’t.
Studies consistently show that we need playtime, it’s built into our DNA. I get that. I have trouble turning off this brain, thing, though. If I’m not doing something that has a specific output for a determined purpose, I feel though I’m being lazy and inadequate, two things I won’t allow myself to be.
Y: That sounds dangerous. Don’t you ever relax?
M: Sort of. I reach points at the end of the day where my eyes hurt from looking at screens all day or my head hurts from trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense and I’ll stop, have some scotch and a cigar, chat with Kat a bit, and sometimes have some sugar-free ice cream. That’s relaxing. And I nap, though, increasingly, that’s a necessity. I’m old.
Y: Sounds like a rather unpleasant level of intensity.
M: Does it? I don’t know. I’ve done it for so long I’m not sure how I’d function any other way. I know I’m not looking forward to reaching that point where I’m no longer physically or mentally able to do something constructive. That’s going to be hell.
Y: You’re not looking forward to retiring?
M: I don’t think I get to retire, honestly, until I reach that point I can no longer hold a camera or form coherent sentences on paper. I think retirement is a privilege of the rich and I’m far from rich. When I reach that point where I’m no longer of any use to anyone, I’ll be happy if Kat lets me sit quietly in a corner drooling on myself until I expire.
Y: You don’t sit still very long, do you? You’ve been up and down through this entire conversation.
M: No, I don’t. My mind is constantly thinking of something else I need to do. If my coffee cup starts getting low, I need to make coffee. If I see the cats have knocked clothes onto the floor, I need to do laundry, and all those are things that if I don’t get up and do right then while I’m thinking about them, they won’t get done. The worst is the floor. The living room floor needs to be vacuumed but everyone’s still asleep. I’ll forget by the time everyone’s up and it won’t get done and I’ll remember again in the morning and go through the whole thing again.
Y: It makes it difficult to have a conversation with you. I get the feeling you’re not paying attention.
M: I’m absolutely paying attention at the moment. I hear everything being said and do my best to respond intelligently. That doesn’t mean I’ll remember anything five minutes after we finish talking. I forget a lot and the older I get the more difficult it is to remember things. Like the 80s. I remember pieces, special events and all, but on the whole, it’s a big blank in my memory banks.
Y: Does that bother you?
M: More than you can possibly imagine. Granddaddy, Poppa’s father, had Alzheimer’s and I remember too distinctly how dementia slowly took over, how he lost his sense of time and place, and how, toward the end, the most gentle and loving soul in the world became so mean only certain members of the nursing staff at the facility he was in could administer his medication. His last days were tortured and I don’t want to fall victim to that.
Y: Wait, what just happened?
M: I burned my thumb on a pan I just took out of the oven.
Y: But you had a potholder, I saw you.
M: Yeah, but the tip of my thumb still managed to come into contact with the pan. This sort of hurts.
Y: Do you need to put something on it?
M: No, it’s extremely superficial, hardly even red. It will go away in a few minutes.
Y: And just like that, you move on. You’re typing full speed again. The pain doesn’t bother you?
M: I feel it, sort of, but no, I don’t let it bother me. I can’t. If I let pain bother me I’d never get anything done.
Y: You burn yourself that often?
M: (laughing) No, not too often, but there’s always pain. After that egregious misdiagnosis with my leg and foot seven years ago, pain has been a constant. My choices were either dangerous and addictive meds or try to work it out. I refused to be a victim of opioids, so I decided to work with it on my own and here we are. It took some time, about three years, and I still don’t have full mobility, I don’t expect I ever will, but I get around and do what I need to do and the pain is simply a background thing I’ve learned to ignore.
Y: Do you take anything?
M: Maybe an NSAID on the really bad days but that’s it. Masking pain isn’t beneficial. Pain is how our body tells us something’s wrong. If we ignore the pain, if we ignore changes in the pain, we do more damage.
Y: So, you don’t think people should take pain meds?
M: There you go putting words in my mouth again. No, people should talk to their doctors and do what makes the most sense for them. For me, it is a matter of learning to live with my decision one way or the other. There’s no “fixing” the problem now without rebreaking and attempting to reset all the bones in my foot. The odds of that making things worse are higher than the chances of actually improving anything. Someone else in a different situation may make other choices and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Y: You have a cat in your face.
M: That’s Lyndy. Those things happen around here.
Y: Why? So many cats in such a small house?
M: Because Kat’s crazy? (laughs) Because we’re too compassionate to turn them out and let bad things happen to them. They’re all rescues of one sort or another. It’s a challenge to keep up with them and it makes it almost impossible to have guests over because no matter what we do there is going to be cat hair. I’m not even the world’s biggest fan of cats, but at this point, I can’t see us getting rid of any of them, unless there’s one you want to adopt (smiles).
Y: Uhm, no, thanks. You’re a little over 5,000 words now, by the way. Do you want to continue?
M: I don’t care. Do you think anyone is actually still reading at this point? I could probably say something really outlandish and see if anyone notices. Not that anyone ever comments, anyway. Those few who do read rarely say anything. That disappoints me, but I’ve gotten accustomed to it No one ever checks my references, either. I could be pulling information out of my ass and posting links to Disney porn and no one would know the difference.
Y: Disney porn? That’s a thing?
M. Yeah. It’s illegal as hell but it’s out there and it gets a lot more hits than I do.
Y: That bothers you.
M: Of course it does. I don’t like being ignored.
Y: Why do you think no one pays more attention to what you’re doing?
M: A couple of reasons One is that I went cheap and give this website a .xyz domain. It cost less than a dollar to register and I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do with it. If you look back through the archives, we’ve done a lot of different things here and I can’t say we won’t do something even more different in the future. I don’t know. Anyway, the .xyz domain pops up as being untrusted on some networks. Like, if there’s a comment, usually spam, that I need to moderate. I get an email giving me a link to that comment. If I click on that link, my mail program instantly pops up an alter because of the xyz domain warning that the site may not be trustworthy. I know it’s okay, but for other people, that’s enough to avoid the site and go elsewhere.
The second reason is that there’s already so much other information out there and it’s difficult to cut through the clutter, and most of it is just that: clutter. People would rather look at pictures of Lyndy than read anything informational. Our brains are overloaded to the point we cannot consume anything of any depth.
Y: I should probably mention at this point that you are dressed, have been for some time now, given that you went out and came back. Just making that point of clarification.
M: Thank you. I’d hate for anyone to think I’d gone to the gas station in my underwear.
Y: You roll your eyes a lot.
M: Do I? Kat says I do but I’m almost never aware of it. It annoys the hell out of her and I can appreciate why but I’m genuinely not aware of it happening so it makes it difficult for me to control.
Y: You do, and I can understand why Kat would feel slighted. You’ve done it like thirty times through this conversation.
M: I apologize. Perhaps that’s a sufficient reason to end here.
Y: Sounds good. Any idea what you’ll write for next week?
M: Meh. Maybe something spirited. I almost hate to guess, though, with the Impeachment vote coming up this week. I don’t trust the overwhelming stupidity of everyone in Washington. Writing something positive is difficult when the level of inane ridiculousness reaches such a fevered pitch. We’ll see.
Y: Thank you for your time.
M: Thank you for listening.